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Spain’s digital nomad visa one year on: How are remote workers and locals getting along?

Spain’s digital nomad visa one year on: How are remote workers and locals getting along?

A year after Spain launched a special digital nomad visa to encourage foreign business talent to move to the country, it has met with muted success.

Some 300 foreign nationals were granted the visa up until 31 December 2023, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said, but it did not disclose their nationalities.

The relatively small number may relate to the problems encountered by some applicants keen to make a new life under the Iberian sun.

Some said it was hard to fulfil all the visa’s demands like proving they pay social security in their own country. Others complained of the endless paperwork involved in the process.

Euronews Travel spoke to visa experts, applicants and locals to find out more.

How easy is it to get a digital nomad visa in Spain?

Visa experts who help digital nomads to conquer this bureaucracy told Euronews Travel that it was not as easy as it seems to secure this ticket to work in Spain.

“The digital nomad visa can be complex if you are unfamiliar with the requirements,” says Maria José Muñoz Gomez, owner of immigration consultancy Help At Hand Spain. “It’s certainly quite an intensive process to get everything lined up.”

The visa, which is aimed at all citizens from outside the European Economic Area, was designed to offer tax incentives to lure talented foreign workers who, it is hoped, will stay in Spain long term.

To get a visa, a person must prove they have paid social security and have been working in their own country.

“For all applicants, getting the right paperwork to prove your professional relationships with a registered company is vital,” says Maria.

You’ll also need to understand the social security system and how you will be taxed once you are approved, which requires coordination with the tax authority in your own country, she explains.

“It is possible to apply yourself, however some applicants may prefer to have a lawyer or immigration professional helping them to get approval and navigate the complexity,” says Maria.

‘The visa required a lot of paperwork’

Pinak Pushkar knows from experience what it takes to get a digital nomad visa in Spain. He moved to the country with his wife Cathy, where she gave birth to their son in August.

The family left London for Moraira in southeastern Spain in April last year and applied for the visa from their adopted country.

However, it was far from easy, says Pinak, a project manager.

“The visa required a lot of paperwork and I got the impression that the [Spanish] did not understand or welcome the UK structures of employment,” he tells Euronews Travel.

“I generally got the impression the whole process was the offspring of proportional representation, where one of the parties in the [Spanish] coalition government wanted to invite foreign capital, but the other wasn’t so keen.”

Pinak points to the original touted tax rate of 15 per cent for digital nomads “that just didn’t make much traction to legislation”.

He says there also seems to be a “suspicion of UK limited company structures”. These normally see directors pay themselves in dividends with their salaries being a very small part of their overall package, he explains.

“I was aware that UK limited company directors were being knocked back because of this, so during the months of my application I asked my accountants to issue me pay checks instead of dividends. I am not sure how efficient this process was, but I think it certainly helped my application.”

‘The lifestyle is so much better than London’

In the end, despite the difficulties, securing the visa has been worthwhile.

“The lifestyle is so much better than London. Here we have a villa, with a swimming pool and I can look out at the sea and the food is good,” says Pinak, speaking from the terrace of his new seaside home.

Pinak, 46, says that the couple wanted to have children but to buy a house in London would have involved selling two flats which he and his wife owned. They believed they could have a better quality of life in Spain - at a lower cost.

His wife Cathy, 38, runs a fashion website but is taking time off to be with her son.

Pinak with his wife Cathy and their son.
Pinak with his wife Cathy and their son. - Pinak Pushkar

How have digital nomads been received in Spain?

While the idea of upping sticks and working from a laptop anywhere in the world has proved hugely popular, it’s not always well received by locals.

Barcelona and Malaga are magnets for nomads, principally because both have well-developed tech hubs connected to local authorities and large tech-based companies.

The Canary Islands has also offered specific incentives to digital nomads who work in this sector.

However, in Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, graffiti painted on a wall saying ‘Go Home Digital Nomads and Tourists’ is testimony to the antipathy some feel towards these new arrivals.

Malaga’s streets were also recently emblazoned with anti-tourism stickers saying “This used to be my home” and urging tourists to “get the hell out of here”.

‘Community life is not as rich’

The arrival of a large number of foreigners with few local links changes the social fabric of cities like Barcelona, believes Antonio López-Gay, a migration expert at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

He carried out an investigation into floating populations in the Barrio Gótico, an area in central Barcelona which is popular with nomads and tourists.

“We found that community life is not as rich. You trust the people you know in a community, but if your new neighbour is someone who has just moved in a few weeks ago, then you might not do that,” says Antonio.

“What suffers is the social cohesion of an area.”

However, Ricardo Urrestarazu, an expert in tourism investment at the University of Malaga, believes nomads could be a positive influence if they integrated more with local society.

“Unfortunately, some do not integrate into local society and behave much like tourists. They are not there long enough to do that,” he tells Euronews Travel.

Barcelona's Barrio Gótico is popular with digital nomads and tourists.
Barcelona's Barrio Gótico is popular with digital nomads and tourists. - Cava

Are digital nomads driving up rent prices in Spain?

In Barcelona, in areas like Gracia, Poblenou and the Barrio Gótico, rents have risen as the digital nomads have arrived.

“In many cases, they earn more money than local people and this can mean that this drives up the cost of rental accommodation,” says Ricardo. “This is when people start to feel resentment towards them.”

The income threshold for Spain’s digital nomad visa is set at 200 per cent of the country's monthly minimum wage. This amounts to €2,268 per month or around €27,200 per year.

Under the digital nomad visa, workers also pay a lower rate of income tax than the average Spanish tax rate, if they are earning more than €60,000 as an employee.

This gives them higher purchasing power, which has led some inner city landlords to raise rental costs, pricing Spanish residents out.

Ana Miquel, 66, a pensioner from Barcelona, wanted to move to Gracia - a fashionable area of the city - but could not afford to.

“They wanted to charge me €3,000 per month. I said ‘I can’t afford that!’ They said I was lucky that they did not want €3,000 per month with six months paid before I moved in,” says Ana, who worked in one of the city’s plushest hotels as a PR manager.

Similar problems have been experienced in Portugal, where remote workers have been blamed for driving up rents and contributing to a housing crisis. This has led the country to crackdown on ‘golden’ investor visas and Airbnb rentals - measures that could soon also be taken in Spain.