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'It seems impossible': The problems Spain's digital nomad visa applicants face

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected]
'It seems impossible': The problems Spain's digital nomad visa applicants face
A number of foreign readers looking to move to Spain have told The Local about the bureaucratic problems they've faced when applying for the new digital nomad visa. Photo: Jonathan Kemper / Unsplash

Despite all the hype, getting Spain’s digital nomad visa has been far from easy for some, with applicants telling The Local it's become "unappealing", expensive and that Spanish authorities are "completely confused" about what's required.


There was a lot of excitement when Spain’s digital nomad visa or DNV finally became available in early 2023 and many freelancers and remote workers from non-EU countries could get the chance to live in and work from Spain.

Up until that point, the only real option for those who were unable to get a visa to work in Spain or didn’t have half a million for the Golden Visa was the Non-Lucrative visa, but as the name suggests people were prohibited from working on this visa, even if it was for a foreign employer or clients.

When the DNV finally launched there was much confusion from the outset with no clear instructions from Spanish authorities on how to apply and no clear announcement to say it was now available. Several law firms, as well as journalists, including those from The Local, managed to piece together the application process from several government sources.


Since February 2023 when clear guidelines and requirements were laid out in the media and by several Spanish law firms, many from all over the world have begun the application process in a bid in make their dreams of living in Spain a reality.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about applying for Spain’s digital nomad visa

Unfortunately, The Local Spain has learned that in practice the process hasn’t been easy. Many applicants have been coming up against lots of bureaucratic setbacks and obstacles, spending thousands on lawyer fees, taking weeks to gather documentation and getting it all translated.

We spoke to several digital nomads who are currently in the process of applying for Spain's DNV about what their experiences have been like.

Jess Haddow is an American who works remotely for a company in the US. He was very happy when the visa was announced so that he could join his fiancée who lives in Valencia. As the process is very complex, he decided to use a lawyer to help with his application.

“I started booking consultations with various law firms and received quotes between €1,200 and €1,800, and I ultimately went with the lowest bidder,” he explained.

READ ALSO: 'No lawyer can guarantee you get Spain's digital nomad visa'

“My goal was to move to Spain in March, so I immediately went to work collecting the correct paperwork. I was very worried about receiving the apostille for my FBI background check in time because the US State Department was reporting a 10-12 week delay," he added. 

He managed to get around this issue by contacting his Senator's office to get help expediting the apostille, and after some back and forth, they ultimately relented and helped him get it in four weeks.


It was then that he discovered a small clause in the list of documents that was required that was to become his main issue. The clause stated that he would need to provide a certificate of social security coverage from his country or his company would need to register for and pay social security in Spain. 

When Jess contacted his lawyer about this she originally believed it must be a mistake and that getting private health insurance should negate the need to provide the certificate.

It soon became clear however that this wasn’t a mistake and that remote workers would indeed need to prove social security coverage from their home country to get their digital nomad visas.

So, Jess contacted the US Social Security Administration to see if he could get the required certificate. “Their response to me was that only employees who are transferred to an employer's physical office or affiliate's office in Spain for a period of less than five years are eligible for a certificate of coverage. They said that the Social Security Totalisation agreement between Spain and the US does not cover remote work”.

One way around this was for Jess’s company to register with and pay his social security in Spain, which ultimately they were unwilling to do.

The second way around this was for Jess to become a freelance contractor instead of a remote worker with a contract and become autónomo (self-employed) in Spain and pay his own social security. But, by doing this Jess learned that he wouldn’t qualify for Beckham’s Law, which would limit his personal income tax in Spain. “This was a bit of a dealbreaker for me,” he said.

READ ALSO - Self-employed in Spain: What you should know about being 'autónomo'

"I have spent around €2,800 for lawyers, consultations, notaries, and documents in pursuit of the digital nomad visa, and I'm no closer to my dream of living in Spain," Jess added. 

After liaising with two different tax professionals, Jess has ultimately decided to try a different route to gain Spanish residency. 


Sam is from the UK, but is also in a similar situation to Jess, being a remote worker employed by a company, rather than a freelancer.

