Freelancing in Spain is a dream lifestyle for ambitious people who have an adventurous flair. But so often, it doesn't become a reality.
All the unknowns, from paying taxes and social security to writing invoices and filing tax returns, can kill the joy of you dreamers out there and end your journey before it even starts.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
We've put together the ultimate guide for freelancing in Spain to clear up the pros and cons so you can decide if the lifestyle is for you. We cover questions such as why the country is so popular, what requirements there are to register as a freelancer (autónomo), and the tips on how to make solo life as easy as possible.
People see Spain as an ideal base for freelancing for a variety of reasons, including:
But without a doubt the best part of freelancing in Spain is the quality of life. Starting with the climate, most regions give you guaranteed sunshine for the vast majority of the year, paving the way for a healthy life lived largely outdoors. It's a sporty nation and there are few pleasures greater than sitting on a sunny terrace with a couple of delectable tapas.
Speaking of outdoors, the stunning beaches and natural scenery are just as special for residents as they are for the tourists who love the country. The built-up areas aren't bad either, and Spain boasts cities such as Barcelona, Seville, and San Sebastián that are as diverse as they are inspiring.
If your top priority is easy admin, we do have a list of non-Spanish cities. That's our not-so-subtle way of saying that Spanish admin can make you tear your hair out, but in reality, it's the only obvious drawback of becoming a freelancer in Spain.
That said, the Spanish government is introducing legislation aimed at welcoming foreigners into their workforce to plug labor gaps, and streamlining the process for foreign freelancers to launch their business.
You might have heard horror stories about the difficulties of registering as a freelancer in Spain. But it can’t be that bad if 156 people per day opt for the freedom of solo work, according to the Asociación de Trabajadores Autónomos (The Association of Freelance Workers).
There are two main areas that make it hard to become an autónomo: Finding clients and organizing your admin.
Finding clients can be an arduous task if you don’t already have contacts that can hook you up.
That said, there are networking events all over Spain, especially in the big cities. Two of the most famous are South Summit and the Mobile World Congress, where you can meet dynamic minds from your sector and start building your name. Similarly, by joining a coworking office, you surround yourself with all kinds of solos like you — a melting pot of potential clients, collaborators, and advisors that you use to build a network.
Online, you can find freelance marketplaces such as Upwork, LinkedIn, Jooble, and more, as well as Facebook groups advertising work. While these jobs usually pay less than what you’d ideally earn, they’re a good way of building a reputation that you can use to market yourself with later. If you need a more dedicated networking platform where solos like you can find tips, freelance news, inspiration, and social events, try the Xolo community.
Yes, we’d love to get right to work and not worry about any pesky rules and regulations, but that attitude will quickly run you into trouble with your clients and the law.
When freelancing in Spain, it’s par for the course to use a gestoría — a financial management service that takes care of all your admin work for a monthly fee.
Some of the more ambitious, strong-willed among you will probably be thinking: “How hard can it be? I’ll just work it out myself.”
While we respect the determination, we’d politely suggest that it’s probably not worth your time. Once you factor in the time it takes to learn the ins and outs of the system, you could quite easily find that doing your own admin is unsustainable in the long run.
The good news is that gestorías like Xolo are fully online and super easy to use so you can manage all your admin in just a few minutes every day. With an all-in-one service, you can do everything from registration to invoicing and tax returns — and remove that sinking feeling that the tax man is on your back.
Part of registering as a freelancer involves declaring the kind of economic activity you'll be doing. For anyone who is new to the game, it can be confusing to work out if their profession "qualifies" for freelance life.
But he's the good news: you can become a freelancer in Spain no matter what your career vision is.
When you imagine who becomes a freelancer in Spain, it's easy to think of digital nomads who are fluent in Python or Java. But in reality, you can become an autónomo in any sector and at any level of seniority. Construction and agricultural workers make up a 22.5% share of freelancers and the gig economy has opened up more opportunities in food delivery and taxi driving.
