Legislation on foreign investment and exchange control

Deregulation is the dominant feature in exchange control and foreign investment matters.

As a general rule, a foreign investor can invest freely in Spain without having to obtain any type of authorization or prior notification. The investor only needs to report the investment, once it has been made, within a maximum term of one month, to the Directorate-General for International Trade and Investments of the Secretary of State for Trade purely for administrative, statistical or economic purposes.

Exchange control and capital movements are fully deregulated in Spain, there being complete freedom of action in this field in all areas.

8.1 Legislation on foreign investment

Royal Decree 664/1999 deregulated practically all transactions of this kind (with the conditions and exceptions set forth below), adapting Spanish domestic law to the rules on the freedom of movement of capital contained in Articles 56 et seq. of the Treaty of the European Union.

The most noteworthy aspects of the regulations applicable to foreign investments are as follows:

  • As a general rule, and for purely administrative, statistical or economic purposes, foreign investments must be reported afterwards to the Directorate-General for International Trade and Investments, once the investment17 has been made. The only exceptions are: (I) investments from tax havens, which in general are subject to a prior administrative notification; and (II) foreign investments in activities directly related to national security, and real estate investments for diplomatic missions by non-EU Member States, which require prior authorization by the Spanish Council of Ministers. There is no obligation for foreign investments to be formalized in the presence of a Spanish public certifying officer (unless an express provision provides otherwise).
  • The parties subject to the obligation to report investments or divestments in transferable securities are not generally the investors, but rather the investment firms, credit institutions or other resident entities engaging, as the case may be, in any of the activities specific to the first two and acting at the risk and expense of the investor, as the interposed holder of such securities. Investors must report the investment only when the securities account or deposit is held at an institution domiciled abroad, where the securities are being kept by the holder of the investment; or where they acquire a holding of 3% or more in listed companies (the last case must be reported to the National Securities Market Commission).
  • Foreign investments in the air transportation and radio industries, in industries relating to raw materials, minerals of strategic interest and mining rights, in the television, gaming, telecommunications and private security industries, in industries concerned with the manufacturing, marketing or distributing of arms and explosives and in national security-related activities (these latter activities are subject to the clearance rules), will be subject to the requirements imposed by the relevant bodies established by industry-specific legislation, although the general provisions may apply to them once those requirements are met.

8.1.1 Foreign investments – Characteristics


Investors18 Non-resident individuals (that is, Spanish or foreign nationals domiciled abroad, or who have their principal place of residence abroad).
Legal entities domiciled abroad.
Public entities of foreign States.
Regulated investments19. Reporting obligations
Participation in Spanish companies, including their incorporation and subscription and acquisition of shares in joint-stock companies or in limited liability companies, and any legal transaction whereby voting rights are acquired.
Establishment of, and increase of capital allocated to branches.
Subscription and acquisition of marketable debt securities issued by residents (debentures, bonds, promissory notes).
Participation in mutual funds recorded on the Registers of the Spanish National Securities Market Commission20.
Acquisition by non-residents of real estate located in Spain, valued at more than €3,005,060, or where the investment originates from a tax haven, whatever its amount is.
Incorporation, formalization or participation in joint ventures, foundations, economic interest groupings, cooperatives and joint-property entities, with the same characteristics as in the previous paragraph.
Parties subject to obligation The investor.
The Spanish public certifying officer who may have intervened in the transaction.
However, investments in certain assets (securities, mutual funds, registered shares) may require that other individuals involved in the transaction report the investment (credit or financial institutions, deposit-taking or management companies of such assets, the Spanish company receiving the investment).
Reporting rules As a general rule, all foreign investments subject to disclosure, and the liquidation thereof, must be reported after the event to the Investments Register of the Ministry of industry, trade and tourism.
Investments from tax havens must be reported before and after the event. However, the following cases shall be excluded from the prior declaration:

  • Investments in marketable debt securities issued or offered publicly, whether or not they are traded on an official secondary market, and units in mutual funds recorded on the Registers of the Spanish National Securities Market Commission.
  • Where the foreign interest does not exceed 50% of the capital stock of the Spanish company in which the investment is made.
  • Acquisitions of foreign investments in Spain as a result of inter vivos transfers for no consideration or mortis causa transmissions.

