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INTERVIEW: ‘No lawyer can guarantee you get Spain’s digital nomad visa’

Applying for Spain’s new visa for non-EU remote workers and digital nomads is more troublesome than expected, especially for Americans. Here lawyers reveal the main reasons why a positive resolution isn't always guaranteed.

digital nomad visa problems spain
Spain-based lawyers have come across a number of problems relating to the DNV application. Photo: Alexander Grey/Unsplash

Spain had a real need for a digital nomad visa or DNV, particularly after the pandemic when the government saw that many people around the world were working remotely. They also had to keep up with other European countries that had already launched DNVs such as Estonia, Croatia and Portugal.

Up until now, there was no clear and legal way that remote or freelance workers from outside the EU could come and live in Spain, so the Spanish DNV was warmly welcomed. But since it has launched it seems that not everything is not how it initially seemed and it is not an easy visa to get hold of.

“The Spanish government has not done it as well,” Juan Carlos Lois from letsLaw firm told El Periódico de España.

The problem, he said, is that the government “has mistakenly believed that everything works the same as in Spain and have distinguished between remote workers who work for a company and the self-employed, or freelancers, who have several clients. But the reality is that the most common applicant is someone who owns their own company and is the sole shareholder. They are not an employee or self-employed, but want to come to Spain to continue managing their business”.  

To find out, more about this specific issue, The Local contacted Maryem Essadik, a lawyer at international firm Marfour based in Barcelona.

Essadik explains that the main issue facing these different types of digital nomads when applying for the DNV is the question of social security.

The requirements of the visa state that the applicant must provide a certificate of social security coverage from their country of origin.

“The Spanish authorities have to guarantee that the remote worker has social security coverage in case of accident or disability, and that is why a certificate of social security coverage is required,” explains Essadik.

“Depending on the applicant’s situation, they will register as an autónomo (self-employed) at the Spanish social security office if they’re self-employed or a contractor. In the case they are employees, they will need proof of social security coverage from their country of origin if their country has an agreement with Spain,” she states.

In case the country where they come from does not have a social security agreement with Spain, the company will need to register with the Spanish social security system and obtain a contribution code and start paying it for the employee in Spain and not in their country of origin.

READ ALSO: ‘It seems impossible’ – The problems Spain’s digital nomad visa applicants face

This, however, is an issue because most companies won’t agree to pay extra money just so one of their employees can work in Spain when it’s not necessary.

Spain has social security agreements with several non-EU countries including the US, the UK and Australia so in theory obtaining this social security coverage shouldn’t be a problem, but in reality, it’s proving to be very difficult.

“There are several countries with which Spain, despite having a social security agreement, is not issuing such a certificate and this is making it difficult for employed remote workers to meet all the requirements for their digital nomad visa. This is true for the US, home to the largest number of people interested in moving to Spain,” explains Essadik.

She adds that the US authorities, in addition to taking almost 90 days to process these applications, do not understand the reason for granting these social security certificates, given the existence of a pre-existing social security agreement between both countries for remote workers (for example, for someone transferred from the US office to a Spanish branch as part of a temporary service contract).  

The question of social security coverage is one of the big problems that Spain-bound digital nomads face. Photo: Windows / Unsplash

Essadik, who recently went on a training course at the UGE (the competent authority in the processing and resolution of DNVs) said that US authorities contacted Spain to ask for more information on the matter and said: “It is clear that the Spanish authorities are demanding a certificate based on a legal agreement that is not appropriate for this residence permit”.

This is not the case for all countries, however. Some that have agreements with Spain have indeed produced these social security certificates for applicants. Essadik has personally seen remote workers from the UK, Russia and Ecuador who have been granted their DNVs. However, she believes that the DNV process is discriminatory because it’s a lot harder for some people to apply than for others.

Because of this issue, Lois believes that “no lawyer can guarantee that you will be granted the visa. There are many factors that determine the resolution”.

If you’re a freelancer and work for yourself, however, the situation is a lot easier. Essadik explains that if you are self-employed a simple letter can be submitted, confirming that you will register as autónomo once you arrive in Spain and be in charge of paying the social security fees yourself.

Unfortunately, there are many other problems that lawyers have come across regarding Spain’s DNV application.

The first is that there is no exclusive website catered to the application, Lois tells El Periódico de España. “There is none. The platform in New Zealand is wonderful and tells you if you are eligible or not. Today, in Spain it would be reckless for a foreigner to request a permit on their own without a lawyer specialised in immigration issues to help,” he explains. One box filled out incorrectly will mean your application is denied.  

