Spanish citizenship How to apply for the Spanish nationality

Your eligibility for Spanish citizenship depends upon your parentage, your current nationality and how long you’ve lived in Spain. You automatically acquire Spanish nationality if one of your parents is Spanish, you were born in Spain and one of your parents was also born there, or you were born in Spain of foreign parents who have no nationality.

Most foreigners must have held a residence permit for ten years before they can apply for Spanish nationality. The main exceptions are those who have been granted political refuge or asylum, who can apply after five years, and nationals of Latin American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal and Jews of Spanish origin, all of whom qualify after just two years.

A one-year residence period is sufficient for someone born in Spain or born outside Spain with a Spanish mother or father, or anyone married to a Spanish citizen (even if the marriage has been dissolved).

In all cases, the period of residence in Spain must have been immediately before the application. Marriage to a Spanish citizen doesn’t entitle you to a work permit, although an application for one is usually granted and expedited. Foreign children aged under 18 who are adopted by Spanish parents automatically become Spanish citizens, although an adopted child aged 18 or older at the time of adoption must decide whether to choose Spanish nationality in the two years following adoption.

Application for Spanish nationality

An application for Spanish citizenship must be made to the Minister of Justice, who can refuse it on grounds of public order or national interest. To apply for Spanish nationality you require your birth certificate, marriage certificate (if applicable), and your parents’ birth and marriage certificates, all of which must be officially translated into Spanish.

You also require a certificate of good conduct from the police, a statement from two Spanish citizens supporting your application, and you must show that you’re a good citizen and integrated into Spanish society. Most people find it necessary to employ a lawyer to handle the paperwork involved.

Spanish law doesn’t recognise dual nationality for adults and therefore a child who’s entitled to choose between Spanish and another nationality must make a choice at the age of 18. A foreigner must usually renounce his former nationality (exceptions include Portuguese and Latin Americans), swear allegiance to the King of Spain, and swear to abide by the Spanish constitution and laws. Some countries (e.g. the UK) don’t recognise a renunciation of nationality, irrespective of whether its citizens have taken another nationality. It’s advisable to take legal advice before renouncing your nationality and becoming a Spanish citizen.

Residency and NIE How to become an official resident in Spain

Even if you don't need a visa for staying in Spain, you might want to consider getting a NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero - Foreigner Identification Number) and a Tarjeta de Residencia. These make you a legal resident in Spain and are useful more many transactions, for instance a NIE is required to work by the social security administration.

The Tarjeta de Residencia is a card incorporating your NIE, your personal details and a photograph/fingerprint. It is necessary for transactions where someone wants to see a proof of your current physical address in Spain (i.e. in local video rentals, banks etc.). The Tarjeta is valid for five years and must then be renewed. Non-EU applicants are granted an initial Residencia for one year, which is usually extended to five years on renewal. NOTE March 2009 : currently the administration does not seem to be issuing or renewing identity cards to EU/EEA nationals and only a NIE is available which then needs to be used with a passport/national identity card for the purposes of identification. It is unclear if/when this situation will change.

A NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) is a number the immigration service issues once you obtain residency (you will find the number on your Residency Card). This is your identification number in Spain. It is needed in order to file taxes, establish a business, open a bank account, and for almost all other forms you fill out. Both EU citizens and non-EU citizens get issued a NIE.

How to apply for residencia

In order to obtain your residency and NIE, you have to apply at the nearest Oficina de Extranjeros. You then receive your Tarjeta de Residencia in a few weeks, although this process can take many months.

Since each Oficina de Extranjeros processes candidates locally, the time spent both waiting in line at the office and waiting for your Tarjeta de Residencia can vary tremendously, even within the same city. It is therefore worth to ask people who have recently applied for a residency about their experiences.

A complete list of Oficinas de Extranjeros is available on the website of the Ministerio del Interior: http://www.mir.es 

Also, note that the NIE can often be processed faster than the physical Tarjeta de Residencia, since it is issued before the actual production of the physical card. If you are in a hurry, it might therefore be worth to apply separately for the NIE and the Tarjeta, so you receive your NIE faster.

Documents needed for application

Below are some documents you'll probably need to bring in order to apply for your residency. However, we haven't found any official listing of these, and you might be asked for different things in different locations (or even on different days). The best thing is to check with the local Oficina what they require exactly.

