Carbray, an international immigration law firm, has already been submitting applications for clients. A spokesperson for Global Citizens Solutions, an investment migration firm, says they’re getting a stream of inquiries about the visa, and one client has already applied.
Who’s eligible for the new visa
The term digital nomad vaguely refers to anyone earning money on a laptop away from home, but Spain will only give a specific kind of remote worker the year-long visa. Although the government may refine the specific requirements, we know some of the essentials.
Non-E.U. applicants must be remote workers who are either self-employed or employed by a non-Spanish company operating outside of Spain. Freelancers cannot have more than 20 percent of their income come from Spanish companies.
They must meet a minimum income requirement that’s still being ironed out by the government, but should be between $2,000 and $3,000 per month, immigration law firms say. Workers will have to prove they have a place to live in Spain and get private health insurance coverage equivalent to the Spanish public health coverage — not a travel insurance policy.
“If you go to any of the main insurance companies in Spain and mention that you need it for immigration purposes, they will know what to give you,” Paulet said.
Additionally, applicants must have been working remotely for at least a year, and for at least three months with their current company (whether they’re full-time or freelance). They cannot have had residency status in Spain in the last five years, or a criminal record. Getting proof of that can be “a nightmare,” because you have to get it from the FBI, which can take a couple months, says Lorenia Aquino Mendoza, Carbray’s director of immigration and global mobility, tax and corporate, and real estate.
There’s no official requirement to learn Spanish to get the digital nomad visa, however Spaniards say it’s a good idea to at least get started before you move. While many people in Spain learn some English in school, “if you want to communicate in general with everybody, it’s better if you speak the language of the country where you plan to live,” said Miguel Angel Pérez Alba, brand and market director for the Valencia tourism board.
If the applicant is approved, their spouse or any dependents will be allowed to join them.
How to apply and what costs to expect
Remote workers may apply for the visa in Spain or at a Spanish consulate in their home country.
To apply from the U.S., you’ll need to request an appointment with one of the nine Spanish consulates by email, and bring the required paperwork. That includes your application form, clean criminal record, passport-size photos, your valid U.S. passport and proof of employment, proof of insurance and residency in Spain, and a payment for the application fee (the amount varies; check with the consular office when making your appointment).
Paulet recommends applying from Spain. You’d enter the country on a 90-day tourist visa, then submit your application and required documents, which he says extends your legal status during the application process. “In case of approval, they can stay,” he said.
Without consulate fees, it costs roughly $75 to apply for the digital nomad visa in Spain. Once you’re approved for the visa, it’s about $16 to apply for a residence card. To hire professional help from a law firm, Paulet says you can expect to pay a flat rate between $1,500 and $2,000.
How long it takes to get approved
Consulates tend to take about two months to issue decisions on visas, says Joana Mendonça Ferreira, head of legal for Global Citizens Solutions. However, she says some have huge application backlogs and are taking up to four months to process.
Unlike with consulates — which can have delays with no recourse — you may fare better applying from within Spain. When you apply there, if you haven’t heard back after 20 working days and the Ministry of Employment hasn’t requested any additional information, the country is required to approve your case. “We call it ‘positive silence,’” Aquino said. “After 20 days, if they don’t give an answer, the answer is yes.”
What taxes you’ll pay in Spain
With the new visa, digital nomads will pay a much lower, flat Non-Residents Tax (IRNR) than Spain’s regular income tax, although the specifics will be based on income and are still being determined by the government. “The immigration process is way more defined that the tax process now,” Paulet said.
How to decide where to live
But Spain also has an association devoted to recruiting digital nomads and remote workers to participating towns and villages to help with their dwindling populations, the Local ES reported. There are 30 members in the Red Nacional de Pueblos Acogedores, or the National Network of Welcoming Villages, located across the country from the southern tip of Andalusia to Basque Country in the north — all eagerly awaiting foreign remote workers.
“The advantage of the digital nomad visa is that since you can work from anywhere, you can choose the countryside where your cost of living will be way, way, way lower,” Paulet said. “And you will contribute to the [revival] of these areas.”
To help make your decision, Angel suggests traveling to Spain to get a feel of different cities and towns, or joining social media groups for expats to crowdsource opinions.
Are there other visa options if I don’t qualify?
If you don’t qualify for the new visa program, know that it’s illegal for foreigners to work in Spain (in person or remotely) without a proper visa. But Spain has other ways to stay longer (legally) than the visa-free 90 days you’re automatically allowed. Americans can apply for short-stay or residence visas as students, interns, “highly qualified workers,” investors and researchers, among other options.
“Especially for Americans, the non-lucrative permit is one of the most popular,” Aquino said, but you must be able to financially support yourself without working.
Where else can I move as a remote worker?
In addition to Spain, you could look at other similar programs around the world, like Estonia, the first country to offer such an opportunity, or tropical Southeast Asia.
Malaysia launched a Professional Visit Pass (Pas Lawatan Ikhtisas) called the “DE Rantau” program for foreign digital nomads earning at least $24,000 per year that allows stays between 3 to 12 months with the option to renew for another 12 months. Indonesia debuted its “second-home visa” in December for foreign nationals or former Indonesian citizens to stay for five or 10 years if they can show proof of the equivalent of nearly $129,000 in the bank.