A quick and simple paperwork checklist

I thought I’d produce a quick and simple checklist for paperwork given the latest Brexit post HERE: please also see THIS page for further detail on the documents mentioned below. I would also just make the point that a lot of confusion has been caused by the wrong names repeatedly being given for these various pieces of paperwork: the post explains the correct terminology and it is vital to avoid confusion given the proximity now of Brexit.

NIE: a white certificate bearing a number. The letters stand for Número de Identificación de Extranjero, i.e. Foreigners Identification Number. This is all the NIE is: a number used for official transactions in Spain. It has no other function.

Residencia: there is no such thing. Residencia was never a document anyway, but a system for an optional procedure to get a foreigner’s identity card. The card became known as “a residencia”. The system was abolished several years ago (legislation 2007 effective 2012) for EU nationals and was replaced by a compulsory registration of foreigners living in Spain.

Certificado de Registro: this is a document printed on green paper (used to be A4 size but is now credit-card sized) which is known by a range of names, including green certificate, green card, green NIE, residencia. It is, though, a registration certificate properly called a Certificado de Registro which is provided by the police to residents who comply with the legal requirement of registering with the police as a foreigner living in Spain. The document clearly states it is a Certificado de Registro and under EU law it does not need to be renewed, but those with them can apply if they want to for one that says “permanente” after they’ve been in Spain for five years, or for a card-sized one if they have an old A4 size. THE CERTIFICADO DE REGISTRO IS THE ONLY THING THAT PROVES LEGAL RESIDENCE.

Empadronamiento: this is a certificate provided by a local Ayuntamiento when someone living in a municipality signs onto the local list of residents, the “Padrón”. This is a kind of equivalent to the UK’s electoral register, compiled council by council, but unlike the UK does not convey a right to vote: for that, local residents also have to ask the council to put their name on the “census” as well as the padrón (note that we can only vote in local elections 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.


  1. “Tarjeta de residencia” still exists. Applicants from non-European Union (non-EU) countries are granted an initial one-year residency, which usually extends to five years upon renewal. EU citizens do not need a ¨tarjeta de residencia¨ in Spain .
    To obtain the residence and the NIE, you must apply at the nearest Foreign Office (Oficina de Extranjeros)

  2. Author

    That’s true for non-EU nationals, Peter, though when you say “EU nationals don’t need a ¨tarjeta de residencia¨ in Spain it’s more correct to say they cannot have one! The system was abolished for them in 2012. I’ve edited the post, though, to include ” The system was abolished several years ago (2012) for EU nationals“, which of course Brits are … at present! There is a link in the first couple of lines to the page with more details about these documents and how and where to apply.

  3. For the past 12 years we have lived in Tenerife for 5 and a half months and in the UK for six and a half months. We own a property, have an NIE number, a Spanish bank account and a Spanish will. We have never applied for a ‘ certificado de resdiencia’ as we do not see ourselves as permanent residents as we have a permanent residence in the UK and all our taxes are paid there. When we bought a new car the garage inisisted on an ’empadronamiento’ which we acquired but have not renewed.
    Would I be correct in assuming that we do not need any other paperwork than I have listed above. Thank you.

  4. Author

    yes, you are correct. You are not “living here” so do not need to register with the police because only “foreigners living in Spain” need to do so.

  5. Thank you Janet for your prompt reply. Your site is really informative and so helpful and accurate for us Brits.

  6. We are planning to move permanently to Tenerife in the next few months. I am worried we will have difficulty obtaining residentia due to the Brexit process.
    Is there any advice you can give on this website already own property there and have a close relative who has lived there for around twenty years.
    Thank you

  7. Author

    The advice is in the posts behind the two links in the first line of the post above. You have to register, it’s a legal requirement, and the registration certificate they give you will be the only proof at Brexit that you’re in the country legally, as explained above (and as also explained above there is no such thing as “residencia”). We don’t know the system that will replace it when the UK leaves the EU. A history of owning property here, a relative here, none of it counts … just registration for EU nationals, and various systems for those outside the EU. What those will be for British nationals in due course is still subject to negotiations.

    Assuming you are trying to register before Brexit, as long as you meet the requirements for registration you will be allowed to register … and if you don’t, you won’t be able to live in Spain legally. So in a nutshell, you are required to register but Spain is not obligated to register you if you don’t match its conditions. This will be the case up to the point the UK leaves the EU … with more details due in October when agreements are scheduled to be finalised and signed off. If anything is your deadline for police registration, it’s that point in October this year. As I’ve explained repeatedly now, and in the post I linked to in the first line, we don’t know anything else yet so cannot advise about it!

  8. Can you explain if any of the above mentioned documents are in fact the fabled Tarjeta de Extranjero (TIE)

  9. Author

    no, because EU members register for the Certificado de Registro, and I have only ever advised about EU nationals. That will change, presumably, after Brexit. But for EU nationals, the TIE has not been issued since 2007 when the Registro system was first introduced.

  10. Here’s a potential toughie for you….
    My partner and I live in the UK, however, we are planning to get married in Spain next year as her family is larger than mine and everyone in the UK is happy to travel to Spain for a holiday wedding! There is a lot of different advice out there about the documents I need. One of them is the Empadronamiento, but I need a UK equivalent. If you have any advice on the UK equivalent of the documents I need, I would greatly appreciate it!

  11. Author

    I’m not sure you will be able to marry here because you live in the UK. If you are not resident here you will have to engage a “celebrant” to do a blessing here after a legal ceremony in church or registry office in the UK. This is explained HERE – section on RESIDENTS & NON-RESIDENTS, question “I live in Tenerife – can I be married here?” towards the end of that section: given these facts, you don’t need documents here at all.

  12. I have just got my NIE as I am renting a property in Tenerife. I am working here for my English company and pay UK tax. I do go back to the UK. I would like to apply for residencia what will I need

  13. Author

    As explained above, there is no such thing as “residencia”, but all foreigners living in Spain are required by law to register with the police. It is compulsory, and those who cannot comply with the criteria may not live in the country. Please see the second link in the first sentence of the post, which is to a page in which the criteria are described.

  14. What documents needed to change from certificado de registro to a green card

  15. Author

    As I say above specifically in the Registro description, “a document printed on green paper (used to be A4 size but is now credit-card sized) which is known by a range of names, including green certificate, green card … “. Your Certificado de Registro IS your green card! “Green card” is just another name for it, what some people call it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.