I’m finally getting permanent residency in Spain! I’ve been living and working in Europe for the last five years thanks to me and Javi’s civil union (pareja de hecho). However my residency expires next month so we went to the Oficina de Extranjería (immigration/foreigner office) in Cádiz to submit my paperwork. Keep in mind you can start the application process one month before your TIE expires.
What’s the difference between Spanish residency vs. Spanish citizenship?
A couple of people have asked me why I’m not applying for Spanish citizenship. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a huge advantage to getting Spanish citizenship versus permanent residency. As a legal resident in Spain I get most of the same benefits as Spanish citizens—the main difference is that I cannot vote in European elections and I can’t get an EU/Spanish passport. Also, in order to become a Spanish citizen I must renounce my American citizenship which is not something I want to do.
How to get a temporary work visa and residency in Spain
When I first moved to Spain in 2011 I applied for my NIE (numero de identidad de extranjero a.k.a. foreigner ID number). A NIE is necessary to open a bank account, get a mobile phone plan, rent a flat, etc. At that time I had a 6 month student visa and a student TIE (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero – foreigner ID card).
When my student visa expired Javi and I registered our civil union (pareja de hecho) in 2012 in Cádiz. Once pareja de hecho was official I was able to apply for a new TIE. My new status identified me as a relative to a Spanish citizen and extended my residency and work permit for five years.
Apart from pareja de hecho there are a few other ways Americans can get a work permit and temporary residency in Spain:
- You fit the bill for any jobs listed in the Catálogo de Ocupaciones de Dificil Cobertura (which basically means positions that are hard to fill)—in this case the government can help fast-track processing your work visa.
- A company requests a work visa on your behalf—while you wait at home in the U.S. for six or more months for all the paperwork to get approved and processed. It’s possible your work visa may only last as long as the job you’re hired for (ex. 6 month contract).
- You’re in a relationship with a Spaniard and you make it “official” through pareja de hecho. This civil union will earn you 5 years of legal residency + work permit within EU.
- You marry a Spaniard and apply for permanent residency.
Note: Once you live in Spain legally for five years you can apply for permanent residency (whether you’re married, pareja de hecho, here for work, etc.).
Life without Spain? No thanks….
Step 1: Apply for permanent residency in Spain
To start the process first you’ll need to have your residency application approved (I’m applying as a spouse to a Spaniard). According to the government website you’ll need to include the following documents with your application:
- Valid passport – and if it’s expired a copy of the its renewal application
- Marriage certificate or pareja de hecho certificate
- 3 recent passport sized photos (color)
- Form “Modelo 790”: the “tasa” or fee for processing your application (worth €10.71)
But of course, when I actually show up to extranjeria to submit my forms this is what I needed:
- Copy of every page of my passport
- Copy of my current TIE (familiar)—TIE means “tarjeta de identidad de extranjero” – i.e. foreigner ID card
- Copy of our marriage certificate
- Form “EX-19”: Solicitud de tarjeta de residencia de familiar de ciudadano de la UE
If you’ve ever dealt with Spanish bureaucracy you’ll know that getting your papers processed has a lot to do with luck. When we first went to the extranjeria office the funcionario (government official) we spoke to told us we needed one thing, and then we went back the funcionario who “helped” us said we needed another (like a copy of every page of my passport…why?).
Keep in mind government offices are still adjusting to the new electronic system (introduced in October 2016) so they may try requesting physical documents instead of accessing them online. You’ll probably need to provide ‘vida laboral‘ (ex. work contract to show you’re employed and self-sufficient) when doing pareja de hecho but you shouldn’t need it when applying for permanent residency.
My advice is to bring everything they could possibly ask for, including the original documents as well.
Step 2: Apply for your residency card (TIE)
Once the funcionario concluded we had all the correct paperwork she gave me a stamped copy of my application along with an application ID number. FYI – I was able to travel in and out of the country with the copy of my application (even though my TIE had expired).
Your application status should update on the SEDE website within three months. When your application status changes to favorable (approved) you can apply for your TIE—specifically “Tarjeta de residencia permanente de familiar de ciudadano de la Unión Europea” or “permanent residency card by relations to a citizen of the European Union.” Learn about my experience applying for a new TIE (and mistakes you should avoid) here.