14 min

Insider tips: How to immigrate to Spain more easily, and taxes for expats

How can you move to Spain as a non-EU citizen? Here you will find answers to these and other frequent questions about moving to Spain

Irina is the curator of the Spanish division at Migrun. She is the person who verifies many lawyers and experts before they are listed on the platform. Additionally, Irina has compiled detailed free guides on the main types of visas and residence permits in Spain, constantly updating them based on real cases.

We have divided this interview into two parts. You can read it in its entirety to have a complete understanding of immigration to Spain and be fully prepared, or you can read only the part that interests you the most:

  • Part 1: Everything about visas, residence permits, and taxes. How to obtain a residence permit in Spain? Which visas are popular? What documents are required, and what are the requirements? What are the most common mistakes?
  • Part 2: Pros and cons of living in Spain. What stereotypes are true, and which ones are not? Which city should you choose to live in? How much does the rent of an apartment cost, and will the government control price growth?

๐Ÿ˜Ž Part 1: The most popular visas and residence permits, common document submission mistakes, and taxes.

Which visas and residence permits are currently most popular among expats?

#1. Spain Digital Nomad visa

Currently, the most popular visa is the Digital Nomad visa. I will be applying for a new residence permit under this program. Documents can be submitted online within the country. The consulates of Spain also accept documents, but it is nearly impossible to get an appointment within the next month, and you need to obtain a tax number in advance. Therefore, consider this: instead of getting a one-year visa first and then dealing with paperwork again to obtain a residence permit, it may be better to come on a tourist visa and apply for a residence permit for three years. At least that's the advice I give everyone, the second option.

Main requirements:

๐Ÿ‘‰ Income level: 200% of the monthly minimum wage (SMI) (~โ‚ฌ2520).
๐Ÿ‘‰ Type of income: remote work (freelance or employment contract).
๐Ÿ‘‰ Have a contract valid for at least three months (at the time of application).
๐Ÿ‘‰ You must either work for a foreign company that has existed for at least one year (and your contract is for at least three months) or be self-employed and carry out your activity for at least three months.
๐Ÿ‘‰ Family members can also apply for a Digital Nomad residence permit simultaneously or later than the main applicant. Sufficient financial means will need to be demonstrated.

#2. Spain Student visa

The second place goes to the student visa. It is not impossible, but it is challenging. Spaniards prefer to hire Spaniards. Therefore, it is optimal to consider remote work options for any company outside of Spain.

Main requirements:

๐Ÿ‘‰ You must study at a language academy for at least 20 hours per week or attend university.
๐Ÿ‘‰ You must have โ‚ฌ7,200 in your bank account for one year (IPREM x 100%).
๐Ÿ‘‰ The maximum stay on a student visa is at least ten months and a maximum of 1 year. After this period, you can extend the residence permit.
๐Ÿ‘‰ If you have family (spouse and children), they can come to Spain and live without work rights by joining through their country's consulate if they cannot submit documents simultaneously from Spain.

#3. Spain visa for those with passive income

The visa for those with passive income is in third place in terms of popularity. This permit allows you to stay in Spain for one year from the date of entry into its territory. It serves as the initial residence permit. You can renew it every two years (the renewal period) until you obtain permanent residency (after five years of stay in the country).

Main requirements:

๐Ÿ‘‰ Deposit of โ‚ฌ28,800 (IPREM x 400%) for a one-year stay.
๐Ÿ‘‰ For each family member (spouse or child), you must demonstrate an additional โ‚ฌ7,000 (IPREM x 100%) for one year of stay.
๐Ÿ‘‰ Only passive income.
๐Ÿ‘‰ Although prohibited from working in Spain, you can open your own company and receive dividends.

#4. Startup Visa in Spain

Recently, the Startup Visa in Spain has become less popular. There are one main reason for this: obtaining a Digital nomad visa is faster than the Startup Visa, so many people choose the first type of visa.

Main requirements:

๐Ÿ‘‰ An innovative project business plan.
๐Ÿ‘‰ Professional experience that aligns with the startup business plan.
๐Ÿ‘‰ Deposit: a minimum of โ‚ฌ30,240 per year for the founder (+ โ‚ฌ11,340 for the spouse and โ‚ฌ3,780 for each child in the applicant's account).
๐Ÿ‘‰ No initial investments are required.

