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Teach English in Spain as a Freelancer

Work Permits and How to Get Them

Madrid Teacher
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There are two basic types of initial work permits in Spain: “Cuenta Ajena" (for those who are employed by a company, with a contract and social security) and "Cuenta Propia" (for those who are self-employed—also called "autónomo"—and paying their own social security). Once you get here, you realize that most companies and academies require you to be autonomo or self-employed (freelancing) in order to work as an English teacher, unless you work at a public or private school. Although a few companies offer contracts to teachers, it is not common and you soon realize that you have to settle for less income if you want a contract. For me, being self-employed opens many doors because I have no limitations on where I can work, the amount of hours I can work, and how much money I can make. Although I must pay my own social security, I can make more money. However, getting an initial permit for working as an autonomo in Spain is almost impossible. It has taken me a few years, but has been well worth the wait. As a non-EU member, it is better to get a permit for Cuenta Ajena, with an offer and a contract for a job that only you qualify for. Later on, you can change this.  

When I started all my paperwork, the offer I was given had nothing to do with teaching. However, it specified that I was the only one for the job given my experience and the need for the languages I spoke. I have Italian and so the combination of Italian, Spanish, and English made me special and helped make me more qualified than a Spanish person who speaks English, for example. So I ended up working in another field for a while, but it was just the means to an end. It´s not always the job that´s important but the way it is worded on the application and contract. You may be lucky enough to get an offer or contract from a school or an academy, but I wouldn´t rule out other options. (Note: If you are able to get an offer or a contract, make sure that the contract reads that you will be hired for one year and no less; otherwise, your chances are slim. Most employers don´t offer contracts for a year, but if you explain your situation they may be willing to put it on your contract with, for example, a 4-month trial period. This protects them and helps you qualify for your permit.  

At any rate, I got approved for Cuenta Ajena and that permission lasted one year. I wanted to change to autonoma or Cuenta Propia before that year was up, however, I was told that it is almost impossible to change it over until you have renewed your first permission, even though it appears as an option on the application. It is fairly easy to renew your permit, as long as you have been working most of the months of this first year and can prove it. If you start a job and then they fire you, for example, make sure you either get a new one ASAP or register at the unemployment office, even if you don´t qualify for unemployment pay. If you have to renew and you don´t have an active contract at the time of renewal, you can at least show that you are on the books and are on unemployment and trying to get a job. (Also, even if you are not getting payment, by being registered as unemployed you qualify for a ton of free courses offered by the Ayuntamiento and other institutions.)

Another tip: it is supposedly much easier to get your first renovation if you have an offer from the same company that hired you in the first place. So, it is a good idea not to burn bridges and to remain on the good side of any company that has offered you a contract. If you have to renew and don´t have a job at the time, they may be willing to offer you a new contract to at least turn in your renewal application and get your renewal approved. Once it gets approved, if they don´t really want to hire you they don´t have to, but you have your renewal and can work again with any contract and in any job.   

Okay, so now you have your first permit renewed and valid for two years. Now you can apply to become self-employed or autonomo. I did this myself at first, but didn´t hand in everything they needed. They always send you a letter with a list of things that you need to turn in if you didn´t turn them in at first. I had always done everything myself up to this point, but this time I hired a lawyer. It cost me around 160 euros, but now I have my permit as an autonomo.

The advantages to having the lawyer was that he knew exactly what I needed and wrote an explanation of my activity and everything I was turning in in legal terms. It looks more professional and serious and was something that I could never have written myself. He also thought of things that I never imagined and wrote up a simple contract for me to sign with my clients. It´s up to you, but it was the best 160 euros I ever spent.  

The Paperwork

  • The "Solicitud" or application to register.
  • A written explanation of the activity you want to do, including any investments you must make to do it (if you will be hiring anyone, for example; thisis what the lawyer wrote for me).
  • Your work permit, passport, etc.  

