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SpainGuru’s guide to the Madrid public transportation card, aka “el abono”

If you’re planning on living in Madrid for a long period time, I recommend getting a Madrid public transportation card, called an “abono’ in Spanish. The Madrid metro is really easy to use and will take you all around the city, even the outskirts. So here’s how to get it.

What is the Madrid Public Transportation Card?

This little red card includes access to the metro, city buses (EMT), and the regional Cercanías trains (from the city to the suburbs). This monthly card will give you complete access to these various forms of transportation for up to 30 days. After 30 days, all you have to do is find a metro card machine located in every station and pay either cash or card for the next 30 days.

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Types of Public Transportation Cards

There are 3 types of public transportation cards to choose from and the cost of each depends on your age and which city zones you want to include. The “normal” pass is for ages 26 to 64 and starts at 54,60€ for zone A only (Madrid city center). If you would like access to zones B, C, and E, there will be a difference in price. The “youth” pass is for ages 26 and under and includes all zones of the city for 20€. The “senior” pass is for ages 65 and up and covers zones A to C2 for 12,30€.

How to Get it

Getting the actual card for the first time is very simple. First, you have to request an appointment through the Madrid metro website. You will be able to make your appointment at any of the public transportation offices that are located inside the metro. These offices are bigger and are different from the usual ticket counters. You will be able to choose an office in a metro stop near you for your convenience.

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What you will need

  • For the actual appointment, bring an original copy of either your European Union ID, passport, or Spanish residency card. You will also need a current passport size photo (which can also be taken at the appointment) and a printed and filled-out copy of the Solicitud Tarjeta Transporte Público application.
  • Once you submit your documents, the card will be printed and given to you. You will then be able to charge your card at any of the metro machines and pay the necessary amount for 30 days.
  • You can also complete the process online if it is NOT your first time applying for the public transportation card. However, an in-person appointment is always recommended.

* I also recommend downloading the “Metro de Madrid app” and for a more in-depth article, check out a similar post by Naked Madrid.

Welcome to Madrid!

Applying for Spanish nationality after marriage: step by step

Clearly if you are reading this you want to know more information on how to apply for Spanish citizenship after you’ve been in Spain for a while. If you are married to a Spaniard and have been living in Spain for at least 1 year, this is the easiest way to apply.

There are other avenues, but they are more convoluted and the requirements change over time (this is Spain after all) – on average most Non-EU citizens will need to have legal residency in Spain for at least 5 to 10 years (without marriage – sorry “Pareja de Hecho” doesn’t count) in order to apply for your Spanish nationality.

The below steps and suggestions are written as a US citizen in Spain married to a Spaniard who lives in the center of Madrid and speaks pretty good Spanish. I´m going to try to keep it as general as possible, since everyone is different, but clearly this article is not for “one size fits all” situations.

Now onto information overload (It’s a long process and so will this blog post be) – continue ahead if you dare…

This is the official link with a breakdown of what you need from the Ministerio de Justicia

Most people will opt for Nacionalidad por Residencia

For more details on how to apply in person or via the internet – be sure to see the information on this website

You can look at the requirements of what is needed, I have them divided below as to what’s the hardest/most time consuming to do first, then the easier/less time consuming to do at the end. This can help you backwards plan since the exams are valid for 2 years and the other documents are only valid for 3 months. So backwards planning is important for this!

Although getting the certificado electronico is pretty straight forward, I would highly recommend to get it earlier than later in order to tramitar things other than applying for nationality: such as doing your declaración de renta, applying for various certificates and citas previas, etc. More details on that below.

What takes the longest time to get:

I would start with the exams you need to take, wait for the results, then apply for your birth certificate and the criminal background check of your home country.

  • CCSE Exam

Everyone needs to take the Prueba de CCSE (Conocimientos Constitucionales y Socioculturales de España). It is an exam that exemplifies that you know enough about Spain in order to apply for citizenship. The exam is in Spanish only. Depending on your level of Spanish and how familiar you are with Spain, you can take the exam with little to no study. However if your Spanish isn’t the best and you’ve only been here a year I would highly recommend you study. You need a 15/25 in order to pass and I found the exam quite easy however for someone new to this country, I don’t think they would find it easy.

I had to wait 3 months to register for a convocatorio in the center of Madrid and when I finally took it in September 2016 the cost was €86.

Here is my certificate for the CCSE exam

The results are valid for 2 years, and you don’t get your exact exam result back (it is just pass/fail). So if you get 25/25 you wouldn’t get that score on your result, so it’s not like you can brag on your CV or anything (yes I thought about that).

Here is the website of the CCSE exam. You will have to create a profile in order to register and through that profile you get a PDF version of your results through the website.

There are also apps that you can download to help you prep for the exam. And practice questions and answers can be found online, which you can memorize.