This prior disclosure obligation is not equivalent to a prior verification or authorization requirement and, once the investment has been disclosed, the investor may make its investment without having to wait for any reply from the authorities. In all cases, the declaration is valid for six months, so once notified, the investment must be made within that time period.

8.1.2 Monitoring of foreign investments

The Directorate-General for International Trade and Investments (“DGCI”)21 can generally or specifically require Spanish companies which have foreign shareholders, and Spanish branches of non-resident persons, to file an annual report with it on the status of their foreign investments. The DGCI may also require the holders of investments to provide the information necessary in each particular case.

8.1.3 Suspension of the deregulation rules

The Spanish Council of Ministers can suspend the application of the deregulation rules in certain cases, which will require the investments concerned to undergo a prior procedure to obtain administrative clearance from the Council of Ministers.

At present, the Council of Ministers has only suspended the deregulation rules in respect of foreign investments in Spain in activities directly related to national security, such as the production or sale of arms, munitions, explosives and other armaments (except in the case of listed companies engaged in those activities, in which case clearance will only be required for acquisitions by non-residents that reach, exceed or fall below certain ownership thresholds, starting from 3% of the capital stock, or those acquisitions that without reaching such thresholds enable such investors to directly or indirectly form part of their managing bodies).

8.2 Exchange control regulations

Exchange control and capital movements are fully deregulated and in all areas there is complete freedom of action.

The basic regulation on exchange control is contained in Law 19/2003 on Capital Movements and Foreign Transactions and on Anti-Money Laundering, and in Royal Decree 1816/1991 on Economic Transactions Abroad, which uphold the principle of deregulation of capital movements.

8.2.1 The main features of the Spanish exchange control provisions currently in force can be summarized as follows:

»  Freedom of action

As a general rule, all acts, businesses, transactions and operations between residents and non-residents which involve or may involve payments abroad or receipts from abroad are completely deregulated. This includes payments or receipts (made either directly or by offset), transfers to or from abroad and changes in accounts or financial debit or credit positions abroad. It also covers the import and export of means of payment.

»  Safeguard clauses and exceptional measures

EU rules may prohibit or restrict the performance of certain transactions, and the respective collections, payments, bank transfers or changes in accounts or financial positions, in respect of third countries.

The Spanish government may also impose prohibitions or restrictions in respect of one state or of a group of states, a certain territory or an extra-territorial center, or suspend the deregulation system for certain acts, businesses, transactions or operations. However, the application of these prohibitions and limitations is only envisaged in especially serious scenarios.

»  Types of bank accounts

Non-resident individuals and legal entities can hold bank accounts on the same conditions as resident individuals and legal entities. The only requirement, on opening the bank account, is that they provide documentary evidence of the non-resident status of the account holder. Additionally, such status must be confirmed to the bank every two years. Other minor formalities are also stipulated.

Moreover, residents may, subject to certain reporting requirements, freely open and hold bank accounts abroad either in euros or in foreign currency (when opened, they must be declared to the Bank of Spain), and foreign currency bank accounts in Spain at registered institutions (without being subject to any reporting requirement).

»  Residence for exchange control purposes

For exchange control purposes, individuals are deemed to be resident in Spain if they reside habitually in Spain. Legal entities with registered offices in Spain, and the establishments and branches in Spain of individuals or legal entities resident abroad, are likewise deemed resident in Spain for exchange control purposes.

Individuals whose habitual residence is abroad, legal entities with registered offices abroad, and permanent establishments and branches abroad of Spanish resident individuals or entities are deemed non-residents for exchange control purposes.

Habitual residence is defined in accordance with tax legislation, albeit with the adaptations established by regulations (which regulations are currently pending implementation).

8.3 Foreign transactions declarations
with the Bank of Spain 

For purely statistical and informative purposes the Circular 4/2012 of Bank of Spain, establishes that individuals or entities (public or private) resident in Spain, other than payment service providers registered on the official registers of the Bank of Spain, that carry out transactions with non-residents or hold assets or liabilities abroad, must report them to the Bank of Spain22.

