A full guide on residency and nationality options in Spain

Spain is a dream for permanent and temporary relocations. But dealing with Spanish bureaucracy can be a nightmare, so… let’s explore the options together.

The options differ greatly depending on your status: are you a European or non-European citizen?  There are also alternatives in place for investors and entrepreneurs.

1. Process for EU/EEA and Swiss citizens to obtain permanent residency rights in Spain

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens are allowed to live and work in Spain permanently without a visa.  Nevertheless, if you want to stay longer than three months,  an official registration is required so you can prove:

(1) you have the financial means to support you and your family and

(2) you have healthcare insurance.

Where do I register for Spanish Residency?

At the Foreigners Office or local police station.

Do I need to wait until the first three months have passed?

No. You must apply for residency within the first three months of your arrival in Spain.

In what registry will my residency be incorporated?

You will be incorporated into the Central Register of Foreign Nationals.

What documents do I need to bring when applying for Spanish Residency?

  • Valid passport or ID document
  • From July 2012: Documents proving you can support yourself and your family and have private or public healthcare insurance

Depending on your circumstances, the documents required would be: certificate of employment, registration at the Mercantile Registry, EHIC, Bank certificates.

Will I be given a Residency card?

You will be granted a residency certificate which will include your name, address, nationality and your Foreigner’s Identity Number (NIE).

What is an NIE number?

An NIE is your identification and tax number in Spain, essential for all financial and administrative matters in Spain. You need it to buy a property, buy a car, hire facilities, pay taxes, get a phone or utility contract, make official claims.

What about my family?

Family members: legally registered partners, spouses and dependants, being EU/EEA/Swiss citizens must apply for the same registration as above.

If they are not EU/EEA or Swiss citizens, they have the same rights to live in Spain but must follow this process:

(1) Apply for a visa from the Spanish embassy or consulate in their home country before arriving into Spain.

(2) Within three months of arrival, they must register in person at the Foreigner’s Office in order to be issued with a Residency Card for family members of EU citizens (Tarjeta de Residencia de Familiar de Cuidadano de la Unión).

What documents do non-EU/EEA/Swiss family members need to show when applying for residency?

(1) Valid passport

(2) Completed and signed application form

(3) Proof of relationship with the EU citizen (birth, marriage, civil partnership certificates). These documents must be sworn translations (Spanish) and issued within the three months before your residency application.

(4) ID of the EU citizen

(5) Colour passport photos

How long is the EU/EEA/Swiss citizens residency card valid?

It will be valid for five years, after which it has to be renewed. You can request a permanent residence document that confirms your right to reside in the country where you live permanently and without any requirements.

Unlike the registration certificate that is required in many countries, the permanent residence document is not mandatory.

However, it is useful before the Administration. The authorities can no longer ask you to prove that you have work, sufficient resources, medical insurance, etc.

What documents will I need to obtain the permanent residency card?

To obtain a document certifying your right to permanent residence, you must show that you have been living legally in the country for five years.

Along with the application, you must present several supporting documents depending on your situation (employee, self-employed, job seeker, pensioner, student, etc.). For example:

-Valid registration certificate issued upon your arrival in the country

– Proof of living in the country, such as utility bills or rental agreements

– Documents, such as payroll, bank statements, tax returns, that show you have worked (for others or as self-employed), have studied, are self-sufficient or looking for work.

The administration must issue a document of permanent residence as soon as possible and without making you pay more than it costs national citizens the issuance of an identity document.

The document is automatically renewable without any condition or requirement. However, its validity may vary depending on the country that issued it.

Can I lose my right to permanent residence?

You can lose the right to permanent residence if you live outside the country for more than two consecutive years.

Do my family acquire the same rights?

The same rights apply to family members who are EU citizens. They are also entitled to a document of permanent residence in the country where they have legally resided with you for five consecutive years.

What do I need to do if I am working in Spain as an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen?

You need to register with the Spanish Social Security and the General Social Security Fund. If you are an employee, your employer will do this for you; if you are self-employed it is your responsibility.

