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 green registration certificate, a “Certificado de Registro”, but as a result of the UK leaving the EU, British citizens must now register as third-country nationals. Instead of the Registro they are given a third-country nationals’ card, the TIE – Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjeros (Foreigners’ ID card).

The rules for the new system applying to British nationals are HERE. Decision-making power over registrations is explicitly granted to the chief of an extranjería, so there will be some variance throughout Spain. This means it is vital for someone to check information in the area in which they are going to live because 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. Extranjería decisions can be appealed to whichever is the relevant Government/sub delegation.

When the Brexit Transition Period ends on 31 December 2020, third-country nationals criteria will apply to British nationals registering as resident in Spain. This system is already in use for other non-EU nationals but we don’t yet know if the registration criteria – the conditions we must fulfil to be allowed to register – will be the same as currently in place for other third-country nationals or not: it is possible that 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 allow UK nationals to register under existing criteria, and because the UK left the EU with a Withdrawal Agreement, those who do so will retain the rights British nationals enjoyed before Brexit. TIEs issued before the end of 2020, indeed, expressly state a holder’s status as beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement. Registrations under these conditions will be possible into 2021 but new arrivals will have to show that they were legally resident in Spain before the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.  

The first TIE issued will be valid for five years, and will have to be renewed at the end of that period. Subsequent TIEs, or those issued to replace permanent Registros, will be valid for ten years. All TIEs will have to be renewed at the end of their period of validity but this is effectively an automatic process that is standard for all photo-bearing documents; it applies equally, for example, to driving licences. Those who have already registered and have green Registros do not have to transfer to the new TIE, and their existing 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 require an appointment which is made online HERE. The application procedure varies depending on whether the registration is new, or a transfer of a Registro of under 5 years (called temporary), or one of over 5 years (called permanent). New applications are made first at the main extranjería in Santa Cruz, with the card being collected from an issuing police station; those who are exchanging a Registro will be able to apply to and collect from a local issuing police station. In all cases a modelo will need to be prepaid at the bank. These are the procedures:

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 fulfil 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 make sure that a policy covers pre-existing conditions or it won’t be acceptable for registration. The FCO has confirmed that any private medical insurance policy taken out for registration purposes must provide at least the cover available from the state system. This means that a policy must not exclude any treatments, or require a co-payment. This also means that policy holders absolutely must have declared pre-existing conditions to ensure the policy is genuinely valid: this is even more important given that from 1.1.21 British nationals won’t have the protection offered to EU nationals.


Those who consider themselves part-time residents, a category we know as swallows, are in something of a difficult position right now. Anyone coming to live here for more than three months must register but, in a second rule that is less widely known and even less complied with, must deregister (request a “baja” of their registration) when they leave to live somewhere else. 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. They already do so, of course, with other non-EU countries.

Swallows, indeed, have not been able to visit for six months or more a year anyway because beyond that they automatically become fiscally resident in Spain, the very thing many wish to avoid: please see HERE and HERE for fuller explanations from tax specialists on tax residence. Tax residence kicks in automatically after six months, but now the 90 days in 180 rule means that British nationals’ visits must now be for no more than three months at a time instead of the four or five months many swallows have formerly enjoyed.

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. Those with permanencia, ie those who have been legally resident for more than five years, can be out of the country for up to five years without losing their status: this is guaranteed in Article 15.3 of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. 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 considering 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 digitally or mechanically. Anyone, therefore, trying to get away with registering and then leaving without deregistering will find that they lose their resident status without doing anything in any case, and expose their failure to deregister into the bargain. 

It’s pretty undeniable that in the past many people with Registros left the country for months on end without deregistering with the police, and then returned 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 which required them actually to be resident in the UK, and so to live there for at least six months of a year. The word cakeism has been thrown about quite a bit through the Brexit negotiations, but I’m afraid swallows won’t be able to have this particular cake and eat it after the end of the Transition Period.  


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.