Thinking about applying for a visa to work as a freelancer in Spain? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Here I’ll explain step-by-step what my experience was like. I am American who was already living in Spain on a student visa (as part of Spain’s language assistant program). I decided to apply for a new visa to be able to work full-time as an autónomo, which is the Spanish term for “freelancer worker.” I was able to start the process from Spain, but had to go back to the US to pick up the visa. Now I’m working as a translator in Madrid.
Note that it’s also possible to start this process without ever having lived in Spain by doing everything at your local consulate. And for those who have been in Spain for more than three years, it’s also possible to apply for a “modification” of your existing residency status, or to apply for to “legalize” your situation if your status is “irregular” under a process known as “arraigo social,” without having to get a new visa. An overview of all of these processes and links to more information can be found in the SpainGuru post titled “How to get a work permit in Spain.”
Whatever your current situation is, most of the steps I describe in this post will be relevant to you if you decide to go the “cuenta propia” (self-employed) work permit route. This type of work permit is a great option for those who are already freelancing or doing remote work, and want to be able to continue that activity in Spain, or for people who want to start a new business in Spain.It is the only type of Spanish work permit that doesn’t require a corporate sponsor. So, for those who want to come to Spain and look for work, it can also be an interesting option, since many employers are willing to hire workers nearly full time on a “freelance” contract.
A few disclaimers before we begin: While getting a work permit as a self-employed freelancer is totally achievable, it requires patience and determination. The initial pre-approval took about six weeks. But, if you also take into account all the time I spent gathering documents, my travel to the US to get the visa put in my passport, the weeklong visa processing time, my enrollment in the Spanish tax and social security system, and my application for a residency card (which took three tries – more on that later), then altogether, it will have taken about 6 months by the time I (hopefully) receive the card! Although, it’s worth noting that upon receiving the visa in my passport, which I got about three months after starting this journey, I was already able to start working and paying taxes in Spain.
Financially speaking, it cost more than every other type of visa: all in all, I spent 628 euros on the entire process.
The financial breakdown:
|Declaración jurada (embajada)||€50|
|Tasa modelo 790 código 052||€10.50|
|Tasa modelo 790 código 062||€195.88|
|Regreso (to come back to Spain)||€10.30|
|Subtotal for what I paid in Spain:||€297.13|
|FBI background check (Accurate Biometrics)||$50|
|Apostille in DC for FBI background check||$8|
|Tasa for visa itself (to pay in Chicago)||$270|
|USPS Express Mail envelope w/ prepaid stamps||$22|
|Subtotal for what I paid in the US:||$350 (€331)|
Before you dive in, ask yourself if you plan to live and work in Spain long-term. If the answer is no, and you’re just looking to spend time in Spain, you’re might be better off going another route, such as working part time on a student visa, getting a “non-lucrative” visa without a work permit, or simply staying for three months on a tourist visa.
But if Spain is where you want to be in the long haul, it’s well worth obtaining work permission as a freelancer: you’ll be able to send invoices using your Spanish tax information, you’ll be enrolled in the Social Security system, building your retirement and getting access to public health care, and you’ll “start your clock” in Spain—after officially being a resident of Spain for five years, you’ll be able to apply for permanent residency (years as a student only count for half). Also, once you establish residency as a freelance worker, you’d be able to apply for a “modification” in order to work for another employer if you get a job offer — which is much easier than getting an employer to sponsor you from the get-go.
I kept notes on the process as I went along, and now I’ve put together a detailed breakdown of every step in the process and how long it took. I hope you can learn from my experience! It’s a resource I wish I’d had six months ago when I started this journey!
THE SPANISH SELF EMPLOYMENT VISA TIMELINE
June 10, 2016: Started collecting documents
This is when I really decided to go autónomo. I started collecting info, reading up on the process, and met with a lawyer to get better informed(I didn’t end up using the lawyer, but it probably would have made the process easier. I think most lawyers will do the process for you for under €1000). Note that I did everything in Madrid and at the Chicago consulate – some aspects may vary depending on what offices you’re dealing with. Don’t take this as the final word – always check with your local immigration office (extranjería) or consulate before getting your documents together, especially since the requirements change quite often!
