Moving to Spain: The Definitive Guide 2019

You’ve finally made up your mind that you’re moving to Spain for the long term. The picture in your mind is perfect: sun, tapas and sangría on the beach. However, before non-EU residents can make it a reality, there’s quite a bit of work to do.

Please note that this is not a step-by-step guide. Everybody’s journey is different, and there’s no one path to Spanish residency. Instead, I’ve broken it down into non-sequential sections. Simply look at the list, and find the relevant stage for you.

What do I need to do when moving to Spain?

While it may seem overwhelming at first, moving to Spain is entirely possible and well worth the effort. Here we’ve made a list of everything you need to take into account:

  • What Spanish visas can I get?
  • What do I need to do when I first arrive in Spain?
  • Do I need to pay taxes in Spain?
  • Can I get a job in Spain?
  • How do I manage my money in Spain?
  • Where do I find a place to live in Spain?
  • How do I travel in Spain?

What Spanish visas can I get?

Short term: A common first step

This is the most important part to get the ball rolling. When moving to Spain, you have to first consider the type of Spanish visa you want.

The most common types of Spanish visas are:

  • Student visa (generally the easiest option)
  • Non-lucrative visa (visado de residencia no lucrativa)
  • Freelance visa (visado de residencia y trabajo por cuenta propia)
  • Highly skilled visa (visado de residencia para profesionales altamente cualificados)

Long term: Off the bat

If you want to move from your country and live long-term in Spain from the get-go, your options are:

  • Freelance visa
  • Highly skilled visa
  • Directly contracted by a company
  • Golden visa

The road to residency

Been in Spain for a while and want to make it full time? There are many ways to get a work permit but these depend on a number of factors:

Fewer than three years

Unfortunately, if you’ve been here for fewer than three years, your options are essentially the same as if you’d just arrived:

  • Highly skilled worker
  • Entrepreneur
  • Pareja de hecho (civil partnership in Spain) / marriage
  • Freelance visa and non-lucrative visa, applied from your consulate
  • Golden visa

More than three years

Those of you lucky enough to have been living in Spain for over three years have a few more options:

  • Modificación de visa de estudios a residencia y trabajo por (student visa modification)
    • Cuenta ajena (contracted employer)
    • Cuenta propia (freelance / autónomo)
  • Arraigo social (if you have been here in an irregular situation for three years and haven’t spent more than 120 days outside of Spain).

Still not sure which one’s for you? For more detailed information, check out our infographic on how to get a work permit in Spain.

Ties to specific countries

Even if you aren’t from the EU, if you have a connection to certain countries—such as former colonies—you might have a few more options for moving to Spain full-time.

Portugal or Latin America

Anybody with citizenship in Portugal, Latin America (including Puerto Rico), Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and anyone with Sephardic Jewish roots can apply for Spanish nationality after two years. Please note this only applies to citizenship as a birthright (jus sanguinis or jus soli) and not through naturalization.


If your grandparents are from Spain, you have a greater chance of getting a year-long permit, which you can potentially turn into Spanish nationality after a year. Also, anyone born in Spanish territory can apply after one year of residency.


Guatemalan passport-holders who did not receive citizenship through naturalization can immediately apply for Spanish nationality when granted residency in Spain.  

*In all cases, people with dual nationalities are eligible for the benefits.

Moving to Spain: Visa complete!

The first part of your road to Spanish living is over. There’s still a long way to go—but the good news? You’ll be doing the rest of it in sunny Spain!

What do I need to do when I first arrive in Spain?

Moving to Spain

You’ve got your first visa, well done! You’ve just arrived in Spain and have a million things to do (more info below). But at least all the bureaucracy’s done, right? Unfortunately… no. If you want to stay in the country longer than three months, you have to complete a few things in the first 30 days:

Número de Identidad (NIE)

For non-EU expats, this number will appear on your tarjeta de extranjero (more on that later) but you should have the actual number on your visa, once it has been approved by the Spanish consulate in your country. It’s your own unique number for life and is needed for basically any financial transaction more complicated than buying a glass of wine on a warm summer’s evening. Only joking (slightly). You’ll need it for:

  • Opening a bank account
  • Getting paid by your employer
  • Paying taxes (see “Bureaucracy in Spain: Tax” section)
  • Registering for social services
  • Getting a driving license (see “Travel” section)
  • Registering on the padrón

So, as you can see, it’s a pretty important number to have!

