Do sangrias, siestas and sunshine call to you?
Would you like to stay or live in Spain long term?
Would you like to stay longer than the 90 days allowed on your American passport?
You can and I’ll tell you exactly how to do it.
As an American, your valid U.S. passport only allows you to legally stay in Spain (or technically, in the Schengen Zone) for a period of up to 90 days during any 180-day period. After these 90 days, you are obligated to leave the Schengen Zone for 90 days before you are allowed to return.
Many people do the Schengen Zone hop… they jump in and out every 90 days. They will spend 90 days or more in Asia, Africa, the Americas or any number of countries in the region that are not currently in the Schengen Zone. For example, the U.K., Ireland, Croatia or Cyprus.
For most, this jumping in and out of Schengen can be exhausting.
If you just want to take a sabbatical, enjoy a gap year, or explore Europe from a convenient base in Spain past the 90-day passport limit, there is a specific visa that could be ideal for your situation. Maybe you are retired or you’ve saved up some money and want to enjoy slow travel. If so, read on.
Types of Spanish Visas
For students who want to study abroad, a Spanish student visa can be an excellent choice. Many also consider a work visa, but the challenges are immense. Even if a Spanish employer wanted to hire you, they have to prove to the Spanish government that they cannot fill the job locally… it is a big ask, but it’s possible especially for specialized, highly skilled workers.
The Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa
The solution we used was the Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa. This type of visa is a long-term residence visa. It allows you to live in Spain for one-year and renew on a regular basis.
This visa was perfect for our situation because:
- We were retiring abroad
- We wanted to be in Spain long-term
- We had money to support ourselves
Benefits & Drawbacks
This type of visa allows you to live in Spain long-term at first as a temporary resident. After 5 years, you could be eligible for permanent residency status, and after 10 years you could be offered citizenship.
This visa does NOT allow you to work in Spain. The Spanish government, understandably, wants to protect its own workforce. Unemployment is already high. They do not want foreigners taking jobs from locals. You could, however, work abroad for a foreign entity, do freelance work or run your own business.
Application Process (in a nutshell)
Let’s touch on the application process for the Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa… just so you have the big picture. The following outlines the basic steps required to obtain the Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa:
- Identify your Spanish Consulate
- Gather required documents
- Submit documents at Consulate appointment
- Pick up visa at Consulate
- Finalize your visa in Spain
Alright. Grab a cup of coffee. We going to dive in… and change your life for the better!
We will cover each of these steps in more detail. The lion’s share of this post will cover step #2 (the documents). Getting this right is critical to successfully obtaining the visa.
Step 1: Identify Your Spanish Consulate
Before we discuss the necessary documents and other requirements in more detail, let’s talk consulates. This is of the utmost importance. I have seen countless people overlook this and fail.
- You must apply for this visa in the United States; you cannot begin the process in Spain
- There are several Spanish consulates in the United States
- Each consulate may have slight variations on the requirements for this visa
- The requirements outlined here are for the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles (your consulate may have different requirements for the same visa)
- You must work with the Spanish consulate assigned to your U.S. residence address
- You don’t get to choose which Spanish consulate in the U.S. you want to work with
- Find the Spanish consulate closest to you, go to their website and confirm that they are the correct consulate for your U.S. residence; if not, continue until you find the right one!
Step 2: Gather Required Documents
Alright. You’ve identified the correct Spanish consulate for your U.S. residence.
Now, this step is vital. On their website check the requirements for the Spanish Non-Lucrative visa. Note that they may differ slightly from what you read here, but there are typically four basic requirements for the Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence visa.
- Proof of funds
- Private Health Insurance
- Health Certificate, and
- Background check
Let’s cover each of those documents, and a few other requirements, in a bit more detail.