If you are from Croatia you’ll need a work permit to work in Spain up until 30 June 2020.

Should I also register myself at the Padrón?

Yes. You must apply for a Padron certificate (certificado de empadronamiento) to exercise your educational and health rights. It also gives you access to certain income-related benefits and social care, reductions in community charges and inheritance tax and  the right to vote in local and European elections.

What documents will I need to register at the Padrón?

  • Passport or official ID
  • NIE or residence certificate or card
  • Recent utility bill in your name / or
  • Copy of your rental contract/ title deeds (escritura)

2. Process for a non- EU citizen to obtain initial temporary Spanish residency

Non-Europeans need to submit a residency request before Spanish authorities.

 There are different types of residency and work permits, depending on the purpose of your stay:

  • 2.1 Working and living in Spain
  • 2.2. Enterpreneurs and investor visa
  • 2.3. What about my family?
  • 2.4. Marrying a Spaniard
  • 2.5.Student visa
  • 2.6.Schengen visa

2.1. Working and living in Spain

If you’re planning to live and work in Spain you need to have a work visa in place before you arrive.

What’s the process to get a Spanish work visa?

You first need to find a job and your employer needs to start the process.

The general rule is that work permits are granted if:

(1) the job is in a market which has a shortage of qualified applicants

(2) has been advertised locally without finding a suitable candidate from Spain or another EU country.

The employer will have to prove before the Spanish Work Authorities that they’ve sought candidates in Spain and the EU first with no results.  Your employer will also have to show your professional qualifications.

You can find official information at this link and also at the European Commission Job Mobility Portal.

What are the general requirements for the obtention of work visas in Spain?

  • Not be a citizen of a State of the European Union, of the European Economic Area, a Swiss national, or a family member of citizens of these countries; to which the regime of citizen of the Union applies.
  • Not to be found irregularly in Spanish territory.
  • Lack of a criminal record in Spain and in their previous countries of residence for existing crimes in the Spanish legal system.
  • Not to be prohibited from entering Spain and not to be considered as rejected in the territorial space of countries with which Spain has signed an agreement in that sense.
  • Not to be found within the term of the commitment of non-return to Spain that the foreigner had assumed voluntarily.
  • Pay the fees for the processing of the residency permit and the one of work for others.
  • That the national employment situation allows hiring. The allowance depends on:
  • The occupation that the worker is going to carry out in the company is included in the catalogue of occupations that are difficult to cover, published by the Public Employment Service on a quarterly basis.
  • The competent Immigration Office considers that it has not been possible to cover the job in accordance with the certificate issued by the Public Employment Service on the management of the job offer.
  • The authorization is addressed to nationals of States with which Spain has signed international agreements (Chile and Peru).
  • They can prove the concurrence of an assumption included in article 40 of the Organic Law 4/2000.
  • Present a contract signed by the employer and employee that guarantees the employee a continuous activity during the period of validity of the authorization to reside and work. The date must be conditioned to the moment of the effectiveness of the permit for residency and work.
  • The conditions established in the work contract must be adjusted to those established by current regulations. If the contract is part-time, the remuneration must be equal to or greater than the minimum inter-professional salary for full-time and annual computation.
  • The applicant employer must be enrolled in the Social Security system and be up to date with compliance with their tax and Social Security obligations.
  • The employer must have sufficient economic, material or personal means for his business project and to face the obligations assumed in the contract with the worker.
  • Possess the training and, where appropriate, the professional qualification legally required for the exercise of the profession.

What documents do I need?

Once your employer has initiated your application for a working visa, you have one month to complete the application at the local Spanish embassy in your home country. When you submit your application, you’ll need to complete an application form, and present it together with the following documents:

  • Certified copy of your employment contract
  • Valid passport with at least four months validity left
  • Clean criminal record from the past five years
  • Medical certificate proving you have no communicable diseases

Will I be called for an interview?  

Yes, if the embassy have any questions about your application

Will this grant rights for me to work in any European country?

This is only possible if you are highly skilled (Bachelor’s level university degree/ five years of senior professional experience), and have a binding job offer or active work contract.

