Yes of course we paid National Insurance, but that measly few pounds we paid out of our wages seems so insignificant now being in Spain where, if you are self-employed, you have to pay at least 230 euros a month. And if you don’t and neither do you have private healthcare then you are not covered.
The mistake that many expats make is assuming that as we are all part of the EU that we will automatically get free health cover. The old E111 is no longer valid and has been replaced by the European Health Insurance Card. And this will only cover you for a limited amount of time should you decide to move to Spain. After this time, you will either need to take out private health insurance or join “the system”.
I originally started out registering as “autonomo” (self-employed) where the obligatory monthly payment of 232 euros was payable to social security. After a few months of not earning enough to justify this and the accountant’s bills, I chose to go Freelance instead. This means that you only pay social security for the days that you actually work – and earn money.
Lulled into a false sense of security, many months later I received a reminder for payment of one month’s social security way back in March. There had been one month of overlap when due to a misunderstanding with my accountant I had not been taken off the autonomo at the tax office. I paid it and thought no more of it. Only to receive a few days ago a notice of seizure for my car for failure to pay the social security payments!
I checked through all my bills and oh, silly me, I had filed one away without paying for it. So of course, I went to the bank immediately and paid it and dutifully called them to apologise profusely. And obviously to ask them to remove the notice of seizure for my car. On the left you can see the charming letter the staff of the Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales sent me.
It was then I was informed that I was in fact still registered for social security payments and owed not just the one month as I thought, but over €2,000 euros. Even more interesting was the fact that although they had my correct address for the fines and interest payments, they did not have the correct address for the two reminders I should have received before the final reminder.
Do not mistake this for a friendly reminder to pay. This is the equivalent of a debt collection notice and they are giving you 15 days to pay before proceeding to seizure of goods. Click on the scan on the right for a larger version of this final warning.
After the initial shock of wondering where the hell I am going to get the €2, 000 from, I had to laugh. In a region that has rightly earned the standing joke of manaña, mañana due to their laid back attitude, lack of urgency and “appearance” of being inefficient, their penalty system can be compared to a Rottweiler. (Do I sound bitter? Perhaps because I was also once charged €150 for filing zero tax returns a mere three days late).
Do not misunderstand, if I am legally obliged to pay something I am more than happy to do it. However, what I find incredible is that they have enough initiative to find out I have a car they can seize, yet if I want to organise any documentation, I have a minefield of paperwork and incompetence to wade through.
So, my friends, the moral of the story is check, check and check again. If you have an accountant ( gestor) or decided to face the administration yourself, keep copies of everything. And do not be lulled into the false of security that you might have from living in the UK.
Your health in Spain costs money, and if you join the system, consider it a loan or another tax. You won’t just get a rap on the knuckles or even simply be refused healthcare for not having paid your contributions. You’re more likely to get a heart attack when they come and seize your worldly possessions!
This is an extract from Yolanda Solo’s upcoming book Moving to Spain – What The Guide Books Don’t Tell You!. She is also a freelance translator for Expats and a trouble-shooter for those buying property in Spain from the UK. Get in touch with her via www.andalusianhouse.com or send an e-mail to .