If your plan is to become a freelancer or self-employed in Spain, find out how to join the three million self-employed people – ‘autónomos’ – in Spain.
Foreigners living in Spain can set up a business or work in self-employment as an autónomo in Spain. Foreigners and Spanish nationals are treated the same, although all expats need a foreigner’s identity number (NIE). In addition to the NIE, non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals may need a freelance visa to enter Spain, and a residence permit to stay and work as a freelancer or self-employed in Spain. They will also need form 036 to get an NIF tax identification number, plus liability insurance or seguro de responsabilidad civil.
The actual process to set up as a freelancer or self-employed worker in Spain is relatively straightforward, although can be a time-consuming process. You will also be required to register for tax and social security contributions and take out health insurance while working as an autónomo in Spain. The information contained in this article is a guide only and you should seek specialist advice on specific issues.
Who can become autónomo in Spain?
If you are a national from the EU/EEA or Switzerland, you can come and set up as a freelancer or self-employed worker in Spain without any restriction.
If you are a national from outside the EU/EEA or Switzerland, you may need a visa to come to Spain, a residence permit to stay long-term plus a work permit allowing you to work as a freelancer or self-employed person. For more information, see Expatica’s complete guides to Spanish visas and permits and Spanish work visas.
Applications for your NIE can be made at a police station with the foreigners’ department (Oficina de Extranjeros) of a national Spanish police station (comisaría). You’ll need to complete the application form Solicitud de Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE) y Certificados (form EX-15), show your passport and pay a fee.
Spanish freelance and self-employed visa
If you are applying for a freelance visa in your home country, you will need to contact your local Spanish consulate or embassy. A freelance visa will allow you to live and work in Spain, for which first you must obtain authorization for your self-employment or business plan. However, if you want to launch your business before you have received Spanish residency, you can register a shareholder and nominate a Spanish resident or someone with legal residency as the director or manager (shareholders don’t need residency, but they do need an NIE and NIF).
Your local consulate will confirm which documents you need to present, which can include:
- Form EX-07
- Information related to your business or self-employment in Spain, for example, a business plan, agreements with clients (or a plan on getting clients)
- Appropriate licenses or proof of education to carry out your indicated work
- initial investment required and proof of investment income.
Documents presented should not exceed 90 days since their issue. You can also get a business plan stamped with a ‘viable’ approval by visiting an organization the Spanish government deems suitable. Having a pre-approved business plan can make the freelance visa process easier and quicker. You can visit or contact a local office of these organizations:
- Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de Empresarios y Trabajadores Autónomos (ATA)
- Unión de Profesionales y Trabajadores Autónomos (UPTA)
- Confederación Intersectorial de Autónomos del Estado Español (CIAE)
- Organización de Profesionales y Autónomos (OPA)
- Unión de Asociaciones de Trabajadores Autónomos y Emprendedores (UATAE)
Once you have your paperwork together you can either make an appointment with the closest Spanish embassy, or via this website if in Spain already (select your region, and then Autorización inicial de Residencia y Trabajo por Cuenta Propia). Within 10 days, you will also need to pay the application fee (around €205). If your submitted application is approved, you’ll receive a letter of pre-approval which will allow you to apply for a freelance visa and residence permit within one month.
At this stage, you will be asked to present:
- ID or passport (with at least four months validity)
- Medical certificate
- Proof of visa fee payment (€60)
- Criminal record for the last five years
If you are already in Spain on another visa, generally you will be permitted to begin the process of switching to a freelance visa while in Spain but may have to return to your home country to pick it up. Some exceptions exist, for example, residents who have been in Spain longer than three years may be eligible to apply for a modification of their existing residence permit, without having to get a new freelance visa. It’s important to check with your local immigration office (extranjería) or consulate before preparing any documents, as requirements can change often.
One year of residence is typically required before modifying an existing visa (with some exceptions). However, if you don’t want to register as a freelancer, there are some alternatives, such as setting up a co-operative society. However, do not confuse it with online co-operatives through which you can produce invoices, as in 2018 the Spanish government cracked down on the legal loophole they were exploiting to allow people to invoice as autónomos without officially registering as one.
Once obtaining a freelance visa, it is possible to apply for a modification to an employee’s visa at a later date, if you ever find work with an employer. The process is also typically easier than trying to modify a regular visa to a freelancer’s one, which can be an attractive point for employers to consider.
