What is the allowed time outside Spain before applying for Spanish nationality?

According to the 2023 rankings, Spain and Germany share the third position, enabling Spanish passport holders to travel to 191 countries visa-free. Japan and Singapore, on the other hand, hold the top spot together, granting their passport holders access to 193 countries without the need for a visa.

As Spanish national, you enjoy the right to live, work, and study in any European Union (EU) country, as well as the European Economic Area (EEA) countries. This includes countries like Germany, France, Italy, and many more, without needing a visa or work permit.

Spanish citizens have access to the country’s social security system, including benefits such as healthcare, unemployment benefits, pensions, and other social services. Spain has a robust public healthcare system that provides comprehensive medical coverage.

The process of obtaining Spanish nationality is one of the final steps taken in Spain as a foreign citizen. It is, so to speak, the end of the road as a foreign citizen in our country and therefore a vital and very important procedure for all of you.

Today we address a very interesting topic regarding this process of obtaining Spanish nationality and its approval: the periods of time spent outside our country.

Requirements for Spanish Nationality

As always, let’s start from the beginning. Spanish nationality, like any other procedure in Spain, requires the fulfillment of a series of requirements for its approval. To keep it concise, we will focus on the fundamental pillars, which are:

  • Lack of Criminal and Police Records in Spain and in the country of origin or provenance. This translates to having good civic conduct.
  • Integration in Spain. Having passed the CCSE and/or DELE exams or being exempt from taking these exams.
  • Legal and Continuous Residence over time before applying for Spanish nationality.

We focus on this last point, which is legal and continuous residence in our country. Here, although it seems like a single requirement, there are actually two requirements. On one hand, we must prove that we have the necessary period of legal residence in our country. To determine the specific legal timeframe in each case, we refer to the Civil Code, which establishes the following deadlines:

  • General deadline of ten years.
  • Five years for those who have obtained refugee status.
  • Two years when it comes to nationals from Ibero-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, or Portugal, or Sephardic individuals.
  • One year for:
    • The person who was born in Spanish territory.
    • The person who has not timely exercised the option.
    • The person who has been legally subject to guardianship, curatorship with full representation powers, custody, or foster care by a Spanish citizen or institution for two consecutive years, even if they continue in this situation at the time of application.
    • The person who, at the time of application, has been married to a Spanish man or woman for one year and is not legally or de facto separated.
    • The widower or widow of a Spanish woman or man, if there is no legal or de facto separation at the time of the spouse’s death.
    • The person born outside of Spain to a father or mother, grandparent, or grandmother who were originally Spanish.

As you can see, these deadlines are well-defined, but what should we consider regarding the continuity of that legal residence in Spain? Continuity refers to two distinct issues:

  1. First, it refers to the legal residence being continuous over time, without having lost your residence card or legal status in our country.
  2. Second, it means having stayed in Spanish territory during that period. In other words, if you have traveled to your country, which is something you can do, such trips must have been limited in duration.

Time spent outside of Spain before applying for nationality

As long as you have legal residence in Spain, you can travel outside our country with your residence card and valid passport. However, be careful! Spending too much time abroad can have negative implications for both your residence and nationality.

When it comes to granting nationality, you should consider several things regarding your departures from Spain:

  • If you have long-term residence, the Ministry of Justice does not usually question departures extensively, as it understands that having permanent or long-term legal residence implies continuity. In these cases, the continuity issue is less often questioned. However, despite this flexibility for long-term residents, we do not recommend staying outside of Spain for more than six months continuously.
  • If you are a temporary resident, for example, and you have applied for nationality as a Colombian citizen, where you only need to prove two years of legal residence to apply for nationality, the Ministry of Justice does not want you to have stayed outside of Spain for more than 90 days continuously.

Having said all this, you must bear in mind that the criteria regarding these departures and the continuity of residence and stay in our country may vary over time.

Here, we recommend using common sense. For example, if you are an Argentine citizen and want to apply for nationality after two years of legal residence, it would not make sense to have five trips of two months each. Although none of them exceed the continuous period of 3 months, multiple trips can be viewed unfavorably by the Ministry and may even result in the denial of your Spanish nationality.

As always, we advise you to carefully review these departures and take all of this into account when processing Spanish nationality to avoid problems and unpleasant surprises.