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Step by step: how to apply for Spanish nationality

There are many reasons to apply for Spanish citizenship: from getting the right to vote in elections to faster airport queues - but the process can sometimes be long and confusing. Here's a list of the requirements, and a step by step guide for the application process.

Step by step: how to apply for Spanish nationality
Here are the steps to follow if you want to apply for Spanish nationality. Photo: Spain's Foreign Ministry

There are various different ways you can apply for Spanish citizenship: by residency after living in Spain for a few years, by marrying a Spanish national, or through Spanish family members.

However, the main downside of applying for Spanish nationality and becoming a Spanish citizen is that you will need to renounce your original nationality in order to do so. If you don’t want to renounce your nationality, you can always apply for permanent residency instead, and renew it every 5 years.

READ ALSO: Seven reasons to get Spanish nationality (and four not to)

But if you want to get a Spanish passport or ID, there are different ways to do it. Below are the different requirements depending on your status, followed by a step by step guide on the application process.

Types of application

  • Citizenship by residency

The amount of time you have to wait before you apply for citizenship may vary depending on where you’re from and your family ties:

  • 10 years is the normal rule
  • 5 years if you are a refugee
  • 2 years if you are from a Latin American country, Andorra, Equatorial Guinea, Philippines or Portugal. In all of these cases, you will not need to give up your original nationality, and you will be granted dual citizenship.
  • 1 year for those married to a Spanish national or children/grandchildren of Spanish citizens born in Spain. 

Apart from living in Spain for the required amount of years, you must also make sure you meet the following requirements.

  • The year count starts from the validity of your first residence card.
  • Any time in Spain with a tourist or student visa won’t be taken into consideration, as these are considered stay periods.
  • You must have lived for the required amount of periods without interruption. This means that you can’t leave the country for long periods of time (more than 3 months), and you can’t leave too fequently either.
  • You must show good civic behaviour. Authorities will check your criminal background and police records. Things like having speeding tickets or having renewed your residence card late can work against you.
  • Citizenship by marriage

You can get citizenship by marriage if you are married to a Spanish citizen and have been a resident in Spain for 1 year. Civil partnerships or divorced couples are not valid.

Once you are married, you will be able to get a residence and work authorisation through the ‘family member of an EU’ visa.

You will need to submit your marriage certificate, which should show that the marriage is registered in Spain. So if you got married abroad, you’ll have to take this extra step.

  • Citizenship by option

Getting citizenship by option is when you get citizenship after one of your family members have already got theirs. For example, people who can benefit from citizenship by option are children of foreign citizens who were born in the Spanish territory, people over 18 years old who were adopted by Spanish nationals, or those who are or have been subjected to the custody of a Spaniard.

If you are a foreigner and your children were born in Spain, there is the possibility that they are directly considered Spanish (citizenship by presumption).

  • Citizenship by descent

Children of Spanish parents can get Spanish citizenship very easily. Until recently, grandchildren of Spanish citizens could not get Spanish nationality this way, but with the recent “Ley de nietos” (grandchildren law) has changed this.

The Application process

  • Study for and take the required exams

The application process includes two exams. You will have to take the DELE A2 language test as well as the CCSE, which tests your knowledge of Spain’s constitution, society and cultural heritage.

  • Prepare all the required documents

First of all, get your documents ready. Keep in mind that some may differ depending on the type of citizenship application:

  1. Passport and NIE number
  2. Current residence permit. 
  3. Birth certificate
  4. Criminal records. It’s important that you don’t have any criminal records, but you can get accepted if you had a minor issue.
  5. Marriage certificate (if applying for citizenship by marriage)
  6. Current census and padrón
  7. The certificates you will receive after passing the two required exams DELE A2 and CCSE
  8. If you want to give your children the possibility of getting citizenship by option, you should also include their birth certificates
  9. Proof of payment for the corresponding fee (around 100€)
  • Submit your application

Once you have all the paperwork ready, you have two ways of submitting your application. You can either submit it in person at the Civil Registry or you can do it online

  • Make your pledge of allegiance

Once it has been approved you have 6 months to get an appointment for the pledge of allegiance or jura de nacionalidad, which you can book with the Civil Registry. This is the last step in the process of obtaining nationality in Spain, in which you must swear to respect the Spanish constitution, the king, and the legal system in general. This is a formal obligatory act.

