Tips For Getting Settled In Spain – Resident Card, Bank, School, Phone

So you’ve successfully navigated your way through the paperwork of obtaining a Spanish Resident Visa.  You’ve got your brand-spanking new visa affixed to your passport.  Now what?  You have 90 days to officially register in Spain and obtain your resident card (NIE – Numero de Identidad de Extranjeros), so the clock starts the moment you get your visa. I hate to break it to you, but once you’ve arrived in Spain, there’s more paperwork and legwork required.  It’s not hard, but I’ll lay out the steps you need to follow in order to make sure you’re all legal.  We have a getting settled checklist which we followed, but there is more in-depth information provided on a few of the steps below.

Tips for obtaining your Address, Resident Card, Bank, School, Phone

1.  Address
Gotta have one!  Finding a great place to live could be it’s own post.  Hell…it could be it’s own book!  The thing to remember is that you must have a contract.  This contract will be proof to the powers that be that you have a place to live.  If you have kids, and if you’ve scouted out a preferred school, you’ll probably want to pick a place that’s close to the school.  More about this on Step 3.

2.  Bank Account
If you are moving to Spain from a non-EU country, you’ll want to get a local bank account, as most recurring payments are setup as direct debits to your bank account.  If you’re coming from the U.S. or Canada, you will most likely not find your bank in Spain.  From what we’ve gathered, Spanish banking is a bit non-standard.  We banked with Bank of America in the U.S., but they have no presence in Spain, so you’ll probably need to start from scratch.

When setting up a bank account, you’ll need to provide your address, your NIE/Passport number, as well as a some nominal amount of Euro denominated currency.  (Your NIE number will be on your official paperwork received with your visa, you will go through the process of obtaining your resident care later).  Our understanding is that there is no free checking account, unless you’re automatically depositing a certain amount of money each month (like what a retiree would do).  This amount varies per bank, and by what type of account you setup, but our monthly minimum was 700€.  If you do not set up an “auto” account, make sure you’re comfortable with the monthly fees.

Centro Commercial Sexitano Almuñécar, Spain

Centro Commercial Sexitano Almuñécar, Spain

The other thing to think about, there are different ATM networks in Spain.  If you draw money from an ATM network, that you do not belong to, you’ll be charged a fee.  Do some checking around, and ascertain that your bank has plenty of ATM presence.  Our bank Sabadell belongs to the ServiRed network which is popular throughout Spain.

I would recommend against opening a bank account at a local Caja type of bank.  These are typically very local, and don’t necessarily have a broad presence throughout Spain or Europe.

3. Phone
With all of the places where you will be registering, you will need a phone, and for your phone, you will need your ID number (NIE/Passport).  There are several providers, and here’s a handy reference on our Almuñécar Info site to point you in the right direction for cell phones, SIM cards and internet..

4. Register with the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento)
In our case, registering with the Ayuntamiento was very simple.  It really seems to be used as a way to update census records vs. keeping track of people.  You will specify your address, and all parties who will be living there (this includes kids).  You will probably want to specify your passport number (so have it handy), as you don’t have an official NIE card yet.  When you leave the town hall, they will give you a paper called “Padron Municipal de Habitantes” and you may need this handy for your NIE/resident card and we needed it for School registration.
Almunecar Town Hall - one check list item

The other thing you’ll do here is find out which school for which you are “zoned”.  We liked the school which we were zoned for, so it was easy in our case.  I don’t know how you handle requesting a specific school for which you are not zoned.  I imagine there’s some approval process, but the people at the Town Hall should be able to get you squared away.  If you’ve opted for a private school, you are probably all set, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask, just to make sure.

5. Resident Card (NIE)
Apply for your Resident Card (Tarjeta de Residencia) within 30 days of arriving in the country. The application must be made at the Foreigner’s Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) or local Police Station (Comision de Policia or Brigada de Policia) in the province of intended residence.  This can be the most time-consuming and scary part of the process.

What if they don’t like us?  What if they don’t accept our application?

