Can Spain really become ‘Europe’s Hollywood’ as PM suggests?

Whilst on an official visit to the United States, Spain’s Prime Minister has pitched his country as the perfect backdrop for blockbuster American productions, but can Spain get round its reputation as a bureaucratic nightmare among international movie and series producers?

Can Spain really become 'Europe's Hollywood' as PM suggests?
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during his visit to the United States in July 2021. Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP

“We aim to become, and we have been named in some media, and if you allow the comparison, the Hollywood of Europe,” Pedro Sánchez told guests at a meeting with American audiovisual giants in Los Angeles on Thursday.

“Numerous providers of cross-border TV channels that were established in the UK before Brexit have now moved their operations to Spain,” the Spanish Prime Minister explained.

“Among them our hosts today NBC Universal, Sony, Disney, just to name a few.  

“Spain has all the necessary administrative and tax incentives, as well as all possible landscapes and backdrops to receive new projects and create new narratives.

Does Spain do enough to convince Hollywood?

Spain has been the movie set of numerous film classics such as Indiana Jones, Star Wars and more recently hugely popular franchise productions including Fast and the Furious and Game of Thrones. 

But Spain is also reported to have lost out on several big Hollywood shoots due to its slow and complex bureaucratic processes, for example not issuing visas quickly enough for film crew members who are American or from another non-EU country.

In some cases, actors, makeup artists, producers and other film crew had to be able to prove they had three years of experience, have a recognised degree or show they had a contract longer than three months with the audiovisual company to be eligible for a visa. 

A scene from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, shot in Seville’s Plaza de España. Photo: Screenshot

Slowly but surely, Spain is realising how its outdated and convoluted official processes and strict requirements for foreigners do not correspond with the reality and demands of a fast-paced international job market, especially for an industry as demanding as Hollywood’s.  

During his meeting with the US’s top studios, Sánchez outlined his government’s plans to allocate €1.6 billion ($1.88 billion) to boost Spain’s audiovisual sector, including tax incentives for international production houses that relocate to Spain. 

If carried out in practice, this would mean Spain’s audiovisual industry would grow by 30 percent in the next four years.

In early July, Spain’s Migrations Department also sent instructions to simplify and fastrack the granting of permits and visas for all workers who come to Spain to shoot series, movies or advertisements. 

Will all this be enough to convince Hollywood to turn to Spain?

If recent reports are anything to go on, Greece is currently the European country that’s garnering the attention of big-money American productions. 

After the 2016 Jason Bourne was shot in Spain’s Canary Islands when the film was set in Athens – all in the name of tax deductions –  the Greek government reacted by introducing a law to attract international productions with a tax rebate of 40 percent on all manner of expenses.

As a result, more than 70 major international productions have chosen the Hellenic nation, pumping millions into the Greek economy.

It seems Spain is late to the party, but it’s still a worthy competitor, as the Game of Thrones prequel “House of the Dragon” (shooting in Spain in autumn) suggests. 

How important is Hollywood to Spain’s economy?

According to data from Spain’s Secretary of State, one of the world’s leading production companies will invest almost €362 million in the filming of scenes from 33 series and 18 films in the Canary Islands, Andalusia, Madrid, Aragon, Catalonia, Navarra, the Balearic Islands and Valencia.

So there’s certainly the potential for big cash injections into the Spanish economy, although as seen in Greece in recent productions, jobs don’t always go to locals as fast-tracked visas means Hollywood directors bring more of their own crew over. 

Around 668,000 people in Spain work in the film, video, radio and TV industry, according to 2020 data by the country’s Ministry of Culture, a sector that’s among the hardest hit in Spain as a result of the pandemic. 

That’s not counting the catering, transport and other businesses that make money indirectly from multimillion-dollar productions. 

Between 2015 and 2018, Spain ranked fifth in the European Union in content creation, at the same level as Italy and Sweden, but behind the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

The entertainment industry also has the potential to boost tourism as has happened in the Basque Country thanks to Game of Thrones.

