How do I become legally resident in Spain and how do I get on the town hall census (padrón)?

How do I become legally resident in Spain and how do I get on the town hall census (padrón)?

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For British citizens, this article helps explain about:

  1. Being a legal resident in Spain if you moved to live in Spain on or after 1st January 2021
  2. Being a legal resident in Spain if you were already living here before 1st January 2021
  3. The town hall census / padrón which everyone living in Spain should be registered on as well


All people from other countries who live in Spain should be legally registered with the Spanish government as residents*. Otherwise they are at risk if something happens to them, such as loss of income, worsening health or loss of a partner, as the help they can receive is more limited, as well as being at risk of possible fines and bans from entering Spain in the future.

*This is not the same as being on the local town hall census (the padrón), although being on this ‘padrón’ as well is also a legal requirement for residents.

For UK passport holders, since Britain left the European Union, this means anybody who spends more than 90 days in total in any 180-day period in Spain (or one of the other countries of the Schengen area) should take steps to make sure they are officially resident. (This link from the UK government explains more for tourists/visitors).


  1. Being a legal resident in Spain if you are British and if you moved to live in Spain on or after 1st January 2021  up

If you are wanting to move to Spain after 1st January 2021 or spend more than 90 days in any 180 days, see the UK government’s updated information on

You will require a visa issued by one of the three Spanish government consulate offices in the UK (depending on where you live in the UK) to come to settle and live in Spain which can only be applied for outside of Spain, and not once you arrive. Different types of visa depending on your circumstances are available. (Once arriving in Spain with your visa you normally then have to request the TIE residency card within a month of arrival at an applicable National Police station. The Spanish consulate can provide more information on the process).

If you have already moved to Spain this way after 1st January 2021 with a visa, do not forget to keep renewing your visa/residency (from within Spain) until you reach permanent (‘larga duración’) resident status (normally for 5 years). You do this at the Ministry of the Interior’s foreign residents office in the main town/city of the province or island where you live. Click here for these addresses. You must be continuing to meet the conditions of your visa. You must also keep your town hall census (‘padrón’) record up to date. This will help you access any social services or welfare support if needed in the future or if something unexpected happens. For possible support from professional advisors when already in Spain, click here for suggestions.


  1. Being a legal resident in Spain as a British citizen if you were already living here before 1st January 2021   up

If you were a legal resident in Spain already living here before 1st January 2021,  (when the Brexit process ended), you should have one of the two following documents in your possession to prove this and that you have rights under the UK Withdrawal Agreement from the EU. These rights make things like living, working and studying and some benefits easier than if you had moved to Spain after 1st January 2021. If you are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement you should have one of the two following:

  1. Old style document: A green A4 piece of paper or small credit-card sized piece of paper with your name on (no photo) – whether it says permamente on it or not. This is known as ‘Certificado de Registro de Cuidadano de la Unión’ (EU citizen registration certificate). 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. Photocopies or plastic-backed defaced copies are not valid.
  2. OR New-style document: a TIE photo identity card that specifically states your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. The wording that states this is the same or similar to as follows: ‘Emitido Bajo Art 18.4 Acuerdo Retirada’ (Issued under Article 18.4 of the Withdrawal Agreement) and/or Artículo 50 TUE (Article 50 EU Treaty). TIE stands for ‘Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero’ (Foreigner Identity Card).

Most people living in Spain before 1st January 2021 have now swapped their old green document to the new TIE.

Why it is a very good idea to swap the old-style document for a new-style one

This link from the Spanish government shows photos of the documents and can be used to explain to anyone who asks the difference. Both old-style or new-style documents are legally valid. This link from the British embassy is to a letter in English and Spanish that explains why the green paper/card is still valid if you do not have a TIE card.

However, it is now strongly advised that those with the old-style green document swap to the new-style TIE photo card. This is because, when travelling, at passport control in Spain new EU-wide entry computer software will not automatically recognise the green document and those residents in Spain with it will experience delays while their fingerprints and photograph are taken as if they were tourists – the EU’s Entry Exit Scheme (due to start in Autumn 2024).  Those with the newer TIE card will not need to do this. The UK government has more official explanation on this link. 

In addition, some private companies, such as banks, may now insist on the newer TIE card when opening an account etc.

Most British citizens living in Spain before 1st January 2021 have now swapped their old green document to the new TIE.

Exta Notes:

  • Neither document is officially known as a NIE. A NIE is just your personal identification number in Spain which appears on the documents. Sometimes UK residents in Spain get confused and wrongly call either of these documents their ‘NIE’. Having a NIE number does not automatically make you a legal resident. Proof of legal residency means having one of the above documents.
  • If you were living in Spain without formal residency paperwork as above before 1st January 2021, it is still possible to register for residency under the (easier) old EU conditions.  It is recommended to do it as soon as possible to prove your rights. See section 2.2 of this page, below for details.

2.1 Swapping from the older green documentation to the newer TIE plastic card.

If you still have the old-style green documentation, you do not have to swap to the new style TIE with photo and there is no deadline to do so. However it is strongly advised by the Spanish and British governments to do so as soon as possible as it will make dealing with government departments, travel in and out of Spain and other issues with paperwork much quicker. It is an easy process to swap now and details are described below.

Read  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, pages 17-19 of the English version summarise the process to swap to a TIE if you have the (green) registration certificate or green card already.

