One of the taxes you will most frequently pay in Spain is the sales tax, called VAT (or IVA in Spanish). In this article you will learn everything you need to know about it. From which is its exact percentage (something that changes according to the product or service you buy), how to avoid paying it if you are visiting the country, and how it will affect you as a freelancer. So if you want to fully understand how one of the main taxes in the country works, keep on reading!
What is the sales tax in Spain?
In Spain, there is a sales tax that is called “IVA” or VAT (in Spanish “Impuesto sobre el Valor Añadido), a tax applied on retail sales or services provided by professionals.
Basically, the vast majority of purchases (big and small) you make on a day-to-day basis are taxed with this sales or VAT tax.
That is why it is an indirect tax levied on consumption, and it is completely independent of your income level (as opposed to income tax).
Currently, the general sales tax or VAT rate is 21%. Nevertheless, as we will see below, there are lower types for certain products and services, reducing the amount payable immensely.
Spain VAT Rates
The general rule of 21% does not always apply. We find basically 3 different brackets or percentages that will be applied depending on the specific product or service:
Since 2012, the standard VAT rate is 21% (it previously was set at 18%).
This percentage level is applied to all the taxable goods and services that are not included in the following sections, which basically include:
- Water and energy supplies
- Clothes and shoes
- Cars, motorcycles and its fuel
- Hygiene products and cosmetics
- Home appliances
- Internet connection
Then we have the reduced 10% type.
This rate applies to:
- Hotels and restaurants
- Entertainment and leisure options (like the theater, cinema, amusement parks, or concerts)
- Public transport
- Plants and flowers
- Property purchases if the building is newly built, including parking slots.
- Non-essential food supplies
- Medicines for your pets
- Equipment and accessories destined for health deficiencies, like contact lenses or glasses.
The super-reduced type is equivalent to just 4%, and is applicable to basic necessities.
In that sense, it applies to:
- Basic food (like eggs, milk, bread, fruits, vegetables, cereal, flour) and water
- Medicines for human use
- Reading material such as magazines, books, or newspapers
- Social housing
- School supplies
And, finally, those services and products that are VAT-exempt.
That is the case of some services provided by registered professionals, like medical services provided by dentists, doctors, or opticians.
But also different types of education and learning courses. But not all of them are VAT-exempt, just courses regulated with a proper syllabus.
What is IGIC in the Canary Islands?
Even though also in Spain, everything we have covered so far does not apply to the Canary Islands.
That is because they have a special type of sales tax, called IGIC (Impuesto General Indirecto Canario), and do not use VAT.
But it works exactly the same.
Instead of VAT, all the transactions within the Islands, as well as imports of goods, are charged with a 7% IGIC.
But what happens if a professional from Lanzarote, for example, does business with mainland Spain? That operation would be exempt from VAT.
Spain VAT Refund For Visitors
If you are a foreigner who is visiting Spain and are a non-EU citizen, good news.
Because you will have the option to get a refund for the VAT tax paid in certain stores.
As long as the purchase at any specific store is higher than 90€ and that it took place in any of the shops that offer this tax-free regime (check for that sign before entering), you will be able to claim your sales tax money back.
Basically, you will need to collect all the receipts and invoices for your purchases and go to any VAT refund station to submit those together with all the items you bought.
You can find those stations at the airport once you are leaving the country (go to the customs desk), in international travel hubs, and in tourist offices.
With that, an inspector will give you a document or form that will be stamped, a form that you will need to drop in any mailbox before leaving the country.
But since 2019, the Spanish Tax Agency developed an online system called DIVA with which you can easily get your invoices stamped digitally. You can learn more here.
After approximately 60 days, you will get your VAT refund through your credit card.
Nevertheless, bear in mind that certain expenditures can’t be regarded as VAT-free, and there may be a limit in the percentage to be refunded according to the specific region you are visiting.
VAT when buying products to other EU countries
What happens if you buy any product to, for example, France or Germany, and receive them in Spain (the most typical case would be when using Amazon)?
In that case, and as long as you have an International VAT number, you can request a sales tax exemption.
Sales tax if you are providing services in Spain as a freelance
And, finally, one of the more typical questions if you are a self-employed individual in Spain.
In all your invoices, you will have to add an extra 21% as VAT for all the services provided.
But that is not an amount you will earn, even though many freelancers use that income as an auto-financing mechanism.
At the end of each quarter (on March, June, September, and December) you will need to declare and pay to the Spanish Tax Agency that amount you have been collecting for the past 3 months.
That means that you will just work as an intermediary: collecting the corresponding VAT to your clients on behalf of the administration, but then paying it to the Spanish Hacienda.
Do you have any doubt? Then you just need to send us an email and one of our tax lawyers will answer all your doubts immediately: