How to become an autónomo (freelancer) in Spain

Hello everyone! I have been going through the process of becoming an autonomo (or “freelancer” in English) since I am teaching through freelance work. As anyone who has dealt with Spanish bureaucracy will know, it can be a nightmare and is very inflexible. I would like to help others navigate the treacherous waters of the Spanish bureaucratic system. If you thought bureaucracy in your country was bad, wait until you hear about Spain. It isn’t at the level of bribery, but inefficiency and a general “I don’t care, not my problem” mentality seems to persist throughout the system. Don’t become disheartened! Push through and eventually, you will be an autónomo too.

It is important to note here that most of the websites are only available in Spanish; Google Translate will only get you so far. I recommend having a friend who speaks administrative Spanish. Another option is knowing one who has already gone through the process to help you with the following steps. Many of those working in the ministries/bureaucracy do not speak languages other than Castillian Spanish and maybe a local language (Galego, Basque, Catalan, Valencian, etc.). You can’t automatically count on being able to communicate with them about administrative topics.

How to start

So you have just moved to Spain and you are looking to work on your own accord? No matter who you are, if you want to work in Spain, you need a NIE (número de identidad de extranjero/foreigner identification number). To get this, you need to get a prior appointment, known as a ‘cita previa’ in Spanish, from this website. In some provinces, this is relatively easy; in others, not so much. As of April 2017, you can do this online.

I happen to live in Barcelona, so I had to do mine within the province of Barcelona. Update: this is now also mandatory as before you could go somewhere else). Barcelona has the problem: it is almost impossible to get a previous appointment (a “cita previa”); there are groups of people who reserve appointments to sell them on the black market. Several people that I know applying for NIEs have paid these groups of people around €100 for an appointment.

I have to admit that I was very fortunate. I already had a job lined up. When I saw that there were no appointments, I contacted my workplace immediately to ask what I should do. Something to note about Spain is that the Good-Old-Boy-Network principle seems to be very important here. In other words, it isn’t necessarily what you know, it is who you know. Someone in HR called the local comisaria policia (police station, it issues NIEs) and got an appointment for the next day. Without it, I would have been waiting for months for the next appointment. However, I must note here that I was the only one without a prior appointment. On the website, it says that people without previous appointments will be turned away. In reality, people with appointments went first, but anyone who had enough time could wait until there was an opening.

Appointment at the comisaria policia

The appointment itself is rather simple. You will need your passport and proof of right to work and reside in Spain. For EU citizens, this is your passport. For non-EU citizens, this is your residency card. You also need a document that shows where you live. A housing contract or your confirmation of registration with the Empadronamiento will do. Above all, you need photocopies of everything. The photocopies are essential; you have to hand them in during the appointment along with the application (Formulario EX-15) which you fill in before the appointment. If you do not have photocopies or don’t have any documents, they will stop the process and you will not receive your NIE. They will not photocopy these documents in the office even if their desk is right next to a printer/photocopier, so make sure to have everything prepared and with you.

The form also asks you for a reason as to why you are trying to obtain a NIE and my employer gave me a letter stating the company and that they were definitely going to hire me once I had the NIE. You should also have a photocopy of this or be willing to give in the original (I didn’t need it for anything else, but I didn’t know it at the time so I had a copy).

Is it free?

During the process, you will have to pay approximately €10 (I paid €10.13 as of April 2018) in the middle of the appointment. In the middle of your appointment you have to leave with a form that has your information and take it to the nearest bank. At the bank, the staff know exactly what to do with the firm, you hand over the money and they confirm that you have paid. This form you then take back to the same person in the comisari policia that you had the appointment with and they will physically hand you your NIE which they have just printed on a sheet of either green or white paper (green = permanent, white = temporary) about the size of a debit or credit card. You have to renew the white one (I believe after 3 months).

Quick Note: I have seen reports of some people unable to get NIEs because they were unable to show why they wanted one. Apparently, ‘searching for a job’ wasn’t a good enough reason, even though you can’t get a job without a NIE. What I have seen is that these people ended up getting appointments and then going to the office to explain the situation of not having a job offer because they don’t have a NIE but not having a NIE because they needed a job offer. After that, they received a temporary NIE so that they could actually look and apply for jobs.

Social security (seguridad social)

So once you successfully have your NIE, you should go immediately to the social security (Seguridad Social) office to register with them. Just say you got your NIE and that you would like to register for social security (which is mandatory if you work in Spain). This is a simple process that doesn’t need a prior appointment and only requires your passport and your NIE (and copies of both to give in). While there, you will have to fill in a form (information about yourself, country of origin, place of birth, place of residence in Spain) and then you will receive a certificate saying that you are officially registered with Seguridad Social. Congrats! Two processes down.

Getting online access

The third step is small but vitally important. To access certain features on governmental websites (such as social security which you have just registered for) that have to do with personal information, you need to have a “certificado digital” (digital certificate). You get this certificate from the Real Casa de la Moneda (Royal Mint of Spain, as in where the money is made) but you can request it online as well.

