The Número de Identidad / Identificación de Extranjero (NIE) is a necessity in all fiscal or legal matters in Spain and pretty much anything else. It’s not difficult to get, if you know what you’re doing.
Unfortunately I didn’t.
But after listening to many variations on the correct procedure, shipping myself around the city in a sweat of panic and waiting in impossibly long queues, I finally cracked it. Now I pass this information on to you, oh brave traveller. For those who are interested, this is how I got my NIE in Barcelona – the quick way*.
Firstly, I will try to address some of the bullshit I had heard before successfully applying. All of this you can freely ignore but it’s handy to know so that you might be able to separate it from fact. I didn’t, and it cost me time and sanity.
It takes six weeks for the authorities to issue you with a NIE
You are issued with the number on the spot. It takes some officious administrative ghoul less than three minutes.
You can apply for a NIE at the police station
Yes you have to see the police, but that will come later.
You need to get your empadronamiento (register your address in Spain) from the town hall before you apply for your NIE
You’ll have to do this to get Spanish residency and there are benefits in relation to health care, but at this stage, it’s just a pain in the arse so don’t bother unless you really have to.
You can get a social security number without a NIE
Verdict: This is just so wrong that I can’t express it. I was told this by at least five intelligent Spanish people that it was possible. Maybe for them, but Spanish people don’t need NIEs so it’s no wonder they haven’t a clue about what it is or how to get one. This is not to say that you shouldn’t trust the advice of locals, but on this matter, all the good intentions on the European continent won’t make you feel better if you listen to them. Listen to the officials, yes, they have it half right, but not local laypeople. Sorry guys.
As of April 1, 2007 you must apply for your NIE at the Oficina de Extranjeros (Foreigners’ Office) at Avenida Marques de l’Argentera 2. It opens at 9am and reaches capacity well before then so go early. What you need to bring:
- Your passport
- One photocopy of this passport
- An Ex 14 application form (filled out). It won’t hurt to photocopy it but I didn’t need a copy
- Plenty of patience
WARNING: as of the time of writing this, all the Ex 14 forms available to download on the internet are out of date. All of them. There are several available, one from 2001 and one from 2004 etcetera but you need the one from 2007.
Some things that you might need (I didn’t):
- A few passport sized photos
- It also wouldn’t hurt to bring an official letter from your employer, bank, university or school to show that you are here for a reason.
- A photocopy of your pre-filled application form (assuming you can get your hands on the latest before you go)
I didn’t need any of these items, but it’s better to be prepared than despondent, to rework an old cliché.
It’s not unusual to see people queuing up at 7am to get in. These folks are not crazy; they are very clever people because they know that if you waltz up at the official opening time, like I did twice, you will be joining an impossibly long queue of sometimes 300 people, and you can be assured that you will be turned away. Like all Spanish government departments and banks, the Foreigners’ Office closes at 2pm and can only handle a mysterious yet evidently well-defined number of people before they close the doors.
If you’re unlucky enough to be refused entry, but lucky enough to be at the front in the line of rejects you may receive a number that will allow you to enter the following day. Even for this you will need to queue early. So assuming you’re somewhere towards the front (100 or so people back), expect to wait outside the building for about one to two hours. You will notice Barcelona waking up around you and will have a bucket of time to appreciate the architecture of the building before you. It is a very large stone edifice that would probably seem very beautiful if it wasn’t for the horror that lay within.
That first moment when you cross the threshold brings an unsurpassed level of elation. You pass through security and enter a well-lit court yard where some kind soul has placed rows of pews for you to rest your tired body. It doesn’t matter that sitting on them increases your chances of developing a debilitating case of piles by 500 per cent – you have earned this luxury and can now relax and pour scorn on the poor fools who are still waiting outside, probably on the verge of being told to return tomorrow.
Once inside a man in a clear plastic box gives you a ticket. Depending on what you’re there for, you’ll receive a different ticket. NIEs begin with the letter C. I don’t know what the other numbers and letters mean. At this stage you should ask for the latest Ex 14 form if you don’t already have it. Expect no-one except your fellow applicants to speak any English, although some of the staff do and may help you depending on their mood. The general mood on my day was grim.