June 15, 2016: Wrote my business plan
This is essentially a document to prove that you know what your’e doing and will have an income once you get to Spain. It needs to explain how much of an investment you will need (this depends on your business, but mine was around €1,000 since I’m a freelancer with essentially no start-up costs) and how much you have (proven by official bank certificates that your bank should be able to print for you very easily), what your line of work will be, who your clients are (if you have them), how you’ll get clients (if you don’t have them), etc.
In my case, I wanted to pursue translation work as a freelancer, and I had an offer from one client in hand that would meet the minimum income requirements, so I didn’t need to look for other clients.
To make my business plan I downloaded a template from the Internet and added in all my details. I had a Spanish friend read it over and correct the language. You can see my final business plan here. You’ll notice that in my plan, both my income and my initial investment were very low. I wasn’t sure if it would get approved – but I decided to give it a shot, and it was!
To prove you have clients, you’ll also need to provide a collaboration agreement from at least one client who is willing to pay for your services. This type of service agreement is much less of a liability than an actual employment contract, so it should not be hard to convince a company to provide you one. Unlike an employment contract, a service agreement can be ended at any time with no consequence for the company providing the contract. To make this contract, I used the template on SpainGuru and the client and I adjusted it to reflect the work I would be doing.
June 21, 2016: Got a stamp of “viability” on said business plan (optional, but recommended)
Take this business plan to one of the organizations that the government recognizes as being able to judge the “viability” of your business plan. Having a pre-approved business plan will give you an edge and make the rest of the application process go faster.
I went to UPTA (Unión de Profesionales y Trabajadores Autónomos). It’s an organization that helps freelancers get started and continue doing business, and has offices all over Spain.
In my case, they didn’t answer my calls or emails, but when I went in person during their opening hours they were very helpful (note, they close for siesta!). In theory, if you email them beforehand, they should be able to send you a checklist of things to bring with you so that you won’t have to make multiple trips. Along with your printed business plan, they’ll have you bring things like your bank certificate, a copy of your passport, a photocopy of your clients’ NIEs (if you have clients), a photocopy of your degree or otherwise certification needed in your field (if it exists), etc. In my case, when I turned all this in I was charged a fee of €15. (Note that this was my experience in Madrid, and may vary depending on which UPTA office you visit.)
Over the next week or two, their tech will look it over and let you know if it’s missing anything. Mine wasn’t, so they gave me a call and I went to pick up all my documents plus a shiny letter of recommendation with their (literal) stamp of approval. Note: this piece of paper does not mean you are approved. It essentially just tells the government that you’ve done your homework in creating a legit business plan, and it makes it more likely that you’ll get approved.
UPTA is just one of the five organizations authorized to approve business plans. Here is the full list:
- 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)
June 22, 2016: Made my first appointment at the immigration office (extranjeria)
I made my appointment online at this website (the same one for all immigration appointments) in order to get my application pre-approved for my new visa while still in Spain. The option you’ll want to choose from the drop down list is “Autorización inicial de Residencia y Trabajo por Cuenta Propia.” If you’re not in Madrid, it may have a slightly different name. If you’re not sure, you may want to call your local extranjeria office to check. My appointment ended up being at an office on Calle Silva 19 – which is right in the city center of Madrid! Thankfully, I didn’t have to go to the dreaded main office in Aluche!
June 23, 2016: Got the ball rolling on my FBI background check
The next thing I did during June was get my federal (FBI) background check in the states. This isn’t needed until you apply for your visa in person in the US, but the process takes a while so you need to start early. You can take your fingerprints yourself and send them, along with about $50, to a private agency to be analyzed (see our blog post about this process). On the application for the background check, I personally put my parents’ address in the States, so that it would be faster (and because my contract was about to end for my apartment in Spain).
June 27, 2016: Turned documents in at extranjería (at aforementioned appointment)
At the end of the month, I had my appointment at the immigration office at Calle Silva, 19 in Madrid. I turned in my business plan and my UPTA approval letter, along with the forms and fees listed here (in Spanish). They scanned everything and returned my original copies to me. They told me I’d receive an approval letter in the mail (technically they can take 3 months to do this, but mine only took about a month).
