These are the basic documents foreign nationals need to possess or the procedures they have to follow if they live in Tenerife or are conducting official business here, whether opening a bank account, buying a property, working etc.


The basic document anyone needs here for any dealings is a NIE. This stands for Numero de Identidad de Extranjeros, and it is required because Spain operates an Identity Card system. As such, a NIE is the ID number for foreigners (“extranjeros”) conducting official procedures in the country. The equivalent for Spanish nationals is a DNI – a documento nacional de identidad (national identity document).

Resident Registration 

In addition to the NIE anyone coming to live in Tenerife must register with the National Police as a resident foreigner within three months of arrival. If they are EU nationals, they are given a registration certificate, a “Certificado de Registro”: please see HERE for the Spanish Government’s Immigration website where it explains that anyone who might be coming to live in Spain for more than three months is obliged to register. The Spanish says “Los ciudadanos de un Estado miembro de la Unión Europea, de otro Estado parte en el Acuerdo sobre el Espacio Económico Europeo o Suiza que vayan a residir en el territorio del Estado Español por un período superior a tres meses están obligados a solicitar su inscripción en el Registro Central de Extranjeros.” Please note “vayan a residir” – “coming to live”, not coming for an extended holiday.

As a result of the UK leaving the EU, however, UK nationals must now register for a third-country nationals’ card, the TIE – Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjeros (Foreigners’ ID card), a system already in use for other third-country nationals and applicable from Monday 6 July 2020 to British citizens, replacing the Registro system even though that remains in place for other EU countries’ nationals. Those who have already registered and have green Registros can exchange for the TIE if they wish but do not have to transfer to the new card: their certificates will remain valid indefinitely.

On 4 July the Spanish Government published the rules for the new system applying to British nationals HERE: it is this legislation that’s the basis for the following information. Please understand that clarification is still needed on various issues, and most importantly, that information from various parts of Spain will be different for the simple reason that decision-making power over applications is explicitly granted to the chief of an extranjería, so there will be some variance throughout Spain. Whatever is reported to be happening in Barcelona, for example, or even Gran Canaria which is in a different province, may not be in line with what is happening in the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, comprising Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro; it’s vital for everyone to check the rules in place in their own specific extranjería. In Tenerife, this will be Santa Cruz, with transfers from the Registro possible in Playa de las Américas. Do bear in mind, too, that any decisions can be appealed to whichever is the relevant Government/sub delegation.

From January 2021, third-country nationals criteria will apply to British nationals registering as resident in Spain. At present we do not know if these will be the same as those that are currently in place for other third-country nationals or whether new criteria will be introduced for the unique category in which British nationals find themselves, that of third-country nationals who are also ex-EU nationals. For the rest of 2020, however, the rules clearly state that UK nationals can enjoy the right of registration under existing criteria and of free movement in Spain until the end of the year, i.e. to the end of the Transition Period. Those who have exercised their right during this year to reside or work in accordance with EU law, therefore, and who continue to do so after that, will have exactly the same rights under the Withdrawal Agreement as before Brexit. It is possible that special arrangements will be put in place for future movement as part of the negotiations ongoing throughout 2020 and we will naturally be notified of them if and when appropriate.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, Spain did have the right to require British nationals to apply for an entirely new residence status or undergo a completely different documentation process. It is not doing so, however, and therefore in accordance with the provisions of EU Directive 2004/38 concerning citizens’ rights, British nationals will instead receive a residence document expressly stating their status as beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement. As I understand it, although some applicants for first registration (ie those who have never registered before) may not be able to be processed before the end of the year, they must actually have submitted their applications before the end of the year for them to be valid under Transition Period rules. The FCO says, however, that anyone legally resident in Spain before the transition period ends on 31 December 2020 will be able to stay: presumably they will need verifiable proof of legal arrival on a date within 2020 and no more than three months prior to registering, and it is not clear whether old or new criteria will apply to their registration.

The new TIEs will be valid for five years, and will have to be renewed at the end of that period: the renewal will be automatic, and the card valid for ten years. Those with existing Registros, and so who are not applying or registering for the first time but transferring from their Registro to the new TIE, will receive a card valid for five or ten years depending on the length of time they have been in Spain: their TIE will also need to be renewed at the end of that period but the renewal will be automatic. This renewal is standard for all photo-bearing documents so is a system widely applicable in Spain and not somehow discriminatory against British nationals. As I explained above, those with green Registros do not have to transfer, and their certificates will remain valid indefinitely, but those who do wish to exchange their green paper for a plastic card which can, moreover, be used for ID purposes, can do so at any time.