These were some of my thoughts as we were waiting in line.  It’s OK.  If you’ve got the proper paperwork and everything organized properly, you’ll be a big surprise.  I’m sure these people see all sorts of disorganized applicants, so don’t be one of them.  If you make their lives easier, they’ll make your lives easier.  Hopefully…

Go early!  You will be making multiple trips to the police station, so don’t wait until they’re about to close, as it means you’ll have to come back the next business day.  Also remember that they will most likely close at 2PM.  So go early!  Let me also set the expectation right up front that you are not going to be walking out with your final NIE Resident card today.  I’ll get to the why in a bit.

When you originally obtained your Spanish Visa, you should have been provided with a bunch of other papers, to be provided to the local Spanish authorities.  Not only will you need that paperwork, you will need:

  1. Passport pictures – These are a different size than the passport pictures you get in the U.S., so don’t be surprised if they tell you that you don’t have the correct type. These are usually very easy to get.  A local photo store will be able to take them for you and they often have then near the police station/ foreigner’s office.  Get at least two per adult, and four per child (the school and local library will need them).
  2. Depending on the paperwork you provided with your initial visa application, you may need to supply a complete copy of your passport, from the first page to the last for each person.
  3. Bring along your rental contract;
  4. In addition, you’ll need the paper you received from the Town Hall “Padron Municipal de Habitantes”.

Once you’ve provided them with your paperwork, they will provide you with a piece of paper, and there will be a fee you need to pay to make it official.  Unfortunately, you can’t pay at the police station.  You’ll have to go to a nearby bank and pay the fee for each person, not just the primary.  If you have bank branch that’s close to the police station, go there. Not all banks will take the payment, but if you bank with them, they most certainly will or you can go to a caja type bank.

Once you’ve got the stamped documents which prove you paid the fee, head back to the police station / foreigner’s office.  The will then take your fingerprints, complete the paperwork and then you’ll get your temporary NIE resident card, which is on a small slip of paper.  If you’re an adult, you’ll want to carry this with you at all times.  In approximately four weeks, you should receive a letter that your card(s) are ready to pick up.  Make sure you bring your passport and temporary NIE.  In our case, we had to have the kids with us in order to pick theirs up.  Kind of strange, but thems the rules.  Here’s a little more on our story, Registering with the Authorities.
I am officially a legal resident! Temp Resident Card

An NIE number is needed to:

      • Open a bank account
      • Register for school
      • Buy, sell or insure property
      • Arrange credit terms or a mortgage
      • Pay taxes
      • Be paid for employment
      • Use short-term employment agencies
      • Apply for a business permit and start a business
      • Register with social services and arrange receipt of social security benefits
      • Apply for a driver’s licence

6. Registering at School
It’s time to head over to the school indicated by the Town Hall.  You’ll need to bring the photos, temporary NIE resident card, and passports to the School.  Here we explain the process to register for school along with all of the paperwork.  Note that the school may have certain days and/or hours when such administrative tasks are done, so don’t be surprised if they tell you to come back. Our school year begins mid September and the offices open as of September 1st.

Once registered at the school, your kids will probably need school supplies.  Luckily the teacher/school will provide a supply list.  Typically the books are free, but there may be the odd workbook which may need to be purchased.  They can also tell you where to purchase the supplies.

It’s quite a list, but it’s definitely manageable.  One other recommendation I would make, and that would be to dress nice if you can.  Depending on where you are applying, it may make a difference as to how you’re processed or perceived.  Pants and a shirt with a collar with some nice shoes (not tennis shoes) is an appropriate way to dress.

Your resident card should be good for 1 year.  At that time you may apply to renew your resident card for an additional 2 years.  Here we share with your our process on our resident card renewal process.

31 thoughts on “Tips For Getting Settled In Spain – Resident Card, Bank, School, Phone

  1. Hi Kathryn,
    What school did you contact? And is this a public or private school? We are arriving in Granada September 20th due to some complications with my job/retirement, etc. We realize we will be arriving late for the start of the school year, but we don’t want to have to wait to have our son start school until we are able to register at the ayuntamiento and secure our long term housing.