This is the official 99-page study guide for 2016 (2017 would be different I would imagine but that hasn’t been made available online yet). Use the chuleta (answer rubric) in the back to study the answers to the questions:


  • DELE Exam

If you are from a non-Spanish speaking country you will have to have a DELE score of at least A2. If you are from a Spanish speaking country the DELE exam is not necessary. I took the B1 exam because a montón of people were doing the A2 exam – I would have had to have waited 8 months to do the A2 exam in the center of Madrid.

I took the DELE B1 test in October 2016, the cost was 160 euros and I bought some books for the exam for 25 euros. Every test has a different cost, so check the website for more details on prices.

The test itself was over 2 days, one after another. One session was listening and presenting and the other session was reading, writing and more listening. Session timings vary at either 9am or in the afternoon and you can sorta choose when but not really – the school chose the sessions I would take. I took both days off work in order to study.

The results of this exam are valid for 2 years.

Here is the website on how to register for the DELE exam.

I chose International House Madrid for both the CCSE and DELE exams and other than super small desks for writing, I really liked the school. I had to email them in order to register for the DELE exam because I had difficulty registering online through the Instituto de Cervantes website and they got back to me really quickly.


  • Obtaining your birth certificate with Hague apostille, translated into Spanish with a traductor jurado.

    Hague Apostille Birth Certificate


You can go to your state/province/national website to apply for your birth certificate. I had to go to the US embassy and pay 50 euros for a notary in order to apply for my birth certificate and then 15 dollars for the birth certificate copy itself.

In case you need to notarize the application form, you will need to make an appointment at the Embassy for the notary here (wait time can be up to 1 month)

Once you receive the birth certificate you have to apply to have it Hague Apostilled. I used a vital records expeditor, details below.

Once you have the birth certificate with the Apostille, you need to use a traductor jurado to translate it. I used Tridiom near Sol to translate the documents, more details below.

  • Obtaining your national background check, translated into Spanish with a traductor jurado

You need to apply for your background check from your home country to show you never had a criminal record. For US citizens this means to get a FBI background check.

If you need your fingerprints done and stamped on a specific paper, you can either print the paper out or request a paper card from the Embassy. However now that Trump is president, I don’t think they give out the cards anymore. Here is the website for US citizens.

SpainGuru did an article on this, I would recommend having a look.

I went to the Scientific Police Station (near metro Pinar del Rey) to get my huellas (fingerprints) on the card. It is walking distance from the metro, but I took a taxi because they are only open 9:00 to 13:00 and that’s pretty far and I like to sleep in. Here is their Yelp page.

(Scientific Police Station) Photo Credit: Google Maps

You will need to bring a fingerprint card or the print out of the fingerprint card. Bring 2 just in case and tell them that the company you are using requires 2, just in case.

You need to go to the main building to go through security and then you are given a badge to walk inside the police station premises. You need to walk down the street and to the left to a blue building in the distance. Then enter the blue building, talk to another officer in the reception, and then you will be escorted upstairs to a CSI looking office where they will make you fill out a form and fingerprint you.

Once you get fingerprinted send it all off to the FBI to apply for the background check. I used

Then once you get the results in the mail, you need to use an expedited service to get the Apostille. I used Zertifica for both my birth certificate and the FBI background check and it took about a month turnaround time.

Hague Apostille FBI Background Check

Once you get the Apostille on the FBI background check and the birth certificate, you will need to use a traductor jurado. I used Tridiom near Sol. To translate my original background check, original birth certificate, and the 2 apostillas from English to Spanish it was 50 euros total.

Prices vary per state for the birth certificate apostille and the FBI apostille, so doing a breakdown here isn’t helpful, but I would “guestimate” it is about €50 each, to be around €200 in total approximately.

Once you have done/completed or finished the CCSE, DELE, birth certificate with apostille and FBI background check with apostille, take a deep breath because that was the hardest part! Have a night to relax and celebrate, and move on to the easier parts below.


Stuff that is pretty easy to get (Yay!)

These items are straight forward and although some are not necessary because when you do the online application it goes through the registry to find out your Spanish criminal record (antecedentes penales de España), your empadronamiento, and other consent things, I don’t trust it being all comprobado online so I allowed the official application website to check my statuses and also uploaded PDFs of the physical scanned copies just to be sure. If my paranoia is apparent through these steps, it’s because I am paranoid.

  • Empadronamiento with you and your spouse on it

Not necessary to provide a PDF document of this because when you do the application online it verifies your empadronamiento for you, but I still got a scanned paper version of it and uploaded it into the application. You could apply for a cita previa online to get a paper copy of the empadronamiento.


  •  Antecedentes penales de España

    Antecedentes Penales








Like above they do a check online for you, so it is not necessary to do it yourself but I always want to double check just in case. Here is the website for the certificate, you can do it online if you already have a digital certificate:


If you don’t have a digital certificate just yet you need to go to the office on Calle Bolsa 8 (Sol metro).

Download the application form beforehand, fill it out, print it out and go to the bank and pay the 3.70 euro fee.

