Adam DeSanges Feb 5, 2024 11:19:10 AM 18 min read

Doing Business in Spain: Opportunities and Challenges

Starting a business in Spain offers unique prospects due to its strategic location and diverse economy that encourages innovation. With technology and renewable energy at the forefront, Spain is becoming more than simply a tourist destination — it's also a hub for contemporary businesses. While the path requires negotiating bureaucracy and comprehending the tax system, the potential benefits make it an appealing option for entrepreneurs globally.

The Spanish Economy: A Snapshot

Spain's position as the Eurozone's fourth-largest economy showcases its economic diversity and resilience. The nation has expanded its economic activities into sectors like renewable energy and technology, alongside its traditional stronghold in tourism. Here's a detailed overview:

  • GDP Growth: After a period of economic challenges, Spain's GDP is on a path of gradual recovery, albeit at a slower pace than the immediate post-pandemic surge. The country's GDP growth is projected to decelerate to 2.1% in 2023 and slightly lower to 1.9% in 2024, following a robust rebound with a growth rate of 5.5% in the preceding years. This moderated growth trajectory reflects a balanced contribution from both traditional sectors and emerging markets, indicating a resilient and diversifying economy. Despite global uncertainties and internal challenges, Spain's economic fundamentals, supported by strategic investments and fiscal measures, suggest a stable growth outlook in the medium term.

  • Renewable Energy: At the forefront of Europe's green energy transition, Spain continues to advance in solar and wind power, reflecting its commitment to sustainability. With the implementation of 8,900 MW by 2022, Spain is on track to meet its ambitious goal of sourcing 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. This progress is part of a broader strategy to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, supported by significant public investments and policies to boost renewable energy projects and technological innovation in the sector.

  • Technology and Innovation: Spain's technology sector continues to flourish, with Barcelona and Madrid being prominent innovation centres. The nation has created an environment that nurtures tech startups, highlighted by the achievements of companies such as Glovo and Cabify. Reflecting the sector's vigorous expansion, Spanish startups secured significant investments, with the ICT sector alone witnessing an 18.8% growth between June 2020 and June 2021. This growth trajectory is supported by the Spanish government's Digital Spain Plan 2025, which emphasises advancements in 5G, cybersecurity, Big Data, and AI. Moreover, Spain's strategic allocation of funds from the EU's Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan further propels the tech industry, mainly focusing on the modernisation and digitalisation of various sectors.

  • Tourism: In 2023, Spain's tourism sector achieved a remarkable recovery, establishing the country as the world's premier tourist destination for the first time, surpassing France with approximately 84 million international visitors. This resurgence has significantly bolstered Spain's economy, with the sector experiencing a notable increase in both international and domestic tourist spending. International tourist expenditure between January and November 2023 was 16.6% higher than in 2019, while domestic tourism expenditure in the first three quarters of the year was 22.2% higher compared to the same period in 2019. As a key economic pillar, tourism continues to play a crucial role in Spain's GDP growth and employment, demonstrating resilience and adaptability in the face of global challenges.

  • Employment Trends: Spain's labour market has shown remarkable resilience, with significant job creation reported in April 2023, marking the largest quarterly increase since 2005, excluding the post-lockdown period of 2020. This surge in employment, facilitated by nearly 129,000 net jobs created in April and a total of 362,600 over the last three months, underscores the effectiveness of government measures to stimulate job growth. Despite these gains, the unemployment rate has stabilised at 12.8% in March 2023, reflecting the ongoing challenge of reducing unemployment to below the EU average. However, the labour market's robust performance, especially in the face of rising interest rates and inflation, indicates a strong momentum towards integrating more individuals into the workforce, including in new and emerging sectors.

The Strategic Position of Spain

Spain's strategic location significantly contributes to its economic success and business appeal. This is primarily due to:

  • Access to Markets: Spain's unique position as a bridge between Europe and the Americas opens doors to various markets. This advantage is crucial for businesses looking to scale internationally, offering a direct route to over 450 million consumers in Europe alone, and serving as a gateway to the growing markets of Latin America.

  • The Port of Algeciras: As one of Europe's top ports, the Port of Algeciras plays a pivotal role in Spain's economy, handling over 100 million tons of cargo annually. It's a key trade hub connecting Europe with Africa and the Americas, streamlining global trade routes and supporting Spain's export-import industry.

