One of the most common mistakes expats make is that of not researching the tax situation of their new country before they move there. This can lead to some very bad news further down the road.
Let’s have a look at Spain, which has a lot of taxes that people coming from other countries might not be familiar with. For example, having previously lived in Malta, many of the Spanish taxes were simply new to me and have no equivalent in Malta. There is no property tax, exit tax, or wealth tax there, just to mention a few examples.
Spain certainly seems to reward those who feed on the government funds / tax-payers rather than encouraging people to set up businesses, invest, or save.
It’s important to understand this unfortunate fact before you move to Spain. I am definitely not a fan of the Spanish tax system, work culture and politics, but there are also lifestyle benefits of living in Spain that you will have to weigh up.
Spain – Europe’s Tax Hell
Unfortunately, while Spain remains an amazing country with friendly people and all the ingredients to sustain an incredible lifestyle, it has been plagued by bad politics for several years now, and that has paved the way for the decline of this country.
It’s also quite sad that this downwards spiral in Spanish politics and taxes has been pretty evident for many years. For example, this analyst had correctly predicted pretty much everything that would occur in the coming years, back in 2015:
— macroymercados (@macroymercados) July 6, 2020
Spain has a complex tax system where taxes are levied by the central, regional, and local governments. Stamp duties, transfer, wealth, and inheritance taxes are administrated and regulated by 19 regional governments. Regional governments can also approve additional taxes and set the regional income tax brackets and rates, representing 50 percent of the overall income tax, while the other 50 percent is set by the central government.
Madrid is by far the best region tax-wise, while Catalonia sits on the opposite side of the spectrum. Madrid is indeed the only region that does not levy wealth tax on its citizens. The central government of Spain is trying to “harmonize wealth taxes among regions”, which in effect means preventing Madrid from applying a 100% discount on wealth taxes due, as it currently does.
The truth is that wealth taxes never worked. When a region sets a higher wealth tax, taxpayers move out of that region. It’s as simple as that. Others will set up structures to avoid the wealth tax. At the end of the day, even if wealth taxes worked, they would collect little revenue. At the same time, they disincentivize entrepreneurship, harming innovation and impacting long-term growth. With so many countries having abandoned the wealth tax, regions in Spain should repeal the tax instead of asking for Madrid to harmonize its wealth tax with the rest of the regions.
The same is true for inheritance and gift taxes. They only raise 0.58 percent of Spain’s total revenue while they harm entrepreneurial activity, savings, and employment. Additionally, in some cases, they have proven to be confiscatory taxes. Regional statutory tax rates can reach levels as high as 81.6 percent, depending not only on the level of the amount inherited but also on the level of pre-inheritance wealth of the inheritor and familial closeness to the inheritor. A recent study revealed that inheritances can in fact reduce wealth inequality as transfers are proportionately larger (relative to their pre-inheritance wealth) for households lower in the wealth distribution.
With that background in place, it’s time to get practical and look at the various questions and doubts foreigners have when dealing with the Spanish taxation system.
A Guide to Spanish Taxation
Let’s start with the basics, shall we? One of the first things to note is that taxation in Spain affects not only residents but also non-residents. The most classic example of taxation of non-residents is that on income from rental properties that one owns in Spain. Another point of confusion is how to determine whether you’re actually a resident or not for tax purposes.
Am I a tax resident in Spain?
In general terms, tax liability in Spain is determined by the concept of permanent residence, whereas citizenship is irrelevant. An individual is considered a permanent resident in Spain in any of the following circumstances:
- You have spent more than 183 days in Spain within a single calendar year regardless of whether you are formally registered.
- Your primary professional activities are conducted in Spain – essentially if you are self or otherwise employed in Spain.
- Your main interests (eg your spouse or children who are still dependent on you) live in Spain.
Note that if the spouse and underage children reside permanently in Spain, your residence is presumed unless sufficient proof is provided to the contrary.
These criteria of residency apply for personal income tax, wealth tax, inheritance tax and gift tax although for inheritance and gift tax some exceptions may apply.
What is the tax year-end?
31 December. Unless the taxpayer dies on a day other than 31 December.
What do you need in order to submit the return?
You will need to obtain a digital certificate by filling in the form found here and going to the nearest office to verify your identity. Once you’re verified you will receive the digital certificate via email and you will then need to install it in your browser so that you can access the Hacienda website and fill in your tax forms.
If you are enlisting help from a tax consultant or accountant (as I recommend you do if it’s your first time doing these statements), he will be able to submit all forms on your behalf. You will only need to provide him with information about your income and assets as well as a copy of your NIE. He might also ask you some further questions to ascertain whether you can make use of certain tax deductions.
When are tax returns due? That is, what is the tax return due date?