Then go to Calle Bolsa, wait in line, go through the metal detectors, get a number, give the form and your NIE en vigor and they will give you a printout of the result of your criminal background check. I scanned this paper and attached it to the application.

(For those married….)


  • Certificado literal de matrimonio


This is needed if you are married to a Spaniard, and there is no online verification. Here is the site where you can get a copy mailed to you if you were married in Spain.

Literal de Matrimonio

  • Spouse’s literal birth certificate

My husband called his ayuntamiento for this and we received it 3 days later in the mail. You can also apply for this online. If you apply online you will need to know your spouses’s tomo and hoja of his birth certificate.

  • Paying the application fee (Modelo 790-Código 026)

You need to download the tasa online (apparently 1 tasa code per applicant), fill it out, print it out, and pay it at any bank (before 11am of course).

It costs 100 euros. The website states that in the future you could pay online, but as of now that is not possible.

On the main page, scroll down to Modelo 790 and download the form (only once).


  • Vida laboral

Not required but it sure does look nice to back up your application. You apply online and get it in the mail in less than a week.

Vida Laboral



  • Certificado electronico/online certificate/Autofirma

Since you have to apply online you need to have a certificado electronico on your computer and your browser in order to verify your identity.

You do this first by downloading a lot of stuff on your computer and going to an office to verify your identity. It’s a coñazo but not all that bad.

You need to download the digital certificate to your computer so you can apply online. The computer cannot be a Mac and you must use Firefox or IE (if you did it on a Mac you are a wizard or you must have a new Mac because it wouldn’t work on mine for the life of me).

Here are some websites and a video on how to get the digital certificate:


I installed it in Firefox on my work PC, because the Mac instructions were a nightmare. Apparently you can export the certificate and switch it over to another computer cross platforms…I tried but was unsuccessful.

There are a few steps for the certificate, follow the instructions online, modify your Mozilla browser as instructed on the website, download all the add ons, modify your settings as instructed, and download Auto Firma. Then apply for the certificado electronico with your name, NIE and email address and then you will get an email with a reference number.

Then make a cita previa on the Agencia Tributaria website for the person in the office to confirm your ID and release an email for you to download the certificate:

These are the instructions I received to make a cita previa:

“Take the email you received with the code to the closest office they state for you to go to and show your NIE en vigor. Once they verify that you are you, you will get another email to download the certificate.

But remember: you need to download it on the same computer, same browser, same everything.”


Now here are some things that are ridiculously simple to provide for the citizenship application! (Finally! Am I right?!?!)

Stuff that is super, super simple:

  • Copy of TIE front and back

Scanned into PDF to upload to the website.

You need to scan every page of your passport into a PDF. The page numbers need to be visible in the scans.

If your passport is about to expire, a new passport may be needed for this. A new US passport costs 110 dollars. A US passport is now 52 pages and I couldn’t scan all of those with the scanner I had because it keep giving me error messages, so if that happens to you try to use a PDF application to combine the pages together.

I provided separate PDF versions of my new passport and my old passport with my Spain visas just to be sure. My new passport had no stamps so I thought providing the old passport was a good measure to show.

Once you actually start applying:

Once you got all your goodies together and you are ready to apply, you sign in to the site with your certificado electronico. There are 5 tabs on the site called:

  • Solicitud – Where you fill out your normal details
  • Documentación – Where you upload all the documents
  • Tasas – Where you upload the PDF of the paid tasa
  • Examenes – Where you allow them to look up your CCSE and DELE results (I did that and provided PDF backups too).
  • Resumen y Envio – Where you go over the application and make sure it’s all neat and hit send. If there is anything pending, it will not let you hit send, so go over it with a fine tooth comb and check everything.

In the uploading process, be careful of the name of the PDF document:

  • No spaces
  • No special characters
  • No long titles – make it super minimal or they won’t upload

I would do last name and what it is all together like: NameCertNac

In case the PDF is too large, you can use an online compression tool to shrink it down.

It does take a while for the Instituto de Cervantes to approve that you have taken the exams, at least for me. I hit the comprobar button and I had to wait 24 hours and then hit comprobar again and then it worked. I still uploaded the PDF proof of me passing the exams just in case there is a server error or something – it is always helpful to have backup.

Once you have successfully applied you just need to wait. Some sites say it should be less than a year, some people have been waiting 3+ years before it was a digital application process. So it’s just a waiting game.

Image from:

Here is a breakdown of the prices when it comes time to start applying. Please note every situation is different, so yours won’t be as difficult/easy as my situation, so investigate on your end as needed.

ITEM expense low end expense high end
Application 100 100
DELE Exam (B1) 160 185
CCSE Exam 86 86
Birth Cert Notary Application 50 50
Birth Cert 15 15
Birth Cert Spouse 0 0
FBI Background check 56.6 60
Apostille Birth Cert 40 100
Apostille FBI Background Check 40 100
Translat. Jurado: Birth Cert and FBI Check 50 100
New Passport 0 115
Spanish Marriage Certificate 0 0
Empadronamiento 0 0
Antecedentes Penales España 0 0
Firma Electronica 0 0
TOTAL 597.6 911

Once you have successfully submitted, you can check the status online here.

