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”. 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.

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. 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 registering British nationals. 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 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. These 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. Again it will 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.

Applications to register for the TIE can be submitted from Monday 6 July though appointments will take a bit of time to come through – the extranjerías have to get their systems in place according to these new rules. Anyone already registered is advised that there is no hurry, they can transfer at any time, and indeed their Registro will remain valid: 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 Brexit was going ahead or what system would 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 the Registro to the TIE should note that as far as I understand, TIEs will bear the date of issue of the original Registros, not of the TIE, so no rights of permanencia will be lost, in fact it appears that they will be explicitly protected.

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)
  • photo (ID card size – ie smaller than passport size).
  • 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)
  • photo (ID card size – ie smaller than passport size).
  • 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)
  • photo (small size).
  • 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
    • 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.
  • 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
    • photo
  • 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:

  • it appears that existing applications for Registros will be processed as though the application were for a TIE
  • the EX23 and EX20 application forms are HERE
  • the transfer from Registro is optional but as I’ve already said, the situation of a British national who doesn’t change over to the TIE and whose Registro is subsequently lost or damaged is currently unclear. I’m hoping to get clarity on that in the near future.

Beyond this, I think we just have to wait for the system to start operating from 6 July to see how it operates in practice, and to confirm what criteria are actually imposed in Santa Cruz or any other extranjería.


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 live permanently. The legal requirement is for anyone spending more than three months in Spain to register with the police as resident and deregister when they leave the country to live elsewhere (in other words, return home), but many swallows do not bother because they are only visiting. The system has been operating like this since the Registro was introduced in 2012 but swallows will now face three problems:

  1. after 31 December 2020 when the Transition Period is over, non-residents will be restricted to 90 days in any 180 day period as are all other 3rd-country nationals (please see the Brexit post HERE);
  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 losing that near-immunity to sanction for bureaucratic reasons could, in extreme circumstances, mean 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 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 bilateral negotiations. 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.


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.


  1. Can I apply for residencia if I rent a house in Tenerife ?

  2. Author

    To be specific, you do not “apply for residencia”. Rather, foreigners are required by law to register with the police when they come to reside in Spain for more than three months. The criteria are above and apply to everyone, whether owners or tenants.

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