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COMPARE: Could Spain become the best country in the EU for digital nomads?

Spain has recently proposed a new draft bill to entice digital nomads to the country. Here we look at the possible benefits and drawbacks and how these new measures compare to remote worker visas and tax conditions in other EU countries.

COMPARE: Could Spain become the best country in the EU for digital nomads?
Spain's digital nomad visa. Image: Persnickety Prints / Unsplash

Traditionally digital nomads were people who moved around from country to country every few months, usually staying on tourist visas and working under the radar.

However, with the evolution of new technologies and the pandemic, many more people have become remote workers, able to take their jobs on the road.

This means that countries across the world have been competing to attract remote workers and digital nomads, offering them the chance to legally stay and work for a period of more than just a few months.

What’s it like for digital nomads in Spain currently?

Spain has great weather, lifestyle, culture, and cities, attracting people from all over the world. Up until now however, if you wanted to come to Spain and work as a digital nomad your options were limited.

Many stayed on the non-lucrative visas, but this is a bit of legal grey area because it is not intended for working in Spain, but rather those who have the financial means to take care of themselves and their families, as well as their health costs.

The non-lucrative visa is actually a residency visa, which means that if you stay over 183 days, you will also be tax resident in Spain and will be liable to turn in a tax declaration on your worldwide income, possibly creating problems for you if you have been working and earning money.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about applying for Spain’s non-lucrative visa

The other option is the Entrepreneurs’ visa, aimed at investors, entrepreneurs, highly skilled professionals, researchers, and workers performing inter-company business operations. Digital nomads don’t really fit into any of these categories, so again it’s not the best option.

The last option is for digital nomads from an EU/EEA country to set themselves up as autónomo.

However, being autónomo in Spain is difficult and the tax and social security conditions are not favourable compared to other EU countries. In fact, freelancers in Spain pay the highest amount of social security in the EU at €283 a month minimum, regardless of earnings – and this is on top of tax.

READ MORE: Self-employed in Spain – What you should know about being ‘autónomo’

It’s far higher than the UK’s €14/month (minimum fee), the Netherlands’s €50 a year and Germany’s €140 for those earning more than €1,700 a month. It’s clear that this option is not sustainable for many digital nomads.

What’s new for digital nomads in Spain?

Spain is hoping to change all this with the introduction of new draft legislation known as the ‘Startups Law’, attracting digital nomads to its shores by creating better, legal ways people can work remotely in Spain.

If approved, the new law will entice foreign remote workers and digital nomads to choose Spain as their base by creating a new special visa for them and giving them the ability to access a reduction on the rate of Non-Residents Tax (IRNR).

It will also aim to provide tax incentives for the creation of startups. Until now, the IRNR tax rate for people with annual incomes of up to €600,000 was 24 percent, but the new bill proposes reducing it to 15 percent for a maximum period of four years.

When approved, the new visa will allow digital nomads to stay and work in Spain for a maximum of one year. Once it has expired, remote workers may request a residence authorisation as a remote worker for a further two years.

FIND OUT MORE – Tax cuts and special visas: Spain’s new law to attract foreign startups and digital nomads

How will Spain’s digital nomad visa compare to other countries in the EU? Image: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke / Pixabay

What visas and conditions do other EU countries offer?

Estonia
Estonia was a pioneer when it came to foreign startups with its e-Residency visa programme in 2014, which allowed foreign entrepreneurs to create a company with tax headquarters in the country.

In 2020, Estonia added to its offerings by introducing a digital nomad visa, similar to the one Spain wants to create, which will grant a six-month to one-year residence permit.

In order to be eligible for it, however, nomads will have to prove they have monthly earnings of at least €3,504 in the last six months and that their work is 100 percent remote. Estonia has a proportional tax rate of 20 percent, which digital nomads will have to pay on their earnings. 

Croatia
Croatia launched a visa similar to Estonia’s in early 2021. To be eligible, digital nomads must prove they have an income of at least €2,200 per month, or have savings of €25,000.

This will allow them to stay for a maximum of one year without the option of an extension, although, once it has expired, it can be reapplied for in six months.

The digital nomad work visa comes with tax exemptions (foreign digital nomads are not subject to pay income tax in Croatia) and validity of up to one year, according to ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System). 

Germany
Germany has also introduced its own visa scheme for remote workers, however the conditions seem to be a lot tougher than those proposed by Spain, as well as Estonia and Croatia.

In order to be eligible, the German government will ask for letters of recommendation from previous employers, a CV, cover letter, portfolio of work, documents that prove that you are doing the job you claim to be doing, educational titles, proof that you have sufficient income to and proof of registration as self-employed in your country of origin.

This visa is only for self-employed professionals, it is not used for employees who are remote workers. The good news is though is that it’s granted for a maximum period of three years. According to the German government, as a freelancer or self-employed in Germany, you have to pay about 14 to 45 percent of your earnings on income tax, depending on how much you earn.

Greece and Italy
Greece is also in the process of creating its own digital nomad visa for one year, giving tax incentives such as only 50 percent of your earnings being subject to taxation.

While Italy has yet to create a digital nomad visa, it has created several incentives, which mean that freelancers who set up legal residency in Italy are now offered a 70 percent tax reduction on income they generate within the country.

Overall, how does Spain’s new offering for digital nomads compare?

Not all digital nomads are remote workers with stable jobs and a salaried income which is the same every month, many work on different projects for clients around the world, some run blogs, are writers or are trying to set up their own businesses.