The due date for filing the tax return and making a payment for tax residents and individuals taxed under the special expatriate regime is normally from 6 April to 30 June of each year for the income obtained in the previous year.
Specific filing deadlines apply to non-residents and, as a general rule, non-residents must report income and pay taxes on a quarterly basis (First 20 days of April, July, October and January for that income the accrual date of which is the previous quarter). Non-Resident returns related to deemed-income from the holding of real estate must be submitted until 31 December of the following year.
There is no possibility of claiming for filing extensions, hence, if the tax return is not filed on time, penalties will be imposed. These penalties will vary depending on whether the tax return is filed after the deadline on a voluntary basis or whether it is as a result of a tax inspection.
Let’s now have a look at some forms and Spanish taxation schemes which can trip up expats.
This is known as the declaracion de la renta, and is the most common tax form. Most people need to fill in this form on a yearly basis. You will automatically get a draft version from Hacienda, called borrador, which you then need to check and add details to if necessary. Once you’re sure everything is correct you can send it off. You will have to pay the tax from your bank account, or provide your bank account details so they can pay you back in case you had paid extra tax during the year, most likely due to any retenciones that local companies processed on your behalf.
If you are married and make a joint declaration, you have an allowance of €3,400. You will only pay tax for any earnings above €5,500 during the fiscal year. As a general rule, the option for joint filing is a good one for those couples where one of the spouses doesn’t receive any remuneration (or receives a very low one that doesn’t go above the €3,500 joint declaration allowance).
Tax resident individuals are obliged to report (720 Form) the following assets and rights located outside of Spain to the Tax Authorities:
- Accounts in which the individual is the titleholder, or in which he is representative, authorized person or beneficiary, or in which he has disposal powers.
- Securities, rights, insurance and life or temporary annuities.
- Real estate or rights on real estate.
There will be no reporting obligation for those assets or rights which value (considered in aggregate for each group of assets listed above) is lower than €50,000. The deadline for filing the 720 Form is from 1 January to 31 March of the year following that for which the information must be reported.
For more information about this read my post about the modelo 720 form in Spain.
This is a form that residents need to use to inform the Bank of Spain of the economic transactions and of the balances of financial instruments held abroad, which at the end of the year exceed the value of 1 million euros.
The ETE form needs to be submitted by any natural or legal person (public or private) resident in Spain, other than the payment service providers (credit institutions and payment institutions), registered in the official records of the Bank of Spain, whose amount of the financial balances (initials) and final) and the total amount of transactions made (collections and payments) in the period exceeds one million euros.
Another bank of Spain form. Its purpose is to report marketable securities deposited abroad even if the issuers are Spanish, for both fixed income and variable income securities, provided that they are regarded as marketable securities, and holdings in collective investment undertakings (investment funds, SICAVs etc.). The deadline is January 31st for the positions of the preceding year. There is no minimum exempt threshold.
The D-6 must be filed when an operation (investment or settlement) takes place in which any of the following circumstances are applicable:
- The resident’s interest in share capital before or after the operation reaches 10%.
- The resident investor belongs to its governing body.
- The amount of the transaction exceeds €1,502,530.26.
Spain has a wealth tax (impuesto sobre patrimonio) that non-residents should consider when buying real estate in Spain. Wealth tax is imposed on non-residents’ assets located in Spain. The tax rate ranges from 0.2%, when the value of the assets held is less than €167,129, to 2.5%, when the value of the assets exceeds €10,695,966. However, there is a tax-free allowance of €700,000.
The autonomous regions can modify for their own territories the applicable tax rates and the tax-free allowance, and can introduce tax reliefs, which means that the effective tax rates vary substantially between autonomous regions. Autonomous region’s legislation can be applicable if the taxpayer is resident in the EU or EEA.
Most notably, Madrid does not apply wealth tax onto its residents. Therefore, for high net worth individuals it is more attractive from a tax point of view to reside in Madrid than in other autonomous regions such as Catalunya.
You can read more about wealth tax here.
Property taxes are also an important issue for expats in Spain. Spanish VAT (IVA), document fees and sales transfer taxes (similar to UK and Maltese stamp duty) are payable. Rates vary according to what type of property is purchased, the value, and the region the property is located in.
Transfer tax of 6% is payable when there is a property purchase, while a yearly local tax is levied on real estate (up to 1.3%), which applies on the cadastral value and varies depending on the municipality levying the tax, the category of real estate, and other circumstances.
Capital Gains Tax
Capital Gains Tax (CGT) is payable on the sale or transfer of qualifying assets. Rates are in line with savings income tax rules. Liability depends on which asset sales qualify and which don’t. Exemptions are available according to each individual’s personal circumstances. Rates are on a scale between 19% and 23%, irrespective of the region where you live.
