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Moving to Spain: Guide to Spanish visas and permits

1st June 2014, Comments0 comments

Moving to Spain: Guide to Spanish visas and permits
Find out if you need a Spanish visa or permit to visit, live, work or study in Spain.

You may need to apply for a visa or other permit if you want to visit, live, work or study in Spain. This essential guide will help you find out which Spanish permits you need depending on your nationality and situation. The information given here is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from the Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country for your specific circumstances.

Who needs a visa or permit for Spain?

Under the Freedom of Movement Act, if you're a national from one of the countries in the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) – that is, all the countries of the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – or Switzerland, you don't need a visa or other permit to visit, live, work or study in Spain. The one exception is that citizens from the ‘new’ EU nation of Croatia will need work permits probably up until June 30, 2020.

EU/EEA and Swiss citizens do need to register with the authorities and get a national identity number. To find out more about this, see Expatica's guide to EU/EEA/Swiss citizens moving to Spain.

Everyone else will need a visa, and if you want to work, in most cases, a work permit.

Entry and short-term visas for Spain

Spain is one of 26 countries making up the ‘Schengen' area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. They have one common visa and no border controls between them.

There are three types of visa allowing entry to Spain:

  • Airport transit visa.
  • Short-stay Schengen visa.
  • Long-term visa.

Airport transit visa for Spain

An airport transit (visado de transito aeroportuario) allows you into the international transit zone in a Spanish airport. Not everyone needs one but to check whether you do, check the information and list at www.exteriores.gob.es. You’ll need to apply for a transit visa through the Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country.

Short-stay visa for Spain

A short-stay Schengen visa (visado de corta duracion) allows you to stay in Spain – but not work – for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

If you have a Schengen visa issued by another Schengen state you can also come and stay in Spain for 90 days.

Nationals from the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand don’t need a short-stay visa to enter Spain but will need to apply for a long-term residence visa to stay longer than three months.

To find out if you need a Schengen visa click here. You need to complete an application form, which you can download here and apply through the Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country.

You can renew your short-term visa at your local Foreigner’s Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) or Police station as long as you will be staying in Spain for a total of less than 90 days. You can’t come to Spain on a short-stay visa as a visitor and change your status to employee, student or resident from within Spain – you have to return to your home country and apply for a new visa from there. 

Find the contact details of the Spanish embassy or consulate in your own country to apply.

Long-term visas for Spain

Unless you’re a citizen of the EU/EEA or Switzerland you’ll need a longer-term national visa (visado nacionale) if you intend to live, work, study or carry out research in Spain for longer than three months. This will depend on your purpose of stay, as detailed below.

Spain visa

Long-term Spanish residence and work visas

There are different residence and work permit types, depending on the purpose of your stay:

  • a combined residence and work visa (visado de trabajo y residencia) allowing you to live and work in Spain;
  • a student visa (visado de estudios) for the duration of a educational or training course;
  • a residence visa (visado de residencia) for family reunification or retirement.

There is a youth mobility agreement between Spain and Canada for young people aged 18 to 35 to visit Spain to travel and work for up to a year. For details, see one of the Spanish consulates in Canada.

You can apply for a long-term visa from the Spanish consulate or embassy in your home country, or sometimes online on their websites before you come to Spain. The application must be made in person or through an accredited representative, and you usually have to pay a non-refundable fee of around EUR 60. Allow plenty of time for the consulate to process your application – check with yours for the timescale – and you or your representative must collect it in person.

Find the contact details of the Spanish embassy or consulate in your own country to apply.

New fast-track visa

As of 2014, non-EU national investors, entrepreneurs, highly qualified professionals and researchers can now apply for fast-track visas and permits, which offer preferential treatment, such as automatic residence for the whole family with no minimum stay, and free travel throughout the Schengen visa region. However there are conditions to fulfil for each category, for example, investors may need to spend EUR 500,000 on a Spanish property. For more information on requirements for each category of applicant, contact the Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country.

