Moving to Spain? In a nutshell, the first documents you need here

Woman throwing papers in frustration
paperwork nightmare

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.

Me, a Mexican, thought that all European countries were as efficient as…

… well…

Germany (the country we arrived from).

Big mistake. 

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

And frustrating. 

Yes, we had an agency and that helped a lot, I’m not going to lie.

But it was still all confusing, because you have 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.

These are the first documents you need:

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).

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.

It is 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.

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 probably have to pay a fee, as well.

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).

(You first have to get the NIE in order to get your TIE, the actual card, because that card has the number printed on it.)

But surprise!

It was only for my husband and kids, the European Passport holders, not for me.

I had to wait about three months to get mine, because I wasn’t a European Passport holder.


In those three months, in which I was in charge of settling us down, I couldn’t do much because I didn’t have my NIE. 

I could give my passport number to get some utility providers, like internet, but it was more difficult. 

And you know that without internet it’s difficult to do many things nowadays, even look for a doctor when you’re completely new to the city and you don’t know anybody yet to ask to. 

What did I do in the end?

I asked our neighbours, who we had met like twice before, if we could borrow their Wi-Fi signal and password…

Which they did.

It was only so that I could move forward in the process of settling down the family, because we finally had internet.

It sounds like a first world problem, but believe me when I tell you that I truly had to look up many, many things online because I was clueless about where things were here. 

And WhatsApp groups weren’t a thing back then. 

When you’re new to a place, you must rely on yourself to sort things out.

I eventually got my NIE and TIE, so that’s when our real settling down started. 

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.

(We 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 few forms (sigh), get a cita previa (previous appointment) in your local Seguridad Social office, bring your documents and get the number.

I believe you can download the forms and make the cita previa online (see why you need internet in your house?).

One piece of advice: get the number of all your family members in one go. That way you will be saving yourself lots of time in waiting lines and other fun stuff.

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 for this step. 

Back in my day (I sound old) you had to go to a Centre of Service to the Citizens (SAC or Servicio de Atención Ciudadana) and get it for free then and there.

Then, after Covid, you had to make a cita previa and get it.

But now

(drum roll…)

You get it online.

For free, and 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.

You will need your paper from the Seguridad Social, your NIEs, and I believe an Certificado de Empadronamiento (Certificate of Registration?).

For your kids, do bring their Birth Certs, 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.

(Just saying. Been there.)

And voilà.

They register you and your family and you get your Tarjetas Sanitarias per regular mail in like 4 weeks.

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



After writing all of that I’m realising that is a ton of things to do and pretty confusing, to be honest.

If you have a relocation agent, great!

If not, it’s going to be difficult without the language, but you will manage.

However, it is crucial that you 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.

Plus, it will help you make friends with all the public service workers you will encounter on your journey.

Nie – Número de Identificación de Extranjero
Tie – Tarjeta de Identificación de Extranjero

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