Documents needed by all applicants (EU and non-EU-citizens):

  • Current passport and one photocopy 3 recent passport style photos with your name clearly written on the back
  • The completed application form, plus 3 photocopies of it

Further documents that might be requested could include:

  • A medical certificate depending on country of origin and recent residency

If a member of the family is Spanish (or has residency):

  • Your Libro de Familia and DNI (or Residency Card) of that family member
  • Empadronamiento
  • Medical insurance

For specific circumstances, the following may apply:

  • If you will be working for someone : a contract of employment. If you will be self-employed: documents that prove you fulfil the requirements necessary to undertake that activity.
  • If you will not be working : documents that prove you have enough money to live during your time in Spain, plus medical insurance.
  • If you are studying in Spain : proof of matriculation in an accredited school, plus documents that prove you have enough money to live during your time in Spain, plus medical insurance.

Renewing your residency

You will not be reminded when your Residencia needs renewing, so it is up to you to check and make sure you get this done. In order to renew your Residencia, you will probably need the following documents:

  • 2 passport photos
  • original tarjeta de residencia + 1 photocopy
  • original Passport + 1 photocopy
  • relevant completed application form + 3 photocopies

Be aware that the exact documentation may vary according to your legal status in Spain. Further documents might include:

  • the residency visa or its extension (necessary for non-EU-citizens)
  • a medical certificate

Visas Who needs a visa? And how do you apply for it?

Depending on your nationality, you might need a visa for coming to Spain. Even though requirements are frequently changed, this article will help you to find out whether you need a visa and how to apply for it.

We recommend that you ensure you remain legal while resident in Spain and do not try to enter the country without the required paperwork. There is a large population of illegal immigrants and this is a politically sensitive issue so there are efforts being made to prevent entry and to find and deport people living illegally in the country.

Citizens of the European Union are not required to get a visa for Spain since they already have the right to residency. In order to officially remain resident in Spain you are meant to apply for a NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) and a residency card (Tarjeta de Residente Comunitario). In practice this is not an urgent thing to get done, but you will need it eventually for some things.

Non-EU citizens visiting Spain need a visa (visado) in order to enter and visit Spain, unless there exists a special agreement between Spain and your home country; these countries are those of North & South America in addition to:

Andorra, Australia, Brunei, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Gibraltar, Grenada, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia and Switzerland.

If you are one of these nationalities, you can enter Spain without a visa and stay for up to 90 days in any 6-month period.

Non-EU citizens coming to work, study or live in Spain are required to obtain a visa - note that this also includes non-EU spouses and dependents. Even if you are not required to have get a visa, in order to officially stay resident in Spain everyone needs to apply for a NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) and a residency card (Tarjeta de Residente Comunitario).

Getting a visa

Visas are managed by the Spanish Ministerio de Asuntos Extranjeros (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) through its consulates and embassies around the world.

You apply for and obtain a visa through the Spanish consulate nearest to your residence before you travel. Honorary consuls generally cannot issue visas but may provide application forms.

Since visas are never issued in Spain, you must apply for them before you leave your country of residency. Do not attempt to enter Spain without a visa if you need one. There is no emergency procedure, you can't bribe the police, your embassy in Spain can't help and you will probably be refused entry.

Generally, you should apply for your visa about 8-12 weeks before the date of your arrival in Spain. You must first have a valid passport with at least three months until expiry in order to apply, so be sure to allow adequate time to obtain or renew both the passport and get the visa application processed. Don?t leave this to the last minute or you put your travel plans at risk.

Procedures and documents

Each Spanish consulate has different visa application procedures. You must call the consulate that has jurisdiction over your state of permanent residence (refer to list of consulates) to find out which procedure applies. You should address all questions concerning requirements and procedures for visa applications to your designated Spanish Consulate.

Visa types

Visas are valid for the length of time stated on them, starting on the date of arrival in Spain. There are different types of visas, which can be divided into the following categories:

  • Student visas
  • Tourist visas
  • Business visas
  • Residency visas
  • Transit visas

You cannot enter Spain with a tourist visa and then apply to stay as something else, eg, a student, without first returning to your country of residence and obtaining the new visa. Also, it is generally not possible to ask a friend at home to obtain a visa for you once you're in Spain. In any case, you have to get out of the Schengen Area in order to apply for a new type of visa, so plan accordingly.