  2. HI guys, we moved to Madrid 2 weeks ago and already have our Padron. My husband is a US citizen and I’m Icelandic, we have lived in the states for the last 25 years, acording to the Spanish Consulate in San Fransisco my husband does not need a visa due to the Shengen agreement with Iceland all we need to do is register with the authorities here in Spain to get the NIE. My question is did you show up at the police station already with the application they require or did they give it to you there to fill out. Also what is the application paper called in Spanish…. All the best, let the adventures begin (:

    • oh how exciting for you! Welcome to Spain!

      Well, it is almost that simple. You go first and yes i would have the forms complete and an appointment. Then he will go once you are set. We have the details all documented out, but that is part of our consulting services.

  3. Thanks for sharing the information you’ve learned. You are filling some big gaps of information! From the replies I’ve read, and friends I’ve spoken to, the requirements can vary depending on where in the US you applied, and where you plan to reside (and who is helping you on which day). For Texas, you need a year-long lease just to apply for the visa. Read: enormous headache. We are here now (!) but have decided to live somewhere other than the place on our application. Should we register in this area or the original? Does the application paperwork (lease address) need to match if you manage to have a new lease in a new place? I am dreading this registration process.

    • Welcome to Spain and yes it all varies depending on many variables. Register with the town you live in and the aligned foregners office, you have 30 days to do this once you arrive. That is where you need to be on the radar with banking, government, schools and the census type things. I find it a bit silly to have to have a year lease before even moving here, but some of the consulates are requiring that while others accept the name of a now and yet others will accept an Airbnb rental. Where did you end up chosing to settle?

      • Thank you! That is helpful! We decided on Madrid. We found a school we like (we will live nearby) and we plan to see places outside of Spain so we thought it would be a great place to have as a base. It is a busy place, but there are great parks and many places to stop in and have a cold drink on a hot day like today.
        So you don’t think anyone will be bothered because application address and new lease address do not match?
        Thanks again!!

        • When we applied in New York they also asked for a Spain Address but not any proof of one. We used the address for the Airbnb (didn’t tell them it was an Airbnb) we would be in for a month and they accepted it. Ten days later we were called to pick up our visas. The initial process called for us to have copies also for the Consulate but it turns out now that they used a scanner to send the paperwork to Madrid (I guess their central processing center). We I asked about the extra copies, they said they no longer needed them so we kept them. The Visa now also has our NIE on them.

  4. When it comes to filling for your Residence card, we will be staying in an Airbnb in San Sebastian for only one month and going to the local town hall to register. I plan to ask the person renting the apartment to us for a contract to present.
    Will this be enough proof and do they mail the card to you or do you go pick it up? We are really undecided as to where we plan to move to and have other destinations planned in Spain after the first month.
    P.S. -thanks for all your help, we were approved and I’m heading to NY this thursday to pick up our visas!

    • Tony,
      A lot of variables affect how fast you can get the NIE (time of year, how busy the foreigner’s office is, etc.). If I recall it took us 2-3 months to get our card. Unless they’ve changed the rules, when you apply for the NIE, you need to provide proof of residence for one year. It’s a multi-stage process, and you’ll wind up going to the office a couple of times. You must pick up the card in person, at least that’s what’s required in Andalucía. It may be different in SS.

      You’re probably better off figuring out where you want to live before you apply for the NIE. Once in Spain, you have 30 days to register and all that.

      Good luck!

    • Hi Tony,
      I went that road almost 2 years ago in Barcelona. We had the same problem, and the only way it worked for us was for a friend to let us use her address.
      You need to have a padrón before applying for the NIE and I doubt, but I can be wrong, that your Airbnb “landlord” will let you use his address since there are tax related issues with that. Also, it takes at least 4 weeks to get the NIE once you have applied for it and you have to pick it up in person. In between or after, it’s also possible that you’ll receive a letter, as we did, asking to prove that you have enough money to live in Spain for the whole year, so you really need to have a “working” address. If the person you’re renting the Airbnb agrees, it could work, but like Alan said, it would be much easier for you to find where you’d like to live. Also, if you ever thought about renting a mailbox and use it as your primary address, it won’t work since you can’t have a padrón for it.
      Best of luck!

