The real and complete answer is extremely personal and complex. Nothing is certain in today’s roller-coaster times. And changing your nationality isn’t a step to take lightly. It also takes time to obtain. However, to help you make a considered decision and to provide food for thought, Costa del Sol resident Joanna Styles outlines five reasons why it’s worth taking Spanish nationality and five why it may not be.
Five reasons FOR taking Spanish nationality:
1. You want to be a proper part of it
One of the main drawbacks of expat life is that you’re a little bit out on a limb in terms of taking a full part in life in your chosen country. There’s definitely a sort of temporary status to being an expat and one way of making this more permanent is to adopt the country’s nationality. After taking Spanish nationality and going ‘truly native’, I certainly feel more part of it, although at the same time, there are things about life here that I will never quite get or agree with. But maybe that’s because despite your new passport, deep down you’re always foreign.
An additional advantage is that you’re more justified when you complain about life in Spain. Once you’re Spanish, you have a legitimate excuse!
2. You want easier paperwork
As any expat in Spain will tell you, Spanish bureaucracy is notoriously fussy and time-consuming. While it has improved in leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades, becoming Spanish and having a Spanish ID card complete with microchip makes a huge difference. Suddenly steps like filing taxes online, finding out how your tax rebate is getting on, checking social security details, seeing how many points I’ve got on my driving licence… all can be done quickly and easily via my own PC.
I also love the size of the Spanish ID card – it’s the same size as a credit card but more durable and fits perfectly into your purse or wallet. Take Spanish nationality and you say goodbye to tatty residence permit papers and flimsy NIE cards.
3. You want easy border crossings
Only an advantage in the EU (and Switzerland) but I love travelling with just my ID card rather than a passport. Smaller and easier to carry, it also means you’re not fumbling over finding the right passport page when boarding a plane.
4. Spanish nationality is cheap and easy to renew
I wasn’t counting on this advantage when I took Spanish nationality, but it turns out to be a real plus. Spanish nationality documents (ID card and passport) need renewal every 10 years, which on paper sounds time-consuming. But all you do is book an appointment at your nearest National Police station (and the online booking service works a treat), go along at your designated time and your documents are renewed in a few minutes. And it’s cheap - €10.60 for an ID card and €26.02 for a passport (don’t you just love those extra 2 cents?).
No messing about with having to send documents away, finding someone to verify you are who you say you are and most of all, no steep renewal prices.
5. You want to vote
An inevitable part of expat life is no participation or say in who governs your adopted country. Expats often find themselves in a voting limbo – how many British expats in Spain who had been living here for more than 15 years found they weren’t allowed to vote in the Brexit referendum? And they couldn’t vote in the two general elections in Spain last year.
This voting limbo changes when you take Spanish nationality and are permitted to vote in all the elections held in Spain. There is a disadvantage to this – Spanish nationals are obliged by law to do electoral duty if they’re picked in the random draw.
Electoral duty involves spending the entire Sunday at the voting station and staying for hours afterwards while you count the votes. It’s hugely difficult to get out of as well – barring death or very advanced pregnancy, it’s compulsory unless you pay a large fine (think several thousand euros). I’ve done my bit once and I have my fingers well crossed not to be called again.
Five reasons for NOT taking Spanish nationality:
1. You don’t speak Spanish or know the culture
To obtain Spanish nationality you need to have a good level of the language and a pretty comprehensive understanding of Spanish culture. You need both of these because the process of becoming Spanish involves a formal exam with 25 multiple-choice questions on a wide range of aspects of Spanish life.
Expect to be asked about Spanish law, geography, history, institutional roles, climate and the obligations and rights of Spanish citizens. Some of these questions are challenging and obviously, they’re all in Spanish. And in true exam style, some of them are a little bit tricky (double-negatives, very similar answers etc).
2. You don’t want to renounce your own nationality
Or maybe you feel you’re not ready to give up your passport. Obtaining Spanish nationality means giving up your own nationality unless you’re a citizen from Latin American countries, Portugal, the Philippines or (strangely enough) Andorra. I believe you don’t have to hand over your old passport when you obtain your Spanish ID papers – no one asked me for my British passport – but by law, you’re not allowed double nationality.
3. You don’t like the idea of being on file
If you take Spanish nationality, you’ll have your finger prints taken – all prints go on to police records and you have your prints taken at electronic passport control. You also get a number. This is part and parcel of life in many European countries, but if you’re from a country without ID cards, this may not be for you.
4. You don’t have the patience
No one who has lived for a while in Spain will be surprised to discover that taking Spanish nationality involves plenty of paperwork and a generous dose of patience. This link gives an overview of what you need to do and provide.The procedure costs €100 so this isn’t a cheap thing either.
5. You’re not ready to be a Spaniard
Taking Spanish nationality doesn’t mean you automatically start talking loudly and quickly, keeping your children up late or living life to its absolute fullest. However, becoming Spanish does involve an element of ‘playing the part’. If you’re not prepared to jump in and become a true native, forget taking Spanish nationality.
PS I took Spanish nationality over 15 years ago. My principal reason for taking it was that I knew I was in Spain to stay. I also wanted to ‘join’ my husband and daughters who are all Spanish. I have never once regretted my decision and in the light of the Brexit results, I am very glad to have taken the step.
Joanna Styles is a freelance journalist and copywriter, based on the Costa del Sol where she arrived in 1989. She lives in Malaga, a city she is more than happy to call home. You can find out more about her work on www.joannastyles.com. Joanna is also the author of The 5 Best of Everything in Malaga, a comprehensive guide to Malaga with over 240 listings, and its sister website, Guide to Malaga.