How to do Business in Spain
February 27, 2018
Spain is the EU’s second largest country, and shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal along the western edge of the Mediterranean Sea.
After fighting through the worst economic crisis to hit Europe since World War II, Spain’s economy is on the rise.
This Spanish revival is in full display in their ports, where countless containers are being loaded with goods that will be shipped to Asia and the Americas
This Spanish revival is in full display in their ports, where countless containers are being loaded with goods that will be shipped to Asia and the Americas.
Despite Spain’s economic rise, some Spaniards still believe that foreign products (especially American) are far superior to the goods that can be found domestically.
Sounds like an easy sell, right?
The Catalonia region is Spain’s economic powerhouse, especially the city of Barcelona. It’s the second largest city in Spain, behind Madrid, and was chosen as the fourth-best city in the world for doing business in 2009.
It’s important to note that it was picked in 2009, a year after the economic crisis that swept through Europe.
If the world liked Barcelona at its worst, imagine what they’ll think at its best?
Barcelona is also one of the top automotive manufacturing cities in Europe, hosting dozens of foreign manufacturing plants from all across the world.
Barcelona is considered one of the world’s major cities, and is a global leader in tourism, culture, and trade.
In fact, the city is famous for hosting some of the world’s biggest trade fairs: the perfect places to find your ideal supplier.
Barcelona is also one of the top automotive manufacturing cities in Europe, hosting dozens of foreign manufacturing plants from all across the world.
Besides that, Barcelona is famous for its textiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronics, logistics, telecommunications and information technology.
Madrid is the capital of Spain and the third-largest city in the EU, behind only London and Berlin. Besides being famous for hosting soccer clubs Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid, it’s also considered one of Europe’s largest financial centers.
Madrid specializes in high-technology and innovation, and should be your first stop whether or not your business is in that field.
Guess which city is the “smartest” in Spain?
The header must have given it away.
According to the IDC Smart Cities Index Ranking, Málaga’s smart technology ranks the best in all of Spain, particularly in smart energy and smart environment.
The ultimate goal is to save 20% of the energy used in Málaga. They plan on achieving this through batteries that will store generated energy for future tasks, new smart meters and optimal integration of renewable energies into the power grid.
According to the IDC Smart Cities Index Ranking, Málaga’s smart technology ranks the best in all of Spain, particularly in smart energy and smart environment
The benefits that smart cities provide foreign businesses are significant, and Málaga is no exception.
Málaga manufacturing is sure to be quicker, cleaner and “smarter” than you’ll find elsewhere.
Spain’s official currency is the euro, the best-performing currency of 2017. Europe’s economic upswing in the last decade has led to the euro outperforming the US dollar.
This is great news for US businesses that are looking to export goods to Spain. The price will be more than reasonable for Spanish businesses, as they’d have trouble trying to find a cheaper domestic price.
Spanish is the most spoken language in Spain.
Spain’s unique relationship with Catalonia makes things interesting.
Virtually everyone speaks Spanish (known as Castilian), but a fifth of the population speaks Catalan (Valencian).
This is largely by region, with eastern Spain holding far more Catalan speakers than the west.
Although speaking English in Spain may have been an issue a decade ago, the Spanish have fallen in love with the language.
The Cambridge University Press found that 70% of Spaniards found English proficiency to be more important than having a university degree. In fact, no other country takes as many Cambridge English examinations as Spain does.
And this statistic isn’t strictly about young Spaniards. Overall, the numbers are positive for Spain: they’ve recently beaten out France and Italy for English proficiency, and are just getting warmed up.
Spain has the most public holidays in Europe, but none are more iconic than Spain’s most famous fiesta: the running of the bulls.
More than a million tourists visit Pamplona to see the bull runs (encierros), and many can even participate if they wish.
The Spanish San Fermin festival isn’t the safest tradition to partake in. Since record keeping began in 1924, 15 people have died from being gored by a bull during the encierros. And in 2016, 12 people (including four Americans) were gored, but luckily all survived.