Unlike many other countries, Spain levies an inheritance tax even on related parties to the deceased. I would suggest you check out this link for more information.
In Spain, you need to pay tax on any donations you receive while being a resident of this country. Certain regions have much lower taxation, for example, Andalucia.
On 1 January 2015, Spain introduced an exit tax. Individuals that have been permanent residents for at least ten years during the previous 15 years and cease to be residents are taxed on any unrealised capital gain derived from shares or interests in any type of entity.
Taxation is only imposed when either:
- The total value held in those assets exceeds €4 million. The individual holds a stake of at least 25% in an entity and its value exceeds €1 million. In this case, only the gains considered to derive from this stake are taxed.
The unrealised gains will be taxed at the standard rates of 19%, 21% and 23%.
If the change of residence is temporary and some requirements are met, the tax due can be deferred for five years if the proper guarantee is submitted (preferably a bank guarantee or a pledge over the securities). If the deferral of the tax due is not requested, when acquiring Spanish residence again, the individual is entitled to claim the refund of the tax due.
If the taxpayer moves to another EU/EEA country the gain will only need to be declared and taxed if the shares are sold within the next 10 years or they move outside the EU/EEA.
To benefit from the EU or EEA deferral regime, an individual must communicate his new address (and subsequent changes of domicile) to the Spanish Tax Administration using the appropriate form.
So Brexit could be an issue for those affected, in which case seek advice on how to hold your investments so that exit tax will not apply.
Leaving Spain – Modelo 030
When you take up fiscal residence in another country, having previously been resident in Spain, you need to inform the Spanish tax authority about the change. It is always best to obtain a tax residency from your new country of residence just to be on the safe side if Hacienda questions you.
Do You Need to Register as Self-Employed When You Move to Spain?
If you decide to move to Spain, one of the first things you will need to do is to regularise your position as a worker or retired person.
If you’ll be employed by a Spanish company, you have no problems. They will do everything for you.
If you want to start offering your own services, such as teaching yoga or teaching English, or even buying and selling goods and services online, you will most likely need to become a self-employed person (autonomo in Spanish).
Another option is to open a company, however this is more complicated and only makes sense if you earn more than €60,000 per year. If that is the case, then you should look into this option as you will also end up paying less tax that way.
There are two other cases that I’d like to mention.
If you are a professional stock trader or operate in the markets in any way as your main activity, you don’t need to register as a self-employed person. You will simply declare your profits and losses in your annual tax return and pay the corresponding tax (currently ranging between 19 and 23%). Many people have doubts about whether they need to register as self-employed persons if they are doing such activity, but the reality is that you don’t have to, unless you are also managing other people’s money and not just your own.
Another common case is that of entrepreneurs and investors moving to Spain in search of living a better life. Typically they would own one or more companies and have been working for several years building these companies back in their home countries. They then decide that they would like to slow down and put in a management team to run the business while they move with their families to Spain to enjoy the Spanish quality of life.
You will find many Scandinavians, Russians, Germans and British entrepreneurs and investors in this situation living along the Spanish coasts from Barcelona all the way down to Marbella.
This is an interesting situation vis-a-vis the Spanish tax system and many have doubts about it.
The simple answer is the following:
If you’re a company owner and you decided to retire and not work at all while in Spain, then you don’t need to register as a self-employed person. You will simply declare any dividends or income from sales of your assets every year and that’s it.
On the other hand, if you still provide some consultancy services to your management team from time to time, or receive remuneration from other parties (typically hour-based consultancy or speaking at conferences), then you would need to register as a self-employed person and issue invoices to your company and third parties that way. Every year, you will now declare the dividends you receive from your company plus the income you generated through being self-employed.
Note that these two categories of income are taxed in different ways. General income is taxed on a scale that goes up to 52% in some autonomous regions like Catalunya, while the savings tax rate under which dividends would fall under is capped at 23%. You can read more about the Spanish tax system here.
Social Security – Public Healthcare and Pensions
Spain has quite a decent public health system, and to be able to make use of that you will need to be paying social security contributions. The same applies if you want to receive a state pension in your sixties (if that will still exist). So in practice what most entrepreneurs and investors do if they want to get access to these two state services is to register as self-employed and charge their own companies abroad a consultancy fee every month.
Disclaimer: I’m not a legal expert or tax advisor and the above should not be taken as legal advice. Contact me if you want me to help you find a tax lawyer or accountant to help you with any of the setups I described above and I’ll be glad to put you in touch with the people I trust.
Note that this is just a summary of my research on the topic and my discussions with various tax consultants. It should not be taken as tax advice. When in doubt, you should always consult a trusted tax consultant to help you fill out this submission.