Certificado de Empadronamiento

Registering on the padrón should be your next step in the must-do bureaucratic process. Essentially, this is registering you to a specific municipality. For example, in a large city like Madrid, if you move from one barrio (neighborhood) to another, you’ll likely have to register on a different padrón.

This is another extremely important step if you want to stay in Spain because you need this certificate before you can get your tarjeta de extranjero.

However, there are also other benefits from being empadronado:

  • Better public services. Local public services are funded according to the number of people registered in the area. The more people, the more money!
  • Registering for services. Without the certificado you can’t register for local healthcare, register your car’s license plates, vote in local or European elections or enroll your children in school.
  • Financial benefits. If you’ve registered on the padrón for a while, you are potentially able to get tax rebates for the cost of rent, work expenses, being a parent, etc.

Tarjeta de Extranjero (TIE)

I know I keep saying this, but it’s true every time: The tarjeta de extranjero is one of the most important documents a non-EU expat must get. Put simply, if you don’t get it, you won’t be able to stay. You must get it either within 30 days of arriving in Spain with a visa granted at your consulate, or within 30 days after having received approval for your residency in Spain.

First, you need to book an appointment on the government website to get your fingerprints taken. Click the provincias disponibles and select the area you’ve moved to:

Screenshot of where you get your cita previa according to where you live

Click accept and you will be taken to a new page. Under the despliegue para ver trámites disponibles en esta provincia, select POLICÍA-TOMA DE HUELLAS (EXPEDICIÓN DE TARJETA) Y RENOVACIÓN DE TARJETA DE LARGA DURACIÓN as shown below.

A screenshot showing the next stage in getting a cita previa for fingerprints

You will need to go to the Oficina de Extranjería (Foreigner’s Office), or the police station if there isn’t an Oficina de Extranjería nearby, to get one. The required documents are:

  • Passport / travel certificate / residence card (if applicable) and photocopies
  • Photocopies of your visa glued to your passport
  • Two recent color passport photos (white background)
  • A completed application form (Modelo EX17) and a photocopy
  • Certificado de empadronamiento, which can double as proof of address
  • Your old tarjeta de extranjero (if renewing!) and a photocopy
  • Any relevant documents—if you think you may need it, bring it!

WARNING: You also need to pay a tasa (fee) before your appointment and bring the document along with you. The one you need is Modelo 790 Código 012 and it will set you back €12. You can pay it at most banks.

Top Tip: It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Take all original documents as well as at least two copies in case something goes wrong.

Go to your appointment

Once all this is done, make sure you go to your appointment with a full reserve of patience (things can take a while). Once everything goes through, they will give you a document, which you can use to pick up your tarjeta de extranjero in 30 days. Success!

The temporary residence permit allows you to stay in Spain for one year, then you renew it every two years until you hit the five-year mark.

Watch out: If your visa expires before you get a tarjeta de extranjero, you will need an autorización de regreso. This is also true if you’re planning to travel and your visa is still being processed or if you’ve applied for your card and it hasn’t arrived yet.

Need something more specific? Check out our “How-to” posts or Q&A section to see if we’ve answered your query.

Legalized documents

For any foreign documents to be recognized in Spain, they need to be legally translated by a certified translator. You can get in contact with a sworn translator here.

Moving to Spain: First arrival complete!

Well done! You can finally take a breather, meet some people, and get to know your new country.

Do I need to pay taxes in Spain?

Moving to Spain

It doesn’t matter if you’re moving to Spain, Vietnam or the town three miles down from where you were born, taxes are just a part of life.

Who is eligible?

But you may wonder at what point you are actually eligible to pay taxes in Spain. Do you have to do it on a student visa? What about when you are autónomo? If you’re unsure, check out our comprehensive guide written by experienced Spanish tax lawyers to see exactly what you have to do.

More specific guides for autónomos

Many of you will have somewhat of an idea about what you should do, but would like a guide on the process of paying taxes in Spain.

