This article explains briefly the process for applying for the following three things and the differences between them, as well as links to more information or support:
- A Spanish identification number known as the NIE (Numéro de Identidad de Extranjero)
- As a British national, how to register as an official resident if you lived in Spain before 31st December 2020* and to ensure your pre-Brexit residency rights are maintained; the green-coloured documentation or the TIE card.
- Registration on the local municipal/town hall census – the ‘padrón’.
Important initial advice:
When applying for these things it is not unusual to be asked for different things depending on the town. The best thing is to check locally exactly what is required and be prepared for two or more visits to get the document you need.
If you were living in Spain without formal residency before 31st December it is still possible to apply for residency under the (easier) old EU conditions in 2021. It is recommended to do it as soon as possible to lock in your rights. Free local help is available funded by the UK government. See section 2 of this page, below for details.
(*If you are wanting to move to Spain after 1st January 2021 or spend more than 90 days in any 180 days from 1st January 2021 as a visitor, residency procedures on this page do not apply to you. Instead, see the UK government’s updated guidance on https://www.gov.uk/guidance/living-in-spain#visas-and-residency)
- Spanish identification number, known as the NIE (Numéro de Identidad de Extranjero)
A NIE is required for any type of process in Spain if you live here, do business or own a property, (such as opening a bank account, registering for a doctor etc.). It stands for Número de Identidad de Extranjero (foreigner identity number).
Having a NIE number alone does not guarantee residency rights in Spain. Do not rely on having a NIE number alone to guarantee your residency. See point two below. You can have a NIE but still live mostly in another country. It does not necessarily affect your tax-resident status.
If you are applying for the residency registration as a foreign national instead (as described below in point two), you do not need to apply separately for a NIE first – you will be given one automatically.
A NIE number is easy to obtain. Fill out the NIE application form (EX-15), available here. It can be typewritten on the computer or in clear, handwritten capital letters and black ink.
The form should be filled out in Spanish. However by clicking here you can see a helpful translation of the form (for guidance only) supplied by the Spanish government.
You should take to your nearest National Police station (Policia Nacional) the following items:-
- Two originals of the filled-out form
- A copy of your passport (as a UK (third-country) national, all pages including the cover) and the original
- You will need to pay a small tax/fee (under 12 euros) by filling in 790-012 online here (external link). This can now ONLY be filled in online and printed out, taking the form to any bank to pay it, before going to the police station. Click here for some guidance notes on filling in 790-012.
Click here for the appointments link. In the majority of provinces in Spain you need to arrange online a prebooked appointment at the nearest National Police station to where you live.
You will be given a white certificate with the number on, or in some cases may be asked to collect it another day. NIE numbers always begin with the letter X, Y or Z.
2. As a British national, how to register as an official resident in Spain if you lived here before 31st December 2020 to ensure your pre-Brexit residency rights are maintained; the green documentation or the TIE card.
Even after Brexit, as a British national you are automatically entitled to register for residency, providing you can prove that you were living in Spain before 31st December 2020 and were meeting the requirements to register. This means your rights will be protected and you can still live in Spain beyond 1st January 2021 under the EU Withdrawal Agreement conditions. You can still do this into 2021 and you need to start the process as soon as possible.
I already have the green documentation (credit-card sized paper or A4 certificate)
If you already have the green A4 certificate or small credit-card-sized green paper saying you are registered as an EU citizen (Registro de Cuidadano de la Unión Europea) and showing your NIE number, whether it says ‘permanente’ or not, this green document is indefinite proof of your post-Brexit rights and you do not need to do anything now. After five years registered in Spain you are automatically classed as permanent without the need for it to be say ‘permamente’ on your green documentation.
Should I swap the green documentation to the TIE I have heard about?
You can swap this to a TIE* photo ID card, marked with special conditions for British nationals who are protected by the EU Withdrawal Agreement. The Spanish and British governments recommend you do so but this is completely optional and there is no deadline to do so. The green documentation is equally valid in the future to prove your rights to the authorities. *(TIE = Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (foreigner identity card)). If your address or name on the green documentation has changed, new details should be communicated to the registry; a good way to do this is by applying for the TIE with a town hall census padrón certificate issued in the previous three months, which a town hall can provide on request, (plus any relevant legally translated and official stamped marriage certificate for a name change).
See the UK government’s Living in Spain guide for official information here on the process to get a TIE.
Read also the Spanish government’s thorough guide in English for UK nationals living in Spain affected by the Withdrawal Agreement by clicking here . (pdf document in English). (Document also available in Spanish by clicking here).
It is recommended you read it all. However, page 16-18 of the English version summarises the optional process to swap to a TIE if you have the (green) registration certificate or green card already.
While not essential to swap from the green documentation, the TIE card is plastic and longer lasting, with your photograph on. It is more useful and practical to carry round as a formal identification and may speed up some processes with the Spanish authorities, such as entering or leaving the country.
The document on this link from the Spanish government shows photos of the two types of possible documents and it can be used to explain to the authorities or other people if needed.
I do NOT have the credit-card sized green paper or green A4 residency certificate
The green documentation is not being given out anymore when you register for the first time as a British national resident in Spain. Instead, you will get a TIE photocard which states you have special rights as a UK citizen living in Spain. TIE stands for Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (foreigner identity card). It is based on the card given out to residents from outside the EU. The TIE is blue and pink and says on the top: PERMISO or TARJETA DE RESIDENCIA.
This is a two-stage process.