You can now also make an appointment for the oath with a notary (notario), an option that could significantly speed up the process. The vast majority of Civil Registries are very saturated, so getting an appointment can take months, especially in large cities like Madrid or Barcelona. The Spanish College of Notaries will assign you a notary on duty.

  • Get your new Spanish documents

Finally, you can go to your local police station with the documents you are given in previous steps, and get your Spanish passport and DNI.

  • Apply for a concordance certificate

You will also have to request a concordance certificate (certificado de concordancia), a document that allows you to certify that you are the same person who appears in records with your NIE number and your old passport. Depending on which region you live in, you will need to make an appointment before requesting this document at the police station. You can book an appointment here.

However, you can request this document the same day you get your DNI. If you do it later, you will have to wait 4 to 5 working days.

How long does it take to get Spanish nationality?

Getting Spanish nationality usually takes 2 to 3 years.

Once you submit your application, the Spanish government has a period of 1 year to legally submit their response. You can check the status of your application on the “cómo va lo mío” platform.

You are allowed to travel outside Spain while you wait for a resolution, but not for long periods of time. You must comply with certain requirements: you can’t lose your residence in Spain, and you need to attend the appointment to make your pledge of allegiance on time.

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Shock as Spain tells foreigners how to cancel their criminal record 

Spain's Justice Ministry has caused outrage after it sent out a tweet explaining how foreign nationals can cancel their criminal record online themselves in order to gain Spanish citizenship. 

Shock as Spain tells foreigners how to cancel their criminal record 

It may seem like a dark joke sent out by a disgruntled civil servant, but Spain’s Justice Ministry has indeed informed the country’s 6 million foreigners – including those who’ve committed crimes in the past – how to wipe their criminal history from the system.

“Criminal records can be a problem when it comes to obtaining Spanish nationality or applying for or renewing residence permits,” the ministry headed by Pilar Llop tweeted on Sunday. 

“Here we explain step by step how to request the cancellation of criminal records,” the Justice Ministry went on to say, followed by a link to a video describing the process. 

In the video posted on June 7th 2022, which has so far more than 24,000 views, a narrator goes on to explain that through the digital transformation process that the Justice Ministry is currently undergoing, it’s possible for anyone to personally and officially delete their own criminal record.

“That means that your sentence can be cancelled without you having to apply for it,” the video stressed.

This reportedly applies to both criminal records and sexual conviction records.

Logically, the tweet has caused a mix of incredulity and anger on the Spanish twittersphere, with comments such as “they’re mad”, “is it a joke?”, “God save us” or “instead of kicking foreign criminals out they’re helping them”.

The truth is that the possibility of expunging a criminal record in Spain has already existed for 27 years, as has the option of a foreigner with a criminal record being able to obtain Spanish nationality.

What has changed is the possibility of an automated system allowing citizens, Spanish nationals and foreigners alike, to carry out the expunging process online themselves, rather than having to apply for the Justice Ministry to do it for them. 

What’s also novel, many would say alarming, is that Spain’s Justice Ministry has made this public knowledge to many more people in Spain after their tweet went viral. 

Artículo 136 of Spain’s Penal Code allows people with a criminal record to cancel it once a certain period of time has elapsed and if they have not committed any other felony since the initial sentence. 

For those with minor sentences, the criminal record can be removed after six months whereas for serious crimes (5+ years in prison) the wait is ten years, higher if they’re charged with more than one crime. 

However, there doesn’t appear to be any lifetime prohibition from expunging criminal records for those who have committed the most heinous crimes, meaning that foreign rapists, murderers and paedophiles could technically cancel their criminal records if they met the aforementioned conditions and become Spanish nationals.