What is it like to live in Andorra
Living and working in Andorra
Experience report from a German employee
by Claudia Pohl, Andorra, May 3rd, 2013
About 300 Germans are registered in Andorra. There are hardly any Germans who are employed here. We are one "Especie en perill d‘extinció", an endangered species.
I also don't think there will be any German who wants and can work as an employee in Andorra. I definitely don't advise anyone.
In Andorra there is practically no industry and the construction industry, which used to work well, is now in a bad way. Most of the job opportunities in Andorra are in tourism and commerce, as these are the two main sources of income for the small country. But since both areas benefited mainly from the Spanish visitors, the economic crisis is now also noticeable, so that there are fewer job offers today than there were a few years ago. If you want to work in tourism and trade, you also have to speak Catalan, the official language of the country. Only a few Germans speak this minority language.
There are few job offers and too many, mostly Spanish, job seekers. Most employers employ seasonal workers. Getting a permanent job is difficult these days.
And even if you are lucky enough to have a job offer, that does not mean that you can work in Andorra, because the employer first needs a permit from the state. These work permits are called "Quota". The state is currently hardly providing "Quotas" for new immigrants so that employers are forced to first employ Andorrans who are looking for work or foreigners who are already living here.
If you have a job offer and the "Quota" from the state, you have to present a certificate of good conduct and take a medical test. If it is found that you have a crooked spine, for example, you will be refused entry to work.
Why should a German undertake this complicated procedure?
The wages in the service sector and trade are very low compared to the high cost of living and of no interest to Germans. Monthly wages of EUR 1,100 gross are very common, often with shared and unfavorable working hours, and 6-day weeks.
The employer deducts 5.5% employee contribution to the mandatory health and pension insurance from the monthly gross income. There are practically no taxes for employees. (Exceptions are the car tax and a one-off annual amount of around EUR 100 for municipal taxes). Since you pay little tax, the state has practically no social system. (For me, almost all applications for rent support and help as a single mother were rejected, and the only help I had received from the community for a few months was canceled in 2012 due to the economic crisis.
Anyone who receives around 1,500 EUR net is already one of the higher earners and has to work a lot, but with these wages it is not easy to get to the end of the month and it is almost impossible to pay for additional health insurance or higher pension insurance. (I have taken out additional health insurance because the state health insurance only covers 75% (90% for hospital stays). I have also taken out insurance so that I will still receive 100% of my wages in the event of sick leave.
For financial reasons, I have not taken out additional pension insurance at the moment, although I calculated that I would receive a maximum of EUR 450 per month in pension for the 25 years that I would have worked in Andorra up to retirement age. At the moment the Pension Act is being changed again anyway, so that a further reduction in the pension amounts can be expected.
The Andorrans themselves are usually excluded from the low wages mentioned, because they have priority in the better-paid jobs. For example, the employees in administration, civil servants (teachers, police officers, customs officers, foresters, firefighters) and bank employees etc. are almost exclusively Andorrans, who often earn well over EUR 2,000 net per month, and almost exclusively in the service sector and retail Immigrants.
The fact that Andorra has no special agreement with Germany doesn't exactly make life here any easier for Germans. For example, you cannot count the years you worked in Andorra against the years you worked in Germany for your pension.
A few years ago it was at least a little easier to get a job at all. There was more work and more work permits from the state.
New start in Andorra
I primarily had personal reasons for my decision to work in Andorra. In order to get a job offer, apart from my university degree, the fact that I speak 5 languages (including Catalan) and had contacts in Andorra was decisive.
In total, I have moved to Andorra three times to work as an employee there. I am not going into detail here about my three different positions. In general, all three employment relationships had the following in common: Each time I had to go through the entry procedure to obtain a work and residence permit. That was always time consuming and associated with queues at the immigration office.
Then at 7:00 am, on an empty stomach, I was summoned to the state hospital for a medical examination with a blood sample. (In the past you even had to have an x-ray, nowadays blood tests and x-rays are no longer done). It is important to pass this medical examination, as I myself have seen how many people were refused entry due to an illness - even if it was not contagious - or other "flaws".
The psychological test, which is of course carried out in Catalan, can also be the reason for denying entry. In this test, for example, I was asked if I had ever used drugs. I didn't have that, but if I had, I certainly wouldn't have said that because then I would not have passed the test.
Following the procedure described, I was allowed to do the a few days later "Tarjeta verde" Pick up with a one-year validity date. And so it could start. An official employment contract has been signed which defines the rights and obligations of the employee.
1998 - My first season work in a ski area
The season was fun, the contractually stipulated working conditions were observed, I learned to ski well and I found it fascinating that 80% of the workers in the ski area were Argentines - the rest were Spanish, French, Chilean, and there was hardly an Andorran among the workers. The Argentines can usually be recognized in the lifts by the fact that they always have their mate tea from the "Bombilla" drink, the Andorran supermarkets have adapted and sell mate tea.
Although I really had a lot of fun in the snow this winter season - I decided that the wages were really too low compared to the cost of living and I moved back to Spain.
2002 - My second stay
I get a job offer in an Andorran company.
My employees are 100% immigrants, mainly Portuguese, Spaniards and Argentinians, but also other nationalities. The owners of my company are Andorrans. Again the entry procedure and again I get a green residence permit for one year and an open-ended employment contract.
