A Simple Guide to Register as an Autónomo in Spain

James McKenna
Written by James McKenna
on junio 17, 2024 9 min of reading

How to register as an autónomo in Spain

This blogpost provides a step-by-step guide on how to register as an autónomo (freelancer) in Spain. Here are the key takeaway action points:

  1. Meet the pre-registration requirements: work permit, bank account, foreign identity number (NIE), social security number and registration in economic activities tax group (IAE).
  2. Register with Spanish Tax Authorities: use form Model 037 and IAE to declare your activities and taxes.
  3. Register with Social Security: obtain a social security number and register for the autónomos regime (RETA) and pay social security contributions.

  4. Meet all the ongoing autónomo obligations: creating and submitting invoices, maintaining clear accounting records and filling tax declarations.

  5. Using Xolo for Simplified Registration to streamline all the admin tasks.

Being a freelancer anywhere in the world is never an easy route. You have to find your own clients, file your own taxes, and stay on top of a barrage of other admin tasks. 

But don’t let that put you off! 

Like everything in life, if you break it down into smaller parts, succeeding as a freelancer isn’t as daunting as it first appears. And you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to walk you through the most obvious step on your to-do list — how to start freelancing. To make things nice and clear, here’s an overview of the steps you need to register as an autónomo in Spain.

  1. Get a visa and work permit
  2. Register with social security
  3. Register with the Spanish tax authorities

This article will guide you through all of those steps, covering everything from the documents you need to submit to the admin tasks that every fully fledged freelancer needs to take on. But first, we’ll answer some key FAQs for how to start freelancing in Spain.

How to register as an autónomo in Spain — FAQs

What is an autónomo?

TL;DR — A freelancer.
For a bit more context, autónomo is the Spanish noun for a self-employed worker or adjective to describe things related to freelance life. 

What is the difference between an autónomo societario and an autónomo persona física?

These two categorizations refer to a commercial and trading business (autónomo societario) and a freelancer or sole trader (autónomo persona física). This guide focuses on the second category: solos who want to know how to start freelancing in Spain. 

Who can become an autónomo in Spain?

Almost anyone over the age of 16 can register as an autónomo in Spain, no matter your profession or nationality. Great news, right?

Spain’s industrious group of solos spans all sectors, from delivery drivers and construction workers to web designers and dentists. Almost three quarters of these work in services, and with digital nomad lifestyle booming, we can only assume this will rise. 

Although the freelancing world can be difficult for expats to penetrate, (especially if you don’t know the language) 13.3% of the solos in Spain have a foreign nationality. And depending on the region you’re coming from, you’ll have different obligations to register as an autónomo in Spain. We’ll discuss the two main categories of expats, EU citizens and non-EU citizens, later in this article. 

What do I need to do before registering as a self-employed autónomo in Spain?

You can’t be an autónomo without first obtaining:

  • A work permit 
  • A bank account
  • Your foreign identity number (NIE)
  • Your social security number
  • Registration in your economic activities tax group (IAE)
  • Proof of residency (empadronamiento)

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Why do I keep hearing about Cl@ve and digital certificates?

Sure, you might be wondering what is a Cl@ve or a digital certificate, and it comes as some comfort to know that a huge proportion of the Spanish population will have difficulty explaining them.

In short, they are two different identification methods that allow you to access online admin tasks such as tax returns or your health records. 

Get a visa and work permit for Spain

Getting your work visa is an essential part of how to register as an autónomo in Spain. Without it, there’s no point in worrying about the following steps — you simply can’t work. 

For EU citizens, getting a Spanish work permit is a breeze. People from member states can skip the part on working visas and go straight to the information on getting a foreign identity number (NIE). But for all of those coming from outside the European Union, we’ll take a deeper dive on the steps to take to get a self-employed work visa.

Your self-employed work visa lasts for just one year, but you can renew it after that for another two-year period. Once you’ve reached five years, you can apply for permanent residency and even Spanish citizenship, which removes a lot of the red tape involved in solo life. 

But let’s cut to the chase. Here’s what non-EU citizens need to know to apply for a self-employed work visa in Spain. 

