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A year of digital nomads in Spain: the lessons learned

The Local Spain
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A year of digital nomads in Spain: the lessons learned
Several thousand international remote workers have applied for Spain's digital nomad visa since it came into force in 2023. Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Spain's digital nomad visa has proven a success since its launch in 2023, though it's faced some hiccups. A Spanish lawyer discusses the lessons learned from processing these visas and residence permits for international remote workers.

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One of the effects of the technological revolution we are currently experiencing is the constantly changing labour landscape.

Along with the international nature of many businesses and the new demands for worker flexibility, it became necessary for Spain to regulate “digital nomads,” those who choose to work remotely from anywhere in the world.

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This need was especially urgent in cases where the digital nomad is a non-EU citizen.

In December 2022, the Spanish legislator chose to include this figure under the name “international remote worker” in Law 28/2022, which promotes the ecosystem of emerging companies (Startups Law).

This was later developed by instructions that clarified the initial uncertainty accompanying its implementation. The regulation established a new type of visa and a residence permit designed for this new labour reality, but with nuances and requirements that restricted who could apply for this permit.

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To apply for a visa or residence permit as an international remote worker, a “digital nomad” is defined as a non-EU person who has worked for at least 3 months for one or more companies outside Spanish territory, with a minimum of 1 year of activity, can work 100% remotely, has sufficient qualifications or experience, and earns more than twice the Interprofessional Minimum Wage (IMW).

After a year and a half of the Startups Law coming into force and its practical application by individuals, professionals, and the administration, the criteria have become well-defined, as well as the most common cases.

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Here are the lessons learned from processing visas and residence permits for international remote workers:

The realities of digital nomads are very varied and often may not fit into the Spanish regulatory structure. In these cases, the success of the application will depend on correctly explaining and demonstrating the reality of the employment or professional relationship. It is essential to have official documentation for this.

Compliance with the requirements must be demonstrable, whether it be the relationship with the foreign company, qualifications or professional experience, or even economic income.

The latter is particularly relevant as bank statements showing the receipt of these amounts in the applicant’s account, coming from the company detailed in the application, must be provided.

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We have observed three types of digital nomads:

  • Employees: These cases are less common due to complications related to Social Security contributions. If an employee has a work contract, there are two options: an agreement between Spain and the company’s country allowing contributions to remain in the country of origin, or the company registering in Spain as a non-resident company and paying contributions in Spain (many foreign companies are reluctant to do this due to costs and possible tax implications).
  • Contractors: Very common is the figure of the “contractor” or “freelancer“, whose ease lies in only needing a sworn declaration that the applicant will register as a self-employed worker in Spain. This option is the most common as it corresponds to the classic category of digital nomad whose service contract already foresaw the possibility of working from anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Self-employed company owners: This less anticipated category at the start of developing this permit corresponds to those who provide services for their own company and whose Social Security classifications simplify the process through a sworn declaration that the applicant will register as a self-employed worker in Spain.

Social Security contributions: Understanding the correct form of Social Security contribution is essential for these authorisations, especially for renewals. We are observing a great lack of knowledge of this requirement among international remote workers who obtained their first visas at Spanish Consulates, which puts their current residence permits at risk in Spain.

The work must be entirely remote: While this now includes most professions, not all jobs or professional relationships can be included. Professions that require manual work or physical presence in the country of origin, even just once a year, will not qualify.

On a tax level: Only international remote workers whose relationship with the foreign company is an employment relationship can benefit from the special regime of the Beckham Law, excluding all freelancers or self-employed company owners.

READ ALSO: Spain clarifies which digital nomads will get lower tax rates

Digital nomads are a reality here to stay and offer undeniable talent enrichment opportunities for Spain and for all those who wish to develop their professional projects flexibly in Spain. Although they do not have permission to work for Spanish companies, their physical presence in Spanish territory will attract and strengthen the competitiveness of the Spanish business environment.

Due to the diverse nature of applicants and the rigidity of the applicable regulatory structure, it is essential to have good preparation and specialised advice when processing these applications to ensure success. This advice is not only necessary for obtaining the permit but also for designing a comprehensive strategy that includes migratory, labour, and tax aspects that are satisfactory for the applicant.

This article was written by lawyer Marta Salvador Mateo of AGM Abogados, a law firm that offers advice and assistance in the residency process for digital nomads who wish to reside and work remotely in Spain. Contact us if you need our help.

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