Alongside this, we also have a guide for freelancers and business owners on filling out your annual summary of business-related VAT transactions every year.

And, here is another on how to declare VAT as an autónomo/a at the end of every quarter.

Moving to Spain: Tax stage complete! (For now)

OK, yes, paying taxes in Spain is a recurring issue. But still—enjoy that sense of achievement (and the potential rebate if it’s that time of year!)

Can I get a job in Spain?

Moving to Spain

Here on a student visa and want to work as well? You have the right to work up to 20 hours a week in a field related to your studies. However, if you’d like to work for longer or in a different sector, check out how Lindsey Larson got work permission on a student visa in Spain.

Contracted work

It can be quite difficult to find a job in Spain without first living in the country (for example, on a student visa).

For those who have managed to find a job in Spain from your own country, you will need a work permit.

Now time for some good news!

It’s the employer’s responsibility to apply for a work permit on your behalf. Once they have done this, you can then apply for a visa and move to Spain (see Visa section above).


You don’t need a work permit if you are:

  • going to live with a relative in Spain
  • moving to Spain to volunteer

Students and recent graduates

Students or recent graduates from a Spanish university can take advantage of a new initiative called the job search visa to help them stay in Spain (or any EU country) legally while looking for work.

Finding a job when in Spain

If you’re already in Spain and are looking for a new job, there are a few sites you can use:

Indeed. With a nice, simple layout, this site is a good resource to help you find the right job in Spain.

Infojobs. Infojobs is one of the largest job search websites in Europe and specializes in the Spanish market.

LinkedIn. As with anywhere in the world, LinkedIn is essential to build that all-important professional network.

Monster. Upload your resumé and browse by category or location to find the best job for you.

Going autónomo (freelance)

Like anything bureaucratic in Spain, getting an autónomo visa is no easy task. But if you’re already doing freelance work, or are chasing that entrepreneurial dream, it’s entirely worth the work.

For an in-depth view of how to get an autónomo visa, check out the wonderful Meagan’s equally wonderful self-employment visa timeline. This invaluable resource follows every step of her journey from being on a student visa to becoming autónoma!

Moving to Spain: Employment stage complete!

If you complete this stage, you definitely deserve a round of applause. We know it wasn’t easy, and it really demonstrates your passion for living the Spanish life.

How do I manage my money in Spain?

Choosing your bank: Documentation

The first thing to check out when choosing a bank are the required documentation. For nearly all Spanish banks, you will need a NIE (check out our Bureaucracy: First Arrival section).

Generally speaking, you will also need:

  • Proof of address
  • Proof of employment

And that’s it! If you would like more detailed information, check out Spotahome’s guide to the seven best Spanish banks.

Top Tip: According to various expat sources, Sabadell is regarded as one of the best Spanish banks for expats moving to Spain.

Transferring money (cheaply and safely!)

The days of Spanish banks charging a high premium for the privilege of sending your money to another account are gone. Well, they’re still here—but they’re no longer the only option. There are a number of money transfer services that are cheaper and easier to use.

We recommend:

  • Transferwise. This is one of the most-trusted services. They base their charges on the real current exchange rate, as opposed to inflated ones banks use. After agreeing the price, as long as Transferwise receives your money within 96 hours everything’s good to go!
  • Circle. Circle offers different crypto-financial services, including trading and (before long) investing. However, it also has a secure transfer option which, like transferwise, is simple and without fees.

Moving to Spain: Banking stage complete!

It’s always a relief when you have chosen and successfully opened your Spanish bank account. Why not take out a few euros and darte un capricho?

Where do I find a place to live in Spain?

Moving to Spain


When first moving to Spain, most people start by renting. The amount it costs can vary dramatically depending on where you live. In a small town or city, property in Spain goes for cheap! For example, €500 could get you a whole flat to yourself, whereas in a large city like Madrid, you could expect to pay around double.

The best apps for renting property in Spain are:

Spotahome. Spotahome is the best app if you want a flat but aren’t able to view it yourself. The app is easy to use and all homes are checked by the official Spotahome team.

Idealista. I’d say this is one of the most popular platforms for finding property in Spain. You can limit the search area by drawing a circle on the map and filter according to a number of specifications.