Applying for your self-employed work permit

You certainly don’t want to invest a huge chunk of money in traveling to Spain and making living arrangements just to find your application rejected. Therefore, the first step is to fill in two copies of the work permit application form for an initial residence and self-employed work permit. Next, you must book an appointment at the nearest Spanish consulate in your home country to deliver it in person. 

Apart from the two copies of your form, applicants for a self-employed work visa in Spain need to submit a range of documents. To avoid any potential problems down the line, we’d strongly advise you to get official translations in Spanish, and to bring original documents as well as at least two photocopies. You’ll need:

  • A photocopy of every page of a valid, unexpired passport
  • Copies of any licenses needed to carry out your job
  • All certificates that qualify you to work in your role
  • A business plan for what you plan to do, including expected investment, return, and any jobs that you can create
  • Proof of financial backing to cover the investment you put into your business. As well as the standard translation into Spanish, third-party investment plans must come with a contract and an apostille for proof of authenticity. 
  • Payment of application fees

To avoid shock on the day, be advised that you’ll have to leave your passport in the consulate while your application is processed. The consulate will then post it back to you upon completion.

This is far from an easy process, so patience is a top priority. However, it does make life much easier when you arrive in Spain. Your TIE (foreign identity card) should be ready and waiting for you to pick up.

Apply for your foreign identity number (NIE)

For those arriving in Spain without a NIE, this is the top priority to register as an autónomo in Spain. Commonly know as a foreign identity number or national insurance number, it is what identifies every freelancer in the tax system and on your invoices. 

Yet another form to fill in. Delightfully named EX-15, you need to submit it, along with the following documents, to your local immigration office: 

  • A completed EX-15 form
  • A supporting document, such as your business plan, explaining why you need a NIE
  • A copy of all pages of your passport
  • A passport photo
  • Around €15 in cash to cover the costs

This is a very simple process in theory, but there are a couple of traps you should avoid at all costs:

Bring multiple copies of your documents. As you register as an autónomo in Spain, you’ll start to feel that the bureaucratic side of things takes pleasure in finding picking holes in your application. You need to be ultra prepared to avoid multiple appointments.

Be first in line to apply for your appointment. Your NIE application must be done in person, and getting an appointment can cause you to lose your mind. No exaggeration. This is by far the hardest part of the process as barely any pages are translated into English and time slots disappear mere minutes after they are made available.

“When are they made available?” I hear you ask. Like so many things in Spanish administration, nobody knows for sure, but some people swear that Monday at 8 am or Friday at 9 am are where the action is. 

So, if you strike lucky and get it in one, take a moment for a brief celebration.

Register with the Spanish tax authority (La Agencia Tributaria)

When you register as an autónomo in Spain, La Agencia Tributaria (the Spanish tax agency) wants to know about it. Your NIE is at the root of all your dealings with the Spanish tax agency, so you’ll need to bring it alongside your passport with a copy, Spanish bank account details, and a work permit if you’re from a non-EU country. Of course, there’s a wonderful form to fill in too. The form in question here is Model 037, which records information on the kind of work you’ll be doing and the sector you’ll be focusing on. 

The IAE, impuesto sobre actividades económicas, or tax for economic activities — whatever you want to call it — is your next step with the authorities. You’re basically letting the government know that you’ll be making your tax payments as a solo. Part of this process is telling them what kind of work you’ll be doing, which decides how they will tax your income. 

Every sector of work is identified by a number, or “epigraph” and there is mercifully an easy document in English to help you out here. You don’t have to throw your eggs in one basket. When you register as an auónomo in Spain, you can submit all the numbers that cover the activities you’ll carry out as a freelancer. Later, if you change your focus, you can always update your details on the IAE database.

Once you get to the point of submitting your invoices, you can use your Cl@ve or digital certificate to file your income tax and VAT contributions with the Agencia Tributaria online.