โ€"Golden visas" have not been abolished yet, but they are rare. We will not delve into them.

What Not to Do: Common Mistakes When Applying for a Residence Permit in Spain?

Firstly, there is the Digital Nomad visa or residence permit.

The process is relatively straightforward, so making a grave mistake is hard. However, one common mistake is careless document scanning. Since the application is electronic, some people think a poorly scanned document will suffice, but remember, it's a scanned document with a digital signature! The quality of the scan matters. It's not a minor detail.

Of course, it's essential to refrain from submitting fake documents because the officials are experienced and can tell if a copy doesn't exist. In the early stages of the process, there was one unclear document, and someone suggested drawing it. No, there's no "drawing" involved.

The third mistake is to follow the guidelines. Stick to the guide, either ours or the official one. Collect all the required documents according to a clear plan, and everything will be fine.

I was surprised myself when I looked at the statistics recently. Many returns to us after the initial consultation, saying, "You explained everything so well, and we understand that everything is possible." I look at their case, see that everything is there, and it can work, but they just need to do this and make a few adjustments. We have a rule that if we realize a case is impossible, a dead end, we refund the money. But it has never happened. Perhaps it's because we have many experts on our team who have gone through the immigration process, so they treat all clients as human beings.

โžก๏ธ The second type of visa is the Startup visa. What should one pay attention to in this case?

Here, you need to propose a specific startup idea relevant to Spain. This is crucial. If you decide to launch a drone that delivers pastries or flowers, it's unlikely this project will be approved. This is a real case I mentioned. The requirements have become stricter, and projects are evaluated rigorously. The project's innovation level, the idea's feasibility, and its potential to generate income for the people and the Spanish economy are all assessed.

You can't duplicate a startup if you have already launched a startup in another country. The evaluators will genuinely analyze the case and find a similar startup. We had a point where a client wanted to scale a mobile application that was already operational in Kazakhstan. It's easy for a government employee to go to the Apple Store and check. We advised the client to refrain from pursuing that path and instead adapt the project to Spain's realities or develop a new one.

But if you want to start a business in Spain and have a great idea that suits the country, why not try?
โžก๏ธ Are there any specific industries to focus on?

Anything related to eco-friendly initiatives and new technologies, of course. These programs are currently being promoted at the governmental level, so there's a high chance of approval. Another promising area is anything related to children. There is a need for more childcare, educational facilities, and leisure centers, especially for very young children. The problem of where to leave a child while parents work in an office exists because there are no long maternity leaves here.

โžก๏ธ Are there any pitfalls with passive income?

You need to demonstrate a steady flow of income. You will need something else if you received a multimillion-dollar bonus and the funds are in your account. You need to prove that you have a consistent, stable passive income from rentals, dividends, royalties, stocks, or even renting out a Porsche :)

โžก๏ธ What should be taken into account when applying for a student visa?

You can submit your documents from Spain, not necessarily at the consulate of your country of citizenship or another residence permit. There are no age restrictions in Spain - for example, in my Spanish language group, there is a 62-year-old man from Minsk. He gathered the documents, paid for his education โ€“ and that's it. This would have been impossible at the Russian consulate.

Last year, the law was amended, officially allowing students to work 20 hours per week. For example, you can work as a hairdresser in a Spanish salon during these hours or find another job. You go to the town hall, collect the necessary documents about your residence permit, show the police that you work 4 hours a day, and modify your student visa into a residence permit with work rights. You earn money, pay taxes, and formally start a more "proper" path for further legalization if you plan to stay, live, and work in Spain.

Taxes in Spain: How much does a digital nomad pay? What about passive income?

In many European countries, tax systems are complex, so it's best to consult with a specialist for certainty. However, some key points can be highlighted.

โ€As a student, you only pay taxes if you decide to work those 4 hours mentioned earlier. If you're not just studying but also working remotely and regularly receiving a salary to your account, there might be questions - you are obligated to notify the authorities.

If you're on a passive income visa, you pay taxes on your passive income, and no further payments are required.

If you are a digital nomad, whether self-employed or employed, the progressive tax scale will apply by default (ranging from 19% to 47%). There are deductions available, which may vary based on the region, family composition, and other factors. Additionally, digital nomads are promised the possibility to use a special tax regime (known as the Beckham Law) for 5 years with a fixed rate of 24%. Under this regime, if you earn 600,000 euros per year, you will not have to pay more than 24%. If you earn more, the progressive tax scale applies, with a maximum of 47%. However, currently only the progressive tax scale is available.