I applied April 20th 2017 and I am currently waiting. Once there is an update on my end, I will make sure to share the news (whether good or bad).


Best of luck and stay patient!


How to apply for “pareja de hecho” (civil union) in Spain

If you’re living in Spain (or thinking of moving here) and are in a relationship with a local, you’ve probably heard of “pareja de hecho.”

“Pareja de hecho” means something like “official couple” and is roughly the equivalent of a “civil union.” It gives you many of the advantages of being married, without many of the obligations.

One of those advantages is being able to live and work in Spain if your “pareja” (partner) is a European citizen.  Once you have official pareja status, you’re able to apply for a residency permit under the “reuniting with family” process, exactly as if you were married.

Here are the steps to follow:

Request an appointment

The first step is to go right now to Calle Gran Via, 18  (if you’re in Madrid) and request an appointment for the PdH Monday through Friday between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM.  The wait for an appointment can be six months or more. This must be done in person but the process is simple and takes about 5 minutes.  Be sure to bring your TIE or passport with you.  You’ll end up with a little piece of paper with your appointment date and a sheet of instructions, which brings us to…


The requirements for PdH vary by community, so verify what the requirements are in the area where you will be filing.  In Madrid, the requirements are as follows:

  1. You must be over the age of 18.
  2. You must have lived together for 12 uninterrupted months. In Madrid, this is confirmed through the written statement signed by your witnesses.
  3. At least one member of the union must be “empadronado” in the Community of Madrid.  You do not have to be be “empadronados” together.
  4. You must be single, divorced, legally separated or widowed.
  5. You must not be related.
  6. You must not be already “pareja-ed” with someone else.
  7. You must be mentally capable of entering into the union.


One month before your appointment, you must present the following documentation, original and photocopy, in person in the same office where the appointment was requested Monday through Friday between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM. These documents must all be a maximum of 3 months old at the time of your appointment, so plan accordingly!

  1. A completed “solicitud” –
  2. Proof of the paid “tasa” – Modelo 030.  You could wait and turn this in the day of your appointment.  The cost is currently 82.12€.
  3. Valid NIF or NIE, passport or residency card for both members of the pareja and two witnesses. For the witnesses, you can provide a photocopy of their IDs when you turn in your paperwork.  On the day of your appointment, your witnesses will need to come in person with the valid IDs.
  4. Certificate of Empadronamiento – Not a “volante”.  You can request this online and have it mailed to you at
  5. Proof of marital status – Basically an official paper that says you are single. Spain regularly provides this to its citizens but there is no U.S. equivalent.

For Spaniards – If you live in Madrid, go to the Registro Civil at Calle Pradillo, 66.  You don’t need an appointment, just your ID.

For Americans – You must make an appointment with the U.S. Embassy for “notary services”. The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Serrano, 75.  Appointments can be made here.  At the appointment, you will sign a sworn statement, in Spanish, that you are single.  The consul will then stamp the document. All you need to bring is your passport and 40€.

Because this document is from a foreign government, it must be “legalized”. This means another appointment, which can be made here, at the office of legalizations in Calle Juan de Mena, 4.

Once you have your “pareja de hecho” status, then it’s time to apply for residency, which will give you the right to live and work in Spain.

The process for applying for residency, along with all the requirements, can be found on this official information page (in Spanish).

One thing to keep in mind is that, you shouldn’t have any problem doing “pareja de hecho” with your partner; however if at least one of you is not gainfully employed you may have trouble being approved for residency. If neither of you are employed, it is possible to make up for that by showing funds in the bank (rule of thumb I’ve heard is around 10,000 euros at minimum).  That issue could be the topic for another post!

I hope this helps some of you through this process.  It’s definitely one of the simplest ways to gain the right to achieve Spanish residency.

A special thanks to Elise Horn for compiling the information used in this post.

Meagan with Tapas magazine translations

Self-employment visa timeline: becoming an “autónomo” (freelancer) in Spain

Meagan with her self-employment visa

Here I am with visa in hand after months of diligence and patience!

Thinking about applying for a visa to work as a freelancer in Spain? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Here I’ll explain step-by-step what my experience was like. I am American who was already living in Spain on a student visa (as part of Spain’s language assistant program). I decided to apply for a new visa to be able to work full-time as an autónomo, which is the Spanish term for “freelancer worker.” I was able to start the process from Spain, but had to go back to the US to pick up the visa.  Now I’m working as a translator in Madrid.

Note that it’s also possible to start this process without ever having lived in Spain by doing everything at your local consulate. And for those who have been in Spain for more than three years, it’s also possible to apply for a “modification” of your existing residency status, or to apply for to “legalize” your situation if your status is “irregular” under a process known as “arraigo social,” without having to get a new visa. An overview of all of these processes and links to more information can be found in the SpainGuru post titled “How to get a work permit in Spain.”

