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VISAS

How long do Spain’s main visas and residency processes take?

Whether it's applying for the NLV, family reunification or golden visa, or getting residency and padrón documents once you're in Spain, processing times for non-EU nationals tend to involve a lot of waiting. Here's how long each official process usually takes.

How long do Spain's main visas and residency processes take?
Waiting for a Spanish visa or residency document can sometimes feel like being trapped in limbo, but at least most processes end up in a favourable outcome. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Spain is well known for its complicated bureaucratic processes and long waiting times for official documents, but how long do the visas and residency documents actually take to be processed?

The first skill that you’ll need is patience. Processing times for visas can take a while, but on top of that, once you are granted a visa and arrive in the country, there will be further waiting times to apply for all your official documents such as a residency card or padrón town hall registration.

This applies to non-EU nationals in particular, as getting a visa and then a residency card are two different processes.

Here’s how long processing times are on average for these visas and residency documents in Spain. 

Non-lucrative visa

The non-lucrative visa, or NLV as it is often referred to, is an authorisation that allows non-EU foreigners to live in Spain without working or carrying out economic activities, by demonstrating that they have sufficient financial means for themselves and, if applicable, their families.

In theory, it takes one month for your non-lucrative visa to processed. According to article 48.4 of the Immigration Regulations,the Government Delegation or Subdelegation must decide within a maximum period of 1 month from receipt of the request”.

In reality, however, it can take between six and 11 weeks to get your visa from the US and around two months if you’re applying from the UK. The waiting time is being increased not just due to processing but also because of the difficulty in getting appointments, adding a further few weeks onto the process. You’ll find this to be a recurring theme on your journey of moving to Spain.

READ ALSO: How long does it take to get a non-lucrative visa for Spain?

Golden visa

Spain’s golden visa, sometimes referred to as an investor visa, allows non-EU citizens the right to live in Spain if they meet several requirements. These include buying a property worth over €500,000, investing €1 million in a Spanish company or having €1 million in a Spanish bank account.

If you’re going down the property route, then it can take at least two to three months in order to sort out buying the property and the processes involved with that. Afterward, it will take a further 20 days for your Golden Visa to be processed.

READ ALSO – Pros and cons: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Family reunification visa

If you’re a non-EU citizen living in Spain and have a residency permit, such as a TIE card, then you can bring family members to live with you via the Family Reunification Visa. However, you must remember that you can only do this after one year of legally living in Spain and have authorisation to stay for another year.

This allows for your spouse, unmarried children under 18 or any dependent children over 18 years old to come and live with you. 

As a general guideline, the process takes around six months to complete. But keep in mind it could take longer, depending on when appointments are available and your individual circumstances.

You should get a response approving or denying your application within three months. After that, you will need to wait a few more months for the visa to be processed.

READ ALSO: How can non-EU nationals bring family members to live in Spain?

Residence card for a family member of an EU citizen

Known as the tarjeta de residencia de familiar comunitario (considered another type of TIE card), this is a residence card for a non-EU family member of an EU citizen and allows them to go and live with their relative in the EU. It’s for spouses, unmarried partners who have been together a while (you need to prove this), dependent children, dependent parents, other relatives who are financially dependent on you.

The card must be applied for during the first three months of your relative arriving in Spain for them to able to continue living here. The Spanish authorities should make their decision to issue your family member with a residency card within three months, but as so often happens holdups caused by a lack of staff and the volume of applications at certain migration offices can result in longer waiting times.

READ ALSO – Q&A: Can EU nationals bring non-EU family members over to Spain?

Expect it to take six months or in some cases longer to get all your Spanish visa and residency paperwork sorted. Photo: Steve DiMatteo / Pixabay

Once you arrive in Spain there are more official processes to do

You typically have 90 days from the issue of your visa to travel to Spain.

Once you arrive in Spain though, it doesn’t mean that all those bureaucratic processes and waiting times are over. In fact, they’re only just getting started. As soon as you arrive in the country you will need to think about getting your residency card, as your visa won’t be much use on its own, without one.

Residency card

If you’re from outside the EU, this will be known as the TIE card (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero) or foreign identity card in English. You will need to apply for this within 30 days of arriving in the country.

Officially it takes around 20-40 days after your application to process it, but the main problem is getting an appointment (cita previa) to apply for it in the first place. This means that you should really start trying to get your appointment as soon as possible.

The length of time trying will depend on what times of day you go online and your location within Spain. It’s typically more difficult in big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, where they are more foreigners trying to apply.

Once your card is ready, you will need to apply for another appointment to go and pick it up, this could take a further month, depending on appointment availability.

Register on the padrón

Before you even apply for your TIE card though you will need to register on the padrón. This is essentially a document that proves your address and adds you to the census of the area where you live. Once processed you will receive a padrón certificate, which you’ll need for many different official processes, including applying for your TIE.

READ ALSO: 16 things you should know about Spain’s ‘padrón’ town hall registration

Again, you’ll need a cita previa or prior appointment to go to the town hall and apply for your certificate. You could be waiting weeks or in severe circumstances even months to get your appointment to apply, so make sure to apply straight away when you arrive, providing you have your permanent accommodation already, as you’ll need your rental contract or deeds of the property in order to get it. 

Typically, most town halls state on their websites that the maximum amount of time it takes to receive your certificate is three months from the date you apply for it.

