For many years, sunny Spain has been a favorite destination of expats from all over the world, mainly because of its welcoming weather, pristine coastline, breathtaking scenery, mouthwatering cuisine, and hospitable people. From fast-paced cosmopolitan cities to a laidback rural lifestyle, this European country has a lot to offer everyone in terms of living standards and cultural experiences. British students, entrepreneurs, businesspeople and retirees are therefore choosing to settle down in Spain. However, before packing your bags and hoping on to the next flight, do keep in mind that life in this country isn’t always about sunshine and sangria. There are a few aspects that need to be looked at carefully, especially now with Brexit looming over the horizon.One of the factors that made Spain so popular with British expats was the free movement agreement among all the European Union (EU) member nations, including the United Kingdom. However, even before the referendum, getting the residency paperwork and permits in place could be a bit of a nightmare. After a majority of the people in the UK voted to leave the EU, many British nationals initiated the process of moving back home. This was mainly to avoid getting entangled in Spanish bureaucracy, which is one of the biggest challenges they face as residents. In the current scenario, there is still a lot of ambiguity around the future status of British expats in Spain.
In you are not an EU national, settling down in Spain can be frustrating, as all the official procedures take a very long time to come through and can be highly complicated (especially if you are not fluent in the local language). Today, Spanish red tape represents one of the biggest challenges for expats; all foreigners are faced with this issue at some point or the other, regardless of their nationality. Lack of familiarity with the system makes things seem more illogical and complicated than they actually are.
The best way to deal with this problem is by educating yourself about the possible challenges that are likely to crop up as you try to settle in. Think of a solution and a few alternatives if possible, beforehand. Given below are some of the common challenges with bureaucracy that British expats face when they move to Spain.
Obtaining a Social Security Number
In order to enjoy the usual entitlements or benefits of a permanent resident, like healthcare, unemployment, and pension, you will need to make contributions to the government. The social security system in Spain is not very different from the UK.
Under normal circumstances, it is the employers that register their employees in the system. However, make sure that you have your Numero de Identificacion Fiscal de Extranjeros (NIE) in place beforehand. Your employer will probably deduct the required contributions from your salary and will transfer the amounts to the Social Security department. You will not be eligible for any of the Social Security benefits if you are getting paid in cash.
Entrepreneurs, freelancers and self-employed professionals have to visit their local Social Security office and complete the required paperwork. If you do not speak Spanish, hiring a translator for a day is a good idea.
To initiate the procedure, carry all your original documents, with at least two copies, to the nearest Social Security office. You will need:
– Completed Modelo TA application form (Only available in Spanish)
– Valid passport
– Foreign residence card
– Proof of residence
– Proof of income
Please bear in mind that if you would like to have your spouse and children registered for Social Security, you will have to carry their documents too. The lines are long and it could take you several hours to submit the required paperwork. Getting your Social Security number could take another 45 days.
Opening a Bank Account
Soon after you settle in you will need to set up an account in a local branch to conduct your everyday transactions. In Spain, banks are categorized as two types of institutions, Bancos and Cajas. With more than 170 financial institutions all over the country, you should find a few that meet your requirements. A Banco is a public limited or a privately-owned entity, commonly found in the form of a national chain. A Caja on the other hand, has more of a local touch with emphasis on integrity, ethics and trust, taking on a more social approach towards their clients. Cajas are owned by the state and while some of them may have only a few branches in the region, others have a wider reach.
The banks that are most commonly used by expats are Banco Mediolanum, ING Direct, and Evo Banco. You will also find many international banks in Spain. However, while they share the same name as a bank in the UK or the US, their operating model may be completely different from what you are used to. These include: Barclays Bank PLC, Citibank Espana, and HSBC. The type of account you can open will depend on a few factors, including your visa status.
To open an account, you will have to go to the bank in person and complete all the formalities. Brush up on your Spanish or take along a person who is fluent in the language and can help translate things for you. Make sure that you carry all the relevant documents, such as:
– Valid passport
– Address Proof
– Foreign residence card
– Income proof
– Municipal registration or Empadronamiento
It is a good idea to shop around a bit, before choosing the banks that you would like to have your accounts in.