  • Trade Agreements: Being part of the EU, Spain enjoys the benefits of numerous trade agreements, such as the EU-MERCOSUR agreement, which aims to integrate markets and reduce tariffs between the EU and South American countries. These agreements give Spanish businesses preferential access and reduced tariffs in over 70 countries, facilitating smoother and more cost-effective international trade.

  • Cultural and Linguistic Advantage: Spain's cultural and linguistic ties with Latin America foster stronger business relationships and provide Spanish companies with a competitive edge in these markets. For Latin American companies, Spain often serves as the first step for expansion into European markets, thanks to these shared cultural bonds.

These factors combined make Spain a compelling choice for businesses aiming to tap into international markets — due to offering a blend of logistical advantages, trade benefits, and cultural connections that are hard to find elsewhere.

Spain is teeming with opportunities, especially in areas that resonate with global shifts towards sustainability, technological advancement, and healthcare innovation.

Renewable Energy and Digital Transformation

Spain is on a fast track to becoming a renewable energy powerhouse in Europe, particularly focusing on solar and wind energy. The country's commitment is reflected in its National Energy and Climate Plan, aiming for a significant portion of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. This green shift has catalysed a wave of investment and innovation in renewable projects, from large-scale solar farms to cutting-edge wind power technologies. 

On the digital front, Spain is undergoing a transformation, with the government earmarking billions for digital infrastructure under the "Digital Spain 2025" agenda. This initiative aims to boost connectivity, digital skills, and cybersecurity, laying the groundwork for a thriving digital economy. Tech startups and digital enterprises find fertile ground here, with opportunities spanning from AI and blockchain to smart city solutions.

Tech Startups

The Spanish tech startup ecosystem is buzzing, particularly in Barcelona and Madrid, which are recognised as leading tech hubs in Europe. These cities host an array of successful startups, such as Glovo and Cabify, showcasing the potential for growth and innovation. The ecosystem's vibrancy is supported by robust government initiatives, venture capital investments, and an expanding network of incubators and accelerators. Emerging fields like fintech, medtech, and e-commerce are witnessing substantial growth, driven by innovative solutions to modern challenges.

Healthcare Sector

Spain's healthcare sector is set for expansion, propelled by an ageing population and a surge in demand for advanced health services and innovations. The industry is ripe for biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and digital health solutions investment. Spain's commitment to healthcare innovation is evident in its increasing R&D expenditure, which saw a significant jump, aiming to foster advancements in medical technology and patient care. Companies like Grifols, a global leader in blood plasma products, and Oryzon Genomics in biotech, underscore Spain's potential as a hub for healthcare innovation.

Innovative Business Ideas

Innovation is at the heart of Spain's evolving business landscape, with sustainable tourism and renewable energy leading the way.

Sustainable Tourism

As one of the world's top tourist destinations, Spain is uniquely positioned to pioneer sustainable tourism practices. There's a growing demand for eco-friendly accommodations, green travel options, and experiences that promote cultural preservation and environmental conservation. Entrepreneurs can tap into this trend by developing businesses that offer sustainable alternatives to traditional tourism.

Renewable Energy

Spain's commitment to green energy is evident in its national policies and investment in renewable energy sources. The country's abundant solar and wind resources make it an ideal location for developing renewable energy projects, from large-scale wind farms to solar-powered homes and businesses. Innovators in this sector can contribute to Spain's energy transition and tap into a growing market for clean energy solutions.

Bureaucracy and Regulation Challenges

Navigating Spain's business environment involves some challenges — notably bureaucracy and regulation.

  • New businesses in Spain often face complex administrative procedures, from registration and licensing to compliance with local regulations. The process can be time-consuming and requires a thorough understanding of the Spanish legal system.

  • Local knowledge and expertise make overcoming bureaucratic hurdles easier. Partnering with local firms or consultants who understand the ins and outs of Spanish bureaucracy can streamline the process, helping businesses navigate regulatory requirements more efficiently.

Taxation in Spain

Taxation is another area where foreign investors and entrepreneurs may encounter challenges because:

  • Spain's tax system can be complex, with various taxes applicable to businesses, including corporate tax, VAT, and social security contributions. Understanding the nuances of the Spanish tax system is crucial for compliance and financial planning.

  • Effective tax planning and compliance are essential for businesses operating in Spain. Seeking advice from tax professionals specialising in Spanish tax law can help businesses optimise their tax obligations and avoid potential pitfalls. Implementing efficient tax strategies and staying abreast of changes in tax legislation are key to managing tax liabilities and maximising profitability.