Family reunification

Once you have been living legally in Spain for a year and have received official confirmation that you will be staying for a further year, you can apply for family members (for example, spouse, common law partner, and dependants, including children under 18 and parents over 65) to join you in Spain.

If you hold a long-term residence permit from another EU member state (an EU Blue Card), you can apply at any time.

Students can apply for their family members to join them while studying in Spain. The relatives’ residence permits are usually granted for the same duration as the student’s residence permit, and allow the holders over 18 to take on employment in Spain without a work permit.

For more information, see Moving to Spain to join a relative or partner.

Permanent residency in Spain

After five uninterrupted years of residence, you can apply for a long-term or permanent residence. If you hold a Blue Card from another EU-member state, and have lived elsewhere in the EU for the same period, this also entitles you to long-term residence in Spain. A long-term residence permit allows you to stay in Spain indefinitely, working or otherwise, under the same conditions as Spanish citizens.

You can apply for Spanish nationality after 10 years of residence in Spain. You can also acquire Spanish nationality through marriage or through having Spanish parents even if they were born outside Spain.

For more information, see A guide to permanent visas in Spain.

Studying in Spain

If you want to come and study, carry out research or training, take on an internship or voluntary work in Spain you have to find a course or programme that will accept you first – and then you can apply for a visa to come to Spain.

For more information, see Study in Spain: Spanish student visas and permits.

Spain visa

After arriving in Spain

Within 30 days of arriving in Spain, all non-EU/EEA and Swiss citizens who want to stay for longer than three months must apply for a residence card/permit (Tarjeta de Residencia or TIE). You have to apply at the Foreigner’s Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) or police station in the province where you’re living. Click here to find your local office.

You’ll need a valid passport/travel ID, colour passport photos and a completed application form, plus proof of your address, bank statements, medical insurance, and other documentation relating to your own situation, such as an employment contract, proof of university enrolment or academic qualifications.

This temporary residence permit allows you to stay in Spain for between 90 days and five years, and can be renewed.

Foreigner’s Identity Number (NIE)

All foreigners, including EU/EEA/Swiss nationals, must have a Foreigner’s Identity Number (Número de Identificación de Extranjero) or NIE. This is essential for any financial transaction in Spain, including opening a bank account, being paid for employment, paying taxes, registering with social services, as well as getting a driving licence. 

EU citizens will be issued with a NIE when they apply for their registration certificate; others can apply after they have their residence permit, from the Foreigner’s Office.

You may be able to apply for the NIE through the Spanish consulate in your home country (although it can take about four weeks to get it this way), unless you’re going to be living in Spain or intend to open a bank account. If you’re going to live in Spain, you must register with the local authority where you’ll be living.

Registering on the padrón

You should also get a Certificado de Empadronamiento by registering on the census register called the padrón at your local Town Hall.

Working in Spain

EU/EEA and Swiss citizens, with the exception of Croatians up until 30 June 2020, can work without a work permit in Spain but almost everyone else needs one.

It’s the employer’s responsibility to apply for one on your behalf so first you need to get an offer of work and a work contract; once you have that and your employer has obtained the work authorisation on your behalf, you can apply for a visa to come to Spain.

Some people don’t need work permits, for example family members joining a relative already here or those who are taking on voluntary work. You need to be over 18 (or over 16 if self-employed) to come to Spain to work legally.

For more information, see Work in Spain: Guide to Spanish work visas and permits.

Legalisation and translation of documents

For foreign documents to be valid in Spain, they must be translated into Spanish and legalised (certified as authentic) or have an Apostille seal. Translations should be produced by translators certified by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, or through the Spanish embassy/consulate in your home country. Contact the Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country for more information.

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Note: The information given here is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from the Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country.

Have a question? Post your question on Expatica's Ask the Expert service to see if we can help.  



Updated from November 2012.



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