OPINION: The cost of Spain’s lunatic bureaucratic residency process

Some people are willing to pay a lot of money to avoid having to navigate their own way through Spain's hellish maze of bureaucracy, writes Graham Keeley.

OPINION: The cost of Spain's lunatic bureaucratic residency process

In the midst of this pandemic, many people have been forced to think about changing careers.

Perhaps one job which might suit foreigners living in Spain – and which must pay well from my experience- would be setting up a business guiding other foreigners through the madness of this country’s bureaucracy.

Think about it for a moment. If you have ever negotiated your way through this hellish maze, then you will know how difficult it is.

The experience might have left you bruised and vowing never to go near a police station or government website for a very long time.

But it will probably have taught you some of ‘the knowledge’ – as London cab drivers call it – to do the job yourself.

So, imagine if you took the time to get up to speed on how the lunatic system really works, then you could be laughing.

All the way to the bank.

This flash of inspiration came to me after my own experience trying at the last minute to try to get a TIE (post-Brexit identity card for foreigners) cards for myself and my three boys back in November 2020.

I know, I know! Hands up, I should have got myself organised way before. But there was a little matter of a pandemic and that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.


As for my efforts to get the job done, I will spare you the gory details; we have all been there after all haven’t we? As we crept closer and closer to the December 31st Brexit deadline, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it.

I asked friends who had been through the experience for their advice. 

Some had used agencies so I decided to explore this for myself. To be honest, I have always had a thing against using these people;  after all with decent Spanish, we should be able to work our way through the system, shouldn’t we?

The experience was a real eye opener.

The first company I approached, which I will not name, was recommended by a friend who had been charged €150 to help sort out TIE cards for each of her two sons.

When I asked the same company, the price had gone up to €250 per person to sort out a NIE number. And that was before we got on to the TIE card.

When I questioned the price rise, I was offered a deal: pay half now, pay the rest later. So, €500 all in.

Their tone was not friendly, it was pretty aggressive.

But then another agency which I had approached came back to me explaining what they could do.


They seemed friendly and helpful but then came the bottom line.

The agency wanted €1,000 to help me get two TIE cards. But then they added that they would make me an offer and give me a discount of €50. So, that is €950 for two NIEs. Sounds reasonable? Not really.

Needless to say, I walked away and resolved to sort it out myself.

It made me think that there is a cottage industry out there which preys on foreign residents who have not mastered Spanish – or in my case simply do not have time to spend hours battling with government websites.

Now, I hear you say, hey, it is a business and they are exploiting an opportunity. And you would, of course, be right.

The real fault lies with the system itself.

So, does it need to be this complex? No, of course not.

You could probably write down on the back of a cigarette packet what you need to do to get a NIE number (I know I could before we sorted it out as it haunted my dreams).

The TIE is a bit more complex but basically you should take every piece of personal documentation you have ever owned, with photocopies, pics and bank receipts for paying for some of these forms.

And then get copies of all these forms again.

The whole craziness is perfectly illustrated by this short film which shows a woman who is applying for some innocuous piece of paper coming out victorious over the evil funcionario (civil servant).

Of course, we can laugh. We can also believe that these people take a delight in tripping us up in our attempts to get a TIE or whatever it is.

It may actually be true.

Perhaps they love seeing us slink away, defeated because we forgot to bring that photocopy of a passport or a bank statement. Who will ever know?

One thing is certain, it seems your chances of success when your turn finally comes up basically depends on who is behind the desk.

Thankfully, there are organisations such as IOM, Age in Spain and Babelia which are helping Britons to register as residents for no added cost.  A big thanks goes out to them all.

For other official matters in Spain, whether you choose to enlist the help of an expert depends on whether you’ve mastered the art of dealing with Spanish bureaucracy, which usually comes through trial and error.


Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley


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Padrón: 16 things you should know about Spain’s town hall registration

The padrón document you get when registering at your local town hall in Spain has many hidden uses and also causes plenty of doubts among foreigners who aren't sure what having this certificate entails.

The beautiful Cuenca town hall in central Spain. The padrón document you get from your local ayuntamiento has many uses. Photo: José Manuel Armengod/Flickr
The beautiful Cuenca town hall in central Spain. The padrón document you get from your local ayuntamiento has many uses. Photo: José Manuel Armengod/Flickr

1) The padrón helps your town hall get money for certain services

The padrón certificate is basically proof which shows where you are living. Your town hall – or ayuntamiento – uses it to find how many people are living in the area and what their ages are. The number of people living in each area will depend on how much money your local Town Hall will receive from the government. They can use this money for local services such as schools, health centres, parks and police officers.

2) You should register for your padrón within three months of moving to Spain

If you plan on staying in Spain for more than three months and becoming a foreign resident in Spain, you should register for your padrón within this time. You are required by law to register.

3) The registration process is the same, even if you’re a foreigner

The padrón registration process is the same for foreigners as it is for Spanish citizens. To get it, you will need to show:
• Your passport and copy
• Your NIE number
• Your TIE or other residency card and copy
• Your rental contract or title deeds of the property and copy

READ ALSO: Empadronamiento in Spain – What is it and how do I apply?