It’s important to note: At this stage you ONLY need what you turned in to UPTA (business plan, bank account statements, etc.). You do NOT need your FBI check or other requirements yet. You only have to present those when you actually apply for the visa (details to follow).
June 30, 2016: FBI background checked received, and sent off for apostille
My parents received my background check at their address in Indiana in about a week, and then immediately sent it off for an apostille. They included a return envelope so the final apostilled background check would be sent back to them as well. That way, when I arrived in the States to apply for my visa in person, my background check was there waiting for me.
It’s definitely faster to do everything in the states. However, if you prefer to handle everything on your own without relying on friends or family, it is possible to have the results sent to you in Spain and to do everything from there. However, if you do that the mailing back and forth would take longer.
August 19, 2016: Received extranjeria approval AND my apostilled FBI background check
I received a letter in the mail that my application for pre-approval from extranjeria was approved! This is the most important step of the process, because once the immigration office approves, the steps of actually getting the visa, and later your residency card, are just procedural. The decision has essentially already been made at this stage.
And, on the same day, my parents received the apostilled FBI background check back home in Indiana. Things were going exactly to plan!
It took over a month to receive my apostille – which I heard was unusual. But I was grateful to finally receive it after much pestering of the authentications office, and being told everything would be fine. Thankfully, it was!
Apparently they just had an unusually high workload. Others have told me they received their apostille in a less than a week.
August 23, 2016: Arrived to US
I planned to be in the US for five weeks, which gave me plenty of time to get everything done for my visa.
August 28, 2016: Got my medical clearance
Yes, at least at the Chicago consulate, the medical clearance HAS to be from an American doctor in the U.S., not a Spanish doctor in Spain, even if you already live in Spain. Annoying, I know. This is the same medical clearance needed for any type of visa, and is just a letter from a doctor saying they checked you out and you don’t appear to have any communicable diseases.
September 2, 2016: Traveled to my visa appointment in Chicago
The day arrived for my visa appointment at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago. The girl working was very confused because most who apply for this visa (already very few) apply before they move to Spain. I, however, had already been pre-approved in Spain, so I didn’t have to turn in all of the documents listed on the website. I explained my situation, she showed her boss everything, and they smiled and told me to expect to be approved very quickly. Total and utter relief. I turned in all documents and $270 addressed to the consulate (yes, you pay €200 in Spain and then another $270 in the States for the same application; I told you it was the most expensive!).
I provided them a USPS Express Mail envelope with prepaid stamps (which cost $20). This was needed so they could mail my passport back to me when my visa was approved (they’ll take your passport when you apply, so don’t plan on going anywhere until you’re approved). For the other autónomo visa requirements (it’ll mostly just be photocopies of documents), check your consulate’s website. My consulate is in Chicago, and each consulate has a slightly different way of doing things.
September 9, 2016: Visa (and work permission) received!!!
As promised, one week later, I received my visa in the mail. Note: if you’re applying from the States and you haven’t already been pre-approved in Spain, you should expect to wait longer (I’m not sure exactly how much longer).
From this point on, it’s pretty much smooth sailing. There’s more work to do, but you overcame the hardest part: you can officially live and work in Spain!
September 30, 2016: Returned to Spain and made my next extranjeria appointment
On this day, I returned to Spain and got my visa stamped. Make sure this happens. If for some reason, they don’t stamp your passport (like if you flew into another European country first), demand that they stamp it. You’ll need this later to prove how long you’ve been in the country with your visa. If for some reason you don’t get the stamp, it’s not the end of the world , but you will complicate your life by having to provide other proof of how long you’ve been in Spain.
Once you enter the country you have 90 days to apply for your residency card (once you have the card, you no longer need a visa – that’s why the initial visa is only for 90 days). You’ll need to go back to the same web site as you did the first time to make your next appointment with extranjeria. But before your appointment, there’s a couple of steps you’ll need to complete first: enrolling at the Spanish tax and social security offices, in order to get documents that are required for your residency card (known as your TIE or tarjeta de identificación de extranjero).
