How to set up as a freelancer or as self-employed in Spain

How to set up as a freelancer or as self-employed in Spain

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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 expats need a foreigner’s identity number (NIE) and non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals may need a visa to enter Spain, and a permit to stay and work.

The actual process to set up as a freelancer or self-employed worker in Spain is very easy and straightforward. You will be required to register for tax and social security contributions and take out health insurance.

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 to Spain and set up as a freelancer or self-employed worker without any restriction, except for Croatian nationals, who will need a permit until 30 June 2020. 

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 and 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.

Everyone who wants to set up as a freelancer or set up a business will need a foreigner’s identity number (NIE). The number will also be used to work out your social security contributions.

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. You can find your local foreigner's department at

Different legal structures for companies and 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 and you pay tax through the personal 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 on how to set up a business in Spain, 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 recognised 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 recognised.

How to set up as an autónomo in Spain

To set up 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 office and social security 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 and the self-employed 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 system to inform them that you have become self-employed. 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 and the pages of your Modelo 036 or 037, plus complete an application form.

In order to get free healthcare through the Spanish state healthcare system, as a self-employed worker, you will also have to join a health insurance fund (mutua) organised through RETA. You will be given a healthcard from the month you join and cover can include you and any dependant family members living at the same address. 

For more information about social security and health insurance in Spain see Expatica's guide to taxation and charges for freelancers and the self-employed in Spain.

Getting expert help and advice on setting up as self-employed in Spain

If you need help setting up a business in Spain or completing your tax returns, 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.

Spanish business phrases

  • 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.


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2 Comments To This Article

  • MOUNIR posted:

    on 4th December 2016, 02:10:09 - Reply

    i have a multiple visiting visa to spain which i visited several times,i am planing to move there during the next months,if I regist a company and buy a business there can i got resident permit to stay in spain and manage my business?
    please advice.

    Best Regard

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • brenda posted:

    on 19th September 2016, 00:51:08 - Reply

    Hello I am from Canada and want to move to Spain as a sef emplyed person. (I have my own online biz). How can I stay long term?? My husband and I are both over 50. Thx

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]