The Good, Bad and the Paperwork: What you Need to Live, Study and Work in Spain

We’ve been in Spain for a few months now and I’ve learned something very valuable – paperwork in Spain is tricky and not always as straightforward as this American would like. Add in my lack of Spanish knowledge, and it’s a recipe for many disasters. When my husband and I relocated to Madrid so that he could study, there were many appointments we had to attend, a lot of paperwork we had to fill out, and most of the time, we needed multiple attempts to get it done. After many hours making copies, filling out forms and stressing that something was missing, I decided to write this guide to help fellow travelers going through similar struggles. 

Now, I should preface that this was the process for us on Student visas and is only a blog from personal experience, not expertise. Be sure to double check with your university, employer, or visa requirements for more information. I’m not sure how the process differs for other visa types, but I will add links throughout the post to help guide you. This will also help fellow travelers on the elusive Spouse of a student visa, as some things I did were a bit different than for typical students.  

There were 3 main things that we needed to do to be able to study, live and do an internship in Spain as USA citizens. Not all of them are needed by all foreigners visiting, so be sure again to double check with your university, employer, or visa requirements. 

Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE): Foreigners Identification Card

Upon arrival to Spain, we were aware that we needed to get a TIE based on the Student visa requirements we received when applying for our visas. At the bottom, it stated “Once in Spain and no later than 30 days after applicant’s arrival in Spain, you have to request an identity card Tarjeta de Identidad Extranjero (TIE) at Oficina de Extranjería or Comisaría de Policía of the province where the authorization has been processed” ( Student Visa requirements). You will need to sign up for an appointment when you arrive within 30 days! Appointments might be a month or so out, but as long as you’ve scheduled an appointment within those 30 days, you’re good. While the visa requirements did state some of the items needed, we were given mixed messages by other forums online and my husband’s school advisor. I also used this post from to help me set-up my appointment and get the required paperwork. So we prepared as best as we could, and this is what was brought for the TIE appointment:

  1. TIE application form – Ex-17 form
  2. Payment Form – Modelo 790, code 012 form *See image below
  3. Print out of your appointment confirmation page
  4. Passport WITH Spanish visa and Entry stamp into Spain or Schengen region
  5. 1 current, passport size photo
  6. Photocopy of your Spanish visa
  7. Photocopy of your entry stamp into Spain or Schengen region
  8. Original Medical Certificate (we used the one from our Visa application)
  9. Original FBI background check (we used the one from our Visa application)
  10. Medical Insurance documentation (we used the one from our Visa application)
  11. Certificado de Empadronamiento (Padron) – More on this below

Items #1-7 are a MUST! More on paperwork below, KEEP READING!

*Modelo 790 form – This form is a bit tricky. You will go to the link and fill out the boxes. Once you submit it, the form will generate and will look like this photo, which is what you print out. You will need to print it from the same computer that you fill the form out on, because you cannot save & send it. Next, you need to bring this form and payment (usually in cash) to a local bank. There, they will process the form and take the payment. We had to check with a few different banks before we found one that would process this form, but we used Caixa Bank in Madrid. 

With paperwork in hand, we were off to our appointment. Hence, the second obstacle – the location of the office. I’m not sure that all applicants go to this office so I will just to advising people on the office that we were told to go to. My husband’s advisor had us to go to POLICIA-TOMA DE HUELLAS (EXPEDICIÓN DE TARJETA) Y RENOVACIÓN DE TARJETA DE LARGA DURACIÓN at Avda. de los Poblados S/N MADRID 28044. Upon looking up the address, we realized that it was just the name of a very big street, not really an address. If you are going to this location, use the address Avda. de los Poblados, 51, Madrid, 28047. Below is a map view and a view of the building, so you reach the correct location:

We arrived, got in a few different lines, and waited for our documents to be processed. Now, this is where it gets really tricky….not all the items listed above were needed for each person. My husband (the student) only presented items #1-7 listed above, while I was asked to present all but #10. Our friend next to us was asked for #1-7 and 10…confused yet? Well it is confusing because different workers will ask for different things. And sometimes the same workers would ask different people for different items, even if their circumstances were the same! So if I were you, I would bring all that you can! I was the only person who got the Padron form, but I’m not sure it was necessary. The worst part is you may be as prepared as possible, and still can be sent back for something else! I had to go back for a second time, and that time, I only presented items #1-7 to the employee, and was issued my TIE. Same paperwork as before, less documents presented than before, different worker – finally got it. Just be as prepared as you can, but AT LEAST bring items #1-7. 

Hopefully, all goes well and you are approved for your TIE!! YAY! They will give you a receipt with a stamp, and you will need to return to the location in 30 days to pick up your actual card. 