Obtention of this card named the Blue Card, involves a process which is typically quicker than other forms of work visa application. You can find information on the process here

What if I am just a seasonal worker?

You need to apply for a work permit in the same way as anyone else. You will also have to show that you have the money to cover your travel and that you have arranged housing where you will reside during your stay.  By proving your intention to return, you will have to show prepaid plane tickets.

2.2. Entrepreneurs and Investor Visas

Entrepreneurs And Investor Visas – How do they work?

The obtention of this visa is subject to the following requirements:

  • Investing equal to or more than 2 billion euros in Spanish government bonds
  • Purchasing equal to or more than a million euros in shares of Spanish companies, or bank deposits at Spanish financial institutions.
  • Acquiring real estate in Spain with an investment of equal or superior to EUR 500,000 per applicant.
  • Starting a business project that will be developed in Spain and is considered and credited as of general interest, for which the performance of at least one of the following conditions will be valued: 

1. Creating jobs. 

2. Making an investment with relevant socio-economic impact in the geographical area in which the activity will develop. 

3. Important contribution to scientific innovation and / or technology.

 It will also be a significant capital investment when this is made by a company which is established in a territory which is not considered a tax haven according to Spanish law, and the applicant owns, directly or indirectly, the majority of the voting rights and has the power to appoint or remove a majority of the members of the Company board.

You can find further information on this process on the official website

2.3. What about my family?

Who has rights for residency in Spain through family reunification?

Those foreigners who have been living legally in Spain for a year and have obtained authorization to stay at least one more year. If you are intending to reunite ascendants, you must be a long term resident in Spain.

 There are cases when reunification is possible without previous legal residence:

  • Holders of an EU long-term residence permit in another Member State of the European Union
  • Holders of an EU Blue Card or beneficiaries of the special regime for researchers.

Which family members can be reunited?

 • Spouse or person in a relationship similar to marriage (recorded in a public registry or proven by the applicant).

Dependants:

  1. The resident’s unmarried children or those of the spouse or partner, including adopted children.
  2. Direct descendants over 18 with disabilities.
  3. Children or other persons over 18 with disabilities whom the resident is a legal guardian or representative

Parents of the resident, or those of the spouse or partner, over 65. An exceptional residency may be granted on humanitarian grounds for parents under 65.

  • Spain Retirement Visa
  • Spain Visa for medical reasons

How do I apply for family reunification?

You need to use the official application form and present with the following documents:

Proof of family ties and relationships, age and legal dependency.

A copy of the passport, travel document, or valid ID of the applicant and the person they wish to join them.

Proof of employment and/or sufficient economic means to be able to support the family, including health care cover (if not included under Social Security System).

Written evidence, according to the regulations, of having adequate housing for the family’s needs.

• If you are applying to bring your spouse or partner to join you, a sworn statement that you do not live in Spain with another spouse or partner.

2.4. Marrying a Spaniard/ EU Spanish resident

Once the validity of a marriage with a  Spanish citizen or a Spanish resident is recognized, the foreign spouse may request the EU-community card:

To do this, you must go to the Immigration Office of your province and submit the following documentation:

  • Application form: EX-19, in duplicate, duly completed and signed by the spouse of the Spanish/ EU Spanish resident citizen.
  • Full, valid and current passport of the relative.
  • Certificate of marriage to prove the existence of the family bond with the Spanish citizen.
  • Identification card ( DNI)  of the Spanish citizen or certificate of Registry as an EU citizen in Spain
  • Proof of funds/ economic situation of the EU Citizen. Depending on your condition:

* If you are employed worker:

– Employer contract, letter of intent statement or employment certificate, including, at least, the name and address of the company, tax identification and Social Security Account code.

– Work contract registered in the Public Employment Service, or the communication of the contract and its conditions through the platform CONTRAT @.

– Registration document or situation assimilated to the registration in the corresponding Social Security system or consent to the verification of the data in the files of the General Treasury of the Social Security.

* If you are a self-employed worker:

– Registration in the Economic Activities Census.

