Terminology of Spanish Business Vehicles

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There is often much confusion in the translation of the five principal types of Spanish “business vehicles” (formas jurídicas de la empresa). The simplest form of business entity in which a person goes into business for himself is the empresa individual, tantamount to the “sole proprietorship” in the United States. The owner is known as an empresario (or) comerciante individual, called “sole proprietor” in the US and “sole trader” in  the UK.

A second type of business entity includes three forms of sociedades personalistas (a generic term for “partnerships”), including the sociedad colectiva or S.C. (also called sociedad regular colectiva, or S.R.C.), which is a “general partnership;” the sociedad comanditaria (simple), or S. Com. (also known as a sociedad en comandita or S. en Com.), which is a “limited partnership;” and the sociedad comanditaria por acciones, or S. Com. p. A., a hybrid “partnership limited by shares” that has some of the features of a sociedad anónima. In sociedades colectivas (“general partnerships”) all partners (called socios colectivos) are “general partners,” sharing management duties and having unlimited joint and several liability, unless the partnership agreement provides otherwise. In addition to the general partners, sociedades comanditarias likewise have socios comanditarios (“limited partners”) whose libility is limited to the amount of their contributions to the partnership, but who have no management rights. Sociedades comanditarias por acciones have at least one general partner (socio colectivo) in addition to the other socios who may be called accionistas (“shareholders”), given that partner interests in this type of entity are divided into shares (acciones).

The sociedad de responsabilidad limitada or S.R.L. (also termed simply sociedad limitada, or S.L.) is Spain’s “limited liability company,” while the sociedad anónima, or S.A. is a “corporation.” (In British English they may perhaps be described respectively as a “private limited company” and a “public limited company.”) The three principal differences between a sociedad limitada and sociedad anónima may be summarized as follows (there are quite a few more):

Sociedad Limitada (S.L.)

Sociedad Anónima (S.A.)

owner interests are known as participaciones, and cannot by law be called acciones (shares) nor can they be publicly traded owner interests are called acciones (shares) and may (or may not be) publicly traded
minimum capital is €3,000 that must be fully subscribed and paid up when the company is formed minimum capital is €60,000 that must be fully subscribed and 25% paid up upon incorporation (higher minimums may be required of certain types of entity such as banks and insurance companies)


 may not issue bonds or other securities may issue bonds and other securities

Both sociedades limitadas and sociedades anónimas may be formed by a single member under the names sociedad limitada unipersonal or S.L.U. (a “single-member limited liability company”) and sociedad anónima unipersonal or S.A.U. (a “sole shareholder corporation”). Both S.L.s and S.A.s may likewise be partially employee owned, and will operate as either a sociedad limitada laboral or S.L.L. (“employee-owned limited liability company”) or a sociedad anónima laboral or S.A.L. (“employee-owned corporation”). Corporations whose shares are traded on a stock market are known as sociedades anónimas cotizadas.

Other, perhaps less common forms of doing business in Spain include:

  • sociedades profesionales (“professional entities”)
  • sociedades cooperativas (“cooperatives;” “co-ops”)
  • agrupaciones de interés económico (“economic interest groupings”)
  • uniones temporales de empresas (“temporary business alliances”)
  • asociaciones (“associations”)
  • fundaciones (“foundations”)


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