It’s important that you schedule your business meetings in Spain with these holidays in mind. Also, you should research whether your Spanish region follows particular holidays, and whether the Spanish business itself recognizes the holidays.
|New Year’s Day||January 1||Nationwide|
|Andalucia Day||February 28||Only in Andalucia|
|Balearic Islands||March 1||Only in Balearic Islands|
|St Joseph's Day||March 19||Only in Murcia and Valencia|
|Holy Thursday||Thursday Before Easter Sunday||Except in Canary Islands, Cantabria, Catalonia and Valencia|
|Easter Monday||Monday After Easter Sunday||Only in Azores|
|Castille and León Community Day||April 23||Only in Castile and León|
|Labor Day||May 1||Nationwide|
|Community Festival of Madrid||May 2||Only in Madrid|
|Feast of St. Isidro||May 15||Only in Madrid|
|Galician Literature Day||May 17||Only in Galicia|
|Canary Islands Day||May 30||Only in the Canary Islands|
|Castilla - La Mancha Day||May 31||Only in Castilla - La Mancha region|
|La Rioja||June 9||Nationwide|
|Feast of St. Anthony||June 13||Only in Ceuta|
|San Fermín||July 7-14||Only in Navarra|
|St. James Day||July 25||Only in Galicia|
|Day of Cantabria Institutions||July 28||Only in Cantabria|
|Our Lady of Africa Day||August 6||Only in Ceuta|
|Assumption Day||August 15||Nationwide|
|Aid El Kebir |
(Feast of Sacrifice)
|August 22||Only in Ceuta and Melilla|
|Ceuta Day||September 2||Only in Ceuta|
|Day of Asturias||September 8||Only in Asturias|
|National Day of Catalonia||September 11||Only in Catalonia|
|Melilla Day||September 17||Only in Melilla|
|Valencian Community Day||October 9||Only in Valencia|
|Hispanic Day||October 12||Nationwide|
|All Saints Day||November 1||Nationwide|
|Our Lady of the Almudena||November 9||Only in Madrid|
|Feast of St. Francis Xavier||December 3||Only in Navarra|
|Constitution Day||December 6||Nationwide|
|Immaculate Conception Day||December 8||Nationwide|
Traveling to Spain
You don’t need a visa if you’re staying in Spain for less than 90 days. If you’re going to be in Spain for longer, you’ll need a visa.
It should cost you around €99 for a long-stay (more than 90 days) Schengen Visa, which equates to about $120 USD.
Checklist for Acquiring a Spanish Visa
- Completed application form
- Two passport photos
- Valid passport
- Copy of your return ticket
- Letter describing purpose of your visit
- Flight and hotel reservations
- Proof of financial subsistence
Checklist for Acquiring a Spanish Business Visa
A Spanish business visa requires a bit more. On top of the regular visa requirements, you will need:
- Invitation letter from your Spanish business client
- Certificate from your employer allowing your business travel
- Business bank statements for the last six months
This isn’t just any ordinary visa either. Since Spain is one of 26 member states in the Schengen Area, Spanish visas allow visitors to travel to any of the other member states freely.
Think of it as a uniform visa for the entire Schengen territory. Traveling from Spain to France will require the same documentation and hassle as traveling from Minnesota to Vermont. So, none.
Staying connected in Spain will be crucial for your business success. Luckily, Spain makes purchasing a SIM card easy and rather inexpensive.
You can purchase them at airport kiosks, however, these are much more expensive than the ones in town. SIM cards need to be registered in Spain, so make sure that you bring your passport or national ID card.
Spain’s telecommunications infrastructure is quite developed, meaning that there is some quality parity in service providers. Movistar has the best coverage in Spain but is much more expensive than Orange and Vodafone, which has similar quality.
No matter which provider you choose, expect to pay between €10 to €15 a month for the average cell phone plan. Plus, since the EU announced new roaming regulations in 2017, calling from Spain to another EU country won’t rack up the charges.
Finding a Supplier for Your Business
Tried and true, your business is sure to find suppliers at one of Spain’s many trade fairs. These events are a Spanish specialty, especially in Barcelona where the Fira de Barcelona exhibition center attracts more than 50 international events every year.