Whatever your current situation is, most of the steps I describe in this post will be relevant to you if you decide to go the “cuenta propia” (self-employed) work permit route. This type of work permit is a great option for those who are already freelancing or doing remote work, and want to be able to continue that activity in Spain, or for people who want to start a new business in Spain.It is the only type of Spanish work permit that doesn’t require a corporate sponsor. So, for those who want to come to Spain and look for work, it can also be an interesting option, since many employers are willing to hire workers nearly full time on a “freelance” contract. 

Madrid Gran Via

The hard work paid off. Now I get to live and work in the beautiful city of Madrid! Photo credit: Ángela Ojeda Heyper

A few disclaimers before we begin: While getting a work permit as a self-employed freelancer is totally achievable, it requires patience and determination. The initial pre-approval took about six weeks. But, if you also take into account all the time I spent gathering documents, my travel to the US to get the visa put in my passport, the weeklong visa processing time, my enrollment in the Spanish tax and social security system, and my application for a residency card (which took three tries – more on that later), then altogether, it will have taken about 6 months by the time I (hopefully) receive the card! Although, it’s worth noting that upon receiving the visa in my passport, which I got about three months after starting this journey, I was already able to start working and paying taxes in Spain.

Financially speaking, it cost more than every other type of visa: all in all, I spent 628 euros on the entire process. 

The financial breakdown:

Description Amount 
UPTA €15
Declaración jurada (embajada) €50
Tasa modelo 790 código 052 €10.50
Tasa modelo 790 código 062 €195.88
Regreso (to come back to Spain) €10.30
New TIE €15.45
Subtotal for what I paid in Spain: €297.13
FBI background check (Accurate Biometrics) $50
Apostille in DC for FBI background check $8
Tasa for visa itself (to pay in Chicago) $270
USPS Express Mail envelope w/ prepaid stamps $22
 Subtotal for what I paid in the US: $350 (€331)
Grand total: €628.13

Before you dive in, ask yourself if you plan to live and work in Spain long-term. If the answer is no, and you’re just looking to spend time in Spain, you’re might be better off going another route, such as working part time on a student visa, getting a “non-lucrative” visa without a work permit, or simply staying for three months on a tourist visa.

But if Spain is where you want to be in the long haul, it’s well worth obtaining work permission as a freelancer: you’ll be able to send invoices using your Spanish tax information, you’ll be enrolled in the Social Security system, building your retirement and getting access to public health care, and you’ll “start your clock” in Spain—after officially being a resident of Spain for five years, you’ll be able to apply for permanent residency (years as a student only count for half). Also, once you establish residency as a freelance worker, you’d be able to apply for a “modification” in order to work for another employer if you get a job offer — which is much easier than getting an employer to sponsor you from the get-go.

Meagan with Tapas magazine translations

In the end, it all paid off! Now I’m working as a translator – and here I am admiring some of my translation work that went to print!

I kept notes on the process as I went along, and now I’ve put together a detailed breakdown of every step in the process and how long it took. I hope you can learn from my experience! It’s a resource I wish I’d had six months ago when I started this journey!


June 10, 2016: Started collecting documents

This is when I really decided to go autónomo. I started collecting info, reading up on the process, and met with a lawyer to get better informed(I didn’t end up using the lawyer, but it probably would have made the process easier. I think most lawyers will do the process for you for under €1000). Note that I did everything in Madrid and at the Chicago consulate – some aspects may vary depending on what offices you’re dealing with. Don’t take this as the final word – always check with your local immigration office (extranjería) or consulate before getting your documents together, especially since the requirements change quite often!

June 15, 2016: Wrote my business plan

First page of business plan

This is what my business plan looked like. Download it here.

This is essentially a document to prove that you know what your’e doing and will have an income once you get to Spain. It needs to explain how much of an investment you will need (this depends on your business, but mine was around €1,000 since I’m a freelancer with essentially no start-up costs) and how much you have (proven by official bank certificates that your bank should be able to print for you very easily), what your line of work will be, who your clients are (if you have them), how you’ll get clients (if you don’t have them), etc.

In my case, I wanted to pursue translation work as a freelancer, and I had an offer from one client in hand that would meet the minimum income requirements, so I didn’t need to look for other clients.

To make my business plan I downloaded a template from the Internet and added in all my details. I had a Spanish friend read it over and correct the language. You can see my final business plan here. You’ll notice that in my plan, both my income and my initial investment were very low. I wasn’t sure if it would get approved – but I decided to give it a shot, and it was!

To prove you have clients, you’ll also need to provide a collaboration agreement from at least one client who is willing to pay for your services. This type of service agreement is much less of a liability than an actual employment contract, so it should not be hard to convince a company to provide you one.  Unlike an employment contract, a service agreement can be ended at any time with no consequence for the company providing the contract. To make this contract, I used the template on SpainGuru and the client and I adjusted it to reflect the work I would be doing.

