How to become a freelancer based in Spain but working abroad

James McKenna
Written by James McKenna
on junio 21, 2023 7 min of reading

At Xolo, we focus a lot on how to become a freelancer in Spain. But you lot just can’t sit still, can you? We get tons of questions about being a digital nomad based in Spain, so here you have it. 

Just for an example of what we mean, there’s Daniel, who is packing his bags to move to Germany to live with his partner, Wolfgang. Or Sara, who has landed a fantastic year-long project photographing seals in Madeira. And Eider, who has had enough of the Basque rain and wants to switch to sunnier climes. 

These solos have one thing in common: they want to be freelancers in Spain and work abroad.

At Xolo, our job is to answer all your burning questions about the admin and legality of Spanish freelance life. So let’s keep it simple. Yes, you can work in a foreign country while registered as a freelancer in Spain, at least for a while.

This unique status is known as an autónomo desplazado in Spanish, which roughly translates to “displaced freelancer”. But it’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds in English, it just means you are registered in one country but work from another. 

In this article, we'll cover the requirements you need to fulfill, how long you can maintain this status and your tax and social security obligations. But if reading isn’t your thing, you can always request a call with Xolo’s local experts who will take care of all the admin so you can get back to booking flights 😉.

An introduction to the great freelancer migration

In the thick of 2023, smack dab in the era of movement and globalization, it almost seemed laughable that legislation didn't cater to the freelancers registered in Spain working for a few months, or even years, abroad. Sure, Spain has a history of outdated customs — chucking goats from church towers, for example — but not allowing digital nomads to nomad? That’s a step far!

To address this need, freelance legislation introduced the concept of the autónomo desplazado. This handy provision allows us to live in a foreign country for a year (which can be extended), while still contributing to Spain as a freelancer.

Alongside the Digital Nomad Visa, the idea of autónomo desplazado has been widely welcomed by expat freelancers. Firstly, it helps you keep your options open if you want to move back home. But more than that, it makes it super simple to become a freelancer based in Spain with the ability to jet off and spend a season abroad. This is freedom on a level our parents couldn’t even have dreamed about. 

We’ll come to the processes you need soon, but bear in mind two crucial things:

  • It depends on the country you’re moving to.
  • Wherever you go, you have to tell Social Security first.

How to be a freelancer in Spain and work abroad

If you want to become a fully legal autónomo desplazado in the eyes of Spanish Social Security, the steps to take will vary depending on your destination country. That said, most share the following requirements:

  • You’ll have to be registered as a freelancer in Social Security’s Special Regime for Autonomous Workers (RETA).
  • You'll need to download Form TA.300 from the Social Security website to apply to work from abroad.
  • Lastly, you'll receive Form E.101 from Social Security, a certificate of your status as an autónomo desplazado, or a digital nomad working outside Spain. This exempts you from paying contributions in your new country of residence.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at how your destination country affects the process.

1. European Union (EU) and Switzerland

If you’re going to any EU member state or Switzerland, you need to submit Form TA.300 to Social Security and receive Form E.101 in return. These documents allow them to work anywhere in the EU or Switzerland while continuing to contribute to the Spanish social security system. You can also get health coverage in any European country with a European Health Insurance Card.

2. Countries that have agreements with Spain

As always, the process for non-EU countries is always a bit trickier, but it’s not so bad if they have an agreement with Spain. In addition to Form TA.300, you’ll need to fill out some additional forms. These forms are available on the Spanish Social Security website and fall into three main categories:

3. Other countries

The most complex case applies to countries that are not part of the EU, not part of the Ibero-American Multilateral Social Security Convention, do not have a bilateral agreement with Spain, and are not Switzerland or Turkey. In these cases, the individual must contact the Spanish Social Security directly, as there is no established process for applying​​.

How long can you be a freelancer in Spain and work abroad? 

Alright, let's set things straight right from the get-go. There's a world of difference between taking a break abroad and shipping off for good. Therefore, Spanish legislation puts a cap of 12 months on being a freelancer based in Spain and working abroad.