It is important to understand that each province in Spain has its own allowances and deductions. Often, when you have a high income, these factors significantly affect the final tax amount. For example, in Madrid, social security payments for the first year are essentially 0 (the payment is made but returned at the end of the year), while in other provinces, it is 80 euros per month if you are self-employed. However, it is advisable to consult a tax consultant for the best advice.

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๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Part 2. Life in Spain: Pros and Cons

โ€” Which stereotypes about Spaniards turned out to be accurate, and which ones were not confirmed?

I didn't have any exaggerated expectations. Perhaps because I prepared for immigration for a long time, it was a step-by-step process. My love for Spain began ten years ago when my ex-husband and I visited as tourists. We liked the attitude between people, the language, and the overall culture. Then my mother-in-law bought an apartment in Barcelona, our son was born, and we would visit for a couple of months every summer. Gradually, we started looking at the country more closely and considered moving to Spain. I started learning the language, and so did my child. Overall, the preparation process took about three years.

My first attempt to obtain a residence permit was unsuccessful. Three years ago, through the Spanish consulate in Moscow, I tried to get a student visa for three months but was denied. And I had such a strong case! Acquaintances who had already gone through the student residence permit process immediately said, "Your age, 38 years old, is a red flag. They will think you want to stay there permanently." When I was refused, they said, "Why do you want to learn the language at your age?" It was very unpleasant. Yet at that time, I didn't have a firm intention; I just wanted to spend these three months getting a closer look at the country and figuring out if I wanted to live here. But my appeal was also dismissed. Then I spent another six months writing letters to the language school to get a refund. But despite everything, I decided to obtain a Spanish residence permit, no matter what.

I had always worked in large foreign companies and decided it was time to move on when the war started. I needed to go now. Besides, my child finished primary school.

I started collecting documents for a student residence permit again on my own. I found a lawyer to review the package, but in the end, there was no thorough review or empathy. I found the mistakes myself and pointed them out... And the worst part, the case was closed. There was no rejection; they closed it because we submitted the documents too early. We introduced them in the summer, but the school year started in September. No such law regulates this, but there are sub-legal acts that state you can apply for a student residence permit when you have a month left before school starts. I had to go through the appeal process again, during which I met many lawyers, attorneys, and Vlad from MigRun. We presented documents showing that my son was attending a summer camp, stating that's why we submitted the documents so early. Ultimately, everything was approved, and I joined the MigRun team. My experience was negative, so I need to make it positive and error-free for those who come to MigRun. Of course, you can't emotionally invest in every case, but supporting people is essential because immigration is emotionally challenging. It's so cool to help people start a new life.

So, about stereotypes. As you can see, by the time I moved, I already understood the country well. I can share my observations :) Firstly, for Spaniards, they come first. I think if a "typical Spaniard" goes to a psychologist and the psychologist asks, "Who is the most important person for you?" they will answer, "Myself." Without hesitation! They are focused on themselves and their families. It's neither good nor bad; it's just how it is, and it's essential to consider this when building relationships with locals.

So, about stereotypes. As you can see, by the time I moved, I already understood the country well. I can share my observations :) Firstly, for Spaniards, they come first. I think if a "typical Spaniard" goes to a psychologist and the psychologist asks, "Who is the most important person for you?" they will answer, "Myself." Without hesitation! They are focused on themselves and their families. It's neither good nor bad; it's just how it is, and it's essential to consider this when building relationships with locals.

Throughout all this time, I have never felt any condescending treatment towards me. Here, they primarily assess you as a person, as an individual, based on who you are, what you do, and how you conduct yourself. That's all that matters; they don't care about what's written on your passport.

I love that they always help you. Even if you speak the language poorly, they will still assist you. They all do their job very well because they are highly responsible. Yes, there are exceptions, but the overall impression is like that. And every job here is worthy of respect. If you work as a porter, you don't feel like a second-class person.

โ€” Has Spain changed something in you? Has something shifted?

Yes, I have become more tolerant. Inclusivity is not just a word. In Spain, it is cultivated from childhood. My son is in the 5th grade, and there is a strong emphasis on collaborative activities and accepting people's differences in school.

