Tax obligations for owners of real estate in Spain

Owners of real estate in Spain must pay tax on their properties regardless of their place of residence. In practice, resident and non-resident property owners pay the same taxes in Spain, although the names and collection mechanisms of these taxes differ.

A real estate property can generate earnings, either through renting or as a result of sale. Also, under tax law, just owning a property generates a notional income that is taxable. All these incomes have to be declared in Spain, and Spain is the competent state for collecting any tax due. This is according to all the double taxation treaties signed by Spain. These treaties follow the general OECD model under which income from real estate property can be collected in the country it is located in, regardless of the country of tax residence of the taxpayer.

In addition to paying any income tax due to the national Spanish tax agency, the property owner must also pay all other taxes due to other agencies. This includes, for instance, the municipal property tax collected each year by the local council. And, when you sell your property, the capital gains tax you also have to pay to the council.

Lastly, in Catalonia and some other autonomous communities, there is a further tax on an activity widespread among foreign investors in coastal properties: the short term leasing to tourists. The tax is a small amount due per night for every person staying in the property, which must be registered for tourist use with the local council.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

The Spanish Tax Office has declared a tax amnesty for pensioners

The Spanish government is granting a special deadline for income tax declarations to all foreign nationals who are resident in Spain, as well as to any Spanish pensioners who have returned to the country after emigrating. These persons can now pay the whole amount of tax owed to the tax authorities with any penalties or fines for late payment waived.

If you reside in Spain for more than 183 days in a year, you are automatically classed as a resident for tax purposes, and as a consequence your worldwide income must be taxed in Spain. This also includes your pension. If you are retired and you do not have presented a tax declaration in Spain yet, you have until the middle of next year to submit a declaration and pay the tax, free from any penalties or interest.

There are now minimum amounts below which no income tax needs to be declared. For 2013, this minimum annual income for foreign pensions stood normally at €11,200. This amount is irrespective of whether you want to be assessed on your own or together with your spouse. However, this does not apply to government pensions (for civil servants), as these must always be taxed in your country of origin.

The increasingly closer exchange of information and data between the various Eropean tax authorities had made the Spanish Treasury aware of how many foreign pensioners, and emigrants who have returned from abroad, do not pay tax at all on their foreign pensions here or at least do not do it according to the rules. Pensioners are often elder and have greater difficulties understanding the legal situation in Spain, as they have been living abroad for many years. On the other hand they generally do not have many assets. That is why the Spanish government has set a special deadline of 6 months, beginning on 01.01.2015 to give such persons an opportunity to clear their debts with the tax office by paying 100% of their tax spar­ing themselves any interest and penalties for late pay­ment.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

Spain condemned to end the tax discrimination in the inheritance of non-residents

On November 16, 2011 we published an article on this blog about the accusation presented by the European Commission to the European Court against the Kingdom of Spain of discrimination against non-resident at the time of inheritance. After a long process, the judges in Luxembourg finally gave the reason to the Commission.

On September 3, 2014 the Court of the European Union ruled in the case C127/12, concerning an appeal of the European Commission against the Kingdom of Spain for not complying with the founding treaties of the European Union. In its statement, the Commission requested the Court to declare the breach of obligations of the Kingdom of Spain as European partner because of the introduction of differences in the tax on inheritance and in the gift tax, depending on the place of residence of the participants, that is, whether or not they are resident in Spain. In practice, upon the acceptance of the inheritance or donation in Spain, non-residents generally pay much higher taxes than residents.

This requirement of the European Commission was the end result of a process initiated in 2007, in which the European government had already asked Spain to change its laws concerning the taxation of the gift or inheritance. A little change was made, but it did not satisfy the Commission of the European Union, who filed a lawsuit in the Court of the European Union against Spain. The state attempted to defend itself, but the court concluded that the state law in the application of inheritance and gift tax discriminates against non-residents, and this discrimination is an affront to the freedom of movement of capital, one of the fundamental freedoms, which should save the Union.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

Acquisition of property by non-residents: important issues that must be considered

We take a lot of risks when deciding to buy a property in Spain. If
the seller is a non-resident owner, there are specific risks that are usually not taken into account by investors.

A big part of the real estate on the Spanish coast belongs to owners who do not reside in our country and it is usually a house or apartment for holiday. If we buy this real estate to owners who are not residents, we must not forget the need to
be cautious to avoid later unexpected problems with the administrations.

The most common risk is the obligation to pay the council tax on the increase in value of urban land (the so-called “plusvalía municipal”). The law provides that this tax should be paid by the seller, and so, the buyer does not usually care about this expense when calculating the total cost of the investment transaction. However, when the seller is not a resident, the law obliges to pay this council tax to the buyer as a substitute of the seller, the one who should be actually required to pay it. This exception to the rule has its own logic, as it tries to avoid that the administration has to prosecute abroad the non-resident sellers who did not pay their taxes voluntarily, because when they sell their property in Spain, they very often do not retain any other property in the country, and, therefore, they are technically insolvent. In this case, the municipality requires the payment of the tax to the party who is closer and this is the buyer.