I now earn 1,450 EUR net for running a small department of the company on my own. My monthly fixed costs at the time are around 1,400 EUR for rent, electricity, food, etc., so there's not much left.
The employment relationship is good, overall rights and obligations are taken into account. I quit my job at the end of 2002 for personal reasons.
2003 - back in Andorra
I'm coming back to Andorra, accompanied by my 2 year old daughter. Now I earn EUR 1,230 net, but the employer increases this wage every year until I reach EUR 1,580 net.
I also had other job offers in Spain, but only in Andorra are there kindergartens with opening times that are more or less in line with my working hours. On weekdays the kindergartens are open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The problem remains with childcare on weekends, as a large part of the population in Andorra works in the tourism industry and therefore often has to work on weekends.
I was very fortunate that my employers are considerate of my situation. Only then was I able to combine my work with my duties as a mother.
During this time, I honestly did not deal with labor law in Andorra, because I felt respected as an employee despite the rather low wages. I still think that I was very lucky that my direct bosses were very correct and humanly impeccable people. However, the money was barely enough to survive, because Andorra is really not cheap when it comes to the cost of living. All-day kindergarten places alone cost around EUR 300 per month, although kindergarten places are subsidized by the municipalities to around 50%.
2006 - from now on it's off the rails
My employer's company is sold to a very large Andorran company and the employees are taken over. The new Andorran owners do not introduce themselves to the workers and it is also not conveyed in terms of content which new goals the company has. Personally, I still don't know my new bosses personally.
My wages are immediately put on hold and have been the same since 2006. My written request for a wage increase after 7 years is not even accepted and read. But my working conditions are becoming more and more unfavorable:
My free weekends, which I had previously in winter, are disappearing, my previously non-working month in May will also be canceled.
I now often have to work 60 to 70 hours a week instead of the 40 hours a week stipulated in my employment contract. I never got paid for this infinite amount of overtime with the statutory increases, and even in times when there was little work, I never got it replaced in my free time.
The law also stipulates that the company must precisely list the weekly working hours. The employee must sign this daily schedule of hours every month if he agrees with the information. In our company there is no such sheet to control the working hours, which is clearly illegal.
I am also supposed to take my private car now to look after the other branches of the company. The law stipulates that in this case the company must bear the costs incurred and that the travel time should be counted as working time. This is ignored by my employer, as is the statutory compliance with the same non-working day.
After all, I am to "Inspecció de treball", went to the workplace supervisory authority, which has confirmed that my employer is acting against the law.
But should I really insist on my right now?
I'm not very clear about that, because in Andorra it always depends on who ultimately owns the company. If the owner of the company is, as in my case, a member of an old Andorran family, or one of the new large foreign corporations that have worked something out with the government, then anything is possible that is otherwise impossible. As I have heard, the supervisory authority does intervene, but only selectively. Something like that is generally called arbitrariness or corruption. That is precisely the real problem in Andorra.
And besides, even if I were right: the country is small and everyone knows each other. This could mean that it would be more difficult to find a new employer in Andorra. Theoretically, as a reaction to my legitimate claims, my employer could even set my working hours within the legal requirements so that they no longer fit my personal situation and thus put me under pressure.
In a nutshell: I find it not easy to make the right decision and also not easy to do nothing at all.
As for my experience as an employee, my report is of course very subjective. As I have experienced and described myself, there are correct employers, and some who do not respect the already very rudimentary labor law.
For me, the reason to still live in Andorra is by no means my employment relationship, but other aspects that I appreciate very much in Andorra:
The school-system is excellent. Almost all children speak 3 to 4 languages fluently. In addition to the Andorran and Spanish schools, there is a French school that is public here. I don't know that in any other country you can send your child to a French school abroad for free. I am very grateful to the French and Andorran states for this. In general, children in Andorra have a happy childhood in touch with nature.
I like that too international ambience in Andorra. I find that very enriching for me and my daughter. We also have Andorran friends who I really appreciate.
Also the Andorra landscape I think it's magical, the climate is pleasant and I also appreciate the fact that there is no crime to speak of. I have a lot of fun doing it in winter To ski, and in summer the sea is within easy reach for people who have more free time than I do.
All of these points have enriched our daily life.
Nevertheless, I stick to it: I advise every German against working here as an employee, unless they get an offer where they earn more than EUR 2,000 net and that is very unlikely. In general, I am of the opinion that in Andorra you only have a real chance of getting a well-paid job as an Andorran. I have the impression that the country still functions on the principles of feudal rule. There is still a minority of very rich Andorran families who live well here and who say behind the scenes what parliament and government are doing. The vast majority of the population is exploited with low wages and increasingly unfavorable working hours.
Personally, I would like to stay in Andorra because I use and appreciate the positive aspects of the country for myself and my daughter. But I don't see any future here as an employee. I don't know yet whether I should dare to set up my own business here. That is another subject that is not easily manageable.
Pohl, Claudia: Living and working in Andorra - experience report of a German employee. Online in Internet: URL: http://www.andorra-intern.com/2013/arbeitnehmer-in-andorra.htm [Status: * Access date *].
This contribution represents the opinion of the author only. It does not necessarily have to reflect the opinion of Andorra-Intern or the opinion of other authors on this website.
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