You need to use specific browsers (Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox) with a special configuration and a request for a certificado digital, which can be done using your name, email address and NIE here. Click the second option under the link using Firefox or Internet Explorer and then fill in the information. This will then send a code to your email address.

Now what?

With this code, your passport and your NIE (you don’t need copies this time), you need to authenticate your identity in person at one of these offices (use the locator in the link and search for offices where you obtain information about ‘personas fisicas’ or ‘personas fisicas y representates’), which takes less than 5 minutes. Once authenticated, a second email is sent with a download link for the certificado digital. You have to download it within (approximately) one hour of receiving the code.

You can only instal the certificate on one device (the device which you used to request the certificate. Sometimes the certificate won’t work on any other device). Installing the certificate in any other places or devices will invalidate the certificate and you will need to request another one.

What if I want multiple certificates?

You also cannot have two certificates active at the same time as requesting a second one will invalidate the first. This is also true if you request the certificate on your mobile device after installing it on your computer (since the type of certificate is the same). If you want to be able to access the information on multiple devices, you need to go through the export process for security certificates of your browser and import it into the browser on the device that you would like to use. Warning: incorrect exporting/importing will invalidate the certificate and you will have to do this process yet again.

Once you complete this, you can move to the next step: registering with the tax agency (Agencia Tributaria) as an autonomo.

Anything else I should know?

Quick note: if you have been able to do this process quite quickly (lucky you!) as I was able to, it may be possible that you are not able to do the online components of the next parts. This is because your NIE does not appear in all of the Spanish systems yet. If so, you will not have a cita previa and will need to go in person to the Agencia Tributaria and wait until someone can see you.

Second quick note: Forms will start asking for the NIF (financial identification number) instead of the NIE. For foreigners, your NIE is your NIF, so just write it as you would if it asked for the NIE. For Spaniards, the NIF is the same as the DNI.

Registering with the tax agency (Agencia Tributaria)

To register with the Agencia Tributaria, you need to take your passport, your NIE and copies of both. You need to request the Modelo 037 form, a simplified form to register for the ALTA. The ALTA is a database of autonomos. The form can be found here (and also completed if they get the online version working) but you need to sort out the certificado digital. Once done, you can fill it in and send it online. If your NIE isn’t fully activated yet, you will also need to fill in a Modelo 030 form as well. This gives the Agencia Tributaria your personal information (i.e. passport number, place of birth, country of origin, residence in Barcelona, NIE, etc.). Both the 030 and 037 can also be obtained in person from the Agencia Tributaria. Fill them out before or during your appointment (whether you made it previously or otherwise).

I’m not like a normal worker. I’m a cool worker

Almost done! Lastly, you need to tell Seguridad Social that you aren’t just a normal worker, you are an autonomo. For this, there is an online form. Rather than write everything here, please look at the document that I received below. As of April 2018, this document was mostly correct. I have written a few notes specifically for freelance foreign language teachers who are autonomous. This means you are working without a contract. Although I have written in the codes that you will need, you must have completed the previous steps before doing this last step. This document is in Spanish and runs through the entire form (which is also only in Spanish). I have done a rough translation into English.

At the end of the process, you will also need to input a Spanish bank account. You can set up an account with any bank using your passport but you must switch it to the NIE within one month or it will be frozen. You will also need a code from the Modelo 037 from the Agencia Tributaria (the white writing on the third page is the IAE code). If you are not a foreign language teacher, you will need to work out the code for yourself. For now, the code for freelancer teachers of foreign languages is P682 (also in a sticky note in the document. The ‘P’ stands for professional and 628 is the category that foreign language teaching autonomos fall under).

Guia de llegar a ser autonomo

Guia de llegar a ser autonomo – English

Am I done now?

At this point, assuming that everything went well, you should be an autonomo legally able to practice/work in Spain. You have now registered with the Agencia Tributaria and Seguridad Social that you are not a normal worker. You are a special case. Therefore, you now follow the rules of autonomos instead of normal contracted workers.

EDIT: I have found this guide in Spanish from WikiHow on How to Become an Autonomo (Cómo hacerse autónomo) which mentions a few steps for the Agencia Tributaria/Hacienda. These were all completed at the same time for me with the Modelo 037. The civil servant ended our session with ‘congrats on becoming an autonomo’, so I believe that everything is finished.

If this worked for you, please comment below. Also if it didn’t work, could you please comment below and say why it didn’t work? The process changes quickly and I will try to keep this post up to date as best as I can. I know that the process can be quite complex and few people seem to know how to actually do it.

I hope others find it helpful!


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5 thoughts on “How to become an autónomo (freelancer) in Spain

  1. Hey Jamie thanks for this, I have a question can you be autónomo and have a contract with a school at the same time?

    1. Hello Kerri, unfortunately I do not know for certain. I was never in that situation myself. I think though, the Spanish government might then see you as a kind of “fake autónomo”, for which there are hefty fines. I would recommend going to the Chamber of Commerce or to a gestor, either of whom would be able to answer your question. Sorry I couldn’t be more help!

        1. Yes that is true. You can send them standard invoices. Actually, you can invoice companies without being autónomo as long as it is below a certain value. This value changes every year so I woudl recommend either checking the law or with a gestor.

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