Fotocasa. Like Idealista, with Fotocasa you can filter according to different criteria to find exactly what you need.

Top Tip: In larger cities like Madrid or Barcelona, there is a huge demand for rented property in Spain. The easiest and safest way to get a flat from a distance is through Spotahome. If you decide to go it alone, you will have to check both Idealista (my preferred app) and Fotocasa religiously to be in with a chance of getting a good place. I can’t stress this enough—from experience, the best places often go within the first 30 minutes of publication! And that’s just to get a viewing.

*If you want to share, there are also some good Facebook groups where you can find flatmates, including “pisos y habitaciones de alquiler en Madrid” (Madrid only) or websites like “milanuncios”.


When buying property in Spain, the same regional price variations apply. Of course, this is a more complicated process and will take some time to complete.

Moving to Spain: Housing stage complete (renting) or super complete (buying)!

Break out the Champagne (or much more reasonable-yet-still-tasty Spanish cava) it’s time to celebrate your new digs.

How do I travel in Spain?

Moving to Spain

There are so many beautiful places to travel to in Spain—the problem is getting to them! Luckily, Spanish transport is quite good.

Getting a Spanish driving license

As you’re planning on living here long term, getting a Spanish driving license will probably be something you want to do. There are a few non-EU countries where you can just swap your current license over. However, the US is not one of them.

Quick overview:

Age: 18+

Existing license: Valid for 6 months after residency

Test type: Written and practical

Cost of getting license: €800-€1500

Check out our comprehensive guide on getting your Spanish driving license.

Bus services

Depending on where you travel in Spain, there are many smaller, local bus services that only operate regionally. For them, you’re best searching specifically for your route or even going to the station if possible. In my experience, the bus apps and websites aren’t usually overly reliable.

As for the larger services, the main ones are:

ALSA. Biggest company in Spain with many routes.

Avanza. Madrid to Extremadura, Castilla y León and Valencia through Castilla La Mancha.

Socibus. Madrid to Andalucía or the Basque Country.

Top Tip: If you aren’t worried about getting to your destination quickly, FlixBus is an extremely cheap way to travel in Spain and throughout Europe.



Like with any transport, there are different train services in local areas. However, the national railway is called Renfe. More often than not, this is the train you’ll be getting. Just go to their website, pop your information in, and book your journey!


The Ave is also owned by Renfe, but it’s the high-speed service. It really is excellent, although quite pricey and only available between major routes. It’s best to book your journey as far in advance as possible, preferably as soon as the tickets have been released.


The Cercanías are Renfe’s suburban trains that cover the surrounding areas around various cities. They are commuter trains and can’t be pre-booked, so depending on time of day and location, you may find them a bit cramped.


Only four cities in Spain have a Metro service: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Bilbao.

Madrid key facts:

Most common card types:

  • Tarjeta Multi: Your standard, rechargeable and completely transferable card. There are no individual paper tickets, so you must purchase one of these for €2.50 when you arrive before buying a trip.
  • Tarjeta Personal (TTP): A card of your own with your face on it. Non-transferrable. You can recharge it monthly or annually, with the price changing depending on the zone. If you’re under 26, you get it for €20 a month or €200 for a year.

Warning: If you travel to or from the airport by Metro, you will have to pay an additional €3 supplementary fee, unless you have a TTP. Yes, I was also annoyed the first time.

For individual prices and other information, check out the Madrid Metro website.


Barcelona’s tickets are more varied than Madrid’s, ranging from a tourist day pass to quarterly cards (both youth and adult).

To find out which one is right for you, check out the Barcelona Metro webpage, which has all relevant information. Oh, and the tickets to the airport are also more expensive!

Bilbao and Valencia

Here you can find out more info:

Moving to Spain: You have reached your destination!

Knowing how to easily travel in Spain can really open up a whole new world of adventure. Get out there and enjoy the incredible diversity the country has to offer!

Have we missed anything?

If there’s something else you’d like information about when moving to Spain for the long haul, let us know and we’ll add it to the guide!

For specific legal advice, get in touch with our trusted, English-speaking Spanish tax and immigration lawyers, who can set up consultations in Madrid or by Skype.