But the reaction by the majority of Spaniards has been of frustration with Pedro Sánchez’s ‘Hollywood’ allusion, for whom the focus should be on fixing local work issues without having to promote Spain abroad.


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How to change the title holder of utility bills in Spain

When you move into a new property in Spain you will need to change the account or contract holder over, so that any future water, electricity or gas bills will be in your name. It's not as easy as you may think; here's how you go about it.

How to change the title holder of utility bills in Spain

Changing the name on your utility bills and the payment details should in theory be relatively straightforward, however you may come up against some common problems which can make the change pretty complicated.

Firstly, you will need to find out which energy companies have been contracted for your property.

You can do this by asking the previous owner themselves, contacting your landlord if you’re renting or asking your estate agent to find out for you.

When it comes to water, this should be provided by your local council or city, so you won’t need to contact the previous occupant for this one. 

How do I change the title over?

When you first move in, remember to note down the numbers on the gas, electricity and water meters, so you can give these to the utility companies and they can record how much you should owe, instead of having to pay for the previous occupant’s consumption as well.

Next, you will then need to contact the energy company supplying your property or water provider and ask for a cambio de titular a nombre del arrendatario o comprador (ask for a change of ownership in the name of the renter or buyer).

The process should be completely free for electricity and gas, but in some cities, you may need to pay a deposit for changing the title of the water bill, which you should get back when you vacate the property. The deposit can be anywhere between €50 and €100.

Contacting the energy company by phone may be the best way to make sure everything is done correctly, but some companies also have online forms where you can request a title change. When it comes to water, most cities will have water offices you can visit or specific e-mail addresses if you can’t contact them over the phone. 

There are a few pieces of information you’ll need to have on hand before you contact the company. These are:

  • The full name of the previous person who had the bills in their name
  • Your NIE / DNI
  • The address of the property
  • The date you moved in
  • The CUPS code (not needed for water)
  • Your padrón certificate (for water only)
  • A copy of the deeds of the property or rental contract
  • Your bank details

With all this information, they should be able to change the name over on the account relatively quickly, so that any future energy bills will go directly to you.

At this time, you can also change your tariff or amount of energy contracted to suit your individual needs.

How do I find the CUPS code?

The CUPS code or Código Unificado del Punto de Suministro (Universal Supply Point Code) is a number that identifies each individual property that receives electricity or gas. The number doesn’t change, so you could ask the previous occupant for this as it will be written on their energy bills.

Alternatively, if this isn’t possible you can contact your energy distributor – these are assigned by area and stay the same. By giving them your name, address and ID number such as NIE, they will be able to give you the CUPS code associated with your property.

What if I want to change to a new energy company?

If you’d prefer not to contract the energy company that the previous owner had, you can also choose to go with a new one. In this case, you will still need all of the same information and numbers as above, but you will contact the energy provider of your choice and the type of tariff you want to pay.

How long will it take to change the name over?

It can take between 1 and 20 days for the bills to be changed over into your name. The previous occupant will receive their final bill and then you will receive the new one from the date you moved in.

What are some of the problems I might come up against?

The most common problem is when the previous occupant is not up to date on paying their bills and has some outstanding debt. In this case, if you try to change the title over into your name, you will also be inheriting the pervious owner’s debt.

In this case, you will have to get the previous occupant to pay their outstanding bill before you can change it over into your name. If you have problems getting them to pay their bill, then you can show proof of the date you moved in by sending in a copy of your deeds or rental contract. This should in theory allow for the transfer of ownership without having to take on the debt, however it can be tricky process, often calling the energy company multiple times and waiting for verification of the proof.

What if the energy services have been cut off?

In the case that the property has been uninhabited for some time, the previous owners may have deactivated or cut off the utilities. If this is the case, then you will need to call the energy providers to activate them again. This will typically involve paying several fees to be able to get them up and running. The amount you pay will depend on the energy distributor and where the property is based in Spain.