– Justification of its establishment through Registration in the Commercial Registry.

– Registration document or situation assimilated to the registration in the corresponding Social Security system, or consent to the verification of the data in the files of the General Treasury of the Social Security or of the Tax Agency.

* If you do not exercise any lucrative activity:

– Documentation proving that you have public or private health insurance contracted in Spain or in another country, which provides coverage in Spain during your period of residence, equivalent to that provided by the National Health System. Pensioners may comply with this condition by providing certification of their health care from the State in which they receive a pension.

– Documentation that proves the citizen has sufficient resources from the Union and their relatives for the period of residence in Spain. It can be accredited by any means of proof admitted in law, such as property titles, certified checks, documentation justifying obtaining capital income or credit cards with bank certification that proves the amount available as credit of the aforementioned card.

* If you are a student:

– Registration of the teaching centre, public or private, recognised or financed by the competent educational administration.

– Documentation proving that you have public or private health insurance. You can provide a European health insurance card valid for the period of residence and enable you to receive the necessary health benefits from the medical point of view, taking into account the nature of the benefits and the expected duration.

– A responsible statement proving that you have sufficient resources for yourself and your family members, for the period of residence in Spain.

Once the application is submitted, the resolution period is three months, within which time the interested parties will be notified.

If the resolution is favourable, all that remains for the foreign spouse to do is the “fingerprinting” process for the issuance of the card.

This residence has a duration of five years and allows, in the case of the spouse, the performance of any work activity, under the same conditions as a Spaniard, both on their own account and as an employee.

2.5. Studying in Spain

Requirements differ depending on if you are staying long or short term.

SHORT stay (less than three months)

You don’t need to apply for a student visa if you are staying for less than three months in Spain and you hold a valid passport issued by a country approved by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación).

Here you can find an official list of nationals who do not require a student visa for Spain.

LONG stay (MORE than 3 months)

You must apply for a student visa unless you are from a European Union (EU) country. Below you can find all the requirements to apply for this kind of visa.

Requirements to Apply For a Student Visa in Spain

  • Passport and/or national ID card
  • Letter of invitation from the Spanish school/university
  • Proof that you have enough financial means for the length of your stay
  • Medical insurance with international coverage

Additionally, if you are applying for a period longer than 180 days you will also need to present:

  • Medical certificate to prove that you are in good health
  • Certificate of absence of police records issued by your national police

2.6. Schengen Visa

Who needs a Schengen Visa?

The Schengen Visa is issued to Non-European citizens wishing to travel as tourists for a maximum of three months to the Schengen Area. It can be granted as (1) single entry, so you will just be able to enter the Schengen Area once or (2) multiple entries.

What documentation is required?

  • Official application form
  • One recently taken photo, passport format, full-face capture, and a light background.
  • Passport valid for at least three months prior to your departure is required. The passport must have at least two blank pages. Plus copies of all previous visas granted.
  • Copy of the reservation of the return ticket for the time intended to be travelling. 
  • Medical insurance covering any medical emergency with hospital care and travel back to one’s native country due to medical motives. This health insurance policy has to cover expenses up to 30,000 euros, the sum depending on the residing days, and must also be valid in all Schengen countries.
  • Proof of accommodation bookings

Where to submit the application?

The application needs to be submitted to the consulate or embassy of the country where you will be entering first or residing in during the majority of the trip.

How long is the visa valid for?

A tourist visa is commonly valid for stays no more than 90 days. If you are travelling through multiple Schengen countries it’s recommendable to apply for a “multiple entry” visa.

If you desire to stay longer, you will have to apply again in your embassy.

How long does it take to receive the visa?

It is advisable to apply for it at least two weeks prior to the planned trip. The Embassy Consulate will then generally reply within 10 working days.

3. Process for non EU citizens to obtain permanent residency

What are the requirements to apply for a long-term residence permit?

1. Not be a citizen of a State of the European Union, of the European Economic Area, a Swiss national, or family member of citizens of these countries, to which the regime of citizen of the Union applies.

