Don’t Want to Be an Auxiliar de Conversación Anymore? Here’s How You Can Be an Autónomo in Spain.

Today I’ll talk more directly about life in Spain and how I legally made it work, and give you a nice recipe for a homemade licor. Long post alert! 

It’s finally springtime here in León and everyone is so happy about it! The parks are full of people picnicking, biking, and walking, and the terrazas are full of life as people go out for tapas in the early evening. There are storks in their giant nests high up in the trees, clucking vibrantly as they gracefully fly overhead. This weekend I got to spend an entire afternoon in a large park on the outskirts of town called La Candamia watching the storks, eating picnic foods (including huevo frito chips), playing music, reading, and lying on a blanket. I can’t think of anything more peaceful than that.


Days like yesterday get me thinking about how fortunate I’ve been to be able to live and work here in Spain, enjoying simple pleasures like terrazas, paseos, vino (and free tapas), and beautiful landscapes. I can’t say that life is always dreamlike and smooth sailing over here, it’s been a lot of hard work to make it happen, and I see a lot of injustices and problems here just like any other place. There are some Spanish people who ask me, “but why here?” as they’d rather be on the first plane out of here if they could be. It’s hard to answer por qué exactamente – it’s just a place that’s drawn me like a magnet and I haven’t been able to stay away from. I’ve TRIED to go away but I came back!  (2015 was a weird year.)  Legally speaking, I’ve gone from a short-term student visa, renewing for three years, to self-employed, with nerve-wracking paperwork, deadlines, and holding my breath/crossing my fingers every year for approval. And every year, even when it was a really tight deadline, I’ve managed to get the letter of approval and my residency card renewed.

In the summer of 2017 my residency was up for renewal but this time I had to switch my residency from student, as I was previously in the Auxiliares de Conversación program, to self-employed. The application form itself was very simple, but it involved several more steps than previous years.

Step 1: First I had to go to the Autónomos office all suited up in a black blazer to show my seriousness (though not required!), with my business plan in hand, backed up with written confirmation from a couple of clients that they planned to work with me, and financial statements showing I had funds in my account. The señora in the office was extremely helpful, giving me some edits to the business plan to make it more viable before sending it off to Madrid for approval. *Breath holding: take one.* I took care of this in June so I could start the residency renewal process by the end of July.

Step 2: the foreigner’s office, the lovely Extranjería. I actually got my business plan approved pretty quickly, in mid July. So then I had to make an appointment for the extranjería and show up with the following:

  • application form (EX-07)
  • my stamped and approved business plan
  • lots of passport pages – the main first pages and the ones with stamps
  • proof of funds from my bank in the form of a bank statement

I got placed with the rudest lady in the office, who when I handed her the paperwork, snapped at me saying “where’s the rest of it?” when she hadn’t bothered to flip past my passport copies. Umm, it’s RIGHT THERE, ma’am. All my paperwork got scanned in, and I was told to wait for my letter of resolution – this can take up to three months. So I spent the rest of the summer in *breath holding: take two* mode, nervous that I’d be rejected and booted out of the country.

Step 3: Approval. Thankfully, on August 31st, my approval letter arrived! It’s called a Resolution Notice and is very official, containing the new date that you’re legal to stay in the country until. It should be one year.

Step 4: After getting my approval, I needed to get my TIE, my residency card, renewed. So I made an appointment to get my fingerprints done, the first part of the TIE process. The actual card itself wasn’t ready until the end of November, because these things take forever.

Step 5: Getting official in the Seguridad Social system – crucial if you want to partake in the (free) national healthcare system!  Well, “free” – you do pay a lot for social security as an autónomo. I made an appointment to get set up in the system. I already had a social security number but you can be assigned one at this point if you don’t have one already. 

Step 6: Registering with Hacienda, the tax system. I did this in person too, but it can be done online. You complete either form Modelo 036 or 037  and you’ll be doing an “alta” as it’s the first time you’re registering. You complete the date you plan to start your business services, and fill out some codes to determine which tax group you belong to. (That involved some extra Googling!) I did 037 because it’s a simplified version.

Each quarter (April 20, July 20, October 20, and January 20 for the previous year) you’ll pay estimated taxes using Modelo 130, and you can use this handy guide from Quipu (in Spanish) to walk you through all the steps. In the spring of each year, between April and June, you’ll need to declare your annual taxes using Modelo 100. You could get a refund! Or you could have to pay if you were short in your quarterly taxes. Who knows?

So in summary, if you’re interested in staying in Spain and you’re not doing  pareja de hecho, getting married, or being sponsored by a company, this is the way to go, especially if you want to work with academies or private students. If you need some help, check out:

My invoice template

Business plan template

And if you’re looking for more details, especially if you want to do this process from back in the States, this is THE MOST HELPFUL post I’ve ever seen on the subject.


All this legalese is enough to make anybody want to drink, so let’s move on to some orujo!

Orujo is a classic beverage that’s typically enjoyed after a meal, in a shot-sized glass. It comes in many flavors such as herb, coffee, chocolate, or fruit. And orujo, like a lot of things here in Spain, just isn’t one of those things you can rush. It’s like waiting in line at a small-town bank and the employee is having a chat with the customer about her grandkids – like it or not, you just have to wait.  The alcohol and the fruit need time to make their alchemy… alchemize? Alchemate? Is there a verb for this? (I’m actually a terrible English teacher.)

Now that the warm weather is here, fruit is going to start popping up everywhere. Right now, in the month of May, strawberries are starting to show up. Later in the summer, bushes will be overflowing with wild blackberries. But who has time to wait til the END of the summer to drink orujo? You have to plan these things in advance so the cold, sweet licor is ready to enjoy at those long summer barbecues. Any fruit will do, really. Since strawberries are starting to be in season, I went ahead and got the whole box at the frutería, knowing that they’ll be used for orujo, dessert, and smoothies!

You’ll need:

    • 500 grams of strawberries, chopped
    • Half a liter of aguardiente (hard liquor – Google translate says “schnapps”)
    • Half a liter of water
    • 500 grams of sugar
    • Juice of one lemon

Optional for flavor/aroma: One cinnamon stick, Mint leaves, Anise



(Today we’ll only need the strawberries and alcohol!)

Wash and chop the strawberries, removing the tops. Make sure they’re good quality strawberries – and fresh, not frozen!

Locate a good quality container for the mix – it should be glass, and a large size with a good-fitting lid. If you don’t have something large, divide the mix into two smaller containers. I used the biggest jar I could find in the house.  Add the chopped strawberries to the jar.

Measure out 500 ml of the liquor of your choice. Many people use aguardiente, but you can also use vodka or anise. It just needs to be clear and s t r o n g.

Cover the strawberries completely with the alcohol. Close the jar tightly and place the jar in a cool, dark place and leave it alone for one month. One month later, you’ll make a simple syrup with sugar, water and lemon juice and put it all together with the alcoholic strawberries. Patience, my friends!