The frequency of the notifications will depend on the volume of transactions carried out by the subjects obliged to submit them in the immediately preceding year, and on the balance of assets and liabilities of these subjects at December 31 of the previous year, as follows:

  • If the amount of the transactions during the immediately preceding year, or the balance of assets and liabilities at December 31 of the preceding year, is €300 million or more, the information shall be provided monthly, within the 20 days following the end of each calendar month.
  • If the amount of the transactions during the immediately preceding year, or the balance of assets and liabilities at December 31 of the preceding year, is €100 million or more but less than €300 million, the information shall be provided quarterly, within the 20 days following the end of each calendar quarter.
  • If the amount of the transactions during the immediately preceding year, or the balance of assets and liabilities at December31 of the preceding year, is less than €100 million, the information shall be provided annually, within the first 20 days of January of the following year.
  • When the aforementioned amounts do not exceed €1 million, the return will only be submitted to the Bank of Spain at the express request thereof, and in a maximum period of two months following the date of that request.

However, residents that have not reached the reporting thresholds mentioned above, but that will cross them in the current year, will be required to file the corresponding declarations within the timeframe previously established from the moment at which the limits are exceeded.

Notwithstanding, when neither the amount of the balances nor the transactions exceed €50 million, the declarations can be filed on a summarized basis, only indicating the opening and closing balances of assets and liabilities held abroad, the total sum of receipts and the total sum of payments in the period reported.

8.4 Import and export of certain means of payment and movements in Spain

Incoming or outgoing cross-border movements of means of payment for an amount of €10,000 or more or its equivalent in foreign currency is subject to prior administrative disclosure. If the disclosure is not made, Spanish customs officials may confiscate these means of payment.

Likewise, movements in Spain of means of payment for amounts of €100,000 or more, or its equivalent in foreign currency must also be disclosed previously.

For the purposes of the above, “movement” shall be deemed to mean any change of place or position verified outside the domicile of the holder of the means of payment.

“Means of payment” shall mean paper money and coins (domestic or foreign); bearer cheques denominated in any currency as well as any other instrument, including the electronic ones, designed to be used as a bearer payment means. Solely for the purposes of entering or leaving Spain, “payment means” shall also be deemed to be bearer negotiable instruments, including monetary instruments such as travellers cheques, negotiable instruments, including cheques, promissory notes and payment orders, whether in bearer form, endorsed without restriction, made out to a fictitious payee or any other form in which ownership thereof is transferred on delivery, and incomplete instruments, including cheques, promissory notes and payment orders that are signed but omit the name of the payee.

17   The contents and instructions to complete each declaration can be found at the following link: http://www.comercio.gob.es/es-ES/inversiones-exteriores/declaracion-inversiones-exteriores/Paginas/declaracion-inversiones-exteriores.aspx. The forms are obtained, completed and presented electronically using a help program called AFORIX, which can be downloaded from the electronic sub-office of the Secretary of State for Trade (at https://sede.comercio.gob.es, by accessing the option: “Procedimientos y servicios electrónicos->Descarga de programas de ayuda->AFORIX Programa para la cumplimentación de Formularios de Inversiones Exteriores”)). It is necessary for the declarant to have an electronic signature in order to submit the declaration electronically. As an exception, in the event that the holder of the investment is an individual, he/she may also use, in addition to the forms obtained via AFORIX, the preprinted forms available at the General Register of the Ministry of industry, trade and tourism and may choose whether to file the declaration electronically or on paper.

18   A Spanish company in which foreign shareholders have a majority holding is not deemed to be an investor. A change of registered office of legal entities or a change of residence of individuals will be sufficient to change the classification of an investment as a Spanish investment abroad or a foreign investment in Spain.

19   Foreign investments not included in the above list (such as equity loans) are totally deregulated, and no communication is required in relation to them. The foregoing, notwithstanding any industry-specific regulations that may apply to such investments, and the rules on exchange control, with respect to such investments.

20  http://www.cnmv.es/portal/Menu/Registros-Oficiales.aspx

21   www.comercio.gob.es/

22  Without prejudice to the fact that the parties subject to the obligation to report to Bank of Spain detailed here are individuals and entities resident in Spain, we considered it of interest to include this section, since what gives rise to these reporting obligations are precisely transactions with nonresidents and/or assets and liabilities held abroad or which the nonresident entity holds in Spain (in other words, both the real estate held abroad by a Spanish company and the real estate held in Spain by a nonresident entity must be declared).