A British Expat tells us What it was Like to Move to Spain and Start a Business up

Move to Spain to open a business - advice and tips

If you are thinking of moving to Spain and have the intention of starting up a new business then best take the advice of Stephen Willcocks who shares his experiences on banking, the law and the language.

  • Advice from a British expat living in Spain on starting up a new business
  • The legalities of starting a business in Spain
  • Why learning the Spanish language is advisable when starting a new business
  • Which bank to use when opening up a business in Spain
  • Mortgage applications in Spain - is it the same as in the UK?
  • Caribasol is a successful property management company in Sitio de Calahonda.

The owner, Stephen Willcocks, has owned and run it daily for the last 14 years. Before he made the move to Spain he was in the building trade, but realised that he could have a better life doing something completely different.

He knew the opportunity was there, it was just a case of getting established in a new profession in a new country.

He elected to live in Calahonda purely because he had previously spent time here on holiday. It's location, at the halfway point between Fuengirola and Marbella is spot on.

Caribasol's offices are located on the Doña Lola complex, a great choice as they now are the go to agents for property there. Obviously location is all important, I think everyone now recognises the black and orange facade as they are visible from the main road.

However, starting a business in Spain is at times complicated and a best frustrating.

Steve tells me:

“In the beginning I came up against all kinds of problems.

“Firstly I didn't speak Spanish, that makes things difficult to understand.  There is hardly any advice for non Spanish speakers, it is a real nightmare at times. Especially concerning legal terms, official paperwork, or even the Town Hall clerk.  

“You will need help with this, there will be a lot of form filling. They are nearly all in triplicate, a copy for you, a copy for the 3rd party and one for the Town hall or the bank, dependant on which form.

Caribasol 1

“You will also find you need to pay vast amounts of fees!

“They charge fees for lots of things but like to rubber stamp everything. The red tape can be horrendous, which isn't helped by the fact nearly all Government offices close at 2pm., the banks aren't much better. If you are lucky they stay open until 2:30pm.  

“Unless it is a festive week in you area, then they will definitely close at noon. This can be really hard to deal with, especially if you have a deadline for the presentation of paperwork.

“I found once I learnt the language, it got a lot easier. They also appreciated the fact I was able to hold a conversation and ask questions myself and didn't need to have everything repeated by someone translating for me. I actually identify more with the Spanish than the British but that is probably due to the fact I have been here such a long time and really fit in with them and their way of life.”

So, you decide on a business, find premises and comply with the legal requirements. Was it really that simple?

Steve replies:

“Not really, because there is a lot they do not explain to you. If you do not ask specific questions you will not get specific answers. They do not it seems want to give out advice freely, and it causes many headaches. You may only find out you have not been doing something correctly when they come to inspect and then  present you with a fine.  

Caribasol 2

“They are very hot on building permissions. For example if a wall is to be 5 feet high, do not make it 5 feet 6 inches. They will make you stop any further work there and then and stick a big yellow notice on your door.

“This holds up the whole process, as they are in no hurry to get to your case when they have hundreds more to deal with.  Although as I say, you may not know you are doing wrong until they come to inspect. Always seek out the correct advice, ask every question you can think of even if you think it isn't relevant.”

I ask, how about the financial side? How difficult is it to obtain a mortgage or business loan? Did you work whilst you were waiting for the go ahead?

Steve replies:

“I currently bank with Sabadell, I previously used BBVA

“I found them to be a bank who gave irrelevant advice and were keen on refusal more than helping a small business getting itself established.  I am happy, so far, with the service Sabadell offer. I not only use them personally, but we have our clients use them for holding accounts, and utility bills.  

Caribasol 2

“I found the mortgage application to be very similar to the UK. Obviously you will need all the correct paperwork; proof of earnings, savings, passports etc.

“You will also need a Spanish Fiscal number, which is the one on your NIE card and will be used for every transaction. Without this number you will not even be able to open a bank account. If you can't get to the Foreign Dept. of the police station, you can ask a “Gestor” to arrange this for you.

“I have had both a mortgage for my house and a business loan, and there weren't any problems at all.  As for work, that is difficult to come by and is generally cash in hand. I employ staff  and I actually think the social Security department like to make it difficult on purpose.”

I ask, was there any financial help available like grants or new business start up schemes?

Steve replies:

“I found out after setting up and opening the business that there was. By then it was too late to take advantage of, but this is due to the lack of information provided and not having enough of the language to ask the correct questions.

“As I mentioned previously, they do not offer information unless you ask the right question. My advice would be speak to an established business owner first, before you enter into the legalities and definitely before you sign anything. The local council and Town Hall seem to be the worst offenders. “

Despite the headaches it caused at the beginning, would you do it all again?

“Most definitely, but would now know to keep asking questions. Never be satisfied with the first answer you receive, make sure the paperwork is all correct and stamped, and have enough money set by to live on whilst you are awaiting for the go ahead from the relevant authorities. That said, there is now way I regret any of it and you definitely won't be seeing me living in the UK ever again.”