This means that the monthly income of €3,504 needed for Estonia and the €2,200 needed for Croatia may not be possible for some who earn their money sporadically.

So far Spain’s new draft bill hasn’t yet mentioned a minimum monthly amount for its digital nomad visa, but if it doesn’t set a limit, this will be a major perk for digital nomads who may not be able to meet the requirements for other countries.

In terms of taxation, Spain is no match for Croatia who won’t be taxing digital nomads at all, however, it offers great tax incentives over Estonia and Germany charging just 15 percent for those earning under €600,000 per year.

With regards to visa length, Spain is proposing a one-year digital nomad visa, but with the possibility to extend for a further two years. This is less than the German visa at four years, but more than Croatia offering just one year, before having to leave for six months, and Estonia, who will only grant visas for a period of six months to one year.

While many welcome Spain’s new Startups Law and digital nomad visa, experts also agree that it lacks clarification when it comes to tax issues and that there is still a lot to sort out.

“What happens is that nowadays it’s easier than ever to set up companies remotely in other more competitive regulatory sites, which is becoming, unfortunate for us,” Samuel Gil partner at JME Ventures told Spanish website Xataka. Gil believes that many of the important issues such as certain taxation remain unsolved.

Similarly, Héctor García entrepreneur, businessman, and technology investor from Habichuelas Ventures and founder and former CEO of Geographica argues that “there we must do much more. Like our competitors in other countries such as UK, France, Portugal, the law should be more ambitious on this point”.

READ ALSO: Tax cuts and special visas: Spain’s new law to attract foreign startups and digital nomads

Member comments

  1. Spain is not more expensive than the Netherlands in social security.

    50 euros is probably a figure for the mandatory health insurance premium (on top of the rest you pay) if you get a tax credit because make the minimum. Social security in Spain is healthcare and your pension so it is actually a bargain compared to the Netherlands if you pay the minimum.

    Who is going pay your pension if you pay little to nothing? Spain is less like those who said that in the South EU they hardly pay pension. I think foreigners figure they can go to Spain and get everyting for free and make no money??

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VISAS

Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

If you’re from a non-EU country you will need a visa in order to stay in Spain for longer than 90 days, but knowing which type of permit is best for you can be tricky. Here's how to find the right one for you based on your circumstances.

Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

If you are a citizen of a non-EU country then you may benefit from the 90-day rule, allowing you to visit Spain for 90 days out of every 180 without needing a visa. Countries including the UK, USA, Canada and Australia all benefit from this rule.

Citizens of certain countries require a visa even for a short trip – find the full list here.

However, the tricky part comes when you want to move to Spain and spend longer than just those three months. What are your visa options, whether you want to move to Spain to retire, to work or even to set up your own business? 

Retirees:

The best option for retirees is to apply for the non-lucrative visa (NLV). This allows you to live in Spain for one year, but as the name suggests you are not allowed to work.

In order to apply an applicant must show they have €27,792 at their disposal for one year (€34,740 if it’s a couple), as well as comprehensive health insurance.

If you want to stay in Spain beyond this year, you can either renew it for a further two years (again proving you have the financial means) or change your visa for a work permit or a self-employed permit through the residence modification process.

The NLV is also the best option for those who want to live abroad temporarily. Those who want to stay in Spain for more than three months, but are not planning on living here permanently. It’s ideal for those on a sabbatical for example who have savings or investments and who do not need to work in Spain while here, but want to stay here for a year. It’s also the best option for those who have the financial means to do so.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

retiree in Spain

The NLV is the right visa for most non-EU retirees who want to live in Spain. Photo: pasja1000 / Pixabay

Workers:

If you plan on moving to Spain for work or in order to look for a job, then you will need a work permit. Unfortunately getting a work permit can be tricky because in most cases as a non-EU national, the position you apply for must be on Spain’s shortage occupation list.

Your employer will also have to prove that there were no other suitable candidates within the EU to be able to fulfill the vacancy. This means that only highly skilled workers or those that work in industries that need workers are likely to be successful. These mostly include jobs in the maritime or fishing industries or sports coaches.

If you are wanting to become self-employed, then the entrepreneur visa could be a good option, allowing you to live in Spain for one year in order to open up a business. Be aware however your business must be considered as anything of innovative character with special economic interest for Spain.

You will have to prove you have the necessary qualifications to set up your business and will also have to submit your business plan to the authorities for it to be approved. The entrepreneur visa can be extended for a further two years after your initial one has been granted.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Spain’s visa for entrepreneurs

Investors:

If money is no object and you want to invest in a Spanish property then, you’ll want to apply for Spain’s golden visa. To be eligible, you must invest €500,000 before taxes in a property here. It won’t allow you to work, but it will allow you access to the entire Schengen area. This will also allow your spouse and any dependent children to move to Spain with you.

Another option for investors is the entrepreneur visa as described above, if you want to use your investment to set up a business in Spain.

Joining family members:

If you happen to have a family member who is an EU citizen and lives in Spain or a non-EU relative that has residency in Spain, then you have another option. This is called the family reunification visa. However, in order to be eligible, you need to be a spouse or a dependent child and your relative must have the means to financially support you. 

READ ALSO:

Students:

Enrolling on a course and applying for a student visa is one way for non-EU citizens of any age can live in Spain beyond the regular length of a tourist stay. 

You will have to apply for a short-term or long-term student visa, depending on the length of their course. A student advantages can several advantages such as being able to work part-time or bringing over family members. 

READ MORE: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s student visa?

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