2. Not to be found irregularly in Spanish territory.

3. Lack of criminal record in Spain and in previous countries of residence for existing crimes in the Spanish legal system.

4. Not to be prohibited from entering Spain and not to be rejected as a territorial space in countries with which Spain has signed an agreement in that sense.

5. Failure to meet, as the case may be, within the period of commitment of non-return to Spain that the foreigner has assumed upon voluntary return to their country of origin.

6. To be in one of these situations:

a) Have resided legally and continuously in Spanish territory for five years.

Continuity will not be affected by absences of up to six months, provided that the sum does not exceed ten months within five years. If it is for work reasons, it may not exceed a total of one year within the required five years.

b) Have resided for five consecutive years as the holder of the EU Blue Card in the European Union, provided that the two years immediately prior to the application date said residence has occurred in Spanish territory.

Continuity will not be affected by absences from the European Union of up to twelve consecutive months, provided that the sum of these does not exceed the total of eighteen months within the required five years of residence.

c) Be a resident beneficiary of a contributory retirement pension, included in the protective action of the Spanish Social Security system.

d) Be a resident beneficiary of an absolute permanent disability pension or greater part disability, in its contributory form, included within the protective action of the Spanish Social Security system or similar benefits to the previous ones obtained in Spain and consisting of an income for life, not capitalizable, sufficient for its sustenance.

e) Be a resident and have been born in Spain and upon reaching the legal age, have resided in Spain legally and continuously for at least three consecutive years immediately preceding the application.

f) Having been Spanish of origin and having lost Spanish nationality.

g) Be a resident who upon reaching the age of majority has been under the tutelage of a Spanish public entity during the immediately preceding five years consecutively.

h) Be a stateless person, refugee or beneficiary of subsidiary protection, be in Spanish territory and have been recognised as the respective statute in Spain.

i) Have contributed notably to the economic, scientific or cultural progress of Spain. Or to the projection of Spain abroad. In these cases, the holder of the Ministry of Labour and Immigration will be responsible for granting the permanent residence permit, following a report from the head of the Ministry of the Interior.

What documents do I have to submit for a long term Spanish Residency permit?

1. Official application form (EX-11) in duplicate, duly completed and signed by the foreigner, except in the case of having contributed to economic, scientific or cultural progress, which will be instigated officially by the Directorate General of Immigration, upon the proposal of a public authority with competence related to the merit on which the petition is based.

2. Copy of the complete passport, travel title or valid registration card.

3. If you are a resident: a report issued by the autonomous authorities, or the competent authorities in each case, or of the educational centre that certifies the schooling of minors under your care who are of compulsory school age.

4. If you are not a resident in Spain at the time of the application, a criminal record certificate issued by the authorities of the country of origin or the country or countries where you have resided for the last five years.

5. Depending on the situation  ( as per above):

•  b): documentation accrediting the periods of prior residence as a Blue-EU cardholder in another European Union State.

•  e) and f): birth certificate.

When documents from other countries are submitted, they must be translated into Spanish or co-official language of the territory where the application is submitted.

All foreign public documents must be previously legalised by the Spanish Consular Office with jurisdiction in the country in which such document has been issued or, where appropriate, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, except in the case of that said document has been apostilled by the competent authority of the issuing country according to the Hague Convention of October 5, 1961 and unless said document is exempt from legalisation under the International Convention.

Who can submit the application?

– If you are already a resident in Spain, you can present the application personally or through representation.

– If you are not a resident at the time of submitting the application, you must submit the application personally.

– In the event of having contributed to economic, scientific or cultural progress, the General Directorate of Immigration, upon the proposal of a public authority with competence related to the merit on which the petition is based.

Where does the application need to be submitted?

-If you are resident in Spain: in any public registry and addressed to the Immigration Office of the province where you reside.

-If you are not a resident of Spain and residing in Spanish territory: in the Immigration Office of the province in which you have your residential address.

– If you are not resident in Spain or in Spanish territory: in the diplomatic mission or Spanish consular office of your residence demarcation.

 What is the cost of this application?

21.02 euros

How long will the decision take?

