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The Social Security System in Spain: A comprehensive guide

10 min read

  1. How the Social Security System in Spain works
  2. How to obtain a Social Security Number in Spain
  3. Unemployment benefits
  4. Maternity and paternity benefits
  5. Sickness benefits in Spain
  6. Healthcare services
  7. Retirement and pensions
  8. Social Security benefits for expats in Spain

Moving to Spain for work or to enjoy your retirement promises an exciting lifestyle under the sun, surrounded by a rich history and culture. However, integrating into any new country requires grappling with its bureaucracy – Spain's social security system being no exception. Whether you're attracted by Spain's allure as a student, employee, freelancer, or entrepreneur, understanding and contributing to its social security system is paramount. This guide aims to clarify the Spanish social security system, outlining essential details on contributions, benefits, and eligibility to ensure that you stay well-informed.

Social Security in Spain, known as Seguridad Social, is the principal system of social protection in the country. A Spanish Social Security Number (Número de Seguridad Social, or Número de afiliación a la Seguridad Social) is a unique identification number used to track an individual's contributions and benefits within the social security system. It is required for accessing healthcare services, working legally in Spain, and for services associated with employment or social services.

In Spain, social security is a fundamental part of ensuring welfare and support for all individuals working within the territory, including both Spanish citizens and foreign residents. The system provides various benefits, such as unemployment aid, healthcare services, and pensions, funded through social security contributions. Given that contributions exceed the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average, the benefits are comprehensive, supporting individuals throughout different stages and challenges of life.

Hand holding a wooden cube with social security icons
Spain's social security system provides healthcare, unemployment, retirement and maternity benefits.

How the Social Security System in Spain works

If you are earning money in Spain, it's compulsory to contribute to social security. This broad category encompasses employees in companies, self-employed individuals (autónomos), students engaged in paid professional internships, and business owners. The amount you're expected to contribute is intrinsically linked to your employment type and earnings. For employees, the responsibility is shared with their employer. If you're self-employed you are also expected to contribute, albeit with a different set of rules and benefits.

Your universal registration with the Spanish Social Security authorities (Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social - TGSS) opens up access to state-funded healthcare and welfare entitlements. This is managed by the National Institute of Social Security (Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social - INSS). Once registered, this registration lasts a lifetime.

Eligibility for the Social Security System in Spain

Everyone legally working in Spain is eligible to join the social security system. This includes Spanish and foreign residents. The self-employed, or 'autónomos', despite not being entitled to unemployment benefits, are also part of the system and enjoy similar protections. Moreover, students have a special protection plan, catering to their needs. To find out more about how to register as self-employed in Spain go to this article.

Contributions and rates within Spain's Social Security System

The social security system in Spain operates on a contributory basis, where both employers and employees make contributions based on earnings. The exact employee contribution rate can vary depending on factors such as the worker's occupation and risks associated with it. Rates of contribution to the Spanish social security system vary.

For employees, contribution rates in 2024 are generally around 4.70%, depending on the contract type. Employers contribute at a higher rate of 23.60%, plus a variable rate for occupational accidents. This shared contribution model ensures that workers are covered for scenarios such as work-related illness, non-work-related incapacity, and retirement. Please note that rates and regulations may change; for the most current information, individuals should consult with the Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social or professional legal and tax advisors in Spain. To find out the full contribution rates for all working categories you can visit the government website for Social Security contributions here.

If you are self-employed you will need to cover all of the contributions costs towards social security. To find out more about self-employed social security contributions please read this article. However, Spain's new ‘autónomo’ law extends a lifeline to freelancers with discounted rates to ease the financial load during the initial years. This thoughtful arrangement paves the way for a softer introduction to the world of self-employment in Spain.

How to obtain a Social Security Number in Spain

To obtain a Spanish Social Security Number, you can either visit a Social Security office - TGSS (Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social) - in person or apply through their online platform. Here are the necessary steps and documents for both methods:

Required documents:

  • For EU Citizens: An original and a photocopy of your ID card.
  • For non-EU citizens: Your passport (original and photocopy) is required.
  • A copy of your rental agreement and, if available, the padrón registration certificate.
  • Your NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) if you're a non-EU citizen, along with your residence permit.
  • The TA.0521 form completed to indicate your economic activity and the corresponding social security contributions if you are self-employed.
  • An original and a copy of your work contract, if employed.

