There is a quick guide, a simple paperwork checklist, HERE. Below is a much fuller and more detailed explanation of the basic documents and procedures that foreign nationals will need or be required to possess if they are living in Tenerife or conducting official transactions here like buying property.


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).


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. When they do so, they are given a registration certificate, a “Certificado de Registro”. This is a small green card, known variously as a Registro, green certificate, or green card – or even “residencia” which replaces the NIE certificate because the number is shown on the new certificate. Under EU law, Registros are permanent once the holder has been in Spain for five years, and do not need to be renewed, even if the card does not say “permanent” on it (see HERE for more information on this).

Although EU nationals living here are required to register, they are not automatically entitled to do so – in other words, an EU national can be refused permission to live in Spain. To be allowed to register, foreigners must meet criteria set by Spain in March 2012 (link). An EU national who is not registered will not be expelled from the country, but their status will be an “irregular” immigrant, rather than an “illegal” one. As such, they could run into problems if they have any interaction with the authorities, or if things go wrong for them in some way.

The criteria for being permitted to register are:

  • EITHER to be making social security contributions as employed or self-employed – the police have a direct connection to the Seguridad Social system to check the claimed status so no documents are required.
  • OR if not working, to show sufficient resources* to avoid becoming a burden to Spain and to have private medical insurance (full cover, not co-payments).
  • OR for pensioners, a sworn-translated letter with Hague Apostille confirming pension entitlement and a certificate proving the provision of state healthcare cover in Spain – for UK pensioners, this is the S1, formerly E121.
  • NB: the EHIC – European health card – will not be sufficient for any category because it is for visitors, not residents (see HERE).

“Sufficient resources” have not been specifically defined, and the authorities say that the personal situation of EU member state nationals is taken into account, but the normal practice is to require a stamped bank statement from a Spanish bank showing a sum of €5,200 per registrant, or regularly paid-in income.  

There is a small fee to pay in advance when applying for NIE and Registro (€9.64 NIE, €12 Registro). Both need to be applied for in the extranjeria section of the National Police – even those who start the initial application procedures before arriving, e.g. through an embassy, will still need to attend the police station in any case.


Please also see the UK’s Foreign Office page HERE for the official UK position on “residency requirements” for British nationals living in Spain.

BREXIT, TRANSITION PERIOD, SWALLOWS, & THE TIE (the Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero that will replace the Registro)

Please note that now that the UK has left the EU British citizens are no longer EU nationals. As such, their registration document (Certificado de Registro) will need to be exchanged for a registration document for third-country nationals. This is known as a TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero) and we will need to make the exchange at some point in 2020. We have not yet been informed of the system to do so but it is in process of dialogue between Spain the EU Commission.

British nationals can register as EU nationals throughout 2020 because the Withdrawal Agreement allowed for a Transition Period which formally ends on 31 December 2020. After this, they will have to comply with third-country national criteria which are still to be confirmed in their application to British nationals. Full 3rd-country nationals criteria are much tougher, including a requirement for over €20,000 income/bank balance.

Finally, those we know as swallows are in a difficult position right now because they often visit Tenerife for more than three months and after 31 December 2020 will be restricted to 90 days in any 180 as are all other 3rd-country nationals (please see the Brexit post HERE). The current legal situation is that when a part-time resident arrives in Spain they must register, but when they return to the UK they should inform the UK authorities of their return so as to be able to access the NHS (entitlement is based on residence in the UK). 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 he cannot confirm that special rules will be put in place or be able to be agreed in the bilateral negotiations which are ongoing throughout this year and naturally which are yet to be concluded. He 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.


The applications for NIE, Registro and No-Residente certificates are straightforward. Complete the form (EX18 for Registro, and EX15 for NIE or No-Residente) and the modelo (prepayment forms), prepay the fee at a bank, and go to the comisaría* with all paperwork in order. Unlike the Registro, there are no criteria to fulfil for the NIE  and No-Residente certificates – all applicants need is a passport and the prepaid modelo. Forms and modelos can be obtained from the comisaría or online HERE: with the modelo, you can either fill it in online and then print out the whole form, or you can print out a blank one to fill in with a pen. If you do the latter do be sure to print three pages per applicant – one copy each for bank, police and applicant. Please note that from 1 June 2019 the Registro can only be applied for by prior appointment which must be made online HERE.

* Playa de las Américas in the south; Santa Cruz or Puerto de la Cruz in the north.


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 “padron”, which is a council register of residents. The more names an Ayuntamiento has on its padron, the greater its funding, so it is in everyone’s interests for residents to be registered. Once on the padron, 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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