Events such as Alimentaria, which focuses on innovative technology for food professionals, and attracts over 3,800 companies from over countries every year.
Where Can I Find the Right Spanish Trade Show for my Business?
Spain made this easy for international businesses.
Expodatabase is an online supplier database and knowledge center that your business must check out.
Along with a searchable database that lets you find suppliers specific to your product needs, Expodatabase offers trade show reports, checklists and guidelines to help you learn about European trade shows.
The best part is that Expodatabase can be used in other countries as well, making it a valuable resource to have bookmarked.
Being one of the largest tourist capitals in the world, Spain has made it their mission to have as much accessible wifi as possible. You can find it in airports, restaurants, museums, you name it.
This is especially true in Barcelona, which is considered one of the largest free wifi systems in Europe. You should be able to connect to wifi from anywhere in the city of Barcelona, but don’t expect it to be high speed.
If internet connection makes or breaks your business deal in Spain, purchasing pocket wifi is always an option.
If you have any fear of dropping calls with your Spanish business partners, you can trust your pocket wifi device to give you 4G coverage
You can connect up to 15 devices to pocket wifi devices. Although Spain’s internet is quite accessible, it’s by no means high speed. If you have any fear of dropping calls with your Spanish business partners, you can trust your pocket wifi device to give you 4G coverage.
MyWebSpot offers the best deals on pocket wifis in Spain, with an 8-day rental costing you around €80.
Major Trade Shows and Events
|Equiplast||Barcelona||Fall Every Three Years||Plastics and rubber exhibition|
|Expoquimia||Barcelona||Fall Every Three Years||Chemical engineering|
|NanoSD Security and Defense||Madrid||Winter Every Two Years||Nanotechnologies in security and defense|
|Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Madrid||Madrid||Summer and Winter||Fashion Show
|H & T||Málaga||Winter||Equipment, services, food and beverages for Hospitality and Tourism|
|Cevisama Expo||Valencia||Winter||Ceramic products and goods, glass blocks, bathroom and kitchenware, raw materials and more|
Although Spaniards are typically formal and strict in business relationships, they often prioritize relationships over the business negotiation itself.
This is rather similar to the American approach, and should be relatively easy to adapt to.
Avoid any direct or indirect attacks. This can be as obvious as insulting your Spanish business partner, or as subtle as boasting about your business accomplishments
Pride and social standing are especially important to Spaniards, so you should avoid any direct or indirect attacks. This can be as obvious as insulting your Spanish business partner, or as subtle as boasting about your business accomplishments.
Typical of Mediterranean business culture, Spaniards are extroverted, and often place personality above professional success.
Spanish business hierarchy still has its traditional framework, but it’s beginning to change with young Spanish business owners being educated outside of Spain.
Most older, family-owned businesses are much more traditional, and would, therefore, respond best to questions being directed at the chairman or president
Try and research your specific Spanish business and you can guess the hierarchy structure. Most older, family-owned businesses are much more traditional, and would, therefore, respond best to questions being directed at the chairman or president.
Equally important, you should take note of which Spanish region you’re doing business in. While Catalans prefer a professional negotiation style where bargaining isn’t appreciated, you’ll find southern Spain has a more traditional business style that cherishes bargaining.
Overall, Spanish business is very individualistic, so you should quicken the process by speaking to the business’s decision maker directly.
Meeting for the First Time
Shaking hands is the most common greeting for business meetings.
Many Spaniards use the two-handed handshake, where you place your left hand on the right forearm of the other person. This could be odd if you’re not used to it, so practice at home and you’ll look like a natural.
Once your Spanish business clients get to know you, expect friendly pats on the shoulder and occasional hugs. Personal space isn’t really a factor in Spain
But once your Spanish business clients get to know you, expect friendly pats on the shoulder and occasional hugs. Personal space isn’t really a factor in Spain, and these intimate gestures are a sure way to know whether or not your relationship is growing.
Spanish women follow the famous European greeting: an air kiss on each cheek, starting at the left. Again, practice makes perfect!
Dress to Impress
If you dress as you would anywhere else in Western Europe, you should be fine. The Spanish are all about presentation, and stylish clothing is a sure to warm their hearts.