Residency visas

There are different types of residency visas, some of them included below:

  • Visa de Reagrupacion Familiar : You can obtain this type of visa if you're married or related to a Spanish citizen.
  • Visa de Jubilados : This visa is issued if you plan to retire in Spain. Note: On arrival in Spain, you may be asked to get medical insurance. If you can't extend the health insurance you had in your country of origin (EU and some other citizens qualify) you will need private insurance.
  • If neither of the above , then it gets more complicated. You can come for three months, then try to find a company to sponsor you, or try to get residence in another EU country first (do you have Italian family members?).

Once you have the residence visa in your passport, you have to apply for your Residencia within three months after arrival in Spain in order to become a legal resident in Spain.

The Schengen Area

Spain is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement , which enables free circulation of residents within countries in the Schengen Area. A visa granted by one of these countries (for example, Spain) is valid in the whole Schengen Area. Travelling within the Schengen Area is legally the same as travelling within Spain. If you enter Spain with a tourist visa, you will be able to stay in Spain and/or any other country in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days during any 6-month period.

  • In addition to Spain, the other parties to the Schengen Agreement are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.
  • Although you can leave the Schengen Area and come back in as many times as you need during its 6-month validity, the total amount of time you can stay in the Schengen area cannot exceed 90 days.
  • A visa granted by one of the Schengen countries is valid in all other member countries.
  • Countries outside the Schengen Area include Switzerland, United Kingdom & the Channel Islands, Ireland, Morocco, and Gibraltar.

Trivia: Schengen is a place in Luxembourg where the original treaty was signed in 1985.

Marriage & divorce in Spain

Marriage & divorce in Spain

All you need to know when getting married

Despite the falling number of marriages and church attendances in Spain, a church wedding with all the trimmings remains the dream of most Spanish girls. Marriage bureaux are common in cities and online agencies popular throughout Spain, with applicants to meet an unlimited number of prospective partners.

Surprisingly, nearly 70 per cent of Spaniards up to the age of 30 live with their parents, although prohibitively high property prices in many regions are partly responsible for this.

To be married in a Roman Catholic church in Spain at least one partner must be Roman Catholic; a divorcee isn’t permitted to marry in a Spanish church if the previous marriage was solemnised in church. A certificate of baptism is required plus a declaration from your former parish priest that you’re a Roman Catholic and are free to marry. You receive a certificate from the priest, which must be presented within one week to the local civil registry in order to obtain an official marriage certificate.

Couples also receive a ‘family book’ ( libro de familia) when they marry, which is the official registration of a couple and their children. It’s necessary for children to present this when they apply for their own identity card, social security card and when they marry or divorce (or when someone dies).

In order for two non-Catholic foreigners to marry in Spain, one must have lived (and have been domiciled) in Spain for at least two years. Marriages are held at Spanish civil registry offices and are presided over by a judge (church weddings for non-Catholics in Spain aren’t legally recognised). If you’re divorced or widowed, you must produce an official divorce or death certificate. A divorced person requires a legal declaration ( certificado de ley) drawn up by a lawyer and legalised by a Spanish consul in the country of origin.

Some foreigners find it easier to get married abroad, e.g. Britons and Americans can get married in Gibraltar, where couples are married in a registry office in front of two witnesses. Many foreigners can also be married at their country’s embassy in Spain.

Homosexual Marriages

Since July 2005, homosexual couples have had the right to marry (Spain is one of the few countries in the world to allow this) and therefore enjoy the same rights as heterosexual married couples. Some 4,500 homosexual couples got married in registry offices during the first year (representing less than 1 per cent of the total marriages). In September 2005, the main opposition party, the Partido Popular, presented an appeal against the law before the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the Spanish Constitution permits marriage only between men and women. Legal experts are divided on whether the appeal will be successful or not.

Common-law Partners

Unmarried couples (including homosexuals) can register their union at a special registry in many towns and receive a formal certificate allowing them to claim social security and benefit from life insurance policies. However, common-law partners generally have no property rights in Spain and are treated as unrelated individuals if they don’t have official documentation . The regions of Andalusia, Aragón, Balearics, Basque Lands, Catalonia, Madrid and Navarra recognise common-law partners if they’re officially registered for tax and inheritance purposes and there have been several highly-publicised court cases where common-law partners’ rights have been recognised.