Register with social security

You need to do your next step, registering with social security, within 30 days of registering with the tax authorities, so don’t get too relaxed! This step guarantees your access to the Spanish public health system, as well as a state pension in the future. Thankfully, the social security website is very easy to navigate compared to the NIE portal, and with a Cl@ve or digital certificate, you can do a lot of administrative work yourself with very few issues. 

There are two basic social security steps to register as an autónomo in Spain: 

  1. Obtain your social security number
  2. Register for the special regime for autónomos (RETA)

The form you’ll need to fill in this time, whether online or in person, is the marvelous TA 0521. You’ll have to submit it alongside the following documents:

  • Your NIE
  • Passport and a copy 
  • The IRPF form you got at the tax agency office
  • Proof of address (empadronamiento)
  • Details of your Spanish bank account

Many expats trying to register as an autónomo in Spain, especially those from the USA, are drawn more toward private health insurance and a private pension pot. That’s fine, but tough luck — it doesn’t get you out of your social security payments. You can’t get around this and fines for late payment aren’t the kind of surprise you want to receive.

La cuota de autónomos — your social security contributions

Despite being seen by many as a payment simply for being a freelancer in Spain, the cuóta de autónomos is the contribution you pay to access the benefits of the social security system. When registering, you’ll give your bank details and set up an automatic payment method so you never forget. 

This contribution has traditionally been a flat fee, which was controversial due to high payments for low earners. The monthly social security payment currently stands at €294, but solos in their first year of work can qualify for a reduced payment of €60. After the first year, the amount rises incrementally until you pay the full amount halfway through your third year of work. 

However, as of late 2022, it looks like the government will soon introduce a progressive payment system. While the details are yet to be fully established, the concept is more favorable to lower earners, while twisting the screws somewhat tighter on higher earners, and a sliding scale between the extremes. 

I’m a registered freelancer! What are my other autónomo obligations?

Congratulations, you’ve made it. But registering as a freelancer is just the beginning.

We’ve covered everything you need to do to register as an autónomo in Spain, but that’s all before your first job. And unfortunately, you have a range of other obligations when working as a solo. 

We mentioned before that your social security payments are automatically taken out of your bank account. That’s nice and simple. 

However, you’re also responsible for creating and submitting all your invoices. These need to be in chronological order and compliant with Spanish law. Attached to this task, you need to keep clear accounting records in case the government comes knocking.

Then you’ve got tax declarations, both for income tax and VAT. For those who love forms, this is a dream, but your quarterly and annual tax returns are complex beasts that require a huge amount of knowledge and time. 

Register as an autónomo the smart way

Phew, that was exhausting wasn’t it? When you register as an autónomo in Spain, it can feel like a minefield of documents to photocopy, offices to go to, and forms. So many forms. What’s more, if you’ve been clicking on those links to government websites, you’ll have feasted your eyes on a range of vintage features that really take you back to the early days of the internet. 

With all of these complications, it’s little wonder solos in Spain share the same mild trauma that comes with registering as a freelancer. And that’s exactly why Xolo was founded — to save you  time and effort on the admin side, so you can focus on what matters: growing your business. 

Register as an autónomo in Spain for freeall we need is your NIE and 10 minutes of your time.

🔥No need to fill out long, complicated forms

🔥100% online — no time wasted waiting in line

🔥Start working in just one business day

🔥Fully compliant processes by local experts

🔥Totally free if you don’t cancel your subscription in the first six months

But Xolo goes way beyond simply getting you registered. It is an all-in-one platform with a growing solo community, excellent guides for freelancers, and a team of expert accountants that frees up hours from your working month.

✔️Automated invoicing and accounting

✔️Business expenses management

✔️Tax estimates and forecasts for every quarter

If that sounds like the kind of service your freelance business needs, sign up for Xolo today!

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About James

James McKenna has been a freelancer since 2017, working in subtitling, translation, and his main passion — writing. He loves nothing more than falling down a rabbit hole, a habit that has helped him specialize in areas as diverse as biotech, climate change, higher education, and business strategy.

Based in Barcelona, James learned the ropes the hard way, making mistakes that turned into valuable learning experiences. After working hard to establish himself, he is now working smart, and is always on the lookout for ways to streamline his business.

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