The second aspect is unhurriedness, the need to solve problems without haste. If you realize that something cannot be resolved right now, there's no need to stress. It's not worth worrying about a problem you cannot solve today.

โ€” Currently, a law is being discussed in Spain intended to control rental prices. There is a sense that some Spaniards are unhappy about the influx of digital nomads to the country, as it leads to skyrocketing apartment prices and higher costs for everyday items like beer. Do you feel this?

Yes, rental prices are rising, but the tension is not felt in everyday life. The issue is that many Spaniards need help to afford to pay for housing in major cities. The average salary is around 1300 euros, while apartments cost about 1400 euros. They must live with 5-6 people just to have enough food and go to bars, the cinema, or concerts. This is a matter for the government to address, such as regulating prices and implementing affordable housing programs for locals. Catalonia and Valencia are currently discussing price regulations to ensure that rental costs are proportionate to the average regional salary.

Another positive aspect of living in Spain is that many things are geared toward the middle class. This is because 80% of the population here belongs to the middle class. When you walk into any store, you have products, home goods, and clothing that cater to the middle class. There is a wide selection of high-quality items.

You can truly live on the minimum cost of living here. A typical family consisting of a father, mother, and child, with the father earning 1500 euros and the mother earning 1300 euros, can lead an everyday life. There is no feeling of being unable to afford things. Even going on vacations is possible.

You don't feel like a tiny cog in a big machine that would still function without you. You feel like a full-fledged member of society. Right now, I feel a sense of freedom, including the freedom to control my destiny.

โ€” Who would Spain be a perfect fit for, and who would find it challenging?

Spain would suit open-minded people who are not afraid of administrative complexities and do not take things personally. For example, I am currently assisting clients applying for a nomad visa, and every day they try to break the system, asking why certain things are not possible. I tell them, guys, sometimes you just need to let go and accept how things work. It's neither good nor bad; it's just how it is.

Start a business. If you have lived in major cities you need to be prepared because certain services you may be accustomed to are unavailable here. You may need to start that service here yourself.

Spain, and immigration in general, is suitable for those not afraid to start their lives anew and spend Sundays with their families, not at shopping malls.

โ€” Which city in Spain should you choose to live in?ย 

Here's my top:

  1. Valencia: I chose Valencia and felt at home here. Everything is compact and convenient. When I visit Barcelona, for example, I feel like a guest there, similar to how you see St. Petersburg from Moscow for a weekend.

  2. Madrid: I suggest considering Madrid because it's the capital city with plenty of job opportunities. When I visit Madrid, I understand everything the locals say. The language spoken there is classic Spanish without dialects. Additionally, there is no social security payment for the first year.

  3. A northern city in the Basque Country: The northern part of Spain, particularly the Basque Country, offers a different experience from the southern part. If you adore St. Petersburg, you might appreciate the northern region.

Once you've chosen a city, submitted your documents, and ideally have your residence card (Vivienda de No Lucro) in hand, it's essential to keep exploring, searching, and connecting with people. Many digital nomads are coming here now, and they are intelligent and extraordinary people who initiate beautiful initiatives. It's fantastic. Just yesterday, I consulted with a tremendous girl currently choosing between Spain and Portugal while in Georgia. She said, "I like everything about Spain, but I don't know anyone there, while I have so many friends in Portugal." I told her, "Don't worry; you'll find your community if you want." Having a circle of acquaintances is crucial - such support is much needed, especially in the early stages of a new place.

โ€” โ€What advice would you give to someone who has recently immigrated?

First and foremost, realizing that you have moved to a different country with its laws and culture is essential. Let go and observe what's happening, how people live, what they do, and what issues they face. Many people don't immigrate for a "better life"; some have that so-called "good life." Now it's necessary to acknowledge that a new chapter has begun.

Communication is essential to Spaniards. Additionally, it's necessary to consider the nuances of mentality and etiquette. In Spain, first of all, always smile; secondly, try to chat with locals, even if your Spanish could be better. They can order one bottle of Coca-Cola in a bar for the evening and simply sit and chat.

Avoid rushing. Spaniards prefer to take their time. It won't work if you're running late and trying to buy something or sign a document quickly. You have to learn to plan your day differently.

Photo by Hernan Gonzalez, Martijn Vonk, William Carletti Diego Allen โ€“ Unsplash

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