Divorce

New divorce legislation, designed to make divorce by mutual consent quicker and easier, was approved in 2005. Under the legislation (known as divorcio directo), a couple wishing to divorce must have been married for a minimum of three months (less if there’s domestic violence), neither party needs to present any grounds for divorce and there’s no minimum period of separation required beforehand. If the couple have children, they can agree to have equal custody of the children. The paperwork is relatively straightforward and the services of a lawyer shouldn’t be required. A divorce in court is only necessary if the parties cannot agree on the terms of the divorce or the divorce isn’t by mutual consent.

Foreigners who were married abroad can be divorced in Spain and only one of the partners need be a resident.

The Legal System in Spain

The legal system

Lawyers, gestores and notaries

If you’re seeking legal advice, ask around among local residents and obtain recommendations. This way you will usually find out not only who to employ, but more importantly who to avoid.

Always obtain an estimate ( presupuesto) of costs in advance, if possible in writing, and shop around and compare fees from a number of lawyers, as they can vary considerably. The estimate should detail exactly what the lawyer will do for his fees. If you consult a number of legal ‘experts’ about the same matter, you’re highly unlikely to receive exactly the same advice.

The Spanish legal system is excruciatingly slow (i.e. largely at a standstill) and there’s a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases throughout Spain, which means that it takes years for many cases to come to court. Even local courts can take five years to hear a case, although delays are usually up to two years for minor offences and up to four years for serious offences. This means that you should do everything possible to avoid going to court by taking every conceivable precaution when doing business in Spain, i.e. obtaining expert legal advice in advance.

If things do go wrong it can take years to achieve satisfaction and in the case of fraud the chances are that those responsible will have gone bust or disappeared. Note that even when you have a foolproof case there’s no guarantee of winning and it may be better to write off a loss as experience. Local courts, judges and lawyers frequently abuse the system to their own ends and almost anyone with enough money or expertise can use the law to their own advantage. In recent years, public confidence in Spain’s legal system has been rocked by a succession of scandals.

Lawyers

If you’re buying property in Spain, investing in or starting a business, applying for a work permit or making a will, you should employ the services of an experienced Spanish lawyer ( abogado). You may be able to obtain a list of lawyers from your local embassy or consulate. Suggested lawyers’ fees are set by provincial professional bodies ( Ilustre Colegio de Abogados), although individual lawyers often set much higher fees. However, fees are usually lower than those charged by lawyers in northern European countries, with a simple consultation of less than half an hour costing from €50. When preparing contracts involving a sum of money, e.g. property or land purchase, fees are calculated as a percentage of the sum involved. ‘No win, no fee’ lawsuits are illegal in Spain.

Always try to engage a lawyer who speaks your mother tongue. In some areas, lawyers who speak English and other foreign languages are common and they’re used to dealing with foreigners and their particular problems. In cases where a lawyer is obligatory and your income is below double the Spanish minimum wage, you can apply for free legal assistance ( abogado de oficio). The college of lawyers appoints a lawyer to assist you, although they won’t take as much interest in your case as a private lawyer would. In cases involving sums over €900 the services of a barrister ( procurador) is required. If you don’t receive satisfactory service you can complain to the local professional college. Common complaints include long delays, poor communication, high fees and overcharging (particularly with regard to property transactions involving foreigners).

Gestores

A gestor is an official agent licensed by the Spanish government as a middleman between you and the bureaucracy. This speaks volumes for the stifling and tortuous Spanish bureaucracy, which is so complicated and cumbersome that it’s necessary for citizens to employ a special official simply to do business with the government! It isn’t compulsory to employ a gestor, but without one you must usually speak fluent Spanish (or have an interpreter), possess boundless patience and stamina, and have unlimited time to deal with the mountains of red tape and obstacles that will confront you. However, if you have the time and can speak reasonable Spanish, you will find it extremely ‘educational’ to do your own paperwork.

A gestor’s services aren’t generally expensive and most people find it worthwhile employing one. They usually work in a gestoría, where a number of experts may be employed dealing with different matters, including employment and residence permits; establishing and registering a business; obtaining a driving licence, tourist plates or registering a car; social security and property contracts. A gestor can help you in your dealings with any government body or state-owned company. The quality of service provided by gestores varies considerably and they cannot always be relied upon to do a professional job (some have been known to take money and do absolutely nothing).