“This visa route at the moment almost feels like an impossibility, he explained. “The main reason for this issue seems to be the sheer burden of documentation that needs to be provided. We've been working on gathering documentation for six weeks now and are still waiting on key documents”.

Despite being in the UK, he has also come up against the same social security issue. Unlike the US, however, the UK has in some cases been issuing social security certificates to remote workers.

READ ALSO: Your questions answered about Spain's digital nomad visa

“The UK is taking 10 weeks for online applications and 29 weeks for postal applications. In some cases though, they are not issuing the certificates at all because they do not believe the DNV is appropriate for its issuance,” Sam explained.

So far, Sam has spent upwards of £10,000 on solicitors fees, translations and other administrative fees, despite not yet being able to live in Spain. “Having spent a lot of time looking at other digital nomad visas I am currently of the opinion that Spain’s is one of the most unappealing and difficult to obtain,” he said.

Despite all this he is determined to continue with his application and find a way around the issue and make his childhood dream of living in Andalusia a reality.

digital nomad visa spain problems Remote contract workers looking to get Spain's digital nomad visa appear to be experience the bulk of the bureaucratic problems. Photo: Shridhar Gupta/Unsplash

Some UK members of the Spanish Digital Nomad Visa (DNV) group on Facebook have reported that their certificates needed for social security coverage have finally come through from the HMRC. One member has also posted they may grant urgent requests to do it sooner if you provide a good enough reason.

Many members are also advising applicants from the UK to only request their certificate from the HMRC for a temporary period such as two years (even if you are planning on staying three years on the visa), as they will not issue it if they believe you are permanently moving to Spain or spending longer.


Ray Goldberg from Australia has taken a slightly different approach. He is currently in Spain on a 90-day Schengen visa and is trying to get his digital nomad visa approved from here before the three-month period runs out. He has gained permission from the trust he works for in Australia to work remotely.

One of his main issues has been having to get all his company documents notarised and apostilled in Australia as the embassy in Spain has been unwilling to help. “The UGE (authority in charge of issuing the visa in Spain) itself is completely confused as to what is and what isn’t required. I spent considerable time running around trying to get documents notarised in Spain,” he explained. “It took me two weeks to get documents notarised and even then it was under duress”.

He is using a lawyer to help him through the process. “There are a multitude of lawyers charging outrageous fees when they don’t really understand the visa. Quite a few tried to get me to pay for sessions remotely before the visa was even released,” he pointed out.


While it’s still been difficult, not everyone has found the process quite so impossible, this is particularly those who are freelancers and work for themselves rather than those who are employed by companies. This is due to the fact that they have to promise to register as autónomo when they arrive in Spain and will therefore be in charge of paying their own social security contributions. 

Nikki Martinez from the US who is applying jointly with her husband is one of these and works as a freelance health coach and chef. She submitted her application at the beginning of April and has almost completed the process in just four weeks.

“Just heard back and there’s only one document they’re asking for from me (and it’s an easy one) so it’s looking very good!” she said. "It’s a document to further prove my current contract with my client, which we actually already had, but found there was a discrepancy between my original contract date and the letter they wrote for me." 

Despite the process being easier though, she has still opted to use a lawyer to help her complete everything and get it all in order so she doesn’t miss anything. "I truly believe hiring help will ultimately be what will get us approved. I personally do not have a Degree. My education is more tech/certification style and experience. So I had to take extra steps to prove my three years of experience," she explained. 


She used Navarro & Asociados Abogados and paid an initial fee of US $753, then paid $931 at the time of submitting her visa application (this included the fees to submit the application as well). On top of that, her translation fees were $543. 

Sarah Chappell is another freelancer who has found the process slightly easier. “I came on holiday a month ago and decided to stay,” she explained using the DNV as a way to do so, and is planning on completing the application while in the country.

Sarah found that there was a lot of paperwork and upfront costs involved, but that this was to do with setting herself up in Spain than the DNV specifically.

While the process has been difficult and somewhat problematic, there are many freelancers on the Spanish DNV Facebook page who have already managed to secure their visa and are currently on their way to starting a new life in Spain.

As for remote contract workers, it seems that the conditions still need to be ironed out by Spanish authorities for those from several countries. 


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