      • Thanks Eve for the info. I’m reaching out now to my cousin who has a friend living in Spain. I was just curious how the process went and you have given me more insight. When you applied using your friend’s address, did you supply a form of a contract to the local Police Station or did you just write down the address on the application?

        • I had my friend filled out a form mentioning that we, my husband and I, were staying at her address. She had to provide a copy of her identity card along with her rental agreement. I don’t remember the name of the form, but you should be able to find it with a Google search. We then brought that form at the city hall to get a padrón, and then, with the padrón in hand, we took an appointment to get our NIE.

          • That clears up a lot. It gives me chance to look up things before going to Spain in September. Thanks again Eve

  5. How do you move money from my US bank(Bank of America) to a Spanish bank so that I may pay bills when I get there. I have read about services such as Transferwise that will do it for a fee.

    • We have a link to HiFX on our home page and they get great reviews. If you have an investment account with BofA/Merrill Lynch, they will allow you 2 free international wire transfers a month. Do keep a close eye on their exchange rate though. We also have BofA, and Charles Schwab. We usually go to the ATM and take out the max of 600 euros and then walk in the bank and deposit it. Schwab gives excellent exchange rates and reimburses any ATM fees.

  6. Hello, thanks for all the valuable information.
    I’m planning to start the non lucrative visa process and plan to live in Madrid.
    Can you please elaborate on the issues of taxes. If I don’t make money in Madrid and all my income generating assets are in the States, would I have to declare anything in Spain or do I just pay my taxes in the USA?
    My objective would be to maintain less than $10,000 in a Spanish bank account to pay bills.
    Thanks for your help!

    • Hey James. We usually don’t like to get into taxes, as every situation in unique. Just know as a US citizen you always pay taxes in the US. Spain does have an agreement with the US so you aren’t double taxed, but you do need to ensure you do all of the right paperwork. Check out Leagal 4 Spain website and others, for legit legal and tax info.

      If you need any consulting with your move or visa, please let us know. Just contact us.

  7. Hey Heidi!
    Well, we are finally here. We’ve actually been here in Granada for nearly 2 months now (time has really gone by!)
    I am not sure if this will be helpful for your readers at all but our process for getting registered here in Spain has been a bit crazy so I thought I would share.
    We followed all of your steps as outlined above (because we did not get any “official” information from our consulate upon receipt of our visas). After renting our apartment and getting our signed rental agreement, we went to the Ayuntamiento to register our presence here. We were told we needed not only our rental agreement but also a utility receipt in our names to register. This proved to be a substantial hurdle that we were not expecting and, I might add, a step that no one else was required to make (according to others here in our neighbourhood).
    Why was it such a hurdle? Because to get a utility bill in your name, you need a residency card. To get a residency card, you need a utility bill in your name. We had been paying our water and electricity for two months but we needed TITLE. We were caught in a circle that we had not idea how to get out of!
    Luckily, Emasagra, the water company, made an error and changed over the title to my name over the phone (and they required a HUGE list of things to even do so! Practically down to a signed letter from my great-great-grandmother). They sent me the contract and proof of payment which I then needed to sign and take in to their office. When I did so, they asked for my residency card, which of course I did not have. They then proceeded to tell me that they were cancelling the contract because I am not an official resident here and I had two weeks to get our residency cards! Eeek!
    But, as luck would have it, we had a contract in hand as well as a receipt of payment in our names. So it meant we could go to the Ayuntamiento with all we needed (even if it was a contract that they were about to cancel!). Our empadronamiento is in process (since we have two children under 18, they cannot issue the paper right away) and we should have it in a few weeks.
    We then heard from some friends that they did not need their Padron de municipantes to register at the Oficina de Extranjeros so today, we went there to begin the process for our residency cards. It was in fact the case that we did not need the Padron paper – just copies of passports, photos, application form and payment. We were given an appointment time for next week.
    All of this is to say, we have not been given consistent information from any place. Every time I go to a government office, I am told something different. And don’t even get me started on Emasagra and trying to get title changed, lol. And most people that we know here undertook a very different process than we did.
    Best of luck wading through all of this! We are almost there (fingers crossed) but I have definitely had a few good cries of frustration, lol.
    Oh and one last thing. THANKFULLY, prior to coming here, I contacted the school that we wanted our girls to attend. We registered them prior to coming and they held their spots, so even though we didn’t have our residency cards in order, they were able to start school when we showed up on the first day.
    Hopefully, somewhere in this long comment, there will be a nugget of something useful for one of your readers and they won’t have to go through the frustrations that we did!
    I hope you are all well!

