With such a rich culture, history, and landscape, Spain is likely on most expat shortlists of European countries to live abroad in. As with most romanticized visions of sipping wine in Barcelona or eating tapas in Madrid, there is the reality of legality that every potential expat must address in order to see their dream realized. Fortunately, there are many residency options for those looking to live abroad in Spain – or even get a Spanish passport!
Who Needs Documentation?
In order to travel to Spain, you’ll need some kind of legal document that is dependent on your intended length of stay. For citizens within countries of the European Union or European Economic Area (the addition of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), no further documentation is needed beyond your passport to live, work, or retire in Spain indefinitely.
For everyone else, some action must be taken. The quickest way into Spain is through a Short-Stay Visa (visado do corta duracion), also known as a travel visa. This allows foreign nationals from outside the EU to visit Spain, without working in the country, for up to 90 days within a 180-day span. For those with U.S., Australian, Canadian, or New Zealand citizenship, this is received automatically upon arrival in Spain. No paperwork is needed, just a stamp in the passport at the airport. This can legally be renewed at immigration offices in Spain for another 90-day period, but anything longer than that will require a long-stay visa – in which you’ll have to return to your home country to apply for.
The Long-Stay Visa in Spain (visado nacionale) allows expats to work, retire, study, or live for a duration longer than the travel visa. Contact your local Spanish embassy or consulate for the appropriate application forms and required documents. These long-stay visas grant temporary residency in Spain and can be broken up into a few categories.
Residence and Work Visa (visado de trabajo y residencia): This visa allows you to live and work in Spain. It is intended for those who wish to relocate to Spain in order to work for a business located within the country. Good for duration of employment.
Residence Visa (visado residencia): Similar to the Residence and Work Visa, this documentation allows you to live long-term in Spain but does not allow you to work. Common among retirees. Must show at least € 27,600 of funds in savings.
Student Visa (visado de estudios): The student visa in Spain allows you to reside in the country for the entire duration of your education at an approved institution.
Family Reunification Visa: Anyone who has legally lived in Spain for one year under a certain form of residency, and has successfully renewed their visa for a second year, can apply for a spouse, parent over 65, or dependent child under 18 to join them for the length of their stay in the country. Visiting family cannot work or study under this visa.
Investment “Golden” Visa: Foreigners who purchase property in Spain with a minimum value of € 500,000 can receive fast-tracked residency for themselves and their spouse and dependents. There are no minimum stay requirements in Spain to maintain the residency.
Expats will need to apply for a Foreigner’s Identity Number (Número de Identificación de Extranjero), or NIE, after receiving their desired form of long-stay visa. This will allow you to open a bank account, receive payment from an employer, pay taxes, get a driver’s license, and register with social services.
After five years of maintaining temporary residency through one of the methods above, expats living in Spain can apply for permanent residency. This allows you all the working and living rights of Spanish citizens, for an indefinite period of time with no stay requirements in the country. For expats to maintain their temporary residencies, they must spend at least six months in Spain per year.
In order to qualify for permanent residency in Spain, expats must show that they have enough financial resources (pension, salary, scholarship, etc.) to provide for themselves and any dependents.
Required documents include:
- A valid passport, extra passport photos
- Completed application form
- Proof of legal and long-term residence in Spain
- A clean criminal record issued
- Proof of either public or private healthcare within Spain
- Marriage or divorce certificate (if applicable)
- Bank statements
- Employment contract or proof of university enrolment
Note: For documents to be valid in Spain, they will have to be translated into Spanish and legally certified. This can be done through your home country’s embassy or consulate, or by a translator in Spain certified by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.
Path to Citizenship
After ten years of permanent residency in Spain, expats can apply for Spanish citizenship. They will have to prove that they have a clean criminal record, can communicate with a sufficient grasp of the Spanish language, and have integrated into the community by participating in social events or local organizations.
If you marry a Spanish citizen, you can fast-track this process of living in Spain and apply for citizenship after one year of residency. If either of your parents are Spanish citizens, or have a foreign resident parent who was born in Spain, you can apply for citizenship immediately without any residency period.
Tyler Sorce is an American writer and digital nomad currently living in Lisbon, Portugal. In a past life he was a chef in Manhattan and Paris, follow his travels and favorite dishes on Instagram.