Proof of Funds
You need to show that you have the money to support yourself and any family members coming into Spain with you for at least one year. The consulate website will outline the exact minimum you need. For a couple in 2018, it worked out to about €32,000. The document required could be as simple as a bank statement, but you can’t just print them out. Our consulate required statements on bank letterhead paper, stamped and a wet signature. Call your bank and call in a favor!
Private Health Insurance
You need to purchase your own private health insurance plan that will cover you and any family members coming along for the duration of the first year. The plan cannot have a co-pay or a deductible. The insurer must be a Spanish company. Travel insurance is generally not accepted. Even if your American insurer covers you in Europe, that policy will not be accepted by the Spanish consulate for the purposes of this visa. Most plans require that you pay the full year in advance. Some plans may allow you to delay the start date of the plan, otherwise, you might have to pay coverage for months before you actually arrive in Spain. Our consulate website provided a list of insurance providers who operate in Spain.
This is basically a note from your doctor stating that you are in good physical health. Again, pay attention to the requirements on the website of your specific consulate, as requirements vary. In our case, it had to be on letterhead, with a wet signature. Our consulate website provided a sample (which referenced the “International Health Regulations of 2005”), so we used that.
Nobody wants a serial killer living amongst them. This is where you cash in your ‘good karma credits’! Find a local provider, get your fingerprints taken and they will transmit them to the proper authorities. You will need to bring a photo ID, pay a fee and sometimes make an appointment. Check with your provider for details. I think we went to a local Postal Annex and the fee was about $25 per person. Be patient, a letter will come in the mail showing the results. As an additional step, our consulate required the background check results to be Apostille’d (is that a word?). Anyway, it means more bureaucracy (fees, appointments, queues, and forms). You’re going to Spain, you might as well get used to it! We had to take the day to drive up to the office of the California Secretary of State in Los Angeles.
Of course, there are several other requirements… manly additional forms and fees.
There is an Application form for the Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa (several pages long and it is in Spanish so study up). You will need to make an appointment in order to submit your documents for the visa. You must have an appointment; no walk-ins are allowed. You will also need your valid U.S. passport and photo ID like your state driver’s license. Make sure it has your current home address. You will need passport photos. And you will need to complete Form 790 and Form EX-01. Of course, all of these forms usually come with their own small fee. It adds up. Most consulates are also now requiring copies of your latest U.S. tax returns. Also, if you are married or bringing children, marriage licenses and birth certificates will probably be required.
Some Consulates May Also Require:
I have seen instances of some Consulates adding new requirements to the list for the Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa.
- Property contract in Spain – Proof that you have either purchased or leased property in Spain where you can stay; this requirement can present quite a challenge… do you purchase or lease a property sight-unseen or do you go to Spain, secure a property and potentially pay for it while you pursue the visa? Thankfully, we did not have to deal with this requirement
- No U.S. Mortgage – Some consulates are denying applicants who still have a home mortgage in the U.S. We do have a home mortgage in the U.S., however, our consulate did not have this requirement at the time we received our visas. A significant Spanish tax bill awaits all who establish tax residency in Spain and then sell a foreign property. Tax residency is established as soon as you spend more than 6 months in Spain out of any annual year. If you have a property outside Spain and intend to stay in Spain long-term, I highly suggest you either sell the property before you settle in Spain or you do not sell
- Letter of Intent – This could be just a simple letter that you write stating why you are interested in coming to Spain; if not written in Spanish, generally, this letter must be translated
Many of your documents are required to be translated into Spanish. No, you cannot have your friend do the translation for you. Your consulate website will likely provide a list of ‘Sworn Official Translators’. I suggest you choose wisely based on cost, responsiveness and customer service. You will be sending documents and working with your translator electronically… usually via email.
Obviously, there is a lot of paperwork to get through. Welcome to Spanish bureaucracy! This visa process is lengthy. You will need to plan well ahead. I would plan for at least 6 months to secure this visa.
Basic project planning skills will really come in handy! You should pay attention to detail, create a written plan with timelines and pay attention to dependencies… for example, you need to do this before you can do that.