Registrations for the TIE are done by appointment and these are made online HERE. Anyone already registered is advised that there is no hurry to transfer from the Registro because as noted they can do so at any time and their Registro remains valid anyway. To some extent the police are hoping there won’t be a rush to transfer beceause they have to process new registrants first, and it will be understood that they fear a rush of applicants who’ve left it until now to see whether or how Brexit was going ahead and what system might be in place. They now need to get their applications in before December 31 so the police will be more than happy if those who are already registered don’t do anything for the first several months of the new system’s operation. Those who do transfer from a permanent Registro to the TIE should note that no rights of permanencia will be lost, in fact they are explicitly protected by reference to the Withdrawal Agreement on the new card.

The application procedure is different for those with Registros of under 5 years (called temporary), those with ones over 5 years (called permanent), or those without Registros at all. In each category application will require either one step (at authorized issuing police stations) or two steps (at extranjeria first for application and then the issuing police station for collection). In all cases a modelo will need to be prepaid at the bank. It appears that anyone with a Registro will be able to apply to issuing police stations whereas those without must apply first to the extranjería and then collect the card when it’s ready from an issuing police station.

Those with Registros which are temporary/under 5 years:

  • EX 23 (see below)
  • valid and current passport (or proof of reapplication for expired passports)
  • modelo 790 (code 012) (see below)
  • 2 photos (ID card size – ie smaller than passport size).
  • up-to-date empadronamiento even if address is unchanged since former registration
  • The TIE will be a temporary one valid for 5 years and will say Temporal; it will be automatically renewed for a permanent one at the end of this period.

Those with Registros over 5 years but not bearing the word permanente:

  • confirmation of the duration of residence (this is not defined but should be a simple confirmation of the date of issue of the Registro),
  • EX23
  • valid and current passport (or proof of reapplication for expired passports)
  • modelo 790 (code 012)
  • 2 photos (ID card size – ie smaller than passport size).
  • up-to-date empadronamiento even if address is unchanged since former registration
  • The TIE issued will be a permanent one valid for 10 years and will say Permanente. It will be automatically renewed at the end of this period.

Those with Registros bearing the word permanente:

  • EX23
  • valid and current passport (or proof of reapplication for expired passports)
  • modelo 790 (code 012)
  • 2 photos (small size).
  • up-to-date empadronamiento even if address is unchanged since former registration
  • The TIE issued will be a permanent one valid for 10 years and will say Permanente. It will be automatically renewed at the end of this period.

Those applying for the TIE before 31 December 2020 with no Registro:

  • EX20 (see below)
  • passport
  • legally admissible documentation accrediting start of residence in Spain under qualifying criteria as per Article 3 of Order PRE/1490/2012. This means:
    • employment contract or autonomo alta
    • health insurance for non-workers
    • up-to-date empadronamiento
    • pensioners’ document from own country showing entitlement to cover – the UK has indicated the S1 will continue to be accepted for registrants before 31 Dec
    • proof of sufficient resources (undefined) but currently €5,200 in Tenerife. It varies between regions as a function of cost of living.
    • in some circumstances (undefined) extranjerías may request a criminal record check (although not applied previously to British citizens registering as EU member country nationals, it is accepted in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed off by the UK and EU that these can be demanded).
  • Once the application is received, a receipt will be issued immediately to prove its submission and this document will be sufficient to grant legal stay status until the TIE is issued, which will be within three months. It will be collected from an issuing police station. Any applicants failing to meet the criteria will be advised and have ten working days to correct; if they fail to do so they will be deemed to have withdrawn their application. It is important to note that although registration is compulsory, it is not an automatic entitlement – in other words, someone can be refused permission to live in Spain if they cannot fulfill the criteria applied to them. On collection of the TIE from the issuing police station, applicants will need
    • EX23
    • passport
    • proof of payment of the modelo 790
    • 2 photos
  • The TIE issued will be a temporary one valid for 5 years and will say Temporal; it will be automatically renewed for a permanent one at the end of this period.