Número de Identificación de Extranjero (NIE): Foreigner’s Identification Number

The NIE is a tax number needed for foreign citizens residing in Spain to carry out certain activities, such as buying property, studying, working, paying taxes, etc. I’ve read that anyone staying for over 90 days and has a visa will automatically get an NIE on the entrance visa. My husband (the student) was issued an NIE on his Spanish Visa, while I did not have one. I did not realize it at first and needed to get it on my own. While I was at my first TIE appointment, the employee gave me an address to go get my NIE: Calle de Garcia de Paredes, 65 to the Office of Extranjeria. While the process I went through was a bit unorthodox, I will give you the proper way to get your NIE. 

First thing, as with everything in Spain, make an appointment with a local office. For Madrid, this is the site to make an appointment, and you can also use this post from for more guidance on making the appointment. 

As for paperwork, you will need:

  1. NIE Application – EX-15 Form
  2. Tax payment form – Modelo 790 code 012 form If you read the section above, you will remember this lovely form! Fill it out, print it (on the same computer that you used to fill it out!) and bring it to the bank. You’ll pay the tax and then keep the form and receipt of payment for your appointment
  3. Passport WITH Spanish visa and Entry stamp into Spain or Schengen region
  4. Photocopy of your passport
  5. Print out of your appointment confirmation

Head to your appointment, with your paperwork in hand, and remain positive. The process can be a little like the TIE depending on who you get. This time, I was lucky with a wonderful worker who really took the time to make sure I understood what was going on (again my circumstance was a bit weird). Once you are finished, you would be issued a temporary NIE number. You will return in 5 days to pick up your NIE card!

*Again, if you have a student visa for longer than 3 months, an NIE number should be assigned to you. If you are staying for less than 3 months, and are not performing activities mentioned above, you may not need one. Lastly, if you are applying for a TIE as well (like I was when I found out I was missing my NIE), you will only receive the temporary NIE number. Once your TIE is processed, you will pick up your TIE card, with all the correct information on it.*

Certificado de Empadronamiento (Padron): Census/Registry of where you live in Spain

The Padron is similar to a census, but it is continuously monitored. It also provides proof of legal address in Spain while you are residing there. My husband, as a student, was not required to complete this portion. Honestly, I’m not sure I had to either, but after reading a few articles that said I would need it for my TIE, I just decided to do it! Start by getting an appointment on the local municipality website. This is the site for Madrid’s Padron appointment service, and this post from will help you with process. Once you have an appointment, you will need to get these items for paperwork:

  1. Application Form – Padron Municipal de Habitantes *Photo below
  2. Passport or photo identification card
  3. Photocopy of Passport or photo identification card
  4. Proof of residency – Rental agreement, lease contract, utilities bill – anything that states you are living at that address.

I showed up at my appointment time and was all done in 5 minutes. Pretty easy process, just make sure you have your paperwork!

BONUS: Certificado de delitos de Naturaleza Sexual: Spanish Check on Sex Offenders

Don’t be scared away by the name, this is a Spanish background check to make sure you have no record of sexual offenses against children. I was asked by a potential employer to get this certificate while looking to work with children. This potential employer was actually based out of Barcelona, so they really had no guidance for me in terms of getting the certificate. If there are other students or spouse-of-students looking to work with children, this might be helpful. 

You can schedule an appointment online here for Madrid. Once you have an appointment, you’ll need the following paperwork:

  1. Application – Modelo de Solicitud de Certificado por Delitos de Naturaleza Sexual
  2. Passport or other identification (NIE, DNI, Spanish Driver’s License)

The certificate is free, and is very easy to get once you arrive to your appointment. I had some trouble finding the correct location, and was sent on a wild goose chase to find it. The correct address for this service, in Madrid, is Calle de la Bolsa, 8, Madrid 28012

BONUS – Spanish Social Security Card:

A social security card is not necessary for most students who are spending less than a year in Spain. But students, like my husband, who have an internship in Spain might need it. There doesn’t appear to be a need for an appointment for this process. You can use this post from to help you with filling out forms and a complete list of Social Security offices.  You can start by accumulating the paperwork needed below:

  1. Application form – TA-1 Form
  2. Passport WITH Spanish visa and Entry stamp into Spain or Schengen region
  3. TIE/NIE card
  4. Photocopy of your passport
  5. Photocopy of your TIE/NIE card
  6. Employment contract (if you have it)

Once you’ve got this, head to your nearest Tesorería de la Seguridad Social or Social Security Office. For Madrid Centro, you might want to go to Calle de Santa Cruz de Marcenado, 22. Take a number, wait in line and hope that everything goes well. For us, there was a bit of confusion because my husband did an un-paid internship, and the workers at the office didn’t understand what he needed. After visiting three locations, he finally asked if they were sure they didn’t know what to do, and finally someone spoke up and helped him. If you can get a letter in Spanish from your internship sponsor/employer, it will help. Follow up with your employer, the Social Security office or consult this post from for more information about social security benefits. 

This is a lot of information, and I’m hoping you aren’t entirely confused! With all the processes here – be prepared, interact in Spanish as much as you can, and remain positive and persistent throughout this process. When all of it’s said and done, it’ll worth having the opportunity to live in Spain! Buen viaje!

Feel free to write in the comments or contact us if you have any further questions!

Matthew & Stephanie

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