Notaries

A notary ( notario) is a public official authorised by the government, who’s most commonly engaged in property transactions. He doesn’t deal with criminal cases or offer advice concerning criminal law. Notarios have a monopoly in the areas of transferring real property, testamentary (e.g. of wills) and matrimonial acts, which by law must be in the form of an authentic document, verified and stamped by a notario. In Spain, property conveyancing is strictly governed by Spanish law and can be performed only by a notario.

In respect to private law, a notario is responsible for administering and preparing documents relating to property sales and purchases, inheritance, wills, establishing limited companies, and buying and selling businesses. He also certifies the validity and safety of contracts and deeds. If you need irrefutable proof of delivery of a letter or other documents, they should be sent via a notario, as nobody can deny receiving a document delivered through his offices.

Property Administrators

A property administrator ( administrador de fincas) is a licensed professional who’s qualified to handle all matters connected with owning and managing property in Spain, particularly property in an urbanisation where there’s a community of owners. His duties include calling meetings, taking minutes, advising residents, collecting fees, paying taxes and paying bills.

Courts

Like French law, Spanish law derives from the Code Napoleón. The lowest court is the justice of the peace ( juez de la paz), dealing with simple matters such as property complaints between neighbours. Neither party need have legal counsel and simple cases are usually resolved at this level. Civil cases are decided by a juzgado/tribunal de primera instancia, where most cases start. The next highest court is a district court presided over by a district judge ( juez de distrito), where you need a lawyer. It handles more serious matters, e.g. unpaid debts for goods and services or failure to meet the conditions of a contract.

Criminal cases are held before a local tribunal de primera instancia e instrucción, followed in order of importance by an audiencia provincial, audiencia territorial, audiencia nacional, tribunal superior de justicia and the Supreme Court ( tribunal supremo) in Madrid. Trial by jury for criminal trials was reintroduced in 1996 after 57 years’ absence. A jury consists of nine people, seven of whom must agree to establish a guilty verdict. You have the right of appeal in all cases.

Arrest

If you’re arrested you have the right to make a statement in the presence of your lawyer or one nominated by the police if you don’t have one, and the right to an interpreter. You also have the right to advise a member of your family or another person of your arrest or in the case of a foreigner to contact your consul. You can be held for up to 72 hours without charge, after which you must be charged and brought before a court or freed. You cannot be held longer without a judicial order. However, if you’re remanded in custody, you can be held for years while a case is being ‘investigated’.

Complaints

If you have a complaint against someone, for example your neighbour for making too much noise or your local authority for not collecting your rubbish, and your appeals fall on deaf ears, you can make an official complaint ( denuncia) to the police. There are ombudsmen in most regions who handle certain complaints and queries, many with staff who speak English and other foreign languages. If you have a complaint concerning the way EU laws are interpreted or are being broken in Spain, you should complain to your European member of parliament. You can also bring a lawsuit against the Spanish state. However, you should expect to wait a long (long) time for your case to be heard.

Reforms

At the end of 1999, the Spanish parliament approved a new version of the Law of Civil Judgement designed principally to speed up the courts and the legal process in Spain. Legal experts and lawyers’ representatives were generally opposed to the reforms because, although the reforms looked excellent on paper, they would come to nothing unless the government injected vast sums of money into the legal system. For example, for more employees and computers to modernise it and to allow the reforms to take place – it’s no good having a law that gives a debtor 20 days to appeal if you haven’t got the staff at the court to inform the debtor and carry out other essential duties. Needless to say, the reforms became law in 2001 without the extra investment!

Included is a ‘small claims’ system designed to assist the self-employed and small businesses to collect their debts. The creditor completes a form claiming his payment, which must be accompanied by some form of proof of the debt and lodges it with the court. The services of a solicitor or barrister aren’t required. The debtor then has around 20 days to pay or explain why he won’t be paying. If the 20 days pass without the debtor doing either, then the judge immediately proceeds to an embargo of the debtor’s goods and/or property. While many other aspects of the new law have yet to come to fruition because of lack of investment, the ‘small claims’ procedure has been very successful and claims are generally resolved quickly.

Never assume that the law in Spain is the same as in any other country, as this often isn’t the case and some Spanish laws are bizarre. Note that it’s illegal for anyone to be without some form of personal identification in Spain and you should carry your residence permit or passport at all times (you can be asked to produce it by a policeman). Certain legal advice and services may also be provided by your embassy or consulate in Spain, including, for example, an official witness of signatures (Commissioner for Oaths). 

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