That is why during the registration of the purchase contract we should require the seller the corresponding provision of funds (or withhold the foreseen amount of the tax from the money that is still owed ​​to the seller for the property). If this exception to the general rule is not considered and no precautions are taken, in the case that the municipality requests that we as buyers pay the tax on the increase in land value because the seller did not pay this tax freely, we will have no choice but to undertake this payment, because, before the Spanish administration, we would be the only one who is obliged to pay. Another thing is that we can claim ourselves afterwards from the seller what we have paid to the municipality, through a civil action against him.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

Setting up a business in Spain as a way to obtain a residence permit

The conditions for non-EU foreign nationals who wish to set up a business in Spain and obtain a residence permit which includes permission to carry on an activity on their own account are a guarantee of the business owner’s solvency and the legality and viability of the business.

A residence permit for Spain (which also allows free movement within the Schengen area) can be obtained by setting up a business.  The legislation aims to prevent potential fraud by ensuring that the applicant for the residence permit with permission to carry on an activity on their own account is not planning to establish a dummy company, and that the business will generate jobs and contribute to the nation’s prosperity.

How can it be proved that the business has sufficient funds with which to implement the planned investment?  How high is the expected return on the investment?  How many jobs will be created?  Here, an opinion should be sought from a business association registered in Spain or an association for self-employed workers and freelancers.  The application for a residence permit with permission to carry on an activity on one’s own account, together with additional proof of the legality and viability of the business, must be submitted to the Spanish consulate in the respective country in which the applicant usually resides.  Only once the office approves the application will a visa be issued for travel to Spain and the establishment of a business.  For this reason, the process is usually undertaken in collaboration with Spanish partners, who will work on the setting-up of the business until a residence permit has been issued.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

Opening a business in Spain as a foreign citizen

When setting up a business in Spain, EU citizens have to meet similar conditions to those required of Spaniards.  In contrast, other foreign nationals, such as Russian citizens, for example, are subject to a special procedure if they want to carry on a business activity in Spain.  In future, it is likely that this procedure will also apply to business start-ups by Swiss nationals.

Unlike employees of third parties, who could be seen as a threat by job-seekers, investors are always welcome.  Investors are both those who make use of their investments personally (a holiday home or retirement residence, for example), and those who invest as entrepreneurs in order to carry on a business activity on their own account.  However, when setting up a business in Spain, foreign entrepreneurs are not all subject to the same conditions.

A lot of dust has been kicked up by the news that a referendum was held in Switzerland in which it was decided to shortly make changes to the law to restrict immigration and the free movement of EU citizens.  One direct consequence of this restriction is that the agreement on free movement and free choice of residence within the Schengen area will have to be revised.  As always used to be the case, Swiss nationals will then no longer be able to settle in Spain and carry on a business without meeting the same conditions as other non-EU citizens, such as Russian citizens, for example.  In contrast, EU citizens from member states in the Schengen area can set up a business in Spain virtually unhindered.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

Under the new Entrepreneurs’ Law, a residence permit can be obtained by purchasing a property in Spain

In enabling this, the Spanish government is attempting to reinvigorate the property market by attracting foreigners from outside the European Union with the granting of a residence permit for investing in Spain, which brings the added benefit of being able to move virtually freely around various member states under the Schengen Agreement.  

Here, too, there is a danger that an investor will view the purchase of a property as an opportunity to do business in Europe.  This can mean that they fail to check sufficiently thoroughly as to whether the purchase of the property is safe and reputable, as they want to take advantage of the opportunity to gain legal residency in Spain.  The risk is the same as for the tourist who wants to enjoy their holiday rather than attending meetings with lawyers.  In this case, too, the investment is a means, not an end, for just as the tourist sees the acquisition of a property as a means that secures them their holiday in Spain, the entrepreneur sees their opportunity to obtain a residence permit by purchasing a property, which then enables them to move freely around the Schengen area.  Both view getting adequate protection for their purchase as unnecessary.  If any problems subsequently arise, they find themselves compelled to find a lawyer to solve the problems arising from their failure to seek independent, professional advice.  However, by then it is often too late, and if there is a solution, it will involve much higher costs than if they had sought advice at the right time.  Well-advised investors can avoid making such mistakes.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

New campaign of the Tax Agency to demand the payment of income tax to non-residents

Even if they are fiscally non-resident, owners of real estate in Spain must file a separate income tax return each year and pay the so-called income tax for non-residents (IRNR) for revenues earned from the property .

The Spanish state tax authorities have not been very demanding until now regarding the payment of income tax to fiscally non-resident property owners. Many homeowners are not aware of the existence of this tax liability and can not understand why they have to file a tax return and pay this tax in Spain, despite the fact that they are not getting any income. They come to Spain just to spend their holidays: they do not work, they do not receive interest income from cash deposits in the bank, they do not rent their property. However, the mere possession of a property in Spain, as in other European countries, is considered by the law as income, even if the property is not rented. State tax rules require that the owner gets benefit of his own real estate anyway, even though these objects are not leased. The only exceptions are the cases in which the property is one’s own domicile or if the property is devoted to economic activity. Both cases can never happen with non-residents.