There was a young woman behind me who, like everyone else, had been lining up for a few hours. I saw her ticket; the number was B221. It takes hours for your number to be called and the waiting can be mind-numbing. So you could have forgiven her for nipping outside to smoke a cigarette. Unfortunately for her, by some unusual spasm of efficiency, the numbers between B218 and B220 were all dealt with in 15 minutes and so B221 flashed on the screen twice and was then gone minutes before she returned.
She looked up in shock. First at the electronic board and then at the emotionless administrator standing at the door, barring her entry. First came the rejection. Then the bewilderment followed by pleading and then crying. When she realised that the stout man in the blue uniform was not going to allow her through because she had missed her turn, she flipped: “Joder! ” (“Fuck!”) she screamed and stomped away emitting curses that, although I didn’t understand them at the time, most certainly would have involved inviting the bureaucrats to fornicate with various members of their own family and possibly placing uncomfortable objects up their anuses. The uninitiated would describe this behaviour as erratic; off the handle perhaps, or overly emotive and irrational. Yet, when you know what it’s like to deal with the waiting, the impossibly strict bureaucracy and bizarre operating hours it seems appropriately justified. Who knows how many hours she had invested in the exercise. I personally thought she could have sworn a touch more and thrown in a bout of aggressive spitting too.
Ok, back to us. So you have your ticket. Don’t lose it! This ticket, apart from your passport and internal organs, is now the most important possession you have. It allows you to freely exit and re-enter the building while you wait for your number to be called. Prepare to wait three to five hours. You can risk exiting the building for a coffee or a cigarette (there is no smoking in the courtyard) or you could bring water and a sandwich or anything else you might need to survive an entire day. Want to end up like B221? No? Then hang around. C179!!! That’s me! Order your body to get up and climb the stairs to the desk. You will see a peturbed individual wearing tight brown clothes. He or she will look at your documents, photocopy your passport (on top of the photocopy that you must bring yourself) and type a few things on a computer that looks like it has the processing power of a mousetrap. Three minutes later, you will have your NIE. It is written on the form that you filled, which is stamped and returned to you. This the form you will be taking to the police. It shouldn’t need to be said now, but you guard this form with your life!!! You guard it well. Brown boy will also give you a form to take to a bank to pay the tax (6.70 euros) and a stamped paper to present to the police after you have paid this tax. All this done, you are ready to register as a foreigner living in Spain. Best thing to do is to turn up at the bank at 8:30 the following morning. Pay that damn tax and then head directly to the police station at Passeig de Joan de Borbó, 11. You’ll need:
- the proof of payment (blue and yellow forms stamped by the bank)
- your passport
- your stamped NIE application and a photocopy of your passport for good measure, although they’ll probably let that one slide if it’s Friday, the day before a public holiday or they’ve had wild and satisfying sex the night before.
They’ll then type and stamp a few things and then issue your official NIE: a lovely blue document that states your name, nationality, address and that special, special number. Congratulations. Life can nearly resume.
Now you can skip off to the Department of Social Security, fill in your form, throw a photocopy of your passport and NIE document at them (showing them the originals) and they will hand over a Social Security Number immediately. Opening a bank account will also be a cinch (same documents required but with no photocopies this time). La Caixa requires that you open an account at a branch near your house. A few friends had recommended this bank to me and I found them very good. There is literally a cash machine on every corner in Barcelona and the service is reasonable. They come in two flavours: red (Catalan branches) and blue (not sure how to describe them, but I guess they are more neutral in their views regarding the independence movement in Catalunya). Anyway, unlike Neo in the Matrix, you should go for the blue pill – at least you’ll be assured that they will speak Castellano to you and, if you’re lucky, they may give you a mint to suck on while they photocopy your passport.
I hope this has been helpful to somebody. I’m sorry it doesn’t cater for non-EU nationals but I didn’t have to venture down that route. I can only imagine the horror of trying to do this without citizenship of an EU country.
Obligatory foreigner’s disclaimer lest he be hounded out of the country by proud natives
Let me say now that I do not describe this experience with the intention to whine about Spain or the Spanish people in general. I like and respect them both, very much. It’s just the experience of an Australian in a foreign country attempting to deal with a new system, language and culture. Please don’t sue, stalk or assault me. Come to Australia: I can show you many weird, beautiful and highly annoying spectacles.
*This guide is current as of April, 2007. I won’t be updating it so apologies in advance to future readers if the information is incorrect due to any changes in the procedure, place names or documents.