The Spanish freelance visa is the only one that doesn’t require a corporate sponsor. Coming to Spain with a freelance visa can sometimes be useful for foreigners to find work, as it is easier for employers to hire them, even up to full-time hours. However, getting a Spanish freelance visa requires time (around three to six months) and money (around €400–600), including the time and cost of getting certain official documents.
Different company legal structures for self-employment in Spain
If you want to set up a business or work as self-employed in Spain, there are two common ways to do so. You can set up as:
- a sole proprietor or self-employed person (autonomo), where you accept personal liability for your business. It’s quick and easy to set up as an autonomo in Spain, and you pay tax through the personal Spanish income tax system.
- a limited company, the most common form of which is the sociedad limitada or SL. There is no personal liability with an SL but there are additional tax, accounting and other responsibilities. You have to submit annual corporation tax returns, statutory accounts and VAT returns, and also pay personal income tax. For more information, see Expatica’s guide to starting a business in Spain.
Regulated professions in Spain
Certain professions such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers may have to have their qualifications recognized in Spain before being able to start work. You can find a list of regulated professions here on the EU Commission website, along with whom to contact about having your qualifications recognized.
Company register in Spain
The central company register in Spain is known as the Registro Mercantile Central (RMC).
If you want to check the details of existing companies in Spain or company names, you can consult the Spanish company register here.
How to become autónomo in Spain
Before you can start working as a freelancer or self-employed person (autónomo) in Spain, you need to register with the Spanish tax authority (Agencia Tributaria also known as the Hacienda) and the Spanish social security system (Tesoreria General de la Seguridad Social), detailed below.
Step 1: Registering your business
First you must register for the Impuesto sobre actividades económicas (tax for economic activities) with one of the tax authority’s offices. You can find the contact details of your local tax office here through the Agencia Tributaria. You will need your passport and your NIE number.
For tax purposes, you must be either a sole trader (empresario individual) or independent professional (profesional autonomo). Both the tax and social security offices will want you to put yourself into a category which describes the type of work you wish to carry out and has its own code number. Look for your code here.
You will be asked to complete Modelo 036 or 037, known as the declaración censal and be given a personal tax certificate (Impuesto sobre la Renta de las Personas Físicas or IRPF). For information on declaring and paying tax, see Expatica’s guide to taxation and charges for freelancers in Spain.
Step 2: Social security and health insurance for autonomos in Spain
After registering your business with the tax authorities, you have 30 days to contact the Spanish social security authority to inform them you have become self-employed in Spain. All autonomos have to register with the Spanish social security system under the Special Regime for Autonomous Workers (Régimen Especial de Trabajadores Autónomos or RETA).
You will need to take along:
- a photocopy of your passport
- your NIE number
- your IRPF form
- the pages of your Modelo 036 or 037
- a completed application form.
You may also be required to present your address registration, known as el padron.
In order to get free healthcare through the Spanish state healthcare system, as a self-employed worker you will have to join a health insurance fund (mutua) organised through RETA. You will be given a health card from the month you join and cover can include you and any dependent family members living at the same address. Read more about health insurance in Spain and social security in Spain.
Expert help and advice on self-employment in Spain
If you need help setting up a business in Spain or completing your tax returns as a freelancer, you can hire a gestor, a type of business manager who acts as a liaison between you and Spanish bureaucracy. You can find a gestor through recommendation from a friend or acquaintance already in business, or look in the Paginasmarillas (Yellow Pages) under Gestorias Administratives. The current fees and process could change again, because the Spanish government is continuing to review and modify the regulations throughout 2018 and into the future. One change could be that autónomos will be taxed according to what they earn. As yet though, that is not the case.
Spanish business phrases
- Self-employed in Spanish: Trabajadores por cuenta propia / autónomo
- Freelancer in Spanish: Persona de libre dedicación / trabajador independiente
- Please find enclosed invoice number…: Encontrará adjunta la factura número…
- I/We hereby confirm your order: Por la presente, confirmo/confirmamos su pedido.
- Your order will be processed as quickly as possible: Su pedido se procesará de la manera más rápida posible.
- For further information please consult my/our website at…: Para más información consulte mi/nuestra página web…
- If you need any additional assistance, please contact me/us: Si necesita ayuda adicional, contacte con nosotros.
- For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me: Si necesita más información, no dude en contactarme.
Spanish self-employment authorities
- Spanish social security for self-employed and freelancers in Spain
- Agencia Tributaria: the Spanish tax authority