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Freelancing in Madrid: A survivor's guide

The Local Spain
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Freelancing in Madrid: A survivor's guide
Photo: GaudiLab/Depositphotos"

Thinking of becoming freelance in Madrid? Then you need to know how to register as an autonomo and where to find the right working space to suit you.


High unemployment rates in Spain over the past decade have given rise to a dynamic self-starting culture, not least in the capital. But there are a few things for freelancers to know about Madrid before starting out. Agnish Ray gives us the lowdown.

Spain’s recovery from the financial crisis has led a sharp rise in freelancing and self-employment. The number of startups operating in Spain rose by 20 percent in 2017 and co-working spaces are practically opening on every corner of the capital. A growing appetite across Europe for remote and flexible working means Madrid has become one of the most exciting hubs for freelancers looking to launch projects, build start-ups and provide consultancy services.

But working for oneself is no easy gig, especially if combined with moving to a new city as a foreigner. Floating around in the heat, armed with your laptop, while battling a heavily bureaucratic public administration system, as well as juggling client deadlines, may quickly lead you to despair. So to avoid that, here are some tips to setting up as an autonomo (the Spanish term for freelance) and useful places around Madrid that all freelancers recently arrived in the city should know about.

The process is notoriously tricky as exemplified in this amusing video here: 

For new arrivals in the city the Spanish system of self-employment can be confusing at best (and hellish at worst). Essentially, anyone working and earning in Spain who is not on the pay roll, through being employed by a company, is responsible for declaring their income and expenses for tax purposes on a quarterly basis, by way of the hacienda, as well as an annual declaración de la renta every April. 

In addition, you will need to register to make contributions to the state welfare system, in order to have access to things like healthcare, as well as some sort of cover for if you are for any reason left unable to work. The prices and the levels of cover vary depending on the plan you choose. Currently, if you are registering as self-employed for the first time, you can pay as little as around €50 per month for your first year; the basic payments then rise to about €137 per month for the subsequent six months, and then approximately €192 for six following that. Once your first two years of self employment are done, the full €275 monthly rate applies.

Public admin

Be warned - nothing will make you miss the website more (for those of you who have already been freelance in the UK) than setting up as self-employed in Spain. Although it seems like an overwhelmingly laborious and confusing process, here are three places in Madrid that will be essential to know about when starting out as an autonomo.

First, the Brigada Nacional de la Extranjería- if you are an EU citizen, this is where you will need to apply for your NIE (numero de identidad de extranjero), one of the first and most important steps in setting up a life in Spain. You can apply for an appointment here, selecting Asignación de NIE from the drop-down menu. 

Then there’s the Agencia Tributaria - once you have a NIE and a proof of address, this where you put your business on the tax register to complete your quarterly tax returns. You can find your nearest one here to apply directly for an appointment.

Thirdly, once you are on the tax register you take the paperwork to the Tesorería General de la Seguridad Socialto start paying your social security, a requirement for anybody who is self-employed in order to have access to healthcare and public services.Find your nearest one here

No appointment needed, just show up with this form filled in as much detail as possible.(They’ll help you with the rest.)

Workspaces for rent

WeWork's co-working space on Madrid's Castellana. Photo: WeWork

Madrid has seen a tremendous rise in co-working culture in recent years. A scarcity of space and funding to build new offices in the city centre, combined with a sharp lift in new business starting up has means that co-working spaces are now one of the city’s most attractive real estate investments.

The first Spanish branch of US co-working giant WeWork opened in January this year - and three more have already popped up since then, with a fourth on the way next year. Uptake has been remarkable, with all the office spaces nearly fully booked up. Resident businesses range from small startups to major multinationals. Choose from WeWork’s three Madrid offices, all of which provide office management, admin, catering and social facilities. Prices range from €250 a month for a hot desk to €500 for a private office.

For a smaller-scale setting, head to the heart of Chueca to find KAILAB Coworking, a cosy shared office that opened at the start of 2017. This minimalist space of whites and light woods offers daily rates, as well as monthly rental charged at either full days or half days. You can also book a lump number of hours to spread across the month.

