A guide to the biggest mistakes when moving to Spain, and some tips on how to avoid them.
Spain is a very popular destination with expats for moving to live, study, work or retire in a country famed for its outstanding natural beauty and climate, fresh and tasty food, and laid-back approach to life. People who have already made the move cite the better quality of life, high living standards, and cheaper costs of living, as reasons they chose to live in Spain. The sunshine, beaches and friendly people are also big draws, of course.
If you’re thinking of moving to Spain as an expat, you’ll need to understand the NIE number system. As a foreigner in Spain, having an NIE is mandatory - and you’ll either have to apply for it once you arrive if you’re an EU-citizen moving to Spain, or at the same time as sorting out the residency process if you’re from outside of the European Union. Under some circumstances, if you’re an EU citizen buying a property in Spain for example, you can get your NIE from your local Spanish consulate.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to apply for an NIE number in Spain.
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Now, back to what you came here to read.
If you’re an expat living in Spain, you can apply for a número de identidad de extranjero, which is usually abbreviated to NIE for ease. The number itself starts with an X or Y, then followed by 7 or 8 digits and another letter.2
As a foreigner in Spain, this is your ID number. It’s mandatory to apply for an NIE number if you have professional or financial ties to Spain, and you’ll need it for a number of different things. Without an NIE, for example, you won’t be able to open a bank account, pay your taxes, register a business, or get a Spanish drivers licence.2 You might find that you need an NIE number even if you don’t live in Spain. You need it to buy a property for example. So if you’re in the market for a new holiday home in Spain, you’ll have to get yourself set up with an NIE first.
The NIE is specifically for foreigners. If you’re a Spanish citizen, on the other hand, you’ll get a Documento Nacional de Identidad (DNI), which includes your own unique reference information.
It’s also useful to know that although your NIE is essential, your NIE certificate won’t include a photo of you, so it’s not enough to use as proof of your identity on its own.
It’s really important to keep your Spanish NIE number safe once you have it issued. The number is issued for life - so if you live and work in Spain for a short while, and then leave, your NIE number will remain valid.3 If you ever return to Spain, you’re expected to continue using the old NIE number, rather than applying for a new one.
Your NIE number can be found in the following places:
- When your NIE number is issued you’re given a certificate including your number
- Your NIE number will appear on correspondence regarding earnings and tax - it’s often on payslips for example
- It’s usually on your Spanish residency certificate
If you have an NIE number and really can’t find it, then you’ll have to apply to the authorities for help. 4
The process varies depending on where in Spain you are. Most likely you’ll have to visit the local police station’s foreigners office, with whatever reference information you can find.4
This might include your passport and other personal information - but be aware that it’s usually the passport which you held when you applied for the NIE number in the first place, that you’ll need. Often the passport number of a new document will be different, so the police won’t necessarily be able to use a reissued or renewed passport to track you down on their system.
There is usually a small fine to pay for having lost a state-issued document, and you may be required to complete a declaration stating officially that your NIE certificate was lost.4
That’s pretty straightforward. You need an NIE number because it’s the law.
It’s compulsory to have an NIE number if you work in Spain, or have other professional or financial ties there.
If you’re an EU citizen you have to apply within the first 3 months of arriving in Spain. If you’re a non-EU citizen and have had to apply for residency permissions anyway, then you’ll usually find that your NIE number is sorted out at the same time as arranging residency, and is printed on your certificate of residency once you receive it.2 If you’re from outside of Europe, this means that you won’t usually need to make a separate application for an NIE number, but will deal with it as part of the process of getting your residency sorted out.2
Getting an NIE number in Spain can be pretty heavy on the bureaucracy. It’s also a decentralised process - which means that in different regions the process will vary slightly. This is because of the Padrón system, which breaks Spain down into smaller administrative regions, and requires everyone to register their residence. You’ll find that you have to go through the correct process according to the Padrón in which you’re registered.
You might be asked for different documents, and getting an appointment to apply will be different depending on where you are, too. It’s really important that you check in advance to see what’s needed, to avoid any headaches.
Because the process to get an NIE number can feel a bit daunting there are any number of agents and intermediaries who will help you obtain yours, for a fee. This might be worth considering - but if you choose to work with a company to get your NIE number, do make sure they have the right local knowledge to be able to help you navigate the specific process in the region of Spain that you live in.
