'The queuing is ridiculous': What Spanish bureaucracy is really like

The Local Spain
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'The queuing is ridiculous': What Spanish bureaucracy is really like
Photos: AFP

No-one knows more about the issues with paperwork in Spain than our readers. Here's what they had to say about Spain’s ill-reputed red tape and some tips for those knee deep in files.


Cita previa: the two words in the Spanish language with the greatest ability to turn your day upside down. 

Maybe we’re exaggerating a little, but if you are familiar with this expression (scheduled appointment in Spanish), you’re probably used to dealing with Spain’s public institutions and the often draining paperwork, queuing and gatekeeping that comes with it.

We asked our readers with experience of dealing with Spanish red tape to spill the beans and tell us what’s good, bad and ugly about the system.

Here are your answers and advice.

Is Spanish bureaucracy really THAT bad and why?

The general consensus among respondents was a “yes, but...” answer.

There are those who refer to it as flat-out “remarkably annoying”, others called it “not terrible” and the more pragmatic said “it gets better”.

But overall our readers do think Spanish bureaucracy leaves a lot to be desired.

Brian Wall from Malaga says that “there appears to be no accountability from the lowest clerk to their manager, from his manager to his supervisor and so on up through the chain.”

“They need to review so many issues that could be done much simpler,” argues Karen Williams. “All the queuing for numbers at offices early morning is quite ridiculous”.

Long waiting times and seemingly long-winded and illogical procedures are a recurring complaint among our commentators.

“Turned my car from another EU country into a Spain-registered vehicle, it took 9 months,” writes Wayne Campbell.

“Administration(s) didn’t hand over all the necessary documents, or gave wrong or partial information, or there was data missing on official documentation and so on.”


It’s worth noting that many bureaucratic processes can now be done online in Spain to avoid queuing and booking appointments, but the face-to-face system is still not as standardized as one might hope for.

Several readers commented on how things seem to be done differently depending on what city or region of Spain you’re in, what office you’re visiting or even which civil servants are working that day.

Maybe the luck of the draw plays a bigger part than we all think.

What are the most annoying experiences you’ve had with Spanish red tape?

In order to get a new proof of address, I had to travel to my old town at the crack of dawn to get it from the town hall there because seemingly the internet doesn't exist and the town hall here couldn’t get it for me,” Spain resident Adam Miller recalled.

“We were lucky to get someone who got us the certificate there and then after pleading with them, otherwise we would have had to repeat the trip two days later.”

Paul Giblin, who lives in Madrid, remembers “being told I needed a new residency permit to register as self-employed at Hacienda and then being told I needed the self-employment registration to get a new residency permit.Kafkaesque to say the least!”.

But other readers argue that “it’s all relative”, and that compared to other countries such as the US and France, public service delivery in Spain is not only better but friendlier.

However, the protagonist of this hilarious video on Spanish bureaucracy might argue otherwise. 

What tips would you offer anyone who’s new to Spanish bureaucracy?

If you’ve moved to Spain, you know already that dealing with red tape is a given, so maybe it’s a case of just learning how to handle it better.

Many of readers speak of the importance of “learning Spanish” to avoid misunderstandings. That may seem like an obvious tip, but for those who aren’t fluent, here is a glossary/guide to the most useful Spanish red tape words.

Another handy piece of advice is to stay informed, as Galicia resident José Añon suggests: “If you know a Spanish local/resident that can help you with paper work, it would help you out quite a lot.”

The safest bet to get the job done, especially for procedures that require a lot of paperwork, is to enlist the help of a gestor (an administrative advisor).

Several of our readers recommended hiring these kind of professionals to get round the queuing, delays and ‘lost on red tape Spanish translation’ moments.

Some of the most reasonably priced gestorías (administration offices) are startups that work online, with monthly service fees around the €50 mark.

They usually get you to forward them the paperwork they need and offer you an online profile from which to manage and view your affairs more easily.

Some may offer their online services in English as well, but if you would rather meet face to face with a gestor, it’s worth googling “gestoría English” and your city or town in Spain to see what you get.

To finish off the lowdown on Spanish bureaucracy, Robert Cripps from Galicia proposes being “patient, friendly, don’t forget to smile and take every possible piece of paper, even if you don't think you'll need it.

“And be thankful you're not in France.”

SEE ALSO: The Local's A to Z guide to bureaucracy in Spain 



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[email protected] 2020/12/11 10:53
The difficulty of the Spanish system is that the instructions for procedures are not clear. Different provinces can have different requirements for the same application and the government informativon “lists” of requirements can differ depending on where you find them online and also different from the sheets in government offices. Then there is the issue of where to even go to find out what you need to do. My Spanish teacher told me it is NOT my Spanish that is making these processes difficult. It is difficult and confusing for everyone. Now you need an appointment just to ask a question and it takes at least a month to get a reply to an email (which may or may not have a helpful answer) if you get an answer at all. Even the digital certificate system, seemingly easier can be difficult to navigate at first. The certificate is not available for minors and the clave is only available if minors (including babies) have their own mobile number that accepts texts!!

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