Naturally, nothing too daring, as Spanish business culture is still rather conservative.
It’s customary to bring a gift if you’re invited to a Spaniard’s home. Chocolate, wine and flowers are all fine choices.
Spain is all about presentation, and gift giving is no exception. Whatever you end up buying for your Spanish hosts, make sure that it’s beautifully wrapped.
The outside is almost as important as what’s inside.
Don’t be the one that initiates the Spanish opposite-sex air kisses. This is usually between two familiar parties, so you should let your Spanish business clients decide whether or not that’s the case.
Don’t actually kiss your Spanish business client’s cheek. It’s merely an air kiss near your partner’s left and right cheek.
Don’t forget that “Mr.” and “Mrs.” isn’t universal. Use señor (Sr.) or señora (Sra.) instead.
Don’t spring business negotiations on a Spaniard during a meal. If you wish to discuss business, make sure that you let them know in advance.
Don’t bring up any Spanish stereotypes: siestas, bull-running and flamenco dancing. Instead, you should ask about their family and their hobbies, as it’s something that they take great pride in.
Don’t talk about religion either. Spain’s history has deep and diverse religious roots, and any opinion can potentially offend.
Don’t act like all Spaniards are the same. Similar to Italy, Spain’s regions are incredibly diverse, with separate traditions, cultures and personalities. This creates some friendly competition between Spanish regions, and a dislike for anyone who acts as though two regions are the same.
You should book business meetings at least a week in advance, and confirm it by letter or phone call before your arrival in Spain.
Although they’re falling in popularity, some still take siestas daily so it’s best to avoid the risk altogether and schedule in the morning.ƒ
Try and plan the meetings for around mid-morning to avoid siestas. These are traditional Spanish afternoon naps that used to occur during the hottest part of the day, in an effort to avoid heat stroke.
Although they’re falling in popularity, some still take siestas daily so it’s best to avoid the risk altogether and schedule in the morning.
Two Business Types in Spain
You need to be aware of the difference between the traditional small to medium-sized businesses that account for most of Spain’s GDP, and the large foreign companies that reside in Spain.
The traditional Spanish businesses follow the typical Spanish management structure that has been discussed, while the international companies will often echo the style and traditions of the company’s home country.
If this is the case, you can refer to our other country guides to get a glimpse of that country’s business culture.
The first thing you should do in a Spanish business negotiation is present your business card to the receptionist, or directly to your Spanish business clients.
Have a double-sided business card, with one side in Spanish, and present it to your business clients with the Spanish side facing up. Even if they can speak English, they may better understand what you’re presenting to them if it was in their native language.
It’s important that you include an executive summary with your presentation. Spanish people are very proud, and won’t admit when they don’t understand something
Spaniards love when meetings perfectly follow the agenda. Make sure that is the case with a clean and clear presentation.
It’s important that you include an executive summary with your presentation. Spanish people are very proud, and won’t admit when they don’t understand something. If you’re familiar with Asian business culture, you may understand it as “saving face.”
Creating an easy-to-understand presentation, with a paper record of the major points, will help keep your Spanish clients save face.
Seal the Deal with a Meal
It’s done, you’ve made a deal in Spain that will raise your small business above the competition. Now it’s time to celebrate.
If your Spanish business clients invite you to a meal, it’s customary that they’ll be footing the bill. Hopefully this saves some awkwardness at the business meal.
Unlike North America, restaurants in Spain include the service charge in every bill, meaning you aren't expected to leave a tip
Although you should try and reciprocate the gesture, make sure that it doesn’t seem as though you’re only doing it to “repay” your Spanish hosts.
Unlike North America, restaurants in Spain include the service charge in every bill, meaning you aren’t expected to leave a tip. However, it’s kind to round up your bill or leave some change.
And if it was the best meal you’ve ever had, you won’t get stares if you leave a 5% tip.
Regulations, Permits and Tariffs
US products that are entering the EU must be declared at customs according to their classification in the Combined Nomenclature.