However, once you've clocked that initial year, you can request extensions of between 6 to 12 months. You'll need to file these requests using Form E-102, which you can drop off at:

  1. The Social Security office. Specifically, Tthe General Sub-directorate for Affiliation, Contribution, and Management of the RED System of the General Treasury of Social  Security. In Spanish, that’s the Subdirección General de Afiliación, Cotización y Gestión del Sistema Red de la Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social, so you can google that 😉
  2. The equivalent body in your new home-away-from-home.

Beyond an initial 12-month extension, the Spanish Social Security will only grant further extensions on an exceptional basis.

How does a freelancer registered in Spain but working abroad contribute to Social Security? 

Any freelancer based in Spain but working abroad can breathe easy. You'll keep contributing under the same conditions, for the same benefits, and with the same freelance quotas as when you were back home in Spain.

But let's be clear, this is a temporary fix with a definitive timeline. One year with a maximum extension of an additional year. And that begs the all-important question. What happens next?

In our book, once you've hit the end of your first extension, there are three paths you could take:

  1. Submit another extension request to the Spanish Social Security, crossing your fingers that they'll grant an exceptional approval.
  2. Register as a freelancer in your new country, brace yourself for new contributions, and compliance with all obligations that this entails. This is a way of kicking the can down the road until retirement when you'll need to Frankenstein together all the contributions you’ve made in both countries.
  3. Or, as a last-ditch resort, hop back to Spain, take a two-month break from freelancing, and then reapply to become an autónomo desplazado again.

Tax obligations for freelancers based in Spain but working abroad

One of the most common questions the team at Xolo gets from self-employed workers is “Where do I pay taxes if I’m registered in Spain but working abroad?” 

The answer's simple — you pay taxes to the country you’re a tax resident in

So, how do you keep your tax residence in Spain, even if you're not there most of the time? Well, by checking at least one of these boxes:

  • Using Spain as your main hub of activity, either directly or indirectly. Let's say you're a coder living it up in Zurich, but only working for Spanish companies — you can be a Spanish tax resident.
  • You're married to someone residing in Spain.
  • You've got kids living in Spain.
  • You spend over 183 days each year in Spain. This little clause is a celebrity in its own right after the infamous face-off between the Spanish Tax Agency and Shakira.

Now, depending on where the freelancer (that's you) has their tax residence, there are three types of taxes: VAT (IVA), personal income tax (IRPF), and non-resident income tax.

VAT for freelancers based in Spain but living abroad

If you're planning to work abroad while being self-employed in Spain, you'll still need to deal with VAT — sorry, no easy escape from this one.

What's the difference when you’re living abroad? Well, if you're a Spanish tax resident, the foreign VAT (including that of your temporary home) will be included in your yearly tax return as a total expense. In real terms, say you buy a laptop for a base price of €600, plus €100 of foreign VAT, you'll declare a total expense of €700 for the laptop on your tax return.

On the other hand, if you're a tax resident in another country, you'll have to abide by the laws of that land. Just one of the many joys of the global freelance life, right?

Personal income tax (IRPF) for freelancers based in Spain but living abroad

The same logic applied to VAT applies to the IRPF of a globe-trotting freelancer. If you’re officially a Spanish tax resident, you'll have to comply with the Spanish IRPF system in all its glory. Otherwise, you'll need to comply with the rules of your host country.

Form 210, income tax for non-residents (IRNR)

Finally, we need to talk about Form 210, income tax for non-residents.

Just because you're a tax resident in another country doesn't mean you're not still making money in Spain. Imagine, for instance, that you live in Greece but you're renting out your house on the Costa del Sol to a charming couple of OAPs. You'll have to declare that income using Form 210.

Travel with peace of mind, Xolo takes care of everything 

Not only can you be a freelancer registered in Spain but working abroad, it’s not even that hard if you’re smart about it. Rather than navigating all those confusing forms by yourself, leave it to someone who handles administration like a pro. Someone, not to brag, like Xolo 😎.

Register with Xolo, leave all your freelance paperwork to us, and focus your efforts on picking your next destination. Plus, we'll provide: 

✔️ An automated platform for creating and sending professional invoices 

✔️ FREE freelancer registration with Social Security and the Tax Agency 

✔️ A team of managers who will file tax returns correctly and on time

What’s not to love? 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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