Photo by Archie Macias
Anyone who has moved to Catalunya will no doubt be aware of the confusing amount of paperwork and identification numbers there are to apply for on arrival. Due to complex application processes, which are often in Catalan, it’s easy to find the procedures overwhelming and many people choose to avoid them altogether. Citizens from other EU countries can live in Spain legally using only their passport for identification. However, those who choose to live here without getting an NIE number (Número d’Identificació per a Estrangers, or foreigner’s identification number), a municipal registration (empadronament) or a residency card (targeta de residència) in the case of non-EU citizens may find themselves exempt from certain services and amenities.
When buying a property or a car, or working here, it is obligatory to have an NIE number. In addition, the law has been changed for EU citizens, meaning they are no longer issued with residency cards, but must register for the NIE if planning to reside in Spain for more than three months. This is done either at the local Oficina de Extranjeros (Foreigner’s Office) or at certain designated police stations. The NIE means you can legally remain in Spain as a fiscal resident, for example if you stay here for more than 183 days a year.
Many foreign residents are missing out on some (mainly free) services by failing to empadronar-se (register as a resident with the local town hall). Every municipality in Spain holds a record of local residents (padró) in its town hall (ajuntament); the British equivalent would be the electoral roll. Although it’s not compulsory to empadronar-se (though there are steps in place to make it obligatory in the future), there are major benefits both for the individual and their locality, as the local government receives income depending on the number of people who have registered. Areas with lots of foreign residents often suffer as so few foreigners bother to empadronar, badly affecting funding for basic services such as policing, health centres, cleaning and maintenance.
The empadronamiento also offers holders the right to enrol their children in the local school. If places are limited, families who are on the padró have priority.
“Whilst we don’t know the exact figures, we know there are a number of unregistered foreigners living here,” said Generalitat spokesman Manuel Campillo. “The majority of them are most likely living here illegally or don’t want to empadronar for personal reasons, or maybe they are simply passing through.”
Although empadronamiento is currently voluntary, Campillo is keen to encourage foreigners who are legal here who haven’t yet registered to do so. “There are many advantages—free health care for a start. Essentially you will become an official member of the community. It is a very easy process; all you have to do is go to your local town hall with the relevant documents.”
These documents are a copy of your identification (such as a passport) and proof of your address. This could be a rental contract, house deeds (escriptura) or a recent utility bill in your name. You can either be issued an individual certificate or one that covers the whole family. If for any reason they cannot issue a certificate on the same day, you will receive a temporary one (volant), which proves you are registered. However, it is not obligatory to have a certificate, but it’s necessary for some processes, such as getting a health card. The certificate is valid for three months. EU citizens only need to re-register if they move home; residents from outside the EU need to renew their empadronamiento every two years, if they don’t have a permanent residence permit. Depending on your nationality, when you register you will also have the chance to sign a census form, giving you the right to vote in local council and European elections. If you wish, a gestor can help you with the empadronamiento for a fee of around €50.