There is another tax, the municipal tax on property ownership, the so-called IBI (Spanish Impuesto Sobre Bienes Inmuebles), the payment of which the local municipality requires to property owners each year, and which is calculated and declared by the administration itself. In contrast, in the case of the state income tax for non-residents – IRNR-, the tax inspection is not mandated to prepare tax returns for the non-residents, but it is the taxpayer himself who is required to provide an annual tax return, and calculate and pay the property taxes on its own initiative.

This month, many homeowners who spend their holidays in their own apartments or private homes in Spain, received a letter from the Spanish tax authorities, reminding of the existence of the tax on the income of non-residents and the obligationy of paying it. Earlier, the state tax agency was very generous regarding this tax. Now, however, given that the economic situation is so bad, it appears that IRS has become stricter, requiring submission of tax returns and payment of this tax by all non-residents who own property in Spain.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

The European tax authorities strengthen their cooperation

Over the years, we have seen from our office how the Spanish tax office has improved its channels of cooperation with other European tax agencies to the extent that they now share all kinds of information about their respective taxpayers.

This cooperation was limited so far to the prosecution of real estate registered in public inventories in Spain under the name of taxpayers of other countries who had debts in the stage of execution owed to their corresponding state treasury. The Spanish tax office acted as a debt collector to recover the foreign debt, which remained unpaid by the taxpayer, being resident or not, through an action against his property in Spain.

Now, cooperation between tax agencies is going ahead and is being developed in the framework of management or control processes initiated on the basis of data and indicators provided by foreign tax authorities.

The most common case is the experience of foreign retirees living in Spain, with rents, which are in principle tax free, but who are obligated to declare them due to the progressivity of taxes on personal income. Double taxation agreements between Spain and other countries declare as exempted from payment of tax on personal income in the State of residence the pensions paid from public funds of the other State. Starting from this premise, many foreign pensioners living in Spain considered unnecessary to comply with the obligation to provide an annual declaration of personal income. However, many of these retirees receive income from the rental of real estate or bank interests, which must be declared to the Spanish tax authorities. In addition, most of these retirees supplement their income paid out of funds created by the state with other pensions paid from private funds, which are generally much higher than the amount that is considered exempt. Due to the progressivity of the tax on personal income, the percentage that would correspond to the total income earned by a resident in Spain is the one to be applied to calculate the tax on these other private rents which are not exempted. As a result, the final amount of tax paid to the fiscal authorities may be much higher.

In these difficult times, the Spanish state has resorted to claiming the difference between the amount really paid and the ones that should have been paid. It also requires the respondents to perform their official duties. And all this thanks to the valuable cooperation it receives from foreign fiscal authorities, who once benefited from the pursuit of real estate in Spain to their countrymen.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German

Residents in Spain are required to declare their assets abroad

Spanish Royal Decree 1558/ 2012, published on 15 November 2012 introduces new reporting requirements for taxpayers residing in Spain: they should declare to the Spanish State tax authority rights and property, such as real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds and insurances, held or managed abroad.

This statement should be made exclusively by means of telematics through the Internet, transmitting it with an electronic signature produced when selecting a personal certificate installed in advance in the browser for this purpose. Application deadline is from 1st January to 31st March of the year following that to which the information relates, although the declaration for 2012 will take place during March and April 2013.

The information to be reported to the tax authorities on accounts in financial institutions located abroad includes the following items:
1. Company name or full name of the bank or savings bank and location
2. Full identification of accounts
3. Date of opening or cancellation, or, where appropriate, date of issuance and withdrawal of the permit leading to the liability of the concerned reporter.
4. And, logically, the balance of the accounts at 31 December, and the average balance for the last quarter of the year.

Anyway, no one is obliged to report on the status of the account, if the final balance on 31st December does not exceed, in total, EUR 50.000. The submission of this declaration in the following years will be only required when either of the joint balances of the accounts (the one at 31st December or the average one of the last quarter of the year) experiences an increase exceeding 20.000 euros.

A similar provision is established when the foreign assets are such as securities, stocks, mutual funds, life insurances or disability insurances and temporary or lifelong rents.

For real property located abroad, the information statement will contain the following data:
a. Identification of the property with a brief specification of its typology, as  will be defined by a future order of the competent Ministry.
b. Location of the real estate: country or territory in which it is situated, city, street and number.
c. Date of acquisition.
d. Cost of acquisition.

In the case of timesharing contracts or similar arrangements and in case of usufruct rights the reporter should also indicate the value of the property on the 31st December. The applicable quantitative liability limits are the same as in the previous cases.
This obligation to declare assets is accompanied by a closer cooperation and a increased mutual assistance between tax authorities. We are going to discuss about that in a future article.

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

Read this article in Russian
Read this article in German