Applying In-Person:

Schedule an appointment with your local TGSS office. It's advisable to book early morning slots to avoid long wait times, as offices typically operate from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Ensure you have all the listed documents ready for your appointment.

Applying Online:

To apply online, you must have a digital certificate, an e-DNI (electronic national ID), or a Cl@ve account. Visit the official Social Security website and begin the process by filling out the TA1 form.

You will need to provide your NIE and, if applicable, your TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero) number. By following these steps and preparing the necessary documentation, you'll be on your way to obtaining a Spanish Social Security Number.

Unemployment benefits

Unemployment benefits (prestaciones por desempleo) are available to individuals who have lost their job involuntarily and meet the qualifying conditions, such as having contributed to social security for a minimum period (generally at least 360 days within the last six years). The amount and duration of the benefit depend on the contributor's previous earnings and the length of their contributions.

To be considered for this benefit, applicants must satisfy several key criteria:

  • Registration with Social Security and the public employment service as a job seeker.
  • Active pursuit of employment and willingness to accept suitable employment.
  • A minimum of 360 days of social security contributions within the 6 years before unemployment.
  • Age over 16 and under the retirement age.

Meeting these requirements demonstrates one's eligibility to apply for the Contributory Unemployment Benefit, setting the stage for financial support during this transitional period.

stressed women looking at a lap
Spain's unemployment benefits can help while you look for a new job. Photo: Pexels

What the unemployment benefit entails and the application process

The scope of the unemployment benefit in Spain is designed to offer substantial support, making the burden of unemployment lighter to bear. For the fully unemployed, the benefit rates are as follows:

  • For the first 180 days: 70% of the calculation base.
  • From day 181 onwards: 50% of the calculation base.

It's important to note that the benefit amount is framed within minimum and maximum limits, influenced by whether the claimant has dependents:

  • Minimum amounts range from 80% to 107% of the Public Indicator of Multiple Effect Income (IPREM), varying with dependents.
  • Maximum amounts can range from 175% to 225% of the IPREM, depending on the number of children.

For those experiencing reduced hours due to part-time employment loss, benefits are adjusted accordingly. Duration ranges from 120 to 720 days, based on the length of social security contributions over the preceding six years.

Initiating the claim involves registering as a job seeker at the State Public Employment Service (Servicio Público de Empleo Estatal - SEPE), either in person or online, followed by applying within two weeks of becoming unemployed. Documentation, including the application and company certificate, is required to process your claim. To find the SEPE office nearest to you visit the official website.

Terminology you need to know:

The realm of unemployment benefits has its terminology, which can be confusing. Here's a brief glossary to help you better understand :

  • Contributory: Refers to benefits dependent on one's social security contributions.
  • Commitment to work: The duty to actively seek employment, accept suitable positions, and engage in relevant training.
  • Suitable placement: A job that matches one's professional experiences or qualifications.

Maternity and paternity benefits

Maternity and paternity benefits in Spain support parents around the time of childbirth, adoption, or fostering:

  • Maternity benefits provide payment for a leave period of 16 weeks, which can start several weeks before the due date. Contributions must be made to the social security system for at least 180 days within the five years before the start of leave.
  • Paternity benefits were equalized with maternity benefits, offering the same duration and conditions, supporting Spain's commitment to gender equality in childcare.
mother holding baby
Spain's social security system covers maternity & paternity leave for 16 weeks. Photo: Pexels

Sickness benefits in Spain

Sickness benefits - referred to as ‘Temporary Incapacity’ (incapacidad temporal) in Spain, are intended to cover income lost due to temporary illness or injury preventing the individual from working. After a certain period covered by the employer (typically the first 15 days), social security starts to pay a percentage of the base regulatory salary, commonly 60% from the fourth to the twentieth day of leave, and 75% thereafter until recovery.

Claiming temporary incapacity benefits in Spain

Social Security Benefits for injury or illness, as well as family benefits post-mortem, are claimed through the Social Security office, requiring documentation to certify your circumstances. If you find yourself unable to work because of a health issue or an accident unrelated to your job, you might be wondering about the eligibility criteria for temporary incapacity benefits in Spain.

You can claim this allowance as long as three days have elapsed since the commencement of the illness or the date of the accident. It is essential to understand that you're covered for a maximum of 365 days, and this can be extended for a further 180 days should recovery be on expected within that extended period.