A few final points:

  • existing applications for Registros will be processed as though the application were for a TIE
  • EX23 and EX20 application forms are HERE, modelo 790 HERE
  • anyone taking out private medical insurance – so anyone not working, self-employed, or (until 31 Dec) retired with an S1 – should be aware when comparing policies of the need for a policy to cover pre-existing conditions in order to be acceptable for registration. The FCO has explicitly confirmed that any private medical insurance policy taken out for registration purposes MUST provide at least the cover that you’d get from being registered in the state system. This means that a policy MUST NOT exclude any treatments, or require a co-payment. This also means that you absolutely categorically MUST declare pre-existing conditions to ensure the policy does what it has to do for your registration to be legal. Sorry to be a “scaremonger” but if your registration is not legal, from 1 January 2021 we won’t have the protection we’ve enjoyed so far as EU nationals. So far we have been in clover, as EU nationals safe in Spain because we couldn’t be chucked out, couldn’t be refused entry. Those days are gone. The FCO confirmation is HERE.


Those who consider themselves part-time residents, a category we know as swallows, are in something of a difficult position right now. They often visit Tenerife for more than three months and yet have not come here to settle in Spain. The legal requirement is for anyone coming to settle in Spain to register with the police as resident within three months of their arrival, and for anyone leaving Spain to live elsewhere to deregister (request a “baja” of their registration) when they leave the country. Swallows have routinely ignored this requirement because there was no means of checking their comings and goings as EU nationals, nor of verifiying that they were coming for more than three months, but not to settle. Some have chosen to register as “permanent residents” even though they had no such intention simply because they wanted “resident discounts”. They rarely if ever deregistered when they left the country even though they were “going home”, so clearly going “to live” elsewhere. Anyone in this general category will, however, now face three problems:

  1. after 31 December 2020 when the Transition Period is over, non-residents will be restricted by Schengen Area rules to 90 days in any 180 day period as are all other 3rd-country nationals. This clock starts counting on 1.1.21, so anyone in the country before the end of the year won’t need to include that part of their visit in their calculations. For more details on the 90/180 limit, please see the Brexit post HERE, and there is also a Schengen Calculator HERE to work out permitted timings;
  2. anyone who falls foul of the rules by staying longer than 90 days and not registering will not have the protection previously enjoyed of being an EU national in an EU country, and could, with the loss of the near-immunity to sanction enjoyed by EU nationals, mean in extreme circumstances that they are prohibited from returning to Spain;
  3. the criteria for registering in order to stay beyond the non-resident limit will be much more stringent and yet registration will be very much more important so as to be within the rules.

The UK’s Ambassador to Spain, Hugh Elliot, has confirmed that the British and Spanish authorities are aware of “the swallow issue”, and the matter is firmly on their radar but as yet there is no confirmation of whether special rules will be put in place for British national temporary visitors, who from 1 January 2021 will be third-country nationals who are also ex-EU citizens, a unique category. Nor is there any clear idea as to whether any agreement might be reached in the ongoing trade and future relationship negotiations as part of the Brexit Transition Period or whether bilateral arrangements may be possible.

The Ambassador also stressed, contrary to what many “swallows” think and allege, that the UK and Spanish authorities are not only planning to monitor and enforce these systems, they are already talking to each other and doing so. It should be noted that this limitation has long been in place for non-EU nationals: as I say above, it is in fact a Schengen Area regulation and the UK has never been in that grouping, and so British nationals were only ever able to visit Spain for longer by virtue of the UK being a member of the European Union. This is not something Spain has imposed on the UK, and is not directly related to Brexit other than it was a known known for anyone who wished to check but which was mostly dismissed as part of Project Fear, and so is an inevitable result of Brexit.

To be quite specific, indeed, swallows could only ever legally visit for six months a year because beyond that they automatically become fiscally resident in Spain, which many were trying to avoid: please see HERE and HERE for fuller explanations from tax specialists on tax residence. The simple fact is that tax residence kicks in automatically after six months and is unrelated to residence registration requirements. What has changed is that the six months a year for which British nationals can visit Spain must now comprise blocks of three months with gaps of three months in between, and the consequences of non-compliance are considerably more serious.

