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SPANISH CITIZENSHIP

How long are waiting times for the Spanish citizenship process?

What are the average waiting times for Spanish citizenship applications to be processed in 2022 and how many years overall does it take for foreigners to get Spanish nationality through residency?

How long does the Spanish citizenship process take?
As is often the case with official processes in Spain, the time a citizenship application should theoretically take to be processed takes much longer in practice. Photo: Astrid Schmid/Pixabay

So you’re considering becoming a Spanish citizen, but before you embark on this bureaucratic mission, you’d like to know how long you have to live in Spain before you can apply, and how long you will have to wait for the application to be processed.

There are several different ways you can apply for Spanish citizenship by residency, but the amount of time you have to wait before you apply for Spanish citizenship may vary depending on where you’re from and other circumstances.

The legal continuous residency requirements for Spanish Spanish citizenship are:

  • 10 years as the general rule
  • 5 years of if you are a refugee
  • 2 years if you are from a Spanish or Portuguese-speaking Latin American country, Andorra, Equatorial Guinea, Philippines or Portugal.
  • 1 year for those married to a Spanish national or children/grandchildren of Spanish citizens born in Spain. 

For more details on the requirements and how to apply for Spanish citizenship as well as other related citizenship articles, the following links will help. But in this article we will continue to focus on the ‘how long’ question. 

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How long does the Spanish citizenship process take?

As so often happens with official matters, there is no exact answer. Or rather, the difference between what processes should take in theory and how long they really take in practice is different. 

For citizenship applications submitted online, Spain’s Justice Ministry should give a response within a year, according to a 2015 Spanish law

In reality, waiting times for Spanish citizenship applications in recent years are reportedly between one and three years. 

This is according to a number of legal firms in Spain specialising on Spanish citizenship applications, from Balcells Group, to Parainmigrantes.info and Legalteam. 

In 2021, almost 140,000 Spanish citizenship applications were submitted, and in 2020 the total was just under 88,000. 

The huge number of applications is given as the main reason why the waiting periods for Spanish citizenship are so long, although it’s well reported that most Spanish departments struggle to meet official processing times, from foreign qualification recognition to driving licences. 

As of September 2022, there were 350,000 pending Spanish citizenship applications.

The Spanish government has hired an extra 295 civil servants to help resolve the bottleneck and has introduced an app to automate the stages in the application process that aren’t decisive and don’t need to be checked by a person.

This comes preceded by ‘action plans’ launched by Spain’s Ministry of Justice in 2019 and 2021 which also saw extra funcionarios (civil servants) hired to unclog the system.

Have any of these measures helped to reduce waiting times and fast-track the application process in 2022?

The 2021 ‘action plan’ saw almost 164,000 favourable citizenship applications completed partly thanks to the 166 extra workers added to the team. 

2022’s measures have helped to resolve 30,000 pending applications in the month of August alone, but this still only represents 10 percent of a total that keeps growing.  

According to Parainmigrantes.info, there were a number of citizenship applications in 2019 that took only a few months rather than a few years to be processed because of the ‘action plan’ implemented that year.

“It is technically feasible for it to happen again but I don’t think this will be the theme in 2022/2023, and it will only be very few isolated cases if at all,” the firm’s lead lawyer Vicente Marín said in early 2022. 

“In 2020/2021, very few citizenship files were resolved in less than a year, most took a year to a year and a half”.

Spanish law firm Bufete Neila estimates it is taking a bit longer in 2022, from a year and a half to two years.

Legalteam also estimates one to two years in 2022 and Balcells has stuck to its wider bracket of between one and three years, which although less optimistic may well factor in that some applications are taking longer than two years to process.

The citizenship approval process goes through different stages, some take longer than others, with the obligatory study (informes preceptivos) estimated to last three to seven months and the under review stage (en estudio o en calificación) approximately taking three to six months.

All in all, it does seem that the extra personnel hired by Spain’s Ministry of Justice is helping to speed up the process somewhat, although it seems counterproductive that these ‘action plans’ are only temporary and that more civil servants aren’t hired on a permanent basis.

If it’s any consolation, the waiting time in other European countries such as Germany and France can be just as long – two years – but at least in those countries foreigners can apply for citizenship after five years of residency. 

In reality, a foreigner who wants to get Spanish nationality can expect to have to live continuously in Spain (short spells outside the country are permitted) for 12 or 13 years before they finally get their hands on a Spanish passport and Spanish ID.

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SPANISH CITIZENSHIP

How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Spain

Spain is one of the European countries where getting citizenship through residency can take the longest - 12 to 13 years if you factor in processing times - but there are several ways in which the wait can be reduced enormously. 

How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Spain

The general rule is that if you want to apply for Spanish citizenship, you will have to reside legally in Spain without long absences for ten years. 

