Working in Spain, Being Autonomo

01 April 2021

Work and Working as an Autonomo in Spain

Information about jobs, the employment situation, and working in Spain.

If you have the opportunity, visit Spain, find a job and accommodation, then return home to process the visa.

If you’re looking for information about how and where to find jobs, go directly to our jobs in Spain page. Otherwise the following information is about working in Spain or optionally working as an Autonomo in Spain.

The unemployment rate has gone down considerably in recent years.  That’s about it for the good news.  If you’re not quite fluent in Spanish and if you’re not an EU citizen, then you have two big strikes against you when looking for work in Spain.  Even if you just want to work in an English school, if you don’t have a visa good for a year you’ll find it very tough finding anyone willing to give you dependable work. Depending on where you’re from, you may find the jobs’ pay scales surprisingly low (and in a large company, you may find management frustrating, and you may find the “walking invisibles” demoralizing—those people who are holding out for a bigger payoff to leave).

It can be even more difficult to find a job while you’re still in your home country unless you’re a specialist in your field. If you have the opportunity, visit Spain, find a job and accommodations, then return home to process the visa. Getting your working and living situation set up like this before hand can’t be recommended more highly.

Check out the Social Security Office for information on health benefits, disabilities, and pension plans. Also find International agreements and treaties regarding workers rights there.

See the Instituto Nacional de Empleo (INEM) for information about workers benefits and types of contracts.  You can find their site on our Links to Spanish Government Sites page.

You may also want to consider self-employment, whether that’s legally or not (it might not be worth getting it legally setup for a summer or if you’re not making that much money, although there are always consequences…). If you do decide to work legally self-employed, you’ll be called an autonomo, in which case you’ll be paying all your own taxes and social security payments. In some fields, this can be an advantageous way to find employment, for example if you’re teaching English.

Work Contracts in Spain

Spain is one of those Western European countries with big workers rights movements and powerful unions; it's amazing the economy keeps humming along as well as it does. Oh wait, no it's not - Spain has a thriving worker's black market! 

You'll meet a suspiciously high percentage of immigrants and expats in Spain who are working under the table. You might even join that market yourself, who knows? There big fines for employers who do so of course, and expats might be rewarded with a one way ticket back home and a no-entry stamp in your passport. Anyway, the contratos de trabajo (work contracts) are one of the biggest reasons why this phenomenon continues:

  • Contracts are provided in Spanish claro, so get yours translated if you can.
  • Work contracts are either indefinite or fixed term
  • Your work contract will likely contain a siesta provision, ie. a lunch break from 2pm to 5pm. Then again it may not; the Spanish siesta seems to be slowly going the way of the dodo bird. Sad but true.
  • In a year you'll receive between 13-15 "monthly" payments. Besides the normal one cheque per month you're probably used to, you might be celebrating the holidays with extra gusto in Spain; Easters, Christmas' and Augusts (yes, the whole month is a holiday) often see a nice little bonus deposit equal to a month's salary. Cool huh? Sucks to be an employer though...
  • Severance payment for workers in Spain is, well, unreal. At the end of your work contract you'll receive a severance payment of an amount directly corresponding to your length of employment and wage. As I understand it you're looking at 6 weeks severance pay for every year of work with a Spanish company. You can start to see where these "walking invisibles" come from around the office. Working in a Spanish company for a few years almost guarantees that you won't be fired - it would be a huge capital expense to do so! If you think you've been wrongfully dismissed then you can present a demand for conciliation within 20 days from termination. Often there will be a settlement reached but if not, file your case at the Juzgado de lo Social (Labour Court).
  • Foreign workers (especially teachers) are given 3/6/9 month work contracts. After that an employer has to give you a long-term contract in order to keep you on.
  • You might work out an agreement with your employer that provides for discrepancies between the real-world and your contract. For example they hire you at "40 hours per week" but you only work and get paid for 35 hours per week. That would allow them to sponsor you for a work visa. Lots of little things like that happen between employers and workers; welcome to working in Spain.
  • No matter what your contract says, no matter what your boss says, cover your ass!

Working in Spain as an Autonomo

CostaBlancaExpats (now unpublished) has a great article about setting yourself up for working autonomo, and here are the most relevant parts of that list: 

  1. The first thing you should do is apply for an NIE/NIF number. The number takes about three weeks to be processed, and you need to collect this from the Comiseria - please note you will not be advised when this number is ready, so it is up to you to check after this time.
  2. You will need to apply for a Tax Licence for the work activity to be followed. This can be obtained from the SUMA Office in the town where your work activity will be centered. This Licence needs to be renewed every year.
  3. You will need to complete and present an 037 form, which is stamped by the Tax Office and confirms the method of payment of your taxes. There are two methods of paying tax: a) you make quarterly VAT and Income Tax Declarations on the “direct estimations method”, which means you have to start double entry system book-keeping, or hire the services of an accountant. Alternatively; b) you pay a quarterly fixed income tax & VAT amount under the "modulos" system. Both systems have their advantages; a) is a good method if you think your custom is going to fluctuate to a significant degree, as income tax & VAT is only paid on your actual profit/earnings. Modulos payments do not take into consideration whether you have had a good or bad month, as you pay the same fixed amount, even if you have zero income. Also, under the modulos system, there is no need to keep accounts or prepare numbered VAT invoices, etc. On the other hand, once your business is established and turnover increases you may well benefit from having a tax system whose payments were set at a basic level.
  4. In order to register within the Seguridad Social (Spanish social security) system, you will need to complete and present a registration document. You will then be liable for fixed monthly payments, which must be paid even if you have zero income. You will receive a temporary card which shows your social security number. You should take this card to your local social security clinic and register with a doctor. This will instigate your permanent health card. There are various levels of social security payable, depending on the amount of pension you wish to receive on retirement. Most people choose the minimum (currently 205,54 Euros). At each level you have the choice of paying an additional amount for IT (temporary incapacity sickness) benefit in the unfortunate event of your falling ill. You can change the option to pay IT if you wish, but this must be done prior to the 1st October of each year. Those persons over the age of 50 have a slightly different payment structure, and workers over the age of 65 do not have to make any social security payments save for the optional IT payments, although they can opt to continue paying if they wish. Further information regarding the above may be obtained from the Seguridad Social office in Denia. Any spouse, partner or child is also entitled to medical cover. An additional “beneficiary” form must be completed, and the Marriage Certificate, Certificado de Convivencia or Birth Certificate, as appropriate, should be produced with the other paperwork. Working mothers with a child under 3 years of age can apply for child benefit, by completing and presenting Form 140 "Deduccion por Maternidad" to the Hacienda in Denia.
  5. If your work activity will be carried out in an office/shop etc where the public are allowed to enter, you will also need to make an Opening Licence application. This can be obtained from your local Town Hall.
  6. When your work activity is one that usually requires qualification certificates (e.g.. electrician, plumber, hairdresser), your original Certificates must be officially translated into Spanish, and both sets forwarded to the Ministry of Education & Science in Alicante or Madrid. They will homologate the Certificates, which must then be presented with the rest of the work papers.
  7. If the activity is a bar or restaurant where food is handled, it will be necessary to sit an examination at the local Town Hall (in the form of a multi-part test), in order to obtain the requisite card allowing you to handle food.
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