Friday, January 14, 2011

Can you do business in Spain without registering?

In my experience as an accountant most people wish to play by the rules, do the right thing, fulfil their responsibilities etc ... so long as doing so is not unduly complicated or punitively expensive.
A consequence, which I see a lot, is a frustration among people in Spain who want to do business legally but are put off by the red tape and tax implications, especially social security and IVA (spanish VAT). The problem applies mainly to small part time businesses where the income is expected to be patchy or very low. If you are only expecting to earn a couple of hundred euros a month or are doing something which brings in revenue periodically (e.g. running courses) then it is totally infeasible to set up as properly registered business with the following expenses:
monthly social security
accountancy costs
quarterly taxes
In addition all businesses have to charge IVA which, while it should not be an expense of the business, nevertheless results in higher charges to the customers and a lot of admin.
Also you can't declare income for tax unless it has been earned through a registered business with the IVA accounted for. It's like the old saying about it not being possible to be "a bit pregnant". You can't be "a bit legal" - it's all or nothing. If you want to make your small business earnings legal you have to do all three things - start paying the social security, deal with IVA and pay income tax.
The situation is a bit more complicated than this (see the autonomo guide on our website) but in essence that is the situation - it is totally uneconomic to legalise a small business unless you expect to earn a decent income right away - you either don't start up in business at all or do so on a cash in hand basis.
And lots of people in Spain do. Much more so than in the UK. One of the reasons for this is that in the UK there is a threshold of 70.000 before which businesses do not have to register for VAT. This means small businesses do not have to worry about one of the main business headaches until they are well-established. Imagine if Spain had a similar system - some IVA would be lost to the government but many more businesses would go legal and pay income tax and social security. Some would grow big enough to start paying IVA.
In the UK some voices are calling for the VAT threshold to be raised even further. The Federation of Small Businesses has suggested a rise to 90.000£ would create 35,000 new jobs according to the BBC. Spain can only dream of such a windfall. But this is what Spain badly needs. With so many people unemployed and the Spanish economy stagnating, making it easier to initiate LEGAL new businesses is essential.
The UK also has national insurance breaks for small businesses and is much more flexible in allowing income to be declared when there is no job or registered business involved. Spain desperately needs a similar approach.


  1. Hi,
    I am facing the same problem currently. I am looking to start up my own online business by selling services in Spain ( a lot of small transactions per day so it would be automated system). As all the income will come through the website (credit card payments) - I can not hide anything. Like everybody else besides the high tax and IVA, my main issue is with the social security tax which you need to pay regardless of your income size..

  2. The social security issue is somewhat insurmountable I am afraid Good luck with the website though


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