October 4, 2016: Got my social security number
The next order of business was to get a social security number (Calle Juan Bravo, 49). I brought my passport and my completed NA1 form. This step only gives you a number (this number will not ever change). Note: There are two more steps to follow after this before you’re actually enrolled in Spanish social security. The social security number, which you can request at any time, even if you don’t have a work permit yet – won’t do you much good on it its own.
October 7, 2016: Enrolled at the Spanish tax office
On this day, I had my appointment at the Spanish tax office, called Hacienda, (Calle Montalbán, 6; Administración de la Agencia Tributaria) to sign up for IAE (Impuesto de Actividades Económicos). This office deals with your income tax, which freelancers pay every three months, and is separate from Social Security. I enrolled in the system, meaning I’ll officially pay taxes for the first time in January.
I also tried to get my “clave pin” and “certificado digital” on this day, which are the username and program installed on your computer (and only your computer) in order to pay taxes. I couldn’t do this because I didn’t have my new residency card (known as a TIE)yet. More on that later.
October 19: Went to my extranjeria appointment in my first attempt to get my TIE
I went to the main extranjería office in Aluche, where all immigrants must go to get this card (Avenida de los Poblados, S/N, Madrid, Madrid 28044). Don’t make my mistake: I was turned away because I didn’t have the paper saying I was concedido, meaning the application was approved and processed in the system. They sent me to the office by Santiago Bernabéu (Calle Manuel Luna, 29), and a nice lady printed out a piece of paper saying I was concedido (apparently they sent it to me by mail but I never got it). I promptly made another TIE appointment at Aluche.
October 24: Enrolled in the Social Security system
Now is the time to finish actually enrolling in the Social Security system, at the office on Calle de la Cruz, 7. I was told next month I’d be charged for both October and November at once (€50 for each month, so €100 altogether) and that starting December it’d go back to the normal €50 each month. Note: If you live in Madrid the social security fee for autónomos is now only €50/month (€50.89 to be exact) for the first 18 months. This is thanks to a rebate from the community of Madrid that is on top of a nationwide discount offered to new autonomos. For those of you not in Madrid, you will have to pay €53/month for the first six months, and then it will go up incrementally until reaching €297 per month for the rest of your life as an autónomo. I don’t quite understand it all myself, so please speak with a financial professional for more details on that! Note that to get the Madrid rebate it is REALLY important that you apply between your 3rd and 6th month of business activity or else you will have to pay the normal rate. Also note that if you ever miss a social security payment you will have to pay the full €297 that month, rather than the discounted amount! So, pay on time!
November 3: Applied for my residency card AGAIN
My second TIE appointment arrived. I brought all my documents: 3 passport-size photos, social security info, the application, payment… The lady confirmed that I had all of my documents. But what was missing wasn’t a document: if you read the fine print of the paper I got on Manuel Luna, 29, saying I’ve been concedido, it says at least one week before my appointment at Aluche, I must send photocopies of three things (my visa, my social security enrollment paper, and my empadronamiento) to a specific email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that my information could be “archived.” Once I’m archived, my status in the system changes from “pendiente” (pending) to approved. No one will tell you to do this, and the email address will not confirm they’ve received your documents, even after sending them multiples inquiries (can you tell I’m bitter?), but you just have to do it. I made my third TIE appointment.
November 25: Applied for my residency card: THIRD TIME!
I had my third TIE appointment, and the third time was the charm! They told me to come back in 30 days to pick up my shiny new TIE.
Yes, there’s still more to do in the months to come—but don’t worry, the pace has slowed down now. After I get my new TIE, I’ll need to go back to the Hacienda office by Banco de España (Calle Montalbán, 6) and activate my “clave pin,” as well as get a “certificado digital” installed on my computer. This lets me pay my taxes (which are filed every 3 months for autónomos) and I’ll only be able to do it from my computer. The next time we (all autónomos) file is in January.
As you can see, the process is not for the faint of hearts: it requires patience and perseverance. But the benefits far outweigh the work if you want to live and work in Spain! My advice is to ask as many questions as possible, double and triple check your paperwork, and demand written (or emailed) confirmation when you submit documents.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer! Good luck!