Pros and Cons of Doing Business in Spain

First, let’s look at some of the benefits of starting a business in Spain:

1. Strategic Location and Diverse Economy

Spain's location is a major asset, providing easy access to European, Latin American, and North African markets. As the Eurozone's fourth-largest economy, Spain benefits from a mix of established sectors like tourism and growing areas like renewable energy and tech. This economic diversity opens up numerous business opportunities and helps buffer against downturns in specific sectors.

2. Skilled Workforce and Stable Economic Conditions

Spain's workforce is well-educated and skilled, especially in fields such as engineering, technology, and healthcare. The country's education and training programs contribute to this. As we mentioned earlier, economic recovery efforts have led to GDP growth, showing Spain's resilience and creating a favourable environment for business.

3. Innovation and R&D Incentives

The Spanish government supports innovation through incentives and grants, especially in renewable energy, biotechnology, and digital services. This environment encourages businesses to invest in new ideas, giving them a competitive edge.

4. Growing Startup Ecosystem

Spain is becoming a hub for startups, particularly in tech, with supportive measures like funding, co-working spaces, and accelerator programs in cities like Barcelona and Madrid. This makes Spain an appealing choice for launching innovative businesses.

5. Quality of Life

Spain's culture, climate, and standard of living offer a great quality of life for business owners and their teams, making attracting and retaining talent easier.

Taking a closer look at some of the disadvantages and potential hurdles is also extremely important for success:

1. Bureaucracy and Taxation

Spain's business environment can be challenging due to its bureaucratic nature and complex tax system. Setting up a business often means dealing with numerous administrative tasks, from securing permits to tax registration, which can be both time-consuming and complex. With its mix of direct and indirect taxes, this system requires careful navigation to ensure compliance and effective tax management.

2. Impact on Business Operations and Growth

These administrative and tax challenges can slow down business operations and growth. The effort and resources needed to manage bureaucracy and taxes might distract from focusing on the business's core activities, potentially delaying market entry and expansion. However, these obstacles can be managed with careful planning and the help of local experts.

3. Labour Market Regulations

Spain's labour market is known for its strict regulations, which can make hiring and firing cumbersome. High social security contributions add another layer of complexity, affecting labour cost management and flexibility.

4. Market Saturation in Certain Sectors

High competition and saturation in sectors like tourism and hospitality mean new businesses must work harder to stand out. Gaining a foothold in these markets can be challenging without a distinct offering.

5. Language Barrier

For entrepreneurs who don't speak Spanish, language can be a barrier, especially when navigating government procedures and local business customs. Although English is common in business settings, Spanish proficiency can greatly facilitate operations and local market integration.

Emerald's Comprehensive Support for Businesses in Spain

Emerald is your go-to partner for tackling challenges and seizing opportunities in Spain's business environment. We do more than just help you meet legal requirements — we provide comprehensive support to help your business grow from the ground up and continue thriving.

  • Tailored legal and tax solutions: Emerald offers customised legal and tax planning services to ensure compliance with Spanish laws and optimise your financial outcomes. We cater to the unique needs of each business.

  • HR and employment expertise: We provide end-to-end HR support, from recruitment to contract drafting, ensuring your team is built in full compliance with Spanish labour laws.

  • Navigating bureaucracy with ease: Emerald simplifies the complexities of Spanish bureaucracy, handling business registration, licensing, and permits, so you can concentrate on your business.

  • Local insights and global perspective: Our team's local expertise and global outlook equip businesses for success in Spain, offering strategies that resonate with local and international standards.

  • Partnership for success: Beyond services, working with Emerald offers a partnership that propels your business forward in Spain, backed by our commitment to provide guidance and support at every stage.

While Spain offers a landscape rich with opportunities, it also presents challenges that require expertise. With Emerald's support, your business can leverage the advantages, overcome the obstacles, and set the stage for a successful venture in Spain. 

Contact us to discuss how we can assist in making your Spanish business journey a success.

Adam DeSanges

Part of Emerald since 2006, Adam has personally developed an Executive Search process that has been incorporated throughout the entire Emerald Technology business and has enabled our team to offer an unrivalled, collaborative service to our clients. As one of our Company Directors, he is responsible for leading, training and mentoring this methodology.

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