Social Security in Spain

Social security arrangements in Spain are extensive but expensive, especially if you are self-employed. They are also rather complicated and, very likely, different from those to which you are accustomed. Yet it is well worth getting to grips with them before you need to make use of the services provided.

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This guide covers…

This guide is about the Spanish social security system.

It covers who has to contribute to the social security system in Spain, how much they have to contribute and the social security benefits to which they will become entitled.

Introduction to the social security system in Spain

In Spain, social security (seguridad social) is the responsibility of the State and is delivered by various public authorities who, under the Spanish constitution, “shall maintain a public social security system for all citizens, guaranteeing sufficient support and social benefits in situations of need, especially in the event of unemployment, and that the support and additional benefits shall be free”.

It has made a lot of progress in this direction but the system is complex and rather fragmented.

It is made up of several schemes (regimenes). The one to which a person will belong depends, mainly, upon their occupation.

The General Regime is the most widely used. It includes a number of special sub-systems relating to special categories of workers such as people working in the fruit industry, farm workers and various types of part-time workers plus bullfighters and artists. Each pays different contributions.

There are also Special Regimes for certain professional activities by their nature, different from other occupations. These include the self-employed, coal miners and seamen.

Social security contributions are costly: in 2017 at least 28% of earnings, the precise amount depending upon the occupation of the worker. Contributions total well over €100 billion per year.

Employees social security obligations in Spain

Employees must register with the social security scheme when they first start work. They will be allocated a social security number.

They will then, via their new employer, be tied into that employers social security record and then – again via the employer – make the appropriate monthly contribution. For the rates applicable to the various categories of employment, see here.  A typical employee will pay about 4.7% of their salary by way of social security contributions. Their employer will have paid about 23.6%.

The current maximum monthly social security base (i.e. that salary upon which social security payments are to be calculated) is €3,751.20. Any income over that amount is not subject to contributions by either the employer or the employee.

When the employee changes jobs, their record will be attached to that of their new employer and the game will continue.

Employers’ social security obligations in Spain

All employers must, as part of setting up their business, register with the social security administration – Social Security Treasury General Office. They will then receive a social security code – the CCC. For more information, see here. The website is available in Spanish, English & French.

All employers must also ensure that their employees are registered with their local National Institute of Social Security (Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social – INSS) and pay social security contributions to the INSS on behalf of their employees.  These payments are in two parts: one part (by far the larger) paid by the employer and the other recovered from the employee by way of a deduction from their wages.

The administration is done online, via the Sistema RED. Payments can be made via most banks.

The obligations of self-employed people in Spain

The self-employed, too, must register. They will register through the Special Regime for Autonomous Workers (Régimen Especial de Trabajadores Autónomos – RETA) as a profesional autonomo or trabajador autónomo).

If you are earning more than the annual Spanish minimum wage (€858.55 per month €19,300 per year in 2018) you will have to pay social security contributions. If you should pay but don’t, you won’t get any benefits, including healthcare. These contributions entitle you to healthcare and, after you’ve paid into the scheme for 15 years, a pension. You can choose to pay more to be covered for accidents or sickness at work.

In 2018, the monthly contributions for previously unregistered freelancers was cut to €50 for the first year, increasing to €137 for months 13-18 (a 50% reduction) and €192 for months 18-24 (a 30% reduction). After two years it reverts to the standard rate.

Most autónomos pay a flat rate of €275 a month, whether or not they earn any money.

For more information, see the Expatia guide.

The obligations of the foreign resident in Spain

These are the same as for a Spanish person.

Many – even EU citizens – below retirement age but wanting to live (but not really work) in Spain may find it worthwhile becoming self-employed in Spain. This will give them access to a range of benefits at rates little more than the cost of health insurance alone.

Benefits based on contributions in another country

EU countries

The European Union established a set of common rules that protect the social security rights of its citizens when they move around Europe. The four main principles of European Social Security coordination are: 

  1. A person can only be covered by the regulations of one country at a time. The decision as to which national regulations shall apply in each case is made by the relevant Social Security agencies
  2. Each EU person who is moving around Europe has the same rights and obligations as nationals of the country where they are covered
  3. When a benefit is requested, previous periods of insurance, work or residence in other countries must be taken into account
  4. If you are entitled to a cash benefit in one country, you can continue to be paid that benefit even if you live in another. This is called the principle of exportability.

Contact the social security authorities in your present country of residence to find out whether you qualify and obtain proof of this. You will then need to show that proof to your local INSS office.  See here for a full list.

Non-EU countries

If you come from a country outside the EU then, obviously, the EU rules wont apply and you will have no general right for your social security contributions made in another country to help establish your entitlement to benefits in Spain.

Social security benefit entitlements in Spain

Spanish social security benefits for employed people

There is a wide range of potential benefits to which an employed person may be entitled.

These range from the normal (expected in most advanced societies) to the unusually specific. Standard benefits include:

  • Healthcare
  • Sickness benefit
  • Disability benefit
  • Unemployment benefit
  • Maternity and paternity benefits
  • Pensions

More unusual ones include special benefits if you can’t work because you are breast-feeding or if you are unlucky enough to have a child with cancer.

See here for a full list of benefits, conditions of entitlement and the amounts payable.

Spanish social security benefits for self-employed people

There are about 3 million self-employed individuals – “autónomos” – in Spain.

The rules for the self-employed are changing in 2018 and are likely to change further in the near future. The tendency is for the benefits to which the self employed are entitled and the level of their contributions to be brought more into line with those experienced by the employed.

See here for an article about the 2018 changes.

For the self-employed in particular, getting professional advice before becoming self-employed in Spain will be money very well spent.

Spanish social security benefits for pensioners

People in receipt of a Spanish pension – even one partly based upon contributions made in another country – will be entitled not only to the amount of their pension but also a rage of other benefits:


These benefits include both medical treatment and pharmaceutical benefits.

Family benefits

Family benefits are provided to cover the financial needs or extra expenses of certain people, caused by family responsibilities and/or by the birth or adoption of children.

Social services

Social Services are benefits intended to supplement financial benefits, while at the same time improving the living conditions of the beneficiaries, by reducing, insofar as is possible, the personal constraints that are caused by age or disability.

This includes care services for people in situations of dependency (those people who for reasons of age, illness or disability require care from others or help to perform activities of daily living). These are provided via the social services network of the Autonomous Communities.

For more details about the rights of pensioners, see here.


Social security arrangements in Spain are extensive and expensive. They are also rather complicated and, very likely, different from those to which you are accustomed. Yet it is well worth getting to grips with them before you need to make use of the services provided.

Further Information

Please contact the author if you would like any further information. See the sidebar for their contact details.

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