There are good resources and free support out there too, if you don’t want to fork out for agent fees. Check out the Citizens Advice Bureau, for example.5 Although they’re a British organisation, a huge number of British people live and retire in Spain, so they have a healthy chunk of resources aimed specifically at people moving to Spain, available for free online.
If you’re applying for your NIE number from within Spain - for example if you’re an EU citizen and making your application within the first 90 days of being in Spain - you’ll need to visit your local National Police Station to apply for an NIE.6 It’s worth noting that not every single police station can issue an NIE - so check in advance so that you know where to go.6
The process will vary somewhat between regions. For example, in some cases it’s mandatory to make an appointment in advance, in others you can get an appointment on a first come, first served basis, by simply showing up during the specified office hours. 6The documentation also varies a little from place to place.
It’s worth double checking the documents needed at your local police station - however, in general, you can expect to need the following:6
- Completed Ex-15 form, which you can either download or get directly from the police station. Usually you’ll need 2 copies of this
- Your passport, plus a photocopy
- 2 recent passport photos
- Proof of address
- You might have to prove why you need an NIE number, for example if you’re a non-EU citizen, and would usually get your NIE through the residency process
- You’ll also have to pay a government fee - €9.54 as of 2017. This is paid in advance, and you then have to provide 2 copies of the document proving payment when you apply
The Ex-15 form has to be completed in Spanish, but there’s an English model of the document available online to guide you through it - (it’s in the sources linked at the bottom of this section). Or get a friendly Spanish speaker to help you figure it out if you’re stuck.
The fee has to be paid at the bank, and should be accompanied by another piece of paperwork, a 790 form. You’ll need this document in duplicate to complete your NIE application at the police station.
Alternatively, you can have a proxy carry out the process on your behalf as long as you give them power of attorney - whether that be an agent, a friend or a family member, for example.
It’s possible to apply for an NIE at your local embassy or consulate if you don’t live in Spain. If this is the case then you’ll need to contact your local embassy to check the process and requirements. How you make an appointment - and how long it’ll take to have your NIE issued - will vary by location.7
If you’re applying for an NIE number at the Spanish consulate in London, for example, the wait time is expected to be around 4 weeks.7 As a result, the consulate advises against applying in advance if you plan on moving to Spain, or if you’re only going to be doing seasonal work. 7 You should make your application once you arrive in Spain instead, as EU citizens have 3 months grace after entering the country to sort out their NIE number. It’s more likely that you’ll have to apply for an NIE number from a consulate outside of Spain if you’re planning on buying a holiday home there, but not becoming a full time resident.7
If you’re applying for residency in Spain as a non-EU citizen, then your application for an NIE number will likely all be dealt with at the same time as your residency paperwork is prepared.
Getting a Spanish NIE number is essential if you’re planning on moving to Spain. Without it you can’t get access to government services, or make sure your tax affairs are in order. You usually can’t even set up utilities for your home or buy or sell a car - making it one of the first things many expat arrivals will want to sort out.
The process isn’t complicated, but there are regional variations on exactly what documents are needed. That makes it feel a little more daunting - but there’s plenty of help out there. You can either have a friend or relocation agent help you out, or seek out free resources online to make sure you have everything you need. Then you can simply concentrate on planning your new life in Spain.
1.http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Portal/en/ServiciosAlCiudadano/InformacionParaExtranjeros/Paginas/NIE.aspx (September 19 2018)
2.https://www.expatica.com/es/moving-to/nie-number-nie-application_849449.html (September 19 2018)
3.https://www.citizensadvice.org.es/faq/do-i-need-to-renew-my-nie-number/ (September 19 2018)
4.https://www.citizensadvice.org.es/faq/how-do-i-replace-loststolen-residency-certificate-or-nie/ (September 19 2018)
5.https://www.citizensadvice.org.es/faqs-tags/nie/ (September 19 2018)
6.http://torreviejatranslation.com/nie-number/ (September 19 2018)
7.http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Consulados/LONDRES/en/Consulado/Pages/NIE.aspx (September 19 2018)
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