DIY or Outsource?
As mentioned, the process for this visa is not simple. It is a long and arduous process with lots of moving parts. Many, like us, tackled the visa process on their own. It is doable for the right type of person. If you are patient, careful and can pay attention to the details while keeping the bigger picture in mind, then you should have no trouble.
But, be honest with yourself. If this doesn’t sound fun to you, you might consider hiring a professional to help. Although we did not use one, if you need a referral, reach out.
Step 3: Submit Documents at Consulate Appointment
When you have all your documents it is time to make your appointment at the consulate and submit them. Appointments can book months in advance, so plan accordingly. You should be able to set an appointment on the consulate website. Only one appointment is necessary per family. However, at the appointment, each adult will submit their paperwork individually.
Your life is now in the hands of the person behind the counter. Make their life easy. Prepare. Have your documents sorted in the order listed on the consulate website. Each adult in the family should have his or her own folder with their documents.
The consulate will hold your passport(s) from the time of your visa appointment to the time you are approved or denied, so plan NOT to travel during that time.
Now we wait.
It can take months to determine if your visa is approved. Backups at the different consulate can vary.
Step 4: Pick up Visa at Consulate
If your visa has been approved, you will be notified by letter in the mail. That’s right! Good old fashioned snail mail!
Congrats! All your hard work has paid off! Celebrate, and then get to the consulate to pick up your passport which now contains your new visa! You have 30 days (from the day following the approval date) to pick up your visa.
You do not need to make an appointment at the consulate to pick up your approved visa. Bring your paperwork and show up during business hours.
Step 5: Finalize Your Visa In Spain
Pack your bags! You’re going to Spain!
But, the clock is ticking.
You have 3 months from the validation date on the visa to get to Spain and begin the process of finalizing your visa.
Take your paperwork with you, specifically the Health Certificate and Background Check along with their official translations. When you arrive in Spain, to finalize your visa, you have 30 days to get an appointment at the Extranjería (Immigration) office and apply for your TIE card.
Spanish Documents for Foreigners
There is often confusion about the various documents issued to foreigners in Spain. Let’s try to clear some of that up. There are three primary documents that you will hear about: (1) the NIE, (2) the TIE, and (3) the Padrón.
Think of the NIE as the Spanish equivalent of the U.S. Social Security number. It uniquely identifies a single foreigner in Spain. If your Non-Lucrative visa is approved, your assigned NIE number will be on your official visa inserted in your U.S. passport. Your NIE number will follow you everywhere in Spain. It will be attached to many of your documents and it is required for most official business in Spain like opening a Spanish bank account, renting an apartment, setting up utilities, getting a Spanish mobile phone, etc.
An NIE does not allow you to legally stay in Spain. For that, you need a TIE. The TIE is issued by the above-mentioned Extranjería office.
If you are staying in Spain for 6 months or more (regardless of the calendar year), then you will also need your Padrón. Padrón is short for Empadrónamiento. You will need to go to your local Town Hall to obtain your Padrón. Think of this as participating in the census. The local government in Spain requires an official count of persons residing in each region, city, town, pueblo, etc. in order to provide the correct level of municipal services.
Your first stop should be the website for the Spanish Consulate assigned to your home U.S. address. Check their requirements carefully. Read everything. Note anything that might be a challenge for your situation.
Besides your Consulate website, there are other resources that we found to be particularly helpful in obtaining the Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa. Try a few of the following resources:
- Facebook groups for American expats in Spain; there are many groups; some of the most helpful were those specific to Valencia, Spain where we were moving
- The Frugal Vagabond: How to Get a Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa
- Bucking the Trend: How to Apply for Non Lucrative Visa for Spain as a US Citizen
I hope I have given you a good sense of what it will take to obtain the Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence visa and what it can do for you. I am happy to answer additional questions and provide guidance, resources, and referrals. If you need anything, please reach out.
As always, thanks for reading!