June 21, 2016: Got a stamp of “viability” on said business plan (optional, but recommended)

Take this business plan to one of the organizations that the government recognizes as being able to judge the “viability” of your business plan. Having a pre-approved business plan will give you an edge and make the rest of the application process go faster.

I went to UPTA (Unión de Profesionales y Trabajadores Autónomos). It’s an organization that helps freelancers get started and continue doing business, and has offices all over Spain.

In my case, they didn’t answer my calls or emails, but when I went in person during their opening hours they were very helpful (note, they close for siesta!). In theory, if you email them beforehand, they should be able to send you a checklist of things to bring with you so that you won’t have to make multiple trips. Along with your printed business plan, they’ll have you bring things like your bank certificate, a copy of your passport, a photocopy of your clients’ NIEs (if you have clients), a photocopy of your degree or otherwise certification needed in your field (if it exists), etc. In my case, when I turned all this in I was charged a fee of €15. (Note that this was my experience in Madrid, and may vary depending on which UPTA office you visit.)

Over the next week or two, their tech will look it over and let you know if it’s missing anything. Mine wasn’t, so they gave me a call and I went to pick up all my documents plus a shiny letter of recommendation with their (literal) stamp of approval. Note: this piece of paper does not mean you are approved. It essentially just tells the government that you’ve done your homework in creating a legit business plan, and it makes it more likely that you’ll get approved.

UPTA is just one of the five organizations authorized to approve business plans. Here is the full list:

  • Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de Empresarios y Trabajadores Autónomos (ATA)
  • Unión de Profesionales y Trabajadores Autónomos (UPTA) 
  • Confederación Intersectorial de Autónomos del Estado Español (CIAE)
  • Organización de Profesionales y Autónomos (OPA)
  • Unión de Asociaciones de Trabajadores Autónomos y Emprendedores (UATAE)
UPTA office in Madrid

The UPTA office in Madrid is in the Delicias neighborhood. You may have to go in person to get their attention, as they aren’t very responsive to unsolicited phone calls or emails. Photo credit: Google Maps

June 22, 2016: Made my first appointment at the immigration office (extranjeria)

I made my appointment online at this website (the same one for all immigration appointments) in order to get my application pre-approved for my new visa while still in Spain. The option you’ll want to choose from the drop down list is “Autorización inicial de Residencia y Trabajo por Cuenta Propia.”  If you’re not in Madrid, it may have a slightly different name.  If you’re not sure, you may want to call your local extranjeria office to check. My appointment ended up being at an office on Calle Silva 19 – which is right in the city center of Madrid! Thankfully, I didn’t have to go to the dreaded main office in Aluche!

Extranjeria appointment

Visit this website to make your initial extranjeria appointment.

June 23, 2016: Got the ball rolling on my FBI background check

FBI fingerprint cardThe next thing I did during June was get my federal (FBI) background check in the states. This isn’t needed until you apply for your visa in person in the US, but the process takes a while so you need to start early. You can take your fingerprints yourself and send them, along with about $50, to a private agency to be analyzed (see our blog post about this process). On the application for the background check, I personally put my parents’ address in the States, so that it would be faster (and because my contract was about to end for my apartment in Spain).

June 27, 2016: Turned documents in at extranjería (at aforementioned appointment)

At the end of the month, I had my appointment at the immigration office at Calle Silva, 19 in Madrid. I turned in my business plan and my UPTA approval letter, along with the forms and fees listed here (in Spanish). They scanned everything and returned my original copies to me. They told me I’d receive an approval letter in the mail (technically they can take 3 months to do this, but mine only took about a month).

It’s important to note: At this stage you ONLY need what you turned in to UPTA (business plan, bank account statements, etc.). You do NOT need your FBI check or other requirements yet. You only have to present those when you actually apply for the visa (details to follow).

FBI background check results

FBI check (click to see larger).

June 30, 2016: FBI background checked received, and sent off for apostille

My parents received my background check at their address in Indiana in about a week, and then immediately sent it off for an apostille. They included a return envelope so the final apostilled background check would be sent back to them as well. That way, when I arrived in the States to apply for my visa in person, my background check was there waiting for me.

It’s definitely faster to do everything in the states. However, if you prefer to handle everything on your own without relying on friends or family, it is possible to have the results sent to you in Spain and to do everything from there. However, if you do that the mailing back and forth would take longer.

August 19, 2016: Received extranjeria approval AND my apostilled FBI background check

The apostille (click to see larger).

I received a letter in the mail that my application for pre-approval from extranjeria was approved! This is the most important step of the process, because once the immigration office approves, the steps of actually getting the visa, and later your residency card, are just procedural. The decision has essentially already been made at this stage.

And, on the same day, my parents received the apostilled FBI background check back home in Indiana. Things were going exactly to plan!

It took over a month to receive my apostille – which I heard was unusual. But I was grateful to finally receive it after much pestering of the authentications office, and being told everything would be fine. Thankfully, it was!