Eligibility requirements

Both employees and self-employed individuals can apply for the temporary incapacity benefit, but certain conditions must be met:

  • Registration and contributions: You must be registered with Social Security and have paid contributions for at least 180 days within the last five years.
  • Medical certification: You must provide medical evidence stating your ailment or the circumstances of the non-occupational accident from the fourth day of the onset.

How remporary incapacity benefits are balculated in Spain

The calculation for the temporary incapacity benefit will depend on whether you are an employed worker or self-employed. Here's an overview:

For employees:

  • From day 4 to day 20 of sick leave: the allowance is 60% of the 'calculation basis'.
  • From day 21 onwards: the allowance increases to 75% of the 'calculation basis'.

For self-employed workers:

From day 4 of sick leave onwards: the scheme mirrors that of employees, with 60% paid initially, rising to 75% from the 21st day.

Applying for temporary incapacity benefits in Spain

To initiate your application for support, a medical examination and certification from the Servicio Público de Salud (State Health Services) is necessary. If you are an employee, it is your employer's responsibility to submit your sick leave application upon receiving your medical certificate. They cover the costs for the first 15 days of the allowance. Subsequent payments are handled by the Sistema Nacional de la Seguridad Social (National Social Security System).

For self-employed individuals, along with the medical certificate, you must submit a statement regarding your work situation, whether temporarily or definitively suspended or managed by another person during your absence. In this scenario, the Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social (National Institute of Social Security) or the collaborating insurance company will pay the allowance to you.

Terminology you need to know:

To better comprehend the temporary incapacity allowance, let's decode some terms:

  • Contributions: These are regular payments made to the Social Security system.
  • Calculation Basis: This is the amount of the worker's contribution to Social Security in the month prior to the illness, divided by the number of days of that month.

Healthcare services

Health coverage in Spain is universal. The system is primarily funded through social security contributions and offers extensive healthcare services without significant out-of-pocket expenses. It covers most medical services including general practitioner visits, hospital care, some dental services for children, and prescription medications at reduced costs.

These benefits ensure a comprehensive safety net for individuals and families throughout various stages of life and in cases of unexpected life events, reflecting the social welfare objectives of the Spanish system. For the most accurate and detailed explanations, especially concerning individual situations and recent changes due to policies or economic conditions, consulting directly with the Social Security Administration in Spain or specialised advisors is advisable. To understand more about Spain's healthcare system, read our guide.

doctor with stethoscope in hospital
Benefit from Spain's comprehensive healthcare system. Photo: Pexels

Retirement and pensions

The pension system (pensiones contributivas) forms a cornerstone of the Spanish social security system. It provides a retirement pension to those who have reached the retirement age—currently moving towards 67 years—and have contributed for a minimum period, generally required to be at least 15 years, two of which must be within the last 15 years before retiring. The amount of the pension depends on the contributor’s earnings and the total years of contributions. Early retirement options are also available under certain conditions.

Social Security benefits for expats in Spain

European Union (EU) nationals benefit from bilateral agreements ensuring they're covered by one social security system at a time - that of their country of residence. Non-EU/EFTA nationals legally working in Spain also contribute and receive equal benefits. Spain has bilateral social security agreements with several non-EU countries, ensuring that your contributions continue to count, even when abroad.

Navigating Spain's social security system can seem daunting at first, but understanding the basics can make a significant difference in accessing the benefits and support available. Whether you're moving for work, retirement, or any other reason, ensuring compliance with the social security contributions secures your access to Spain's comprehensive welfare benefits, ultimately offering peace of mind as you settle into your new life in Spain.

Remember, staying informed and seeking advice from the local Spanish social security office can help smooth out any uncertainties, ensuring that your transition to living in Spain is as seamless as possible. If you would like more detailed advice on Spain's social security system we recommend reaching out to a 'Gestor', an expert in Spanish bureaucracy and administration.

The information contained in this article is for general information and guidance only. Our articles aim to enrich your understanding of the Spanish property market, not to provide professional legal, tax or financial advice. For specialised guidance, it is wise to consult with professional advisers. While we strive for accuracy, thinkSPAIN cannot guarantee that the information we supply is either complete or fully up to date. Decisions based on our articles are made at your discretion. thinkSPAIN assumes no liability for any actions taken, errors or omissions.

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  4. The Social Security System in Spain: A comprehensive guide