Getting a Foreigners’ Registration Number
Anyone who plans to spend more than 3 months in Spain is legally required to obtain a Foreigners’ Registration Number, more commonly referred to as the NIE (Numero de Identificacion Fiscal de Extranjeros). Most people confuse this with their residency visa but the two are completely different. The NIE is an all-purpose tax and identification number, which the Spanish government uses to declare you a resident. Without this the authorities will not be able to process or assess your annual tax payments. You will need to register and get a government certificate with your NIE number if you are a foreigner who is:
– Planning to become a resident for tax purposes
– About to purchase property in the country
– Interested in working or starting a business
There are three ways in which you can apply for the NIE: in person, via the Spanish Consulate overseas (in your home country) or through a representative in Spain. Regardless of which method you choose, the procedure is quite complicated and there is a lot of paperwork involved. On the plus side, the number should come through within a few days. You could authorize someone else to collect the certificate on your behalf. To know more about the steps and timelines for each of the processes, log on to Spanish Property Insight or Sidsnet.
In the past, an NIE certificate was issued with a 3-month validity. Fortunately, this policy went through a change in 2016 and the numbers are therefore valid for an indefinite period of time. Unfortunately, you may sometimes find that notaries refuse to accept a certificate which is older than 3 months. This may pose a challenge when you are trying to buy property or make any other form of investment. Unfortunately, there is no workaround for this yet, as the issue is only created by poorly understood regulations.
Registering with the Padron
A Padron can be described as a list of people living in a town. It is mandatory for all the residents of this country to add themselves to their local Padron. If you are paying taxes or are planning to get a medical card, it is necessary for you to inform your local council about your new place of residence and get a Certificado de Empadronamiento. Similarly, when you get your residency permit renewed, you will be asked for your updated Padron certificate. You will need this for voting, purchasing or selling a car, getting married, or even registering your child in school.
Fortunately, the registration procedure is quite easy and can be completed in a day. To initiate the process, make an appointment with your nearest office. The documents you will need to submit include:
– A filled in form
– Passport or another form of official identification
– NIE certificate / residence card
– Address proof (house deed or rent agreement)
– Recent utility bill (in your name)
If you are registering your entire family with the council, make sure that you submit identification for each individual.
Registering with the Padron isn’t just a legal requirement, it offers you a number of additional benefits too, like access to social care after a certain period of time, possible reduction in a number of taxes and charges, and discounts on events that have been organized by the Town Hall. You also get voting rights in the local and European elections.
As a British expat, you will be required to renew your registration every two years, unless you have permanent residency.
Using the Public Healthcare System
State-run healthcare in Spain is of a high quality and can save you a considerable amount of money, since it is available at subsidized rates to all legal residents. To use the system, you will have to sign up with the local medical center in your area and obtain a Medical Card or a Tarjeta Sanitaria. For this, you will need your passport, NIE, Social Security Number and the Certificado de Empadronamiento. Compared to most other bureaucratic procedures, getting registered for public medical care is relatively easy.
The challenges mentioned above are just some of the most common ones that expats have been through, but unfortunately the list does not end here. Be prepared to face a similar problem when you are trying to purchase a house, sort out your property tax, apply for basic utilities (water or electricity), and get a driver’s license.
The whole experience of dealing with officials in Spain is completely different from the way things work in Britain.
First of all, be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting everywhere you go since nothing is straightforward. When you are visiting a government office, expect to spend the whole working day there.
Also, before losing your cool at the person who appears to be deliberately being difficult, keep in mind that you are not dealing with the decision-makers. If you can’t seem to get anywhere with one person, leave and return after a while, when there is someone else at the desk. Remember that a lot of officials aren’t aware of recent changes in the laws and regulations. If possible, carry some kind of proof to stand your ground, without putting any of them down. Never, under any circumstances, try to bribe them in any way. Threatening to escalate the issue will only make matters worse.
Finally, don’t expect anyone to keep you informed about the progress of various processes. Keep checking the status yourself at regular intervals.
Have you lived in Spain? Share your experience in the comments!