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 TIE card is plastic and longer lasting, with your photograph on, so more useful. It is also renewed easily in the future when it expires (renewal is only to update the photo, rather like renewing a passport – it does not mean you are renewing your residency rights each time you get a new card as your residency status has already been registered, providing you have continued to live in Spain correctly).

If your address or name on the green documentation has changed when you go to swap it, apply 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).

2.2 Making official your residency status if you lived in Spain before 1st January 2021 and do not hold any of the above paperwork.

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 1st January 2021 and were meeting the requirements to register at that time. Although there is no deadline to do this, if this applies to you, you should do so as soon as possible so you have documentary proof of your rights and peace of mind that you are treated as a legal resident. You are at serious risk if something goes wrong if you are not recognised as legally resident by the Spanish authorities. *

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).

Pages 20-22 of the English version summarise 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). 

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.

(NB: if you once had the green certificate mentioned in 2.1 but have lost/destroyed it, you will need to report the loss at a police station and with that police report follow the process mentioned above in 2.1 instead, providing you have been meeting all the requirements of being resident in Spain in the meantime, of course).

Extra assistance

  • If you require additional or specialist support to make official your residency status or perhaps help making an appeal/complaint (‘recurso’) to the authorities if your residency request has initially been turned down*,  on this link you can see suggestions on how to reach lawyers or ‘gestors’ (administrative agents) who may help, including possible avenues to Legal Aid, if required.

(*Using a lawyer/solicitor is generally preferable to a gestor in complicated cases and essential if your first formal appeals/complaints have failed as the final chance to appeal involves a court).

  • By clicking on the following link you can also see any suggestions in our directory of other voluntary or public organsations near you in Spain that might help explain to you or guide you over a request for residency if you have limited means or cannot do it yourself or through a lawyer/gestor. Click here. (Add in your local town when asked to filter the results correctly).   

2.3 Important extra notes

Losing Residency rights if you spend time out of Spain

Did you move to Spain before 1st January 2021 and are you a registered resident in Spain?

According to the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, if you have lived in Spain for five years (that is, you are classed as a permanent resident – ‘permanente’) and then went to live outside Spain for a continuous period of five years,  only then would you lose the acquired residency rights in Spain.

Otherwise, if you have lived in Spain for fewer than five years (i.e.  you are not counted in the system as a permanent resident yet) and stop being legally resident in Spain this is sufficient to lose residency rights (for example, having your home away from Spain for over six months in any year may be sufficient, except in certain, exceptional circumstances).

Did you move to Spain on or after 1st January 2021 with one of the new visas issued by Spanish consulates in the UK?

Those rules above do not apply to those who came to live on a visa after 1st January 2021 (after Brexit).  Spanish visa rules in this case can be less generous in terms of time you can be out of Spain without losing your residency rights and you should consult your individual Spanish visa conditions. For example, with the Non Lucrative Visa, you cannot be outside Spain for more than a total of 10 months in the first five years and no period of absence can be longer than 6 months. After five years in Spain (when you are considered a permanent resident (known differently as ‘larga duración’ on this route) and if you have met the visa conditions) the maximum time you can be outside the EU including Spain is a continuous period of 1 year.

Local differences in documents

When applying for documents mentioned in this article, it is not unusual to be asked for different things depending on the town/office you go to. 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.

TIE and NIE confusion cleared up

Some foreign residents get confused by the terms NIE and TIE and this can lead to difficulties in dealing with the authorities. The NIE is just a number. The TIE is a card.

British citizen / British national

Becoming a resident in Spain is not the same as becoming a Spanish citizen/national. This is a different, longer process, normally available to somebody who has lived in Spain for 10 years. People do not lose their British nationality/citizenship by becoming residents (temporary or permanent) of Spain.

Paying tax in Spain

According to international laws, where you count as resident for paying tax depends usually on where you live/reside and not your home nationality. But tax can be complicated and people’s circumstances vary. You should seek professional tax advice and or consult the tax authorities in your original home country and/or Spain.


  1. Registration and renewing on the local municipal/town hall census – the ‘padrón’   up

This information applies to you whether you came to live in Spain before or after Brexit ended (1st January 2021).

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) – which is your proof of the legal right to reside in Spain – but it is very important to be on the padrón as well to access most social services and welfare benefits. It is a legal requirement if you live in Spain.  Being on the ‘padrón’ 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:

  1. 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 (but you must be living in Spain and not a tourist). 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.
  2. 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), should 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. (This is a subtly changed procedure now Britain has left the EU. EU citizens only need to reconfirm their data and not renew it).

If you have permanente 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 as some town halls may vary their interpretation of these rules and for many it is still a grey area after Brexit.

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 due to your personal circumstances, 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 amount of help you and your family can get in the future is significantly improved if you have registered at the town hall.

Note: If you do not live in Spain, you should not be on the ‘padrón’, even if you own a holiday property. The padrón is only for residents. If you only travel back and forth to Spain for a holiday home and spend fewer than six months a year in total in Spain but are on the padrón, you should take steps to cancel your registration as it can cause complications with the Spanish authorities and police etc. for non-residents. It is a common mistake for car dealers to say that you need a padrón certificate to buy a car as a non-resident – you do not: proof of the address of your holiday home by other means is sufficient.

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Last Update: 15/05/2024
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