Back up in Salamanca, The Shed is a former block of rental apartments that was renovated into a communal office space in 2013. It is spread across four floors and features seven co-working rooms with individual desks for rent, five meeting rooms and 22 private offices. The Shed maintains the structure and ambience of an old Madrileñian residential building, with a quiet interior courtyard in the middle where you can get some air and have a coffee.

Workspaces for free

Photo: Google Lab

If you have recently arrived in the city and are still starting out, chances are you can’t quite afford to rent a shared workspace yet - but never fear, there are places you can work without paying a penny.

As part of Google's philanthropic commitment to helping small businesses and start-ups get off the ground, the Google Campus Madrid is a free space for self-employed professionals to work, learn, make connections and exchange best practice. Show up early, grab a desk space, and get to work. An on-site cafe serves breakfasts, lunches and all-day refreshment. There is also a regular programme of talks and events you can attend, ranging from UX and WordPress to pitching practice and yoga.

If the work you do requires total silence, look no further than the Reina Sofia Library. Built by French architect Jean Novel as part of his 2005 extension to this iconic Spanish art museum, the reading rooms are spread across two floors, each filled with shelves holding an estimated 250,000 volumes of works related to contemporary art. Overhead is a spectacular aerodynamic installation made of moulded glass from the Royal Glass Factory of La Granja in Segovia. Access to the reading rooms requires registration, so show up with your passport or ID on the first day.

Laptop-friendly cafes

Photo: Sagas at the Matadero is a quiet laptop friendly space. 

Of course, co-working spaces are not necessarily right for everyone - sometimes you just need to find
somewhere to have a coffee and get a couple of hours of work done. La Bicicleta in the Malasaña district is a freelance favourite- sit at one of the raised benches with the other laptop workers, while those lucky enough to not be working take the dining tables and sofas.

Down in Legazpi, to the south of town, is Matadero Madrid. Formerly one of Spain’s most significant abattoirs, this space is now one of Madrid’s trendiest contemporary arts venues, occupying over 165,000sq. m. of space. Its on-site Sagas cafe-bar is large, roomy and fairly quiet, so a great place to plonk yourself for a couple of hours to get some work done. There aren’t many plug points though, so try to show up with a fully charged laptop.  

A meeting to impress

When getting together with potential or existing clients and partners, the right setting is essential. Cafes around Malasaña and Trafalgar, like Federal Café, Makkila and Café Comercial work really well for daytime meetings, working lunches and so on.

Hotels are also an excellent go-to for that meeting that has to go well. The Only YOU Boutique hotel in Chueca, built by renowned Spanish architect Lázaro Rosa Violán, has some beautiful spaces for an elegant breakfast, lunch or coffee meeting, such as its YOUnique restaurant or the Le Brunch cafe.

For a striking rooftop experience- which all Madrileños adore - the VP Plaza de España Design recently opened its Ginkgo Sky Bar, offering a panoramic view across Madrid, great for evening schmoozing but also for its excellent lunch menu. Peer down through the see-through floor and catch a glimpse of the building’s central design element - a 25m metallic waterfall sculpture by Catalan artist Pere Gift, tumbling from below your feet all the way down to the ground floor.

Business admin

To protect your business and services with professional indemnity and public liability insurance (a requirement for certain fields of work), companies like MAPFRE, Hiscox and Markel operate good policies. Note however that some companies like this only make their products available via brokers.

El Corte Inglés and MediaMarkt are the the places to go for electrical hardware, like laptops.

And lastly, for printing, scanning and photocopying needs, try to locate your nearest tienda de fotocopias - you’ll soon become a regular customer. Locutorios (cyber cafes) are also fairly widespread in Madrid and offer similar paperwork services.

For more of Agnish Ray's writing, visit his website or follow him on Twitter

READ MORE: Digital Nomad? Here's Why Remote Workers Are Flocking To Spain



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