A quick and simple paperwork checklist

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 (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!

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