Moving to Spain? In a nutshell, the first & essential documents you need in Spain

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    Moving to a new country involves a lot of paperwork, and moving to Spain is no exception.

    When we first arrived in Spain we knew we’d have to deal with lots of paperwork but what we never counted on was the inefficiency. 

    I, a Mexican, thought that all European countries were as efficient as, well… Germany (the country we arrived from).

    I soon realised that was a big mistake. 

    Even as a Spanish speaker and having a relocation agency to help us out, the bureaucracy was difficult to navigate. And frustrating. 

    Everything was confusing, because I had a lot of information to process and I had to juggle unpacking, doing school runs for three small children, and just the normal day-to-day stuff in a new city, PLUS trying to keep up with everything you are told by the agency so that you have your most basic documents as a new resident in Spain. 

    If that was difficult for me, I can only imagine how it is like for people who doesn’t speak at least the basics of Spanish…

    So, this is an overview of the four most basic documents you need to get when you are living in Spain.

    1. NIE and TIE

    It all started when the relocation agent told us the first thing we had to do was get our NIEs.

    (Número de Identidad de Extranjero or Foreigner Identification Number).

    Nie – Número de Identificación de Extranjero

    Without that number, you can’t do a thing in this country. Not get a decent mobile phone contract or internet or sometimes even get a parcel in your own house. 

    Without it, you are not a legal resident. It is, therefore, the one document you do need at all costs to be a full resident.

    The Policía Nacional (National Police) is the one that gives you this number and you need a bunch of documents to apply for it, like work contract, birth certs, marriage certs, among others. Basically you have to prove why you want to live and be a resident in Spain. 

    This is the official page to get information: click here.

    This is the form to apply for it: click here.

    I remember that the marriage cert had to be recent, no older than 3 months. This, in theory, proves that you are still married and you’re not taking advantage of  moving to Spain because you ex-spouse is. 

    You have to pay a fee, as well. These days it costs about €20 and you can get the form to pay here: click here.

    Thankfully, the relocation agency sorted the paperwork for us and we just had to arrive at the police station to get the NIEs and TIEs (Tarjeta de identificación de Extranjero or Identification Card for Foreigners).

    Two pieces of advice: 

    1. If your documents are not European, do translate them to Spanish and get them apostilled. 
    2. If your documents are not in Spanish, get an official translation. 
    Tie – Tarjeta de Identificación de Extranjero

    The difference between these two, which are often confused or used as synonims, is that the first is the number, and the second is the physical card, which has the number printed on it. You can’t get the TIE without a NIE. 

    In my case, it took an extra 3 months to get my number and card, because I was non EU- passport holder, so I remember that time as difficult. You see, I was in charge of settling down the family, yet I couldn’t do much without my NIE:

    not get internet, not get a decent mobile phone contract, etc.

    And without internet, you can’t do much these days. WhatsApp groups and unlimited data plans weren’t a thing back then, so I felt pretty helpless. 

    Luckily, we had amazing neighbours, who gave us their wifi and password for a few weeks until we sorted out all this paperwork. 

    That’s how important that nine-digit number is here.

    2. Social Security number

    Or Número de Seguridad Social (or Número de Afiliación)

    No, it’s not the same as your NIE. I wish.

    After you get your NIE, it’s essential that you get your social security number.

    Every resident must have one, because it’s the one number that gives you access to the public health system (which is excellent, by the way) and other State benefits, like unemployment, public pension, etc.

    For this, you need to fill out a form, and you can do it online. However, you will need a certificado electrónico for this, but more on that in this blog post.


    One piece of advice: get the number of all your family members in one go. For this number you don’t get a card, just an official document, which you must keep safe at all costs. Because getting a new document will cost you time and nerves in making citas previas and waiting lines.

    3. Registry Certificate

    Or Certificado de Empadronamiento.

    To be honest, I don’t know the exact name in English for this document. This is basically a document that states your date of registration as a resident in your current address.

    Therefore you will need a copy of your rental contract, your NIE and passport and birth and marriage certs, to certify that everybody belongs to the same family group. Also, to fill out a form. 

    As far as I know, the first time you do this, you must do it personally and bring all documents. I’d bring a photocopy of each paper, as well, in case they ask for it. However, I see here that you can also do it online. However, you need your certificado electrónico. 

    This services is free and you get your certificados immediately.

    Then, if you need further copies, you can request them online and get it delivered to your inbox in like five minutes.



    And last but not least…

    4. Tarjeta Sanitaria

    Public Health Cards.

    Once you have your Número de Seguridad Social, you have to go to your local Public Health Centre (Centro de Salud) and get registered there and apply for your card. 

    I have been looking online what documents you need to apply for this card, but I couldn’t find a definite list, but this is the website with all the info: click here.

    As a rule of thumb, you will need:

    • your NIEs,
    • your certificado de empadronamiento, and
    • Social Security Number.
    • I’d bring your kids’ birth certs as well, just in case you get a difficult bureaucrat who doesn’t believe the children on your Certificado de Empadronamiento are yours and they feel like following the rules to the dot on that particular day. Been there.

    Once you apply for it, it will be sent to the Health Centre and you can pick it up there. If you applied for your kids’ card, you will be able to collect those cards, too. This service is also free. 

    And voilà.

    In the meantime, once you’re registered, you can access the Public Health System without a problem.

    Final Thoughts

    I realised that this is a lot of information and it may seem like a mountain getting everything done, especially if you don’t have the language.

    I’d recommend you do know at least the most basic of words and phrases to navigate all the forms you will need to fill out and not feel completely lost.

    I will write another post on that. 

    If you think this is undoable by you, do get help: be it a friend or acquientance that speak Spanish, a lawyer or relocation agency. Seek help and don’t go crazy. 

    All the best!

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