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Long hours and little pay: What it's like to be self-employed in Spain

The Local Spain
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Long hours and little pay: What it's like to be self-employed in Spain
Being self-employed in Spain isn't straightforward for most. Photo: Energe Piccom/Pexels

Two new studies have revealed key stats about what it's like to be 'autónomo' in Spain, from the average hours worked to the amount they charge compared to other freelancers in Europe, and their greatest worries.


Freelancers in Spain already know how tough it is to be self-employed here, but sometimes official data can really bring it to light. 

The two studies by the IV National Study of the Self-Employed (ENA) with the collaboration and methodology of the University of Granada (UGR) and BCG x Malt report Freelancing in Europe have revealed data on who the average freelancer in Spain is and what they find the most challenging. 

Profile of the Spanish self-employed worker

According to the BCG study, the average freelancer in Spain is 39 years old, while the ENA study found that 45.5 percent of autónomos are between 40 and 54.

It's important to note that the 'Freelancing in Europe' study refers to digital self-employed 'freelance' work such as journalism, photography, design or coding, whereas the University of Granada study focused on all self-employed workers in Spain, from digital freelancers to sole traders.

Just under half, 38 percent, of freelancers in Spain are female, while the majority, 62 percent are male. 78 percent have a university degree and 97 percent have had experience working for a company before they went freelance.  

Madrid is the city with the most freelancers in Spain (37 percent) while 22 percent are in Barcelona. The other 41 percent are spread throughout the country.

A large majority (92 percent) said they became self-employed because they wanted more independence. 81 percent work from home, seven percent work from clients’ offices, seven percent go to their own office, and five percent work from co-working spaces.

READ ALSO: The best co-working spaces for digital nomads in Spain


How much time do autónomos in Spain work?

According to the BCG study, freelancers in Spain work 42 hours a week, while 28 percent of their time is actually spent doing administrative tasks instead of working for clients. 

This is just one hour more than the number of hours worked by self-employed people in Germany and five hours more than those in France. 

The ENA study on the other hand revealed that almost half of self-employed workers say they work 10 or more hours a day but do not take more than 20 days of holiday. 

Despite this, autónomos point out that the main advantages of being self-employed are autonomy (84.8 percent) and flexibility (69.6 percent).

How much do self-employed workers in Spain charge?

Autónomos in Spain charge much less than their counterparts in other Western European countries, but how much do they actually get? For tech jobs, the average daily going rate is €311 for art and design it's €217 per day, and for marketing and communication roles it's €200 per day. 

Those in Spain may work slightly more hours than their counterparts in Germany and France, but the compensation they receive is a whopping 87 percent less than those in France and 170 percent less than German self-employed workers. 

Those in France for example are charging €546 a day for tech jobs, while in Germany it's an average of €746 per day. 


What are the main issues autónomos face in Spain today?

According to the ENA report, 9 out of 10 self-employed people say that entrepreneurship in Spain is not easy at all.

Barriers that self-employed people encounter are the taxation system (26.2 percent), the monthly Social Security contributions (25.7 percent), and the bureaucracy (23.2 percent).

The majority believe that they have a higher tax burden than those who are employed with a job contract.

READ ALSO: Will you pay more under Spain's new social security rates for self-employed?

Although 65.6 percent agree that Social Security payments should be based on earnings, the majority believe the amounts are still too high.

66.7 percent of freelancers only pay the lowest social security amount and 2.9 percent pay the maximum amount.

This is currently around €200 a month for those earning less than €670 and up to €590 a month for those earning €6,000 or more a month. 

READ ALSO: How much should you pay someone to do your taxes in Spain? 

Even though 75.5 percent know about the new Social Security system based on real earnings, instead of a fixed amount, the number of freelancers actually using it is very low.

53.9 percent of Spanish freelancers say that they have had to get a loan at some point to help their businesses stay afloat and 57.1 percent say they were forced to take government help during the pandemic.


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