4) In certain areas, you may need to wait several months to get an appointment to register for your padrón

You need to register for your padrón at your local Town Hall, but depending on how many people live in your area and how many other people have recently moved there, you may need to wait a while. In some of the larger Spanish cities, such as Madrid and Barcelona, you will need to book an appointment to register for your padrón. Sometimes there won’t be a free slot for several months, so be prepared to wait.

5) You may need your padrón certificate in order to apply for other documents

Even though the padrón is essentially so that your Town Hall can receive a certain amount of money from the government, you will need to show your padrón certificate to apply for certain services or to get other documents. Some of the things you may need your padrón certificate for include:
• Registering at your local health centre
• Getting a Spanish driving licence
• To vote in elections (if you’re eligible)
• To apply for a local library card
• To get a pensioner’s card

6) If you are a foreign resident in Spain, you should renew your padrón every two years or every five years, depending on your situation

Even if you don’t move house, you should still renew your padrón. If you are from a country within the EU or have a long-term residence permit (10 years), you should renew it every five years. Those from countries outside the EU with a temporary residence permit (five years) should renew their padrón every two years. If you do not renew it, your Town Hall may remove you from the registry, but should inform you before doing so.

7) There is a difference between your padrón registration and your padrón certificate

As mentioned above, if you are a foreign resident in Spain, you will need to renew your padrón every two or five years, but this is different from the padrón certificate you receive when you first register. The certificate is only valid for three months, so if you need to show your certificate for any reason, you will need to ask for another one at your Town Hall, if it’s older than three months.

8) The Town Hall where you register for your padrón will also be the school district your kids are assigned to

If you have kids of school age, your children will be assigned a school district, depending on where you live and where you are registered on the padrón. You will need to show your padrón certificate when registering your kids at the local schools.

9) Your padrón doesn’t affect your residency status in Spain

Your padrón will not affect your residency status in Spain and has nothing to do with your residency permits, visas or EU green certificates. For example, if you forget to renew your padrón and your local Town Hall removes you from the padrón registry, it will not affect your ability to stay in Spain. Regardless, you should try to renew it when you need to in case you need the padrón certificate for anything. If you ever want to apply for Spanish nationality, you will need to show that you have been living in the country continuously and the padrón system may be a useful way to prove that you have lived in the country without long interruptions.  

10) If you move house, you will need to re-register

Because your padrón is associated with where you live, if you move house, you will need to re-register with a different address. Even if you’re moving within the same town or neighbourhood, under the same Town Hall, you should technically re-register so that they have your correct address.

11) If you move towns or cities you don’t need to de-register

If you are moving to a different town or city within Spain, you don’t need to go to your local Town Hall to de-register from the padrón first. All you need to do is to re-register your padrón at your new Town Hall and they will inform your previous one.

12) Your padrón can help you register at a new health clinic

In order to register at your local health centre, you will need to show your padrón certificate – the one that is valid for three months. This will show your health centre where you should be registering. For example, there could be two or more different health centres in the area of your Town Hall and your padrón will tell the local authorities which one you should register at, depending on which is the closest one to your house. If you move house, your certificate will also help you to register and a new health clinic.

13) Non-residents don’t have to register

If you are a non-resident in Spain, then you do not need to register for the padrón. This is only required if you are a full-time resident in Spain. However, many holiday homeowners with non-resident NIEs may choose to register for the padrón as it can make things easier for them to have access to certain services.

14) You are able to register for the padrón without having a permanent fixed address

If you don’t yet have a permanent fixed address, but need to register for the padrón, you can still do so. For example, if you’re living with a friend, then you will need to get a certificate or authorisation stating that you are living at that address, in order to register for your padrón. If you are living somewhere that is not fixed, for example in a caravan, then you will need to go to the social services at your Town Hall so that they can issue you with a certificate verifying where you are living.

15) The padrón can help you get big discounts on flights and ferries

If you are a resident of either the Canary Islands or the Balearic Islands, then your padrón can get you up to 70 percent discounts on transport costs such as flights and ferries. Your padrón can also get discounts on transport if you’re from a large family. If you have three or more children or are a single parent with two children, you can be considered as a ‘Familia Numerosa’ and can get discounts of between 20 and 50 percent on train and bus travel and between five and 10 percent for national flights.

16) Your padrón should not affect your tax status

In theory, there are no tax obligations which come with registering on the padrón and it doesn’t mean that you are automatically a tax resident. However, a padrón can be interpreted as proof that you live in Spain full-time in the eyes of Spanish authorities and they may judge that you should be a tax resident, which if you aren’t you will then have to prove.

Being on the padrón can also have an impact on tax exemptions. If for example you choose to move to Spain permanently and apply for residency, Spain’s Hacienda may not give you the one-year exemption on import duties for the first year to bring over belongings at a cheaper cost, as they’ll assume you’ve been in Spain since you got your padrón. This is the reason why many lawyers in Spain don’t recommend that their clients who are non-resident second home owners get a padrón