If you’ve been told it’s nearly impossible to immigrate to Spain without an EU passport, we can set the record straight and show you how it’s done. Let’s be clear from the beginning. Residency for non-EU citizens is not as easy to obtain as if you hold a European passport. But it’s not impossible, either. Here are the steps you can take to make your dreams of residency come true!
Married to EU Citizen #
If you have a spouse who is from a member country of the EU, your path with be less complicated. I am American. Our daughter is French. My husband is British, which at the time of writing, was still part of the EU. He went through the process of obtaining his residency, at which point I could “piggy back” on him to get the ball rolling for me. He had already received his residency card and his NIE number, which is a sort of social security number used for everything in Spain, and I was able to obtain my NIE though it was not active until after the final steps of residency were approved and I had my card in hand. The NIE is required for all financial transactions, including getting a bank account, so make sure you get this ASAP.
We decided to not take any chances and hired professionals to walk us through the process, as neither of us has the Spanish language skills yet to try and manoeuvre the system, and as the law requires applying for residency within 30 days of arriving in the country. The whole process took roughly 6 months, and they took care of all necessary paperwork to be filed. You will be required to present them with certain documentation and it must all be translated into Spanish by a certified translator. The general list is as follows:
- Valid passport and photocopy
- Three passport-size colour photographs
- Completed application form and three copies
- Proof of address in Spain
- Receipt for payment of the administration fee, stamped by bank
Not having certain things in place will prolong the process, and a little pre-emptive research and planning can prevent this. So, we recommend you take care of them as soon as possible to expedite your residency.
First, you will need private health insurance. You will need to have made at least one month’s payment to prove that you have it. There are several options available online. We asked around and Mallorca Solutions had a provider, as did our bank. We researched them both and chose the one best suited to us.
Next, you will need a Spanish bank account with anywhere between €10,000-€15,000 in the account, depending on which company you use. This is slightly tricky, as you will be allowed to apply for, and receive, a bank account, but the account is only good for certain things. It does not prove you are a resident, for example, if you needed this for any legal purposes. Once you obtain residency, you must return to the bank and change your account to a resident’s account. It sounds like a hassle, but really, it’s not a big deal, as the banks here seem familiar with this and know what to do.
Finally, you will need to go to your local town hall (Ayuntamiento) and get a Certificat de Empadronament for you, each member of your family, and one for the family in general. It is only valid for a certain time period, so make sure to wait until you have gotten word that you have an appointment to meet the Oficina de Extranjería. This is where you will do the rest of the processing of your file.
You will be required to attend two meetings in Palma at the Oficina de Extranjería. If you are working with a relocation company, they will attend with you, give the officials all your documents, and translate anything unclear. The first appointment is where you present your dossier, with all the required paperwork filled out, signed and ready to be processed. If approved, you will be asked to return to the same building but will need to visit the police and get fingerprinted.
Both require appointments that can be scheduled online here; and both have rather a backlog, so it does take time to get them. Some agencies might try to make you believe you have to pay for an appointment, but this is not true! If necessary, go to the Oficina de Extranjería in person to make an appointment if delays are too long
If you choose not to use a service, be prepared to have every single document required with you to attend any meetings. There is an online listing of requirements on the Spanish Embassies website (http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Portal/en/ServiciosAlCiudadano/InformacionParaExtranjeros/Paginas/Inicio.aspx), but we have been told it can be somewhat of a moveable feast. Just be sure you have the most recent set of rules.
Not Married to EU Citizen #
The documentation required for those who wish to live in Spain, but are not married to or a family member of an EU citizen varies depending on the situation. Consult with the local Oficina de Extranjeros or police station to determine which documents are required, in addition to the list given above for people married to EU citizens.
The following may also be required, all of which will need to be translated into Spanish by a certified translator:
- Copy of a job contract or a certificate of employment (if applicable)
- Self-employed individuals must produce evidence that they meet the same professional conditions required of Spanish nationals and that they have applied for authorisation to carry out their professional activity
- Proof of academic and/or professional qualifications (if applicable)
- Proof of financial resources for those not intending to work
- Proof of school enrolment (for students only)
- Proof that the applicant has no prior criminal record (Certificado de Antecedentes Penales); available from a home country Embassy or local police department in the former place of residence
- Medical certificate
- Consular inscription (a letter from the home Consulate)
- Proof that the applicant has medical insurance cover in Spain
Once the application for a residence permit has been made and approved, the steps are similar to those for Non-EU nationals married to EU citizens. The Residence Card should be issued within three to four months and may be renewed at the Foreigners Office. In all cases, the initial Residence Card is valid for one year; this can be renewed annually for up to five years.
Additionally, if you have been living legally in Spain for a year and have received official confirmation that you will be staying for a further year, you can apply for family members (spouse, common law partner, and dependants, including children under 18 and parents over 65) to join you in Spain.
Other Options #
Non-EU national investors and entrepreneurs can apply for fast-track visas and permits. There are two main ways to go about this.
- Investor Visa- To obtain this type of visa, a person must invest a minimum of €2million in Spanish sovereign debt, or €1million in either a Spanish company’s stock or in Spanish bank deposits. You will need to prove you are the sole owner of the investment and must still go through the application process for any legalities in order to reside in Spain. After one year, this visa expires and a resident visa must be applied for.
- Real Estate Visa- This visa requires a minimum €500,000 investment in real estate, free of liens, charges or any other prohibitor. This visa also lasts only one year, and after that, a resident visa must be applied for as well.
The end of the day, its best to ask yourself if this is really what you want. If you plan to go in and out of the country, stay for less than 90 days at a time and no more than six months total annually, you don't need residency, and you can skip the process. But if you have decided to make a full-time life here, just know you’ll need to put in the effort.
And an aside for Americans… You are taxed on citizenship, not just residency. There are helpful deductions but will you qualify? (https://www.taxesforexpats.com/expat-tax-advice/how-to-avoid-problems-when-claiming-bona-fide-residence.html).
I have lived in Europe (France and Spain) and never had trouble as both countries have double taxation laws with the USA. This means you have to file in the USA, but you don’t have to pay twice, so long as you are paying somewhere. It can be a little complicated, and you should get professional advice on any tax questions you have, at least for the first year, or so. It’s not worth getting in tax trouble, and ignorance of the laws do not exempt you from following the laws, sadly!
So these are the basics for Non-EU persons wishing to live and work in Spain. For more detailed information, it is advisable to contact your local Spanish Embassy, and they will provide you with any recent changes to protocol and provide assistance. Good luck!
DISCLAIMER: All information contained in this article is based on personal experience and opinion and may change due to changing laws and regulations and/or based on where in Spain you are.
By Stephanie Horsman
5 February, 2021