red wine vino tinto

To the Bread, Bread, and to the Wine, Wine: How I Went From Student Visa to Autónomo In Spain

May 6, 2018

To the bread, bread and to the wine, wine: Al pan, pan y al vino, vino

This expression means to say things directly, tell it like it is, call things by their name – not using euphemisms or beating around the bush. “Ese chico es un poco ‘rarito’ no?” “Hombre, ese chico es gay y orgullo de serlo. Al pan, pan y al vino, vino.”


Today I’ll talk more directly about life in Spain and how I legally made it work, and give you a nice recipe for a homemade licor. Long post alert!

It’s finally springtime here in León and everyone is so happy about it! The parks are full of people picnicking, biking, and walking, and the terrazas are full of life as people go out for tapas in the early evening. There are storks in their giant nests high up in the trees, clucking vibrantly as they gracefully fly overhead. This weekend I got to spend an entire afternoon in a large park on the outskirts of town called La Candamia watching the storks, eating picnic foods (including huevo frito chips), playing music, reading, and lying on a blanket. I can’t think of anything more peaceful than that.

candamia leon

Stork sighting, top left corner!

Days like yesterday get me thinking about how fortunate I’ve been to be able to live and work here in Spain, enjoying simple pleasures like terrazas, paseos, vino (and free tapas), and beautiful landscapes.

I can’t say that life is always dreamlike and smooth sailing over here, it’s been a lot of hard work to make it happen, and I see a lot of injustices and problems here just like any other place. There are some Spanish people who ask me, “but why here?” as they’d rather be on the first plane out of here if they could be. It’s hard to answer por qué exactamente – it’s just a place that’s drawn me like a magnet and I haven’t been able to stay away from. I’ve TRIED to go away but I came back!  (2015 was a weird year.)


Legally speaking, I’ve gone from a short-term student visa, renewing for three years, to self-employed, with nerve-wracking paperwork, deadlines, and holding my breath/crossing my fingers every year for approval. And every year, even when it was a really tight deadline, I’ve managed to get the letter of approval and my residency card renewed.

In the summer of 2017 my residency was up for renewal but this time I had to switch my residency from student to self-employed. The application form itself was very simple, but it involved several more steps than previous years. First I had to go to the Autónomos office all suited up in a black blazer to show my seriousness (though not required!), with my business plan in hand, backed up with written confirmation from a couple of clients that they planned to work with me, and financial statements showing I had funds in my account. The señora in the office was extremely helpful, giving me some edits to the business plan to make it more viable before sending it off to Madrid for approval. *Breath holding: take one.* I took care of this in June so I could start the residency renewal process by the end of July.

black blazer

Business time.

I actually got my approval pretty quickly, in mid July, and was able to move on to Part 2: the foreigner’s office. I had to make an appointment and show up with my application form, my stamped business plan, lots of passport pages, proof of funds, etc. I got placed with the rudest lady in the office, who when I handed her the paperwork, snapped at me saying “where’s the rest of it?” when she hadn’t bothered to flip past my passport copies. Umm, it’s RIGHT THERE, ma’am. All my paperwork got scanned in, and I was told to wait for my letter of resolution – this can take up to three months. So I spent the rest of the summer in *breath holding: take two* mode, nervous that I’d be rejected and booted out of the country.

Thankfully, on August 31st, my approval letter arrived! All that was left was to get my fingerprints done and pick up my residency card – which wasn’t ready until the end of November, but at least I was official! The next steps were getting registered in Social Security and getting my taxes set up, which are paid quarterly. If you’re interested in staying in Spain and you’re not doing  pareja de hecho, getting married, or being sponsored by a company, this is the way to go, especially if you want to work with academies or private students.

If you need some help, check out:

And if you’re looking for more details, especially if you want to do this process from back in the States, this is THE MOST HELPFUL post I’ve ever seen on the subject.

All this legalese is enough to make anybody want to drink, so let’s move on to some orujo!

Soaking up that El Afilador.

Orujo is a classic beverage that’s typically enjoyed after a meal, in a shot-sized glass. It comes in many flavors such as herb, coffee, chocolate, or fruit. And orujo, like a lot of things here in Spain, just isn’t one of those things you can rush. It’s like waiting in line at a small-town bank and the employee is having a chat with the customer about her grandkids – like it or not, you just have to wait.  The alcohol and the fruit need time to make their alchemy… alchemize? Alchemate? Is there a verb for this? (I’m actually a terrible English teacher.)

Now that the warm weather is here, fruit is going to start popping up everywhere. Right now, in the month of May, strawberries are starting to show up. Later in the summer, bushes will be overflowing with wild blackberries. But who has time to wait til the END of the summer to drink orujo? You have to plan these things in advance so the cold, sweet licor is ready to enjoy at those long summer barbecues. Any fruit will do, really. Since strawberries are starting to be in season, I went ahead and got the whole box at the frutería, knowing that they’ll be used for orujo, dessert, and smoothies!

You’ll need:


(Today we’ll only need the strawberries and alcohol!)

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