And you’re beginning to see just what a headache Spanish bureaucracy can be. You need your padrón to be able to get your TIE and you need to do that within 30 days of arrival, but you may not even be able to get that in time. 

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

Our advice to start applying for appointments as soon as you arrive in Spain and make sure you have all your documents with you the first time you apply for anything. Be as organised as possible and take evidence that you’ve applied for appointments with you.

If you’re really stuck, there are several official agencies in the big cities that can help you with these processes for a fee. They are also usually able to appointments sooner, as they have blocks booked out. 

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For members

WORKING IN SPAIN

Which startups succeed in Spain (and which ones fail)?

Foreigners thinking of setting up a startup in Spain should keep in mind that one in five new companies here doesn't last longer than 12 months. Here's what the data available says about the businesses that find success and those that don't.

Which startups succeed in Spain (and which ones fail)?

There are various interpretations about the differences between a startup and a company but, broadly speaking, a startup is a company in its early stages that’s looking for an attractive and innovative business model, whereas a company already has a pre-existing business model and is focused on executing it successfully.

According to a study by the Spanish Tech Ecosystem, Spain has 10,500 startups and more than 300 scaleups, innovative and more established companies that are already growing.

The introduction of Spain’s new Startups Law in early 2023 promises to make the country far more attractive for foreign entrepreneurs, investors and digital nomads.

READ MORE: Spain’s new law for startups and digital nomads – 15 things you need to know

But the road to success isn’t just guaranteed by less bureaucracy, tax cuts and special visas.

Twenty-three percent of new companies set up in Spain don’t survive past a year, according to the country’s National Statistics Institute (INE). 

Of those that do make it past the first 12 months, 45 percent are not in business after five years. 

When it comes to startups specifically, nine out ten startups don’t make it past the three-year mark, according to the Map of Entrepreneurship drafted by Spain Startups, but they do grow at faster rates than SMEs. 

Although these figures may not seem very promising for anyone considering setting up shop in Spain, the Iberian nation isn’t last on the list when it comes to the longevity of startups in the EU.

Lithuania, Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Malta and Portugal all have lower rates of success than Spain, according to Eurostat data. 

Spain also lost 311,000 SMEs in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, so authorities are now keen to breathe new life into all types of sectors with foreign talent drawn in by the new startups legislation. 

Spain is also the fifth country with the most so-called ‘unicorns’ companies with a market value above €1 billion.

READ ALSO: What do the experts think of Spain’ new startups law?

Which startups and companies find the most success in Spain?

Insurance companies, reinsurance groups and pension funds are those with the companies with the highest survival rate, as 82.6 percent are still operational in Spain five years after their creation, INE data reveals. 

They’re followed by new companies involved in the supply of electricity, gas and air conditioning (80 percent survival) and those in the tobacco industry (75 percent).

Companies that offer financial services, assistance in residential matters, legal and accounting companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and those that deal with the extraction of metals and minerals also have a good life expectancy in Spain.

That’s not to say that if you have a business idea in a different sector or that your startup is completely innovative you should get discouraged. 

According to industry specialists Meetwork, among the 50 biggest growing startups in Spain in 2022 are a travel management company, a copyright protection business, a language app for kids, a digital platform for freight transport, a vegetable-based meat manufacturer and other businesses from a wide variety of sectors.

The same applies to most highly valued startups in recent years in Spain; many are companies focused on innovation or the improvement of pre-existing ideas.

Self-employment and entrepreneurship website autonomosyemprendedor.es reported that the ten Spanish startups which have found the most success in Spain and abroad are Brooklyn Fitboxing International (gyms), Freepik (image downloads), Bigbuy (dropshipping), El Tenedor (restaurant bookings), Heura Foods (vegan food), eDreams (flight and holiday bookings), Clicars (online vehicle sales), Mr. Wonderful (an ‘online store for happy products’), Cabify (e-hailing) and Glovo (food delivery). 

And it’s not as if a startup that’s set up in Spain should necessarily have to cater to a Spain-specific market – fintech, tourism, logistics, mobility, cybersecurity, education, foodtech, energy, cryptocurrencies, gaming, employment, retail or health are all sectors with signs of growth potential in Spain and around the world.

Which companies and startups find less success in Spain?

According to INE, among the companies that struggle to survive past the five-year mark in Spain are leather and shoe manufacturers (20 percent success rate), maritime industry businesses (29.8 percent success rate) clothing companies (33.2 percent) and entertainment and artistic businesses (33.7 percent). 

Civil engineering companies are the ones that struggle the most to make it past the first year (30.2 percent survival rate), followed by those involved in arts and entertainment.  

The life expectancy of new companies in Spain has worsened since the pandemic, according to the latest report by Spanish business database Iberinform, who wrote: “The critical moment for any business project usually occurs after the third year, since the initial injection of capital allows the vast majority to complete the first 24 months of life without problems.”

Interestingly, during the pandemic, the sectors which saw the biggest increase in earnings in Spain but also the most businesses closing down were hospitality and retail, which together with tourism are the pillars of Spain’s service-based economy.

Iberinform’s general director Ignacio Jiménez told El Mundo newspaper that “the incomplete and uneven recovery that we are going through, marked by new challenges such as price escalations and supply problems” directly affect business survival in Spain.

“Companies, especially SMEs, which have less capacity to transfer these cost increases to prices are suffering a reduction in margins and loss of profitability,” Spain’s confederation of SMEs reported. 

READ ALSO: What will Spain’s income requirement for the new digital nomad visa be?

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