Essadik agrees and recommends that the process be done with a serious law firm with lawyers registered with the census of lawyers of the Spanish Bar. “The process is not limited only to the knowledge of the list of documents and how to submit the application, but the professional who advises you must have knowledge of all foreign laws and administration along with other branches because errors can be common. We also see errors on the part of the public administration. We are seeing more and more because of the pressure that the UGE has to resolve it in 20 days”, she adds. 

Essadik recommends budgeting between €1,500 to €3,000 for the whole process, including legal assistance.

Like many administrative issues in Spain, there is always a catch-22 situation and for the DNV it seems that it’s no different.  

“The administration doesn’t think about helping people. For example, for the nomad visa you must pay a fee of €76. But to pay it you need the NIE. And to get the NIE you need an appointment, which is not available and is sold on the black market,” Lois says.  

“In general, these are things that could be corrected and they are willing, but they could be more generous,” he concludes.

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How long does it take to be approved for Spain’s digital nomad visa?

Spain's digital nomad visa is already proving to be a very popular way for non-EU nationals to move to the country. So how long does it actually take to apply for?

How long does it take to be approved for Spain’s digital nomad visa?

Spain’s digital nomad visa, which launched in early 2023, is currently one of the easiest ways to move to Spain if you work remotely or are self-employed.

The digital nomad visa or DNV allows remote workers or self-employed people from non-EU countries to work and live in Spain, as long as no more than 20 percent of their work comes from Spain.

It can be extended for up to five years and can be applied for from the Spanish consulate in your home country or while on holiday in Spain. 

Officially it’s called the visa for teletrabajadores de carácter internacional, but most people applying are simply referring to it as the DNV.

The application can be a painstaking process, however, with lots of research to do, even more documents to gather, and proof to send.

READ ALSO: All the documents you need for Spain’s digital nomad visa

So how long does the process actually take?

Firstly, if you’re applying from your home country, you may need to make an appointment at your local consulate. This can take a while, depending on where you’re from and where you’re applying. It’s best to contact them to find out how long the wait will be. 

If you’ve gathered all your documents and sent them off, then the official time in which you can expect to receive a response from the body responsible – the Unidad de Grandes Empresas (UGE) is 20 business days.

Some people are lucky and get their applications approved quickly or they’re highly organised and have made sure there are no more documents or pieces of evidence to send. This means that it is possible to receive an approval within the 20 days.

One member of the Spanish Digital Nomad Visa Facebook group confirmed: “Application submitted June 21st. Approved just before midnight yesterday, July 18th for the full three years”, which is exactly 20 working days.

Another member also had a similar experience saying “Just received approval, family of 4 from Canada. Applied 26th July, approved on 23rd Aug – exactly 20 business days”.

READ ALSO: ‘It seems impossible’: The problems Spain’s digital nomad visa applicants face

Not everyone received an answer after exactly 20 days though. For some people, it was near enough though.

Another member said “The wait time for approval was 23 days, I was not asked for any further documents”, while another who was an employee with a permanent contract confirmed he waited 18 days.

The process can take longer 

As with most bureaucratic processes in Spain, it doesn’t always take the amount of time that it should do in theory.

If you have missed out on some documents or the authorities need to see more proof in order to approve your visa, the process will typically take longer than 20 days.

One member reported that they had been waiting at least two and a half months for their approval. “I had a long process of applying (it’s been 77 days since my first one went in and then a second and then a request for additional documents) but finally received my approval”.

Another explained “I applied on the 6th of July. On the 31st of July, they requested documents: on the 14th of August, and did not hear back so I requested for positive silence on the 24th of August and last night 4th of September I received the notification”.

READ ALSO: ‘No lawyer can guarantee you get Spain’s digital nomad visa’

How long does the appeal process take?

It’s common for some people to be rejected for the visa. This could be because they haven’t provided enough evidence or simply down to miscommunication.

There have been a lot of instances when the UGE has said that applicants haven’t provided enough evidence on how long their company has been operating for example, when the applicants believed that they had.

If you are rejected, the good news is that you appeal. Currently, appeals are taking varying amounts of time depending on your situation.

One member of the DNV Facebook page confirmed “My lawyer said they have 15 working days to respond”.

While that may be what lawyers are saying, this isn’t always the case.

Another member said “I’ve heard of people waiting 5 months”, while another explained, “I appealed my visa denial last March 31st and I just got my approval yesterday, June 20th”.

To speed the process up, we recommend doing as much research as you can and gathering all documents you need, before starting the application.