Three months counted from the day following the date on which it has been entered in the registry

How is the card is issued?

The foreigner must personally apply for the Foreigner Identity Card at the Immigration Office or Police Station of the province where the authorisation has been processed within one month of notification of the granting of the long-term residence permit.

The applicant will present his passport, travel title or registration card, at the time of the fingerprint process, to prove his identity and will provide:

1. Foreigner identity card application, in official form (EX-17). Download form

2. Proof of payment of the card fee, which amounts to 21.02 euros.

3. Three recent colour photographs, in white background, card size.

Does the card need to be renewed?

Holders of a long-term residence permit must request the renewal of the foreigner’s identity card every five years. The request must be submitted during the sixty calendar days prior to the expiration date. If it is presented at a later date, the corresponding sanctioning procedure could be initiated.

4. Spanish nationality by residency

What are the requirements for Spanish Nationality by Residency?

As a general rule, in order to apply for Spanish nationality by residence, it is necessary to be able to prove 10 years of legal and continued residence in the country. In addition, this residence time must be immediately prior to the request. However, you have to know that there are some cases in which the required period of residence is reduced. These cases are:

  • Five years of residence for the granting of Spanish nationality for those who have obtained refugee status.
  • Two years of residence for the granting of Spanish nationality to those nationals of Ibero-American countries: Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal, or persons of Sephardic origin.
  • One year of residence for the granting of Spanish nationality for those who were born in Spanish territory, have married a Spaniard or Spaniard, widows or widowers of Spaniards, born outside of Spain with a family history of Spanish kinship, and for those who did not practice duly his right to acquire Spanish nationality by option.

In any of the cases, in order to qualify for nationality by residence, the interested party must prove that he or she has had good civic conduct and that he or she has a sufficient degree of integration in Spanish society.

The residence must be continued and immediately prior to the presentation of the application.  Time as a student (with a student visa) does not count for the purposes of nationality.

Will I have to take the Spanish Nationality exams?

Yes, a series of exams through which the knowledge of the Spanish Constitution and Spanish social and cultural aspects are required to be taken. Minors and people with some forms of disability are exempt.

These exams are carried out in Cervantes Institute centres. The registration dates and deadlines can be viewed on its website.

Will I have to submit criminal records?

Yes, criminal records in Spain and in your country of origin will have to be submitted

Will the time of residency need to be uninterrupted?

Yes, for nationality by residence to be approved, it is essential that legal residence be stable and continuous before and during the nationalisation process. Any prolonged departure from the country could be considered as a reason to deny nationality.

Who can apply for Spanish nationality by residence?

  • Interested parties are over 18 years of age or not dependants.
  • Those over 14 years of age assisted by their legal representative.
  • The legal representatives of children under 14 years of age.
  • Persons incapacitated (by themselves) or through their legal representatives according to what is indicated in the incapacitation judgment.

What documents do I need to apply for Spanish nationality by residence?

All the necessary documentation to process the application for nationality by residence must be delivered in the Civil Registry of the address of the interested party or his representative, as the case may be.

The required documents include:

(1) Birth certificate:  The birth certificate must be requested in the city where you were born (or in which you were registered). As a general rule, you will need to be legalised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country of birth.

(2) Criminal record certificate. Two documents will be necessary. The certificate of criminal records of the country of origin (when the interested party was not born in Spain) and that of the Spanish authorities. The first must be issued in the country of origin of the document and legalised through diplomatic channels. The second, must be ordered in the Central Registry of Convicts and Rebels of Spain.

(3) Padron certificate: requested at the town hall where you reside.

(4) Certified proof of legal residence in Spain. It must be requested in the sub-delegation of the corresponding government.

(5) A document that proves that you have sufficient economic funds to reside in Spain. For example, a work contract or bank guarantee.

(6) Photocopy of foreigner identification number or residency card.

(7) Copy of all pages of your passport.

There may be cases in which it is necessary to provide extra documentation that proves other types of situations. For example, if you apply for nationality by residence because you are married to someone Spanish, the marriage certificate will be necessary.

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