    • Wow! Awesome Kathryn. Welcome to Spain and thank you so much for the detailed comment. Yes, I do think anything to do with paperwork depends on where you live and the mood of the person sitting behind that desk. We didn’t need a utility bill at all. In fact utilities are included with our rent, so we would have been in a pickle too. Glad you got it all sorted or are on the right path! Thanks for sharing your experience. Do look us up, when you pop over the mountain to the beach. We are in Almunecar.

    • Hi Kathryn,

      How is Granada? We just received our Visas and will be heading there in July. I appreciate your comment and all of Heidi’s posts about what to do once we arrive. The process has been overwhelming at times, and that’s just while we are still here in the States!!! Hope you are having an amazing experience in Spain!

  8. Hi!
    Thanks for your posts. They’re very helpful.

    Quick question: if both my husband and I need a tarjeta de residencia, do we have to take two appointments via their website or is it only one per familly?

    Thanks again!

    • Our office is so small, they don’t currently offer appointments for foreigners. That said, it is likely to be 1 appointment per family/couple. You typically all/both go to the desk together. That said, if you want to be on the safe side you can take 2 appointments, but we don’t believe it is required. I would also imagine it varies between foreigners offices. Ours is very small with just 3 staff and the one in Granada is very large.

  9. Heya thanks again for the great info, just wondering about the address, as i am just staying in an air bnb for a while then moving into a friends place, but obviously wont have a contract for that, what would i be able to show to the authorities about that???

  10. Another great informative post, guys. Really useful stuff. Could have done with reading this before we made our relocation.

  11. I still know my “alien number” (NIE) off by heart, I’ve always kept the paperwork associated with it since one day I will move back to Spain and it was SO MUCH HASSLE to get that one in the first place that I don’t want to attempt applying again.

  12. Hi Momma Wagoneer, (I am sorry that I don’t remember your name)
    We spoke once before regarding what you do for work in Spain and you explained your financial situation a little. I am curious if due to your investments and the sale of your home in the states, if having that money in your account or in hand made it easier for you to get a visa to stay in Spain?
    When I am ready to make the move, I will not have thousands in the bank or the sale of a house. I will be working once I get to Spain. Will I be permitted to get a residency/work visa in Spain if I intend to work and do not have thousands in the bank to prove that I can take care of myself?
    I know that you are not the all mighty who makes this type of decision, I would just like your thoughts on the topic so I have an idea if my dream is possible.

    Light & Love,

    • Ha! Hi Sarah, how are you? So, my name is Heidi and no we are not the “all mighty”. 🙂
      No, you don’t need to have oodles in the bank, but you do need to prove you can support yourself. Alan wrote an ebook detailing the entire application process for the non-lucrative visa (no working in Spain) and it has helped many go through the process. He explains the finances as well as the working/not working. We just love hearing back from the people that have purchased it and how helpful they found the book.

      I guess an appropriate answer to your question is, it can be done. People that come to retire show they have a monthly pension incoming and they don’t have to have loads in savings. They want to be sure you aren’t a burden on the country and that you can take care of yourself. Check the specific requirements of the consulate nearest you. I hope that helps and do let us know if you have more questions.

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