Apparently they just had an unusually high workload. Others have told me they received their apostille in a less than a week.

August 23, 2016: Arrived to US

I planned to be in the US for five weeks, which gave me plenty of time to get everything done for my visa.

Downtown Indianapolis

Sweet home Indiana! Photo credit: Daniel Schwen

August 28, 2016: Got my medical clearance

Yes, at least at the Chicago consulate, the medical clearance HAS to be from an American doctor in the U.S., not a Spanish doctor in Spain, even if you already live in Spain. Annoying, I know. This is the same medical clearance needed for any type of visa, and is just a letter from a doctor saying they checked you out and you don’t appear to have any communicable diseases.

September 2, 2016: Traveled to my visa appointment in Chicago

The day arrived for my visa appointment at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago. The girl working was very confused because most who apply for this visa (already very few) apply before they move to Spain. I, however, had already been pre-approved in Spain, so I didn’t have to turn in all of the documents listed on the website. I explained my situation, she showed her boss everything, and they smiled and told me to expect to be approved very quickly. Total and utter relief. I turned in all documents and $270 addressed to the consulate (yes, you pay €200 in Spain and then another $270 in the States for the same application; I told you it was the most expensive!).

I provided them a USPS Express Mail envelope with prepaid stamps (which cost $20). This was needed so they could mail my passport back to me when my visa was approved (they’ll take your passport when you apply, so don’t plan on going anywhere until you’re approved). For the other autónomo visa requirements (it’ll mostly just be photocopies of documents), check your consulate’s website. My consulate is in Chicago, and each consulate has a slightly different way of doing things.

The Spanish consulate: One of the most beautiful sites in Chicago – at least when you are SO CLOSE to having your Spanish work permit! Photo credit: Google Maps

September 9, 2016: Visa (and work permission) received!!!

As promised, one week later, I received my visa in the mail. Note: if you’re applying from the States and you haven’t already been pre-approved in Spain, you should expect to wait longer (I’m not sure exactly how much longer).

From this point on, it’s pretty much smooth sailing. There’s more work to do, but you overcame the hardest part: you can officially live and work in Spain!

Visa in my passport

Here’s the prize! This is what the visa looked like in my passport.

September 30, 2016:  Returned to Spain and made my next extranjeria appointment

On this day, I returned to Spain and got my visa stamped. Make sure this happens. If for some reason, they don’t stamp your passport (like if you flew into another European country first), demand that they stamp it. You’ll need this later to prove how long you’ve been in the country with your visa. If for some reason you don’t get the stamp, it’s not the end of the world , but you will complicate your life by having to provide other proof of how long you’ve been in Spain.

Once you enter the country you have 90 days to apply for your residency card (once you have the card, you no longer need a visa – that’s why the initial visa is only for 90 days). You’ll need to go back to the same web site as you did the first time to make your next appointment with extranjeria. But before your appointment, there’s a couple of steps you’ll need to complete first: enrolling at the Spanish tax and social security offices, in order to get documents that are required for your residency card (known as your TIE or tarjeta de identificación de extranjero).

Barajas airport passport control

It’s good to be back! Source:

October 4, 2016: Got my social security number

The next order of business was to get a social security number (Calle Juan Bravo, 49). I brought my passport and my completed NA1 form. This step only gives you a number (this number will not ever change). Note: There are two more steps to follow after this before you’re actually enrolled in Spanish social security. The social security number, which you can request at any time, even if you don’t have a work permit yet – won’t do you much good on it its own.

October 7, 2016: Enrolled at the Spanish tax office

On this day, I had my appointment at the Spanish tax office, called Hacienda, (Calle Montalbán, 6; Administración de la Agencia Tributaria) to sign up for IAE (Impuesto de Actividades Económicos). This office deals with your income tax, which freelancers pay every three months, and is separate from Social Security. I enrolled in the system, meaning I’ll officially pay taxes for the first time in January.

I also tried to get my “clave pin” and “certificado digital” on this day, which are the username and program installed on your computer (and only your computer) in order to pay taxes. I couldn’t do this because I didn’t have my new residency card (known as a TIE)yet. More on that later.

October 19: Went to my extranjeria appointment in my first attempt to get my TIE

I went to the main extranjería office in Aluche, where all immigrants must go to get this card (Avenida de los Poblados, S/N, Madrid, Madrid 28044). Don’t make my mistake: I was turned away because I didn’t have the paper saying I was concedido, meaning the application was approved and processed in the system. They sent me to the office by Santiago Bernabéu (Calle Manuel Luna, 29), and a nice lady printed out a piece of paper saying I was concedido (apparently they sent it to me by mail but I never got it). I promptly made another TIE appointment at Aluche.

Aluche: the main immigration office in Madrid

Prepare to lose half a day whenever you have to go to this place: the dreaded “Aluche”!

October 24: Enrolled in the Social Security system

Social security enrollment certification

This is what you will receive to prove you are enrolled in social security (click to see larger).

