Unpaid interns in Spain must now register for social security and file tax returns

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Unpaid interns in Spain must now register for social security and file tax returns
Interns must register for social security in Spain. Photo: ICSA / Pexels

Spain's unpaid interns and those undertaking vocational training must, starting in 2024, register for social security and file quarterly tax returns, creating an administrative headache for universities across the country.


Around 400,000 university students and 458,000 vocational training students who undertake internships in 2024 must contribute to social security for the first time starting at the beginning of this year.

In Spanish, this means they must cotizar. This verb means to make or pay contributions, in the sense of paying tax into Spain's social security system (la seguridad social). There’s also the noun cotización used to refer to these social security contributions.

Even though interns must now register for social security, the government has promised to subsidise 100 percent of their contributions in 2024 during the student's training period, so they will not have to pay the fees themselves.

Several regional administrations and universities have already cited problems with the new measure, however, arguing that it will be a bureaucratic nightmare. 

The procedure consists of registering and de-registering each student individually indicating the number of days per month that they will work or carry out their internships. This will be done quarterly by each region.

Universities warn that at the end of the year, this new burden could lead to the “collapse” of their administrative services due to the refusal of companies and institutions to assume the new procedure themselves.


The president of the Sectoral Committee on Student Affairs of Crue Universities, María Antonia Peña, explained at the end of the year that “many technical doubts” were still being resolved with the Social Security Treasury.

La Crue, an association that brings together the majority of Spanish universities estimates that there are some 400,000 internships undertaken each year in Spain and is concerned about processing this huge volume.

In many cases these internships are mandatory, meaning the student cannot graduate without having done them.


The regulations establish that companies and public and private institutions will be responsible for processing the contributions “unless agreements state otherwise.”

According to Peña, many companies are taking advantage of this phrase and leaving it up to the universities to do instead.

Over 458,000 vocational training students will also have to register for social security. These fees will be subsidised by 95 percent, with the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports paying the remaining 5 percent in 2024.

Many education ministers are also against the move. The Valencian Minister of Education, José Antonio Rovira said that the measure aims to “artificially raise Social Security affiliates" and creates more administrative work. 

While the Madrid Minister of Education, Science and University, Emilio Viciana, stated that the contribution “looks very good in terms of Social Security figures and statistics", but that it was actually time to talk about youth unemployment instead. 

The Extremaduran Minister of Education, María Mercedes Vaquera, also regretted that Sánchez's government had not accepted the proposal of fourteen communities to postpone the implementation of social security contributions for these students.


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