Sunday, October 17, 2010

Is there such a thing as an autonomo free lunch?

Going self-employed in Spain - "autonomo" in the local parlance - has many attractions for foreigners living here, not least of which is that good paying contracted jobs are in short supply, particularly for foreigners without much Spanish. Many foreigners in Spain run their own business, er, "informally" without registering or paying any tax but would prefer to be legal either because they fear investigation and prosecution or because of the limitations of working in the black economy e.g. not being the equivalent of "VAT registered" and being able to issue proper invoices or not being able to sign a lease, take a loan or employ people.

That all points to registration and formalising your business but many people are put off by the taxes and social security. Without going into massive detail (there is a guide on the firm's website which covers all of this - Autonomo Guide) the main sticking point is social security for most people. It is a minimum of 251€ per month and can be more if certain unemployment, sickness insurances are taken in addition to the basic cover. Even if you don't make a profit (or make losses) this monthly payment never goes down, although younger autonomos can get a 30% discount for their first 15 months registered.

The "solution" if you want to register as autonomo but don't fancy this hefty outlay is sometimes touted as opting out due to low earnings. Spain has a national minimum wage and theoretically autonomos who earn less than it can apply to opt out of social security. But there are conditions which make it only applicable to a minority.

- you must always earn under the minimum wage so anyone earning irregular amounts which sometimes exceed the minimum could not apply

- you must be working occasionally - if you are doing a regular contract or regular work you cannot apply

- you cannot have a permanent place of business

This is why the bulk of people continue to have to pay social security if they are self-employed in Spain. Besides unless you pay into the system you cannot apply for the benefits, mainly health and pensions related which could ultimately be worth hundreds of thousands of euros (see article Spanish pension benefits )

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