Now is the time to finish actually enrolling in the Social Security system, at the office on Calle de la Cruz, 7. I was told next month I’d be charged for both October and November at once (€50 for each month, so €100 altogether) and that starting December it’d go back to the normal €50 each month. Note: If you live in Madrid the social security fee for autónomos is now only €50/month (€50.89 to be exact) for the first 18 months. This is thanks to a rebate from the community of Madrid that is on top of a nationwide discount offered to new autonomos. For those of you not in Madrid, you will have to pay €53/month for the first six months, and then it will go up incrementally until reaching €297 per month for the rest of your life as an autónomo. I don’t quite understand it all myself, so please speak with a financial professional for more details on that!  Note that to get the Madrid rebate it is REALLY important that you apply between your 3rd and 6th month of business activity or else you will have to pay the normal rate. Also note that if you ever miss a social security payment you will have to pay the full €297 that month, rather than the discounted amount! So, pay on time!

November 3: Applied for my residency card AGAIN

My second TIE appointment arrived. I brought all my documents: 3 passport-size photos, social security info, the application, payment… The lady confirmed that I had all of my documents. But what was missing wasn’t a document: if you read the fine print of the paper I got on Manuel Luna, 29, saying I’ve been concedido, it says at least one week before my appointment at Aluche, I must send photocopies of three things (my visa, my social security enrollment paper, and my empadronamiento) to a specific email address ( so that my information could be “archived.” Once I’m archived, my status in the system changes from “pendiente” (pending) to approved. No one will tell you to do this, and the email address will not confirm they’ve received your documents, even after sending them multiples inquiries (can you tell I’m bitter?), but you just have to do it.  I made my third TIE appointment.

Aluche immigration office in Madrid

View of Aluche from the inside, from the first floor looking down.

November 25: Applied for my residency card: THIRD TIME!

I had my third TIE appointment, and the third time was the charm! They told me to come back in 30 days to pick up my shiny new TIE.

Meagan at her computer

Once I was enrolled in Spanish tax office and social security I was ready to start translating and invoicing clients!

Future to-do’s

Yes, there’s still more to do in the months to come—but don’t worry, the pace has slowed down now. After I get my new TIE, I’ll need to go back to the Hacienda office by Banco de España (Calle Montalbán, 6) and activate my “clave pin,” as well as get a “certificado digital” installed on my computer. This lets me pay my taxes (which are filed every 3 months for autónomos) and I’ll only be able to do it from my computer. The next time we (all autónomos) file is in January.

As you can see, the process is not for the faint of hearts: it requires patience and perseverance. But the benefits far outweigh the work if you want to live and work in Spain! My advice is to ask as many questions as possible, double and triple check your paperwork, and demand written (or emailed) confirmation when you submit documents.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer! Good luck!

Essential links for dealing with the Spanish immigration office (extranjeria)

The information in this post was collected from the Oficina de Extranjeria in Madrid in January 2016.

Oficina de Extranjeria –  or

For Links to all of the other Spanish Extranjeria Offices across Spain, click here:

Madrid Extranjeria Offices Information:

  • Main Office for General Information in Madrid:
    • Calle Manuel Luna, 29 (Metro: Estrecho – L1)
    • Hours Open – Monday to Thursday 9am-5pm and Fridays 9am-2pm (*Except for the week of San Isidro, Christmas week and National Bank Holidays)
  • Branch Offices:
    • Calle Fuego, 26 – Alcobendas (Metro: Marques de Valdavia – L10)
    • Calle San Nicasio, 31 – Leganes (Metro: Sur Leganes Central – L12)
  • Offices for Specific Information:
    • Calle Garcia de Paredes, 65 (Metro: Gregorio Marañon – L7 & L10)
      • Humanitarian Reasons, Expulsions & Fines, Gender Violence
    • Avenida Plaza de Toros, 14 (Metro: Vista Alegre – L5)
    • Calle Silva, 19 (Metro: Callao – L5 & L3)

Presenting Your Documentation:

Renovaciones de Residencia y Trabajo:

  • You have 60 days before the Expiration Date on your card and up to 90 days after that date to renew your residency. By putting in your paperwork to renew will not put you in a state of “limbo” but will actually still let your residency be valid until the official resolution has been decided. This is why it is extremely important when you put in your paperwork for renewal to keep your “expediente”.

Resoluciones Favorables:

  • When you get a Resuelto Favorable for your renewal of residency/ residency and work/ larga duracion/ or student visa, you do not need to get a second copy of your “resolucion”, you can directly apply for an appointment to get your fingerprints and new identity card.
  • When you are getting a Modification to your “autorizacion” or permit/visa, then YES, IT IS MANDATORY to get a duplicate of your “resolucion”.

(*If you see anything wrong with this information or any links that do not work, please make sure to contact us as we know sometimes there are technical issues and we want to keep this post as up-to-date as possible. Thanks!*)