However, there were many things I didn´t know I was supposed to hand in, and this may be more helpful for you. First of all, you must know that when you or anyone works as an autonomo, you must register with two associations, Hacienda (the Spanish IRS) and the social security department.  

When you apply for a change on your work permit from Cuenta Ajena to Cuenta Propia, one of the things on the list that you must turn in is your registration application with Hacienda. I didn´t think that I could register because I didn´t have the proper permit yet, but I could, and I had to. You must register at "Hacienda" as an autonomo before you are actually approved to work as one. You have to hand that paper in with your request. It is a catch 22. How can I register to be an autonomo if I am not allowed to work as one yet? Why is the sky blue? You can contemplate this for years, but there is no logical explanation. They want to see that you are taking the steps. It is just a formality.  

As I said before, technically to be autonomo everyone has to register in two places: Hacienda and "Seguridad Social.” Forget the social security office for now, because until your residence card says "Cuenta Propia" on the back, they won´t let you sign up. However, "Hacienda" will. And you must do this and hand it in with your request. After you hand it in, you have to go back to Hacienda a few days later and "darte de baja" or sign off or you will be required to pay the social security fees later on (about 225 euros per month) It can take up to 11 months for your approval, so if you never "sign off", later, when you do sign up at SS, they will make you pay all those months’ back pay!  

Later, when you have everything approved, you will sign up with both offices and be working like a normal autonomo.  

I also had to hand in proof that I was qualified (in this case) to teach English. This could be a TEFL certificate, your teaching degree (translated and approved here), or the like. Even if technically you are not required to have any official qualifications to work, you must hand in proof that you are qualified. None of my students require me to be a qualified teacher, technically, but Extranjeria does.  

Contracts and Offers from Students

My lawer told me to get my students to sign a simple contract (that he wrote up for me) which proved that I had work waiting for me. You can also turn in a letter of intent. I turned in as many as I could. The student specifies their request for your services. Be sure to include thier NIF or CIF (identification numbers) and yours and all the appropriate info, so that Extranjeria knows that they are legitimate.  

My application took five months to get approved. I think I was lucky because I was told that it could take up to 11.  

Once they approve this and you are working as an autonomo, be sure to file your taxes and keep everything in order. Keep all your bills and tax information because they will ask you for it when you have to renew again. And you also will need to prove that you have been paying SS all those months.  

With the new government, these things are bound to change a bit. I understand that some of this may be confusing. If you have any questions, don´t hesitate to ask. You can find me at

For More Information

Starting a Business in Spain

There are many types of businesses you can start here, such as Sole Proprietorships, Stock Corporations, Limited Liability Companies, Co-ops, etc. I personally don´t have experience in these areas, however if you would like some legal advice in English or would like help with an entrepreneurial venture of any kind here in Spain, I suggest you contact for such advice. They are specialists in Tax and Labor Law and have extensive experience helping foreign companies get started here in Spain. They can advise you on how to handle your tax matters, help you understand the Spanish system as far as labor matters, your rights as an employee or employer, Social Security, etc.—all in English.  

More Useful Contacts

You can get help with citizenship matters and help for ex-pats at the following websites:  

US Embassy in Spain. Help on all issues regarding American Citizens abroad such as passports, voting, driving licences, your rights as a foreigner here, travel advisories, etc.  

Ministerio del Interior (Spanish Ministry of Internal Affairs) is a website in Spanish. General information for foreigners, work permits, contacts, drivers licences, etc. as well as providing the download of the proper forms you will need to fill out. You can find some information in English, but it must be noted that if you try to call the contact numbers given on this site, don´t expect anyone to pick up the phone. You have to call endlessly in order to get any response.

Seguridad Social (social security office) in a website in Spanish. Information on general social security matters, unemployment benefits, and your rights as an employee or freelance worker.

Social and Business Contacts

You can find more information about different organizations and clubs for expatriates here in Spain (see the's list of Expatriate Websites for Spain).

Related Topics
Teaching English in Spain
Short-Term Jobs in Spain
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