There are other requirements to apply, including a Spanish language exam and a general knowledge test about Spain, as well as not having a criminal record.

Then there’s the long and arduous waiting time for your application to be processed.

Overall, it can end up taking 12 to 13 years for you to finally get your hands on a Spanish passport and ID. 

That’s a very long wait for most people, especially if they want to consolidate their right to live in Spain now and in the future.

However, there are a number of cases in which the wait to get citizenship through residency can be up to four times shorter, even when factoring in the long processing times in Spain.

Being married to a Spanish national – one year to apply

You should obviously be getting married for love, but one of the fastest ways to get Spanish citizenship is by being married to a Spanish national. In this case, you will only be required to reside legally in Spain with your Spanish spouse (in the same home that is) for one year. 

A common-law partnership isn’t accepted for this fast-track citizenship application, and again we must stress that ‘green card’ marriages just for the sake of getting nationality are not at all recommendable, as the citizenship application will include an interview in which you will be quizzed at length about your relationship. 

A widow or widower can also claim Spanish nationality if their partner was Spanish and at the time of their passing they were still married.

Having the right nationality – two years to apply

None of us get to choose which nationality we initially have, but life’s circumstances may mean that you’re in a better position to apply for Spanish nationality faster. 

Nationals from Ibero-American countries where Spanish or Portuguese is spoken (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela), as well as nationals of the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Andorra or Portugal, can apply for Spanish nationality after legally residing in Spain for two years. 

It could be that you’re originally from one of these countries, that you have blood ties in one of them which therefore allows you to claim citizenship there, that you’ve resided long enough in one of those countries to be able to claim citizenship etc. It will all depend on your circumstances and the citizenship laws of said nations, but know that having a passport from one of these countries with historical and linguistic ties to Spain is a way to shorten the residency period before the citizenship application.

There are a couple of other cases to mention – people with Sephardic Jewish ancestry can also apply for Spanish citizenship after two years. Refugees can also do so after five years of residency in Spain.

Being married to the person with the right nationality – three to four years to apply

On a similar note to the section above, if you are married to a person from an Ibero-American country, Philippines, Andorra, Equatorial Guinea or Portugal, you will be able to apply for Spanish citizenship a year after they gained Spanish citizenship themselves. This again depends on both of you legally residing in Spain for the relevant time periods according to Spanish law.

Although you have to factor in that the Spanish citizenship application process takes between one and three years according to most sources (which means that before you apply you would have to wait for three to five years for your spouse to become a Spanish national) it still cuts the waiting period for most nationals by more than half.

Being born in Spain – one year to apply

If you were born in Spain to foreign parents, you can apply for Spanish nationality after one year of legal residency in Spain. 

This can happen at any point in your life, so even if you were born in Spain but your parents then left to go back to their home country or elsewhere, you can move to Spain for a year as an adult and apply for Spanish nationality (you will still need to prove legal residency). 

Generally speaking, a child that is born in Spain to foreign parents doesn’t automatically get Spanish citizenship, but there are 14 countries which don’t automatically give nationality to the children of their nationals who are born abroad.

These are Argentina, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guinea-Bissau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe as well as Uruguay. If both parents are from one of these countries, Spain will automatically give nationality by presumption to the child in order for them to not be stateless.

Having Spanish blood ties – one year to apply

If one or both or your parents in Spanish, or one of your parents was born in Spain, you can apply for Spanish citizenship after one year of legal residency in Spain. 

If one of your grandparents was Spanish, then their son or daughter (your father or mother) can apply for Spanish citizenship and pass it down to you. 

The same rules apply to people adopted by those with Spanish nationality or close Spanish blood ties.

There have also been some recent legal changes which allow the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Spanish nationals to directly get Spanish citizenship from their elderly relatives, but this can only be in specific cases such as if they’re the grandchild/daughter of a Spanish woman who married a foreigner before 1978, or the grandchildren of Spanish nationals who renounced their Spanish citizenship.

Naturalisation letter – potentially zero years to apply

La Carta de Naturaleza, as it is called in Spanish, allows foreign nationals who have done something “exceptional” for Spain to become Spanish citizens immediately, with the waiting times that all other applicants have to endure also non-existent.

Some famous names to have been ‘awarded’ express Spanish nationality include British pianist James Rhodes and FC Barcelona footballers Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati. 

The naturalisation letter is controversial and considered unfair by those who have to wait over a decade to get Spanish citizenship, and with good reason. Take the latest example of truly fast-tracked Spanish citizenship: US basketball player Lorenzo Brown, who having never lived in Spain, was granted Spanish citizenship immediately just so he could play for the national team.

This fast-track Spanish citizenship option should not be considered unless you have friends in high places in the Spanish government, as it is awarded by Royal Decree by Spain’s Council of Ministers. 

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