The figure is frightening enough when you are living in your own country, but when you're in a foreign place the "taxman" becomes even more daunting. This personification of the tax system, turning it into one evil-looking misanthrope waiting to get his greedy hands on our hard-earned money, sums up how most of us feel about the issue: we're scared he's going to take more than his fair share, or that he's going to gobble us up for not giving him enough.
There is, however, a group of professionals who have devoted their careers to getting to know the fearsome creature, understanding his changes and interpreting his reasoning so that the rest of us sleep at night. Pedro Fernández is one of them.
Born in Malaga, Fernández was brought up in Cadiz but at 17 he returned to his home city, where he started a degree in Economics and Business Studies. However it was the still-little- known European mobility programme for university students that took him to London and started what was to become a truly international career. “I did the last two years of my degree at Greenwich. It was '90 to '92 so it was one of the first years of the Erasmus exchange,” he explains.
On his return he walked straight into a job at Arthur Andersen, then one of the world's “big five” accounting firms. His international experience and language skills put him in a team that served the foreign community on the Costa del Sol. Tax law and international taxation, and all the cross border issues that arise when moving to another country, were to become his speciality.
“I've always been dealing with the same kind of issues - how foreign people who have settled here can structure their affairs to comply with Spanish legislation,” he says, pointing out that the ideal structure is one where “they pay what they have to pay according to the law, but no more”.
“You need to understand how institutions created in [people's] home countries behave under the Spanish tax system,” says Fernández, referring to investment plans, pension schemes and, in the case of British residents, trusts. “When we deal with Brits in particular there's always a trust involved, an institution which is very widely used in UK but not known in Spain,” he adds as an example.
Fernández stayed with the organisation after Andersen first merged with, and was later absorbed by, the leading Spanish law firm Garrigues.
Now, after working with foreign residents and investors for 25 years, the specialist is well aware of the importance of foreign investment in this area.
“I've always thought a smooth and proper integration of the foreign community is essential for the economy of the province,” he explains.
“This is beyond any doubt the most valuable asset that we have here compared with other areas of Spain and Andalucía.
“The minute we are able to integrate the foreign community here and they have legal certainty to invest in our companies, in our systems, to be part of our community, this area will no doubt become the third in Spain in terms of economic power after Madrid and Barcelona,” he says.
“We have that potential and the only way to cultivate that potential and make it real is to establish a proper relationship with the foreign community so that they feel at home here.”
Perhaps foreigners coming to live here would feel more comfortable if they were able to benefit from a bit of “positive discrimination” on the part of the taxman, with a special regime similar to those recently set up in Portugal and Italy.
“Many foreign people who come late in their lives do not always understand that they should be assessed on their taxes in the same way as a Spanish resident or someone who has lived here all their life,” says Fernández.
In its last tax reform in 2014, the Spanish government was about to consider such a regime - but in the end “didn't dare”, according to Fernández, who believes that the tax system should not put people off moving to Spain.
“I think Spain offers a variety of legal instruments to arrange one's affairs to make sure that the tax burden is managed within reasonable levels, so I would encourage foreigners to settle here,” he adds.
If the scary Spanish “taxman” was looking for an international relations officer, Pedro Fernández would be the man for the job.