So, you fancy living a charmed life freelancing in the sun? Read this first.
The most frequently-asked question in e-mails to Freelance Spain is: "I'd like to work as a journalist in Spain. Is it difficult?"
Working as a freelance is an almost certain guarantee that you'll never be rich, no matter where in the world you live. In Spain, a country beleaguered by chronic unemployment, it's that much more difficult to survive as a freelance. In spite of what you might think, Spain is not a cheap place to live. It's hard to break into the Spanish market. The English-language publications in Spain pay zilch. Magazines and newspapers elsewhere may be reluctant to accept material from unknowns. And freelance journalism seems to be the one economic sector where the fees are always going down, rather than up. And yet...
And yet there are quite a few people who have settled in Spain, have become freelances, and are doing very nicely, thank you. They have managed to build up a portfolio of regular clients to whom they supply stories. They don't send query letters. Editors contact them.
You'll be at an advantage if you already have a roster of client publications before you arrive in Spain, to whom you can send stories from Spain with a reasonable chance of success.
It also helps to have a separate regular source of income, such as an understanding spouse with a proper job. Otherwise, freelances must resort to supplementing their income with some other activity. The demand for English teachers is high in Spain, and many expats give private lessons, although it is infinately preferrable if, a), you enjoy teaching and, b), you have some sort of qualification to do so, such as the British TEFL certificate.
To work in Spain, you need a Work Permit (Permiso de Trabajo). To get a work permit, you need a Residence Permit (Permiso de Residencia), a license authorizing you, a foreigner, to live in Spain as a permanent resident (see article on work permits).
If you are selling your stories outside Spain and are not receiving any income from within Spain you do not need a Work Permit, but you still need the Residence Permit if you want to make Spain your base.
Because of laws guaranteeing freedom of movement for European citizens within the EU, obtaining a residence permit is a fairly straightforward process if you are the citizen of a EU member state. If you come from elsewhere, including the US, it is much more difficult: you will need to present a long list of documents, starting with a special visa (Visado de Residencia) which you must obtain from the Spanish consulate in your home country before you go to Spain, and you must prove that you have sufficient means to support yourself, which, in the case at hand, can lead to a Catch-22 situation.
To work as a freelance, in order to obtain your Work Permit you must become a self-employed person, a Trabajador Autónomo. This involves signing up for the Social Security system to which you pay a monthly fee (currently around $250), in exchange for which you get public medical coverage and a meager pension when you retire. You pay an annual business tax to the local town hall. You file a report on your income and on the Value Added Tax you've collected on your work (more on that below) every three months.
If you are offered a staff job - in which case it is easier to obtain a Work Permit - it is your employer who pays most of your Social Security fee, which for employees also covers unemployment benefits in case of unfair dismissal or closure of the business. (More on work permits)
The Freelance and the Taxman
The obligation to file for income tax in Spain is based on where you live, not on citizenship. A Spaniard who lives in the US does not need to file a Spanish tax return, unless he is receiving income from Spain. A non-Spaniard who lives in Spain for more than 183 days a year is considered a resident for tax purposes, and must file a return on all his income, both that arising in Spain and what he gets from elsewhere. In cases where you receive payment from, say, the US which has already been taxed at source, Spain maintains treaties for the avoidance of double taxation with most countries, including the United States, so you don't end up paying tax twice on the same money.
Conversely, if you are living elsewhere and sell a story to a Spanish publication, your client is obliged to withhold Spanish income tax at a rate of 25%, though in the past this formality has often been overlooked by the client. The withholding tax rate for those working and living in Spain is 18%, which goes towards your annual tax bill. In those cases where you've ended up paying too much, you can claim a refund of the difference.
Editorial copy and photos (as opposed to advertising material) are regarded by Spanish tax law as works of art, right up there with sculpture and poetry, so contributions to magazines do not attract Spain's Value Added Tax, or IVA, of 16%. Nevertheless, many publications prefer that contributors charge IVA on top of their fee anyway; it makes their accounting easier. The contributor is basically collecting taxes on behalf of the Spanish State. Every three months he must hand over whatever IVA he has collected to the taxman, deducting the IVA he has paid on his own business expenses, such as the purchase of stationery, etc. Only those working as self-employed persons can legally charge IVA.
IMPORTANT NOTICE. This article is meant as a general guide for those seeking information on Spanish laws and regulations applying to freelance journalists in Spain. It is not a substitute for professional legal advice and cannot be a basis for any claim against Freelance Spain or its editors. You are strongly advised to seek more detailed information from the Spanish Embassy in your country and to contract the professional services of a qualified Spanish lawyer.
For a comprehensive guide to Spanish laws for foreign residents, read the authoritative You and the Law in Spain by David Searl, published by Santana Books, Spain. For details on obtaining a copy, see Santana Books.
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