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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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For members


Spain unclear how it will legally cancel golden visa scheme

Spain's government still isn't sure how it will cancel its golden visa scheme through property investment two months after the announcement, with ministers hoping they can slip the amendment through parliament in an unrelated bill.

Spain unclear how it will legally cancel golden visa scheme

In April of this year, Spain’s socialist government announced it would be scrapping its property-based golden visa, a scheme that grants non-EU nationals residency in Spain when they buy real estate worth €500,000.

However, it’s finding it difficult how to actually legally approve this move and pass it through parliament.

It’s worth noting that the visa is still available for those who invest €1 million in shares in Spanish companies, or €2 million in government bonds, or who have transferred €1 million to a Spanish bank account, but it will no longer be available for those who want to buy property. 

READ ALSO: When will Spain’s golden visa scheme officially end?

The Spanish government had initially agreed that the cancellation of this visa through property investment would be included in the land law, known as the ‘Ley del Suelo’ in Spanish, but it was withdrawn from the agenda in parliament as it did not have the necessary support to move forward.

The Ley del Suelo regulates the use and valuation of land, establishing a legal framework for urban development that balances both private interests and collective well-being.

Essentially the golden visa was just going to be a small part of regulating this law, but because it was withdrawn in anticipation of another parliamentary defeat for the Socialists, the intention now, according to sources from the Ministry of Housing headed by Isabel Rodríguez, is to ‘slip in’ this amendment to one of the other laws currently being processed in parliament. 

It’s not unusual for Spanish ministers to add an enmienda (amendment) to a bill that has nothing or little to do with the crux of the law being processed.

Only last May, Pedro Sánchez’s party added an amendment which eased the requirements for decrees to be approved to the Gender Parity Law, which focuses more on equal pay and work rights between men and women.

READ ALSO: Chinese investors rush to buy properties before Spain’s golden visa ends

To accelerate the elimination of the property-based golden visa, Rodríguez’s team are now assessing various regulations being processed in parliament, with special attention paid to those that have more guarantees of being approved by opposition MPs.

READ ALSO – Spain’s soon-to-end golden visa: Can I still apply and what if I have it already?

Spain’s golden visa has long been controversial, with many blaming it for adding to the housing crisis. Junior coalition partner Sumar’s spokesperson, Íñigo Errejón said back in May that these visas are a privilege that must be scrapped “immediately”.

He said that they have an inflationary effect on the housing market, adding that other countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Greece have already taken similar measures in order to not become “tourist colonies” or “money laundering” locations.

According to data from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Agenda, between 2016 and January 2024, 10,528 ‘golden visas’ were granted in Spain. This figure rises to 14,576 if those granted between 2013 and 2023 are taken into account.