That said, there is a worldwide shortage of tech brains and Spain is no different. Skilled programmers and data experts with a proven track record can find work relatively easily as consultants for the growing number of ambitious startups in the country.
A growing number of expats freelancing in Spain come under the unofficial title of false freelancers, or falsos autónomos. In many cases, it's people who already have a job with a company but want to relocate to a new country. These are lucky souls who are officially freelance, but who only have one client and often work shoulder to shoulder with salaried employees.
Expats are particularly attracted to the false freelancer life as it offers greater financial security than typical solo work. With just one client and a secure on-going role in a company anywhere in the world, they get a reliable monthly income and don’t have to look for clients as part of their work.
It’s good for their employer too, as they can skip a lot of the admin related to full employment. However, this does mean that false freelancers aren’t protected by many employee rights, and admin tasks such as tax payments are passed onto you as the freelancer.
If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. Or so says country philosopher Dolly Parton. And no guide for freelancing in Spain would be complete without covering the mandatory taxes and social security contributions. Unwelcome? Yes. Boring? Yes. Confusing? Absolutely.
But with the right help, you can enjoy your freelance lifestyle without these obligations raining on your parade.
Just like salaried workers, freelancers in Spain have to pay tax on your income.
Nobody really enjoys paying taxes of course, and there are a few ways you can reduce the amount you pay. Most of your business-related costs are tax deductible, effectively reducing your taxable income. Just remember to keep those receipts and a digital copy nice and safe for your tax returns.
If this is the first time you’ve considered becoming a freelancer, the VAT process might seem a touch confusing. In short, your clients pay VAT, not you. However, you hold on to it until the end of every quarter, where you deduct any VAT from your business purchases over the time period and pay the remainder to the tax agency (Agencia Tributaria).
Sure, it’s not technically a tax, but the freelance quota is an obligatory monthly payment that gives you access to Spain’s national health system and contributes to your state pension. It’s true that the mandatory freelance quota doesn’t exactly encourage people to build a business, but it’s not a punishment for going solo, as you might hear through the grapevine.
Your freelance quota fluctuates in line with what you earn, and we can’t cover the entire process here. But for more info, check out our dedicated article on the freelance quota from 2023 onwards.
Staying on top of all these freelance obligations in Spain is far from easy. Even the most seasoned solos don’t face this aspect alone. Leaving it to experts in financial management, like the team at Xolo, is the best way of removing the stress and staying within the law.
It’s fair to say that starting a business yourself is no easy ride wherever you are in the world. But there’s a reason the number of expat freelancers in Spain is already bouncing back after the pandemic.
In Spain, the global trend of people rejecting the stiff structure of the nine-to-five meets an unparalleled standard of living, making it one of the best countries for freelancers. Whether you’re looking for the bustling cities of Madrid and Barcelona, the rugged mountains and world-class food of Galicia and the Basque Country, or the island life of Mallorca or Tenerife, you can choose your own adventure.
What’s more, the recently introduced self-employed work visa means it has never been easier for expats to become a freelancer in Spain.
One key message that experienced solos would all agree on is that once you're up and running with reliable clients, the freedom of freelance life is worth the hard work of getting yourself established in your field.
To go into closer detail, our guide for freelancing in Spain has covered some key pros and cons that apply to every situation.
Upping sticks and moving to another country is a leap of faith in itself, even before adding in the difficulties of setting up a business.
But that shouldn’t put you off.
A huge part of being a successful freelancer is problem solving, so get your practical hat on and start finding solutions.
Xolo is a perfect example of how freelancers all over Spain streamline their business, cutting out the admin tasks and focusing more energy on building their business.
✅Register with the tax and social security authorities for free
✅Generate and send professional-looking, compliant invoices
✅Leave your quarterly tax returns to the experts
So if you want to play life by your own rules without drowning in a sea of admin, get in touch with Xolo and see how we can help you.
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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