US, UK, and Canadian citizens, among others, can enter Spain without a visa for trips less than 90 days. However, you can only travel for 90 days in any 180-day period, meaning you can spend a maximum of six months in every 12 in the country, with three-month intervals.
If you plan to stay for longer or live in Spain permanently, you will have to obtain a long-stay visa that will allow you to apply for residency in Spain.
Spain visa options for non-EU retirees or people with passive income
There are different kinds of long-stay visas, but perhaps the most applicable is the non-lucrative visa, also known as the retirement visa. Your first permit lasts for 12 months, and the next two renewals are two years each, totaling five years. Once you reach this point, you can apply for full residency status.
To be eligible for this visa, you must have evidence of either €30,000 in a bank account or a monthly income of €2,130 from your pension. This increases to around €2,600 for a couple, although the amounts may change.
Also, a retirement visa is only given on the condition that you won’t undertake any paid work for the duration of your stay in Spain. This includes remote work, but after the first 12 months, you can convert it into an employment visa.
The initial application is completed at the Spanish embassy in your country of residence, but subsequent renewals must be completed at your local town hall in Spain. They will put you on a list called the padrón municipal, although this isn’t the same as being registered as a Spanish resident.
For UK citizens moving to Spain, our Living In Spain After Brexit guide helps navigate the post-Brexit changes in immigration, taxation, healthcare and other issues.
Other routes to permanent residency in Spain
Like many other countries, Spain offers investor visa programs. These are aimed at people with relatively high amounts of excess capital who are looking to invest in the local economy through business or property investment.
Spanish entrepreneur visa
The first type of investment visa is the Entrepreneur Visa. This is for people looking to set up a business in Spain. It’s either issued as a new visa or as an extension of a different kind of visa.
To be eligible, you must have a business plan that’s approved by the Spanish government and evidence of appropriate funding.
Unlike other EU countries, Spain doesn’t have an official guideline as to how much funding you need. Presumably, it needs to be appropriate and proportional to your business model.
You must also supply evidence that you can support yourself financially while in Spain, must have evidence of healthcare, and have all documents translated into Spanish.
You can apply through the Spanish consulate in the UK.
The investor visa (Golden Visa)
One area where Spain matches other EU countries is in the requirements for their golden visa programme. The most common method of obtaining this visa is through purchasing property worth at least €500,000, but other options include:
- Making an investment in Spanish public debt worth at least €2,000,000.
- Make a deposit in a Spanish bank or buy shares worth at least €1,000,000.
- Invest a significant amount of money in a new business (no specific amount).
You must be committed to investing when applying for the visa (which you do through the UK Spanish embassy). A golden visa covers you for 12 months, after which it can be exchanged for a residence permit.
Bear in mind that the golden visa covers family members, including spouses and children under the age of 18.
You can use the golden visa to obtain permanent residency after five years of living in the country (for at least six months of the year). Alternatively, you can renew the permit indefinitely if you don’t plan to live in Spain.
Residency in Spain (Residencia)
To live in Spain permanently, you need to register as a foreign resident. For this, you need to be added to the Central Register for Foreign Nationals or Registro Central de Extranjeros.
Where to apply for your Spanish residency certificate
You need to book an appointment online at your nearest National Police station to submit your application and all the documents (the requirements vary according to your visa).
You can also apply at the Oficina de Extranjería – the immigration administration office of the Spanish government. Every main city in each province in Spain has a branch of the Oficina de Extranjería .
Once you are on the Register, you will be issued with a Resident Certificate – Certificado de Residente – which will include the date of registration, your name, address, nationality and NIE number.
Permanent residency in Spain
If you have lived in Spain for five years and already have Certificado de Residente, you can apply for permanent residency if you wish to.
You will need to use the same forms and pay the same tax. No additional paperwork should be required. However, the authorities might ask for proof you have been living in Spain for five years.
For this, keep your bank receipts, rental contracts, utility bills, and any other official letters with your name and address from the very beginning of your settlement in Spain.
What’s an NIE and why you need one
An NIE or foreigners’ identification number is the expat equivalent of the local Spaniards’ DIE or Documento Nacional de Identidad. It is a bit like the British National Insurance number and is necessary when you deal with various local or state services.
An NIE number is mandatory for all foreigners with financial, professional or social affairs in Spain, regardless of whether they are a resident or non-resident in Spain.
You are asked for it if you buy a property in Spain, buy or insure a car in Spain, if you want to open a Spanish bank account or set up utility bills or sign up for the Spanish state healthcare system. You will also need it if you conduct any financial and/or professional in Spain regardless of whether you are a resident or non-resident in Spain.
Children also need an NIE number in order to, among other things, get social security.
In short, any paperwork you must do in Spain as a foreigner will require the NIE number.
You will be automatically issued an NIE when you apply for your Residency Certificate.
Applying for an NIE only
If you don’t need a residency in Spain (if, for example, you aren’t going to spend more than 3 months in a year in Spain), you can apply for an NIE only.
The application procedure may vary depending on where in Spain you apply. Generally, to obtain an NIE number, you need to:
- Fill out the NIE application form (EX-15). You can download the form online and print it out, or you can get it at any NIE office. You must fill in the form in Spanish. If you need help with it, there is advice available online, just google “filling in EX-15 form Spain”.
- If you’re already in Spain, go to your nearest police station or Oficina de Extranjeros. Outside of Spain, find a Spanish Consulate (the “Consulate dept legalizaciones”, not the Embassy) to submit the documents.
Together with two originals of EX-15 form you need to file in the following:
- Your passport and a copy of your passport (all pages)
- A small fee ( just over €10 in 2018), payable at the bank using a 790 NIE form. This can now only be filled in online and printed out. Find the form online and take it to any bank to pay before going to the police station
You need to book an appointment at the National Police station. It can be done online.
You will be given a white certificate with the number on it. In some cases, you may be asked to collect it another day. NIE numbers always begin with the letter X, Y or Z.
Registering on a Padron
All Town Halls in Spain keep a register of the residents of their area – the Padron. It’s used by the government and local authorities to make sure they know how many people live in the area.
If you live in Spain for more than six months in a year, you should register on the Padron.
You will find you need it when registering with a family doctor, or applying for facilities offered via Social Security or sending your children to a local school.
You need to apply at your local Town Hall. Make sure you know the requirements – they differ from area to area.
Normally you would need the following:
- Your original passport and a photocopy
- Your title deeds and a photocopy if you own a property
- Your rental contract in Spanish and a photocopy if you’re renting
The certificate confirming your registration on the Padron only lasts for 90 days. You will only need the certificate when you are asked to prove that you are registered.
It doesn’t happen so often, but when you need it, you just visit your local council to get a fresh one.
If the prospect of doing all this paperwork on your own terrifies you, you can always recruit a local helper – gestor. Find out more in our guide to Using Gestorias In Spain To Help With Your Paperwork.
You might find useful:
- Living In Spain – all you need to know to move to and settle down in Spain: visas and residency, paperwork, healthcare, housing, the cost of living, banking, taxes, etc.
- Best Places To Live In Spain – the best and most popular expat locations in Spain.
- Haven’t found what you were looking for? Contact us or comment below with your question and we’ll do our best to help.