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Eight expert tips for ensuring your Spanish citizenship application is successful

Eight expert tips for ensuring your Spanish citizenship application is successful
Photo: David Peterson/Pixabay
If you’re a foreign national who’s been a resident in Spain for ten years or you're planning on staying here long-term, there are certain things you can do to ensure your Spanish citizenship application goes smoothly. International Civil Law specialist Margaret Hauschild Rey gives The Local eight tried and tested tips for ensuring a successful application. 

Spain has the fourth most powerful passport in the world, according to a 2021 study by consultancy company Henley & Partners. 

Even though this accolade refers mainly to visa-free entry to countries around the globe, Spanish citizenship can offer plenty of other perks, especially if Spain is now your home. 

From voting in national elections, to being able to offer your spouse and children Spanish nationality more easily (if your partner isn’t Spanish), to being able to live and work freely across the EU if you’re not an EU national already – the advantages can be ample depending on your circumstances.

But achieving Spanish citizenship through residency is no easy task for foreigners living in Spain. 

It takes most extranjeros on average twice as long to be eligible for Spanish nationality through residency than in many EU countries (ten years as opposed to five).

Only countries which Spain has special agreements with can apply for citizenship after two years (Portugal, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and twelve Latin American nations: Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Colombia).

There are other obstacles too – the application process is long and arduous (it can take up to two years) and for the majority of foreign nationals it means having to give up their own nationality for them to become only Spanish. 

If you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and know you want to apply soon for Spanish citizenship, we have some very useful advice from Margaret Hauschild Rey, an immigration lawyer whose English-speaking law firm Bennet & Rey in Madrid specialises in everything from civil law to property law for its international clientele.

“Don’t spend too much time outside of Spain”

“Foreigners who are thinking of becoming residents in Spain are sometimes unaware that they can’t spend more than 6 months outside of Spain in one year without losing their temporary residency rights,” Hauschild Rey says.

Over the five-year validity period of the temporary residency card, the sum of these periods outside Spain can’t exceed one year.

Similarly, the rules for citizenship applications also include a clause on absences, which states that applicants can’t have spent more than 6 continuous months outside Spain during that 10-year period before applying for nationality. 

For the countries with a special agreement with Spain that allows them to apply for citizenship after 2 years, the limit on time outside Spain is 3 continuous months.

Previously, time spent outside Spain was added up to calculate if candidates were eligible, now it’s only the 6 continuous months outside that counts.

“Look for your birth certificate with plenty of time”

This is one of the documents Spanish authorities will ask you for to apply for citizenship and which can often be hardest to retrieve or locate. 

Some countries such as the United Kingdom allow you to order a copy of your birth certificate online if you can’t find it, but if you are planning on applying soon make sure with plenty of time that you can get a hold of it. 

Don’t forget that your birth certificate will have to be legalised and translated.

“Request a criminal record certificate from your country of origin” 

“If you are an EU national you can request it from Spain,” Hauschild Rey adds. 

If you’re a non-EU national, you will have to find out if you can order your criminal record certificate online or if you have to go to your country of origin to obtain it. 

Normally, this certificate is valid for three months, so make sure you factor this in to your plans.

Spain’s Justice Ministry has access to your antecedentes penales (criminal records) for your time as a resident in Spain. 

These tips could increase your chances of your Spanish citizenship being approved. Photo: Robert Higgins/Pixabay, WIkipedia

“All foreign public documents must be legalised or apostilled in the country of origin”

Keep in mind that marriage certificates, birth certificates and criminal record checks and any other document submitted that hasn’t been issued by a Spanish public entity must be officially legalised in your home country. 

Who is in charge of carrying out this official recognition of documents will depend on your country of origin, but it’s usually an official public body or ministry dealing with authorisations or international cooperation.

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“You will need the services of a sworn translator”

Even if you fancy yourself as a bit of a linguist who has a thorough grasp of Spanish and your home country’s language, you will need to get one of Spain’s sworn translators to do the work for you and their official stamp on the translated documents. 

It’s worth shopping around for the best prices and there’s no harm in asking translators if they have prior experience of translating citizenship application documents.

You can find more information about the thousands of traductores jurados in Spain here and here

“If you have taken Spanish language courses at a recognised centre or you have studied in Spain, you may not have to take the Instituto Cervantes exams”

The Cervantes exams are the official ones to accredit proficiency in Spanish when applying for citizenship, but you may already have another official language certificate (usually DELE) or have studied at a Spanish university or similar at some point. 

This could potentially mean you don’t have to sit the Instituto de Cervantes exam, which costs around €124. In any case, the level of Spanish proficiency they require is not high – A2 (the second lowest on a scale running from A1 up to C2 – so after ten years in Spain you should be able to ace this or aim higher.

“If you belong to a sports club or to a cultural group or anything similar, ask for a certificate to prove it”

Apart from having to prove you can speak Spanish, you will also be expected to pass a citizenship test set by the Cervantes Institute.

This CCSE test as it is called, consists of 25 multiple choice questions which must be answered within a set time limit of 45 minutes to test your knowledge of Spain’s Constitution, its society and its cultural heritage.

However, as is often the case with official matters in Spain, the documents mentioned on government pages as requirements for any sort of application are often the bare minimum, and can be bolstered with further documentation to strengthen your chances of approval.

You don’t necessarily want to overdo the extra paperwork, but recruiting a lawyer to help you with something as important as obtaining citizenship is probably the right call on this occasion, and quite honestly for most official processes in Spain. 

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“Once you submit your application for Spanish citizenship, you’ll have to be patient”

This may not seem like practical advice, but believe us when we say you may need to make “paciencia” (patience) your mantra if you’re expecting to get nationality quickly. 

Waiting times vary according to different sources, some lucky applicants get their citizenship processed in under a year whereas others wait more than five years for a resolution.

Most immigration law firms do agree it’s currently taking longer than it used to due to a backlog of applications, causing a waiting time of one to three years on average.

Spain’s Justice Ministry even launched the “Intensive Nationality Plan 2021” to address the serious delays and long waiting times, but it remains to be seen whether in fact the 300,000 applications they claim they will fastrack this year will be indeed completed.

The best thing to do is to carry on enjoying life in Spain until the day you get that highly anticipated news. 

There are a number of law firms that specialise in citizenship applications so consider enlisting their help as a way of getting the right information and updates, because unfortunately Spain’s public institutions remain fairly opaque and riddled by bureaucracy. 

This article is based on the advice of Margaret Hauschild Rey, a Madrid-based lawyer who belongs to the Madrid Bar Association and is a partner at Bennet & Rey, a law firm specialising in International Civil Law.


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