In summary, it involves an application in person, or through a representative such as a lawyer or gestor, at the office of Immigration (Oficina de Extranjería) in your provincial or island capital city/town*. The same evidence of your residency rights will be needed as before Brexit.
*(You can also submit your documentation online instead, but you will need to already have a Spanish government-issued e-signature (‘certificado digital’) linked to your NIE number, if you have one and it is working on your computer. A lawyer, gestor or anybody else with a certificado digital can also do this for you. You cannot use somebody else’s certificado digital/e-signature unless they also upload in your application a declaration called ‘Autorización de Representante’ (authorisation of representative)).
Once approved, an applicant is informed and, within a month of being informed must ask for (and then collect at a later date) their TIE in person only from their nearest approved National Police station (Policía Nacional) after making an appointment.
For full details on the new processes see the Residency section of the UK government’s Living in Spain guide by clicking here.
Read also the Spanish government’s thorough guide in English for UK nationals living in Spain covered by the Withdrawal Agreement by clicking here. (pdf document). It is recommended that you read it all. (Document also available in Spanish by clicking here).
Page 19-21 of the English version summarises the two-stage process to register as resident then apply for the TIE if you DO NOT have the (green) registration certificate/paper already.
Form EX-20 that this guide mentions can be downloaded here. Form EX-23 that this guide mentions can be downloaded here. These should be typewritten on the computer or filled in with clear, handwritten capital letters and black ink. Remember to fill them in in Spanish.
The tax/fee form 790-012 that this guidance mentions is explained in more detail here. This can only be filled in online before printing (not handwritten).
The link to make appointments in person for both parts of the process is here. Select your province. Read carefully first the UK and Spanish government’s information on the links above, as well as the information on the appointments link (in Spanish – you may need to use a web browser translator, a dictionary, ask for assitance from a Spanish speaker or seek professional guidance).
If you are entitled to register for public healthcare in Spain because you receive a UK pension, the S1 certificate you will need to show for your residency application can be obtained from the UK’s NHS Overseas Healthcare Services: +44 (0)191 218 1999. Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm, Saturday, 9am to 3pm.
On this link you can also see details of the three groups running the UK Nationals Support Fund Helplines available to those who need additional help with applying for residency at no charge. They will answer general questions from anybody, wherever they are in Spain, although more detailed and hands-on help may only be available for people in the areas they cover with particular difficulty applying, such as pensioners, disabled people, people living in remote areas or who have mobility difficulties.
On this link you can see suggestions on how to reach lawyers or ‘gestors’ (administrative agents) who may help, if required.
(Additional information: according to the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, if you live in Spain for five years and then were to go on to live outside Spain for a continuous period of five years, you would lose the acquired residency rights in Spain. Otherwise, if you have lived in Spain for less than five years and are absent from Spain for over six months in a year, this is sufficient to lose those rights except in certain, exceptional circumstances).
3. Registration and renewing on the local municipal/town hall census – the ‘padrón’
The padrón is the local census of how many people live in a municipality. This is not the same as the certificate of residence/green card/TIE card (point 2 above) although it is very important to be on the padrón to access most social services and welfare benefits. It is a legal requirement if you live in Spain. Being on the ‘padrón’ does not automatically affect your tax residency status and helps your local council receive more central government money to improve services.
To apply to be on the padrón, you need to go to your local town hall. Often a town hall has a department that can help British nationals in English. Otherwise you should go directly to the ‘Registro Público’ department to apply. Requirements might vary slightly by local council (always check first).
See full details on the process on the UK government’s Living in Spain guide here.
Two useful extra pieces of information on the padrón:
- You can still, by law, register on the padrón at the town hall but not already be registered with the green document or TIE (the documents mentioned in section 2 above). A UK passport number is sufficient as an ID number. While this does not make you a legal resident in Spain, having a padrón registration (and renewing it) can help you access some council services if in sudden need and also helps you as proof of you living in Spain for a period of time for when you legalise your residency.
- Renewing: British passport holders (and non EU foreign residents in general) if they do not have permanent resident status on their green document or TIE, (normally if they have been here less than five years), must by law renew their entry on the town hall ‘padrón’ every two years from the date they last did so. If they do not, they are liable to be deleted from the ‘padrón’ which could affect access to council benefits or local support in the future. Normally the town hall will write to you a few months before the two year period is up to advise you to go in and renew, but processes may vary from place to place. If in doubt, it is a good idea to contact your local town hall to ask. If you have permanent resident status on your green documentation or TIE, in theory you should not be asked to renew (although you could still be sent a letter every five years asking you to reconfirm your information, which you must reply to in order to stay on the padrón). Some people advise checking at the town hall if in doubt. (This is a subtly changed procedure now Britain has left the EU. EU citizens only need to reconfirm their data and not renew it).
For more details on how to register for the ‘padrón’, see UK govt. information here
If you need further assistance filling out padrón application forms, click here, for voluntary and statutory organisations that may help. (Enter your town to narrow results to your area.)
Help, if people find themselves in a vulnerable situation due to a sudden change in health or income, loss of a partner or onset of age-related conditions, is limited if they have not been on the padrón. In some cases you need to have been registered on this municipal register for a minimum period of time so it is essential to register as soon as you become resident in Spain, keep it updated if you move and above all do not wait to register for when things start to go wrong. The information is not exchanged with other authorities. While you may not need the help of social services or other organisations now, the speed of help you and your family can get in the future is significantly improved if you have registered at the town hall.