Please also note that according to articulo 162.2e of Real Decreto 557/2011, anyone legally resident in Spain for under five years will lose their residency status after they have been outside of Spain for six months in a year. Some few exceptions exist allowing for up to 12 months, such as serious illness, study etc. For those with permanencia, ie those who have been legally resident for more than five years, Article 15.3 of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement provides that residents will lose their status if they leave the country in which they have permanencia for five years – this used to be six years under EU law and remains so for EU nationals. Rights guaranteed by the Withdrawal Agreement for those registering as resident before end 2020 will also be lost for these absences.

This means that although some swallows are thinking of registering as residents to get around the 90 day limit, their need to be outside of Spain for more than half the year for their tax residency preferences will see their registration lapse in any case. There won’t be a way around this because as third-country nationals there will be a record of their comings and goings, whether by digital record or physical stamp on a passport. Anyone trying to get away with registering and then leaving without deregistering, therefore, will find they lose their resident status anyway without doing anything. 

In a nutshell, the situation is that in the past many people with Registros left the country for months on end without deregistering with the police, and then returning to Spain as though they lived here, enjoying the rights of EU nationals and the perks of residency while retaining their preferred British tax residence status. After the end of the Transition Period, this won’t be possible and I repeat the sadly stark warning that without having the rights given to nationals of an EU member state, violations of immigration rules could see British nationals refused re-entry to Spain, and no amount of “I pay my taxes” or “I own a property” will make the slightest bit of difference.  


As part of what are now standard tax and other rules throughout the EU, banks require proof that their clients with resident accounts are actually resident, and equally that their clients with non-resident accounts are actually not resident in Spain. For residents, as explained above, this proof comes in the form of a Certificado de Registro: for non-residents, the proof comes in the form of a Certificado No-Residente.

Those with non-resident bank accounts must supply a Certificado No-Residente to avoid embargoes being placed on their account. The certificates need to be submitted every year or so, and many banks do this automatically from an authorization given to them when the account is first opened. They charge around €25 per certificate (on joint accounts this is therefore doubled). Those with non-resident bank accounts need to check with their bank that this is being done automatically, and if not, they should get a certificate themselves and hand it in to the bank.

The Certificado No-Residente serves other purposes, however, and one of the most important ones is proof of non-residence in Spain for driving purposes. Anyone can own a car here, but fines can be issued in some circumstances for residents who have not exchanged their UK licences for Spanish ones (this depends on the type of UK licence held, and there is an explanation in the Roads & Driving section of the Resources page HERE); the police are as capable as anyone else, too, of making mistakes, and fines can be issued in error by an officer who misunderstands the rule. Non-residents, however, do not have to exchange their driving licences under any circumstances, and a Certificado No-Residente is proof for the police that an official declaration of non-residence has been made – and so no fine will be issued for what the police might otherwise consider a licence that should have been exchanged.


Another document that you will need from time to time is a Certificado de Empadronamiento. This is issued by a local ayuntamiento (Canarian local authority, so a council/Town Hall) and verifies that you are resident at a particular address. As such, when you first get one, you will need to provide proof of where you live, and this is usually an Escritura or rental contract, but councils can sometimes be more flexible where neither document can be produced. Certificates are valid for three months.

When the certificate is first issued the applicant is registered on the “padrón”, which is a council register of residents. The more names an ayuntamiento has on its padrón, the greater its funding, so it is in everyone’s interests for residents to be registered. Once on the padrón, too, you can apply to be added to the census, which is the electoral register, and then be able to vote in local elections.

Spanish law requires all residents to register at the ayuntamiento in the municipality in which they spend most time each calendar year. This means that anyone who lives here for more than six months a year is legally obliged to register on their council’s padrón. This registration must also be renewed – there are different periods in the different municipalities for EU and non-EU residents so it is important to check locally which will be applicable in any given case. Just to be clear, although some councils charge a small amount for the actual certificate, registration on the padrón is free in every case.

Those who do not live here for more than six months of the year are not obligated to register but most councils will inscribe them upon request should they need an empadronamiento for any purpose. Please also see HERE.

Empadronamiento para viajar: this is a version of the Certificado de Empadronamiento supplied by councils to provide legal residents with the Government-subsidized travel discount. It is called various names, but most commonly “a viaje”. To enjoy the discount one needs to have a Certificado de Registro in addition to this “viaje” … because it is only legal residents who are entitled to the discount, and as said above, the only document that proves legal residence is the Certificado de Registro.

If anyone has any further questions about the above, and can’t find answers through the search box or in the information behind any links given, please send an email to with your question.