Exports to the EU have a 3% tariff, while certain products have additional rules and license requirements. More information can be found on “The Integrated Tariff of the Community”, or TARIC (Tarif Intégré de la Communauté) website.
The European Commission website also maintains an export helpdesk with information on the import restrictions of specific products.
Import duties in Spain range from 0% to 17% depending on the import. Some products are also duty free, such as laptops, mobile phones and cameras.
The value-added tax (VAT) applied on most imports into Spain is 21% of the product value, but is reduced depending on the product.
Additional fees may apply to certain imports, depending on the type of product and whether they need to be examined or verified.
The Single Administrative Document (SAD) is the official method for recording customs declarations, and is essential for trade outside of the EU, or of non-EU goods.
It’s used as the EU importer’s declaration, encompasses customs duties as well as value-added tax, and is valid in all member states of the European Union.
All businesses outside of the EU must have an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number to lodge a customs declaration
All businesses outside of the EU must have an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number to lodge a customs declaration. You must request one from Spain’s customs, which may ask for additional documentation to be submitted depending on your business type.
With an EORI number, your business can export to any of the 28 European Union member states.
The US and the EU signed a Mutual Recognition Agreement in 2012 aimed at facilitating trade between Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) businesses from each country.
This agreement offers US businesses simplified customs procedures in trade with Europe, along with easier facilitation through safety and security measures.
US exporters greatly benefit from this relationship, as it speeds up the shipping process, lowers inspection costs and increases loyalty and recognition with EU traders.
The Mutual Recognition Agreement also provides greater predictability for international business between the EU and non-EU countries.
Certain rules and regulations apply when importing foreign goods into the US, such as specific licenses and quotas depending on product type and quantity. For more information on rules specific to your business, you can visit the US Customs and Border Protection website.
There’s nothing to worry about when doing business in Spain. The Catalan independence movement is very avoidable, as it’s only affecting a small part of a very large country.
Spain is one of the safest gateways to European trade that you can find, plain and simple. And who knows, you might like it so much that you stop your eurotrip a bit early.
Spain has traditionally used credit in B2B payments, but it seems like that is slowly beginning to change. Over 40% of foreign B2B invoices were overdue in 2017, with 33% blaming a complex payment procedure for the delay.
Overdue invoices resulted in 30% of Spanish businesses having to postpone payments to their suppliers, and 17% admitting that they lost revenue because of it
These overdue invoices resulted in 30% of Spanish businesses having to postpone payments to their suppliers, and 17% admitting that they lost revenue because of it.
It’s not just Spain that is averse to B2B payments through credit either.
Most of Western Europe have similar experiences, and many have decided to use Veem to send and receive B2B payments.
Your money will arrive faster for cheaper with Veem, through a user interface that keeps you, the small business owner, in mind.
With the latest in cyber security, real-time tracking and comprehensive customer support, your money has never been safer.
The Key to Successful Business in Spain
It’d be nearly impossible to completely integrate with Spanish culture. Like anywhere else, there’s regional differences and subtleties that are difficult to learn on-the-go.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, however. Here’s three concepts that will significantly improve your odds of finding business success in Spain.
Spaniards often care more about the business relationship than they do the business itself. This is an important part of doing business in Spain, as Americans tend to take relationships and small talk as a nuance of doing business.
Being sincere and genuine with Spanish business clients, sharing your life so that they can begin to trust you. Only then will the business negotiations truly start.
It’s important that you look sharp in Spain. Fashion is an important part of the country, as is pride and presentation.
If there’s a time and place to wear that expensive watch and try that new cologne, it’d be now.
This applies to all your interactions in Spain as well, not just clothing. Your presentations need to be well-designed, your car well-maintained and your gifts well-wrapped.
Do you Spanish business partners a favor and use Veem. Whether you’re buying Spanish goods, or selling US goods to Spain, Veem makes the process a whole lot simpler.
If they don’t know about Veem yet, they’ll be thankful that you’re a good enough friend to show them. And if they know about Veem already, they’ll be proud to know that they’re using the same technology as an American business.
Either way, you and your Spanish business partner win.
Here’s some resources to make your business trip to Spain a smooth success.