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What you need to know: The Local's A to Z Guide to bureaucracy in Spain

The Local Spain
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What you need to know: The Local's A to Z Guide to bureaucracy in Spain
Photo: Billiondigital/Depositphotos"

Got your NIEs and NIFs all in a muddle? Not sure if you are paying IVA or IRPF? In this handy guide, The Local spells out some of the key terms you'll need while living in Spain.


Starting up in a new country is difficult, and Spain is no different.

In this article, The Local looks at some of the most common terms bureaucratic terms to give you a head start.

A is for autónomos: Spain’s ‘autónomos’ are the country's self-employed workers. These workers pay typically pay high social security payments and have to submit their tax returns five times a year.

Click here to read: Freelancing in Madrid: A survivor's guide

Finding a great place to rent isn't always easy. Photo: AFP

A is also for alquilar: Alquilar is Spanish for 'to rent'.


B is bank accounts: To open a bank account (cuenta bancaria) as a foreign resident working or studying in Spain you need to be over 18 and have photo identification. If you're working, you may also need to provide proof or your occupation or employment status, including employment contracts or pay slips. For students, this could be a student card.

Banks will also ask for your foreign identification number (NIE, see below) and recent proof of your address.

C is for cita previa: Many of Spain’s government departments ask you to make a 'cita previa' or appointment before you come into the office. Even when this isn't necessary it can be a good idea as it saves time queuing. These appointments can often be made online, by telephone or in person in the relevant office.

D is for declaración de la renta: This is the yearly tax declaration. If you are a resident in Spain for tax purposes - usually someone who lives in the country for at least 183 days a year, and who earns more than €22,000 a year - you will need to complete a tax declaration. Even if you don’t earn €22,000, you may wish to lodge a tax return to claim deductions (desgravaciones).

Photo: halfpoint/Depositphotos

E is for empadronamiento: This is the process of officially registering that you live in a district, town or city with your local town hall. The empadronamiento is important for proving your address so that you can receive your government health card (tarjeta sanitaria, see below), enrol your children in local schools, buy or sell a car, or even get married.

READ MORE El Padrón: Your need-to-know guide about registering with the town hall 

F is for funcionario: These are Spain’s civil service workers. This group has a terrible reputation for being unhelpful, but bring along the correct documents and have a positive attitude and you may well be pleasantly surprised. Don’t expect Spanish government workers to speak fluent English though.

G is for gestor: Gestors are Spain’s middlemen. They provide business, tax and legal advice and run around between government departments, for a fee of course. A well-priced gestor that you trust could make all the difference in Spain.

READ ALSO: What does a ‘gestor’ do in Spain and why you’ll need one

H is for Hacienda: For all tax matters, you will need to deal with Hacienda, Spain's tax office.

H is also for homologación: This is the process of getting your foreign qualifications and results officially recognized in Spain.   

READ ALSO - ‘Homologación’: How Spain is ruining the careers of thousands of qualified foreigners 


I is for IRPF: This is the Spanish personal income tax. IRPF (Impuesto sobre la Renta de las Personas Físicas) is a progressive tax. In other words, the more you earn, the more you pay.

L is for Libro de Famila: This ‘family book’ is a family history and includes details of births, marriages and divorces. While you may find that some people still use them, the Spanish government announced that it would scrap these books in 2021 and create an online libro instead. 

N is for NIE: The NIE is your foreign identification number. You will need this document for everything from opening bank accounts to obtaining a mobile phone account to getting your salary.

You can apply for a NIE at a police station with a foreigners' department (Oficina de Extranjería) of a national Spanish police station (comisaría).

N is also for notary: Notaries are an essential part of Spain's administrative setup. These public officials can draft, witness and certify the signing of all sorts of contracts in Spain. They ensure that both parties understand the terms of a contract and that the contract is legally valid. Among the documents that can be witnessed by a notary in Spain are marital status documents, inheritance declarations, and contracts for property sales. 

P is for padrón: This is the register of inhabitants in a Spanish municipality.


R is for RETA: RETA is the scheme under which Spain’s freelance workers, or autónomos (see above), are registered.  

S is for Seguridad Social, or social security: When you start working in Spain you will need a social security number.  Your employer may organise this for you, or you may need to attend an INSS office in person. You will also need this social security number to demonstrate you are entitled to Spanish health care (see tarjeta sanitaria below) and in your dealings with Spain’s tax office, or Hacienda (see above).

T is for tarjeta sanitaria: The tarjeta sanitaria, or health care card, allows you to access Spain’s health care system. To find out more about how you should access Spain's health system visit the Healthcare in Spain website.

READ ALSO: How to apply for a public health card in Spain

T is also for traductor jurado: A traductor jurado is an official document translator. If you are asked to translate a document for the Spanish authorities, this needs to be done by one of these translators.

X/Y/Z: All Spanish foreign identification numbers (NIE, see above) start with X or Y, and, in future, Z. NIEs with the X prefix were issued before 2008. The Z series will be introduced when there are no more numbers in the Y series. 

This glossary is intended as a guide only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice.

READ ALSO: These are the 17 absolute worst things about living in Spain



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