Residence Visas, Spanish Non Lucrative Visa

Our Epic Journey to Get a Spanish Non Lucrative Visa

The Spanish Non Lucrative Residence Visa

The Spanish Non Lucrative Visa Freshly Sealed in our Passports

I knew it was possible for Americans to legally live in Spain for a year. I just didn’t know that the visa we needed was called the Spanish non lucrative residence visa. It took me over a month to figure that out. It would take several more to figure out all the hoops we’d have to jump through to get one.

Seven months, countless hours of research and several thousand dollars later, our family of four was taking our second trip from Wyoming to San Francisco to pick up our newly awarded Spanish non lucrative visas from the consulate. Everything had worked out pretty much as it was supposed to.

Still, as we set out for the five hour drive from Jackson Hole to Salt Lake City, where we would then catch a plane to California, I said to my husband, “If I’d known at the beginning what I was signing up for, I’m not sure I would have done it.”

How to get Spanish Visa and Move to Spain Journey

Yes, our visa application process had the added logistics two long distance trips during the work week/school week to get to the consulate.

Yes, the Spanish Consulate of San Francisco has some of the more stringent application requirements for the non lucrative visa.

Still, even without these extra hurdles, you will execute a bureaucratic marathon before that visa is stamped in your passport and you cradle that TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjeroin your oh so grateful hands. 

This Facebook post I shared the day we finally picked up those Spanish residence cards shows our commitment to the cause.

A Paperwork Pilgrimage

A year in the making to our Spanish non lucrative visa and TIE.

Today we celebrate the culmination of a year long process of immigration bureaucracy.

Notarized letters affirming our identity to order two birth certificates and one marriage certificate from three different counties in two different states.

Fingerprints for David and I at local police department. Send those to FBI to issue criminal background check. FBI fails to deliver said clearance on schedule. Send second copy of fingerprints to private FBI approved Channeler. Costs $65 instead of $18, but I get it in 24 hours. 

Authenticate all of the above by their respective state and federal bodies with Apostille of the Hague. (Note to self — figure out what an Apostille is and how to obtain one.)

Medical checks for all four of us from our three respective physicians. Letters from said physicians certifying we’re unlikely to ignite an outbreak of the plague. Letters must be printed on the physician’s letterhead and sealed with their official physician’s stamp. (I never knew doctors had an official stamp.)

Proof of zero-deductible health insurance. (Second note to self — investigate how to purchase medical insurance valid only in a country in which we don’t yet have permission to live.)

Demonstrate sufficient income and savings to convince the Spanish government we can live in Spain without seeking work there.

Write and notarize a cover letter explaining the madness that compels us to put ourselves through the torture of this application process.

Now… Translate All That.

As in, all of it:

  • The letters.
  • The certificates.
  • The notarizations to obtain the letters and certificates.
  • The criminal records clearance reports.
  • And All five Apostilles from those three different government bodies

Into Spanish.

And not just any translator. 

All translations must be completed by an “officially recognized translator certified by the government of Spain.” Duly sworn and stamped. 

(Translators have stamps too? Huh. Guess that rules out the Spanish-speaking secretary at my son’s elementary school. Third note to self — figure out what “certified translator” means. Then determine how to find one.)

Just a Bit More Paperwork

Above mentioned translator now acquired and on the case.

I get to work filling out multiple visa application forms written in really fine print. Spanish fine print, in case that’s not obvious.

Crash course in immigration related Spanish terminology that pushes my vocabulary beyond “Where are the bathrooms?” and “Cerveza por favor.”

Make copies of all of the originals and all the translations.

Compile an original and a copy of each family member’s application forms, certificates and translations into a file folder in the exact order listed on the consulate’s application instructions.

Attach two passport sized photos plus a copy of each passport ID page.

Check, recheck, have husband check, then recheck again. One more time. Just to be sure nothing is missing.

Spanish Consulate in San Francisco, Here We Come

From Wyoming. Like, 900 plus miles away.

Apply for residence visas in person — all four of us. 

Return to Wyoming.

Turns out you can indeed drive from Wyoming to San Francisco — and back — in under 48 hours and still have two living, breathing sons upon your return.

Then… Wait.

Still waiting.

Tick tock, tick tock. Tick. Tock.

Six weeks later, four emails unceremoniously arrive in my inbox.

You’ve Been Approved!!!

You have thirty days to come back to San Francisco with your passports to pick up your visas, or your visa approval will be rescinded.

Yes, all four of us.

Brief moment of glory before I assess just how and when we’re going to squeeze in a second trip to San Francisco at a reasonable cost and with minimal lost work and school time. Another 900 mile drive does not sound appealing. We opt to drive to Salt Lake City and fly from there.

We Interrupt This Celebration for a Brief Moment of Panic

We’re back at the consulate, proudly cooing over the visas now freshly sealed in each of our passports. (Ok, maybe only I was cooing.)

My eyes take in every precious detail.

There’s our photo — don’t we look happy? Foreigner’s identification number — never had one of those before! The official government stamp of Spain — governments, of course, I would expect to have a stamp. And… the expiration date.

Wait. WHAT?!?!

These visas are only valid for three months.


Anyone can go to Spain for three months! You don’t even need a visa for that!!

OH. MY. GOD. I ticked the wrong box. There’s been a huge mistake!!!

Twenty minutes of terror as I plead with the receptionist to let me back inside to speak with the visa officer.

Listen with all due humility as he patronizingly reminds me that he explained this to me during our application appointment.

The visa from the consulate is good for three months and is based on the departure date we stated during our application appointment. We must enter Spain during that time. We have 30 days from the date of arrival to begin the final process that will result in getting our Spanish residence card. That’s our proof we may legally reside in Spain for one year.

He can patronize me all he wants. I am so relieved I hadn’t eff’d up the entire thing.

And to my credit… I was aware there was more to be done on arrival in Spain. I just hadn’t realized that the stamp issued by the consulate — the actual non lucrative visa itself for which I had labored so tediously to obtain — was only valid for 90 days.

And furthermore, I’ve since heard two similar tales of panic by other non lucrative visa applicants, so let’s just say the entire process lacks clarity.

Return to rejoicing previously in progress.

Act 2: The Spanish Residency Card

Arrive in Sevilla about three months later. 

The rest of our bureaucratic odyssey now takes place completely in Spanish.

Did I mention none of us really speak Spanish? Especially the thickly accented Andalusian Spanish that even my fluent friends who learned Spanish in South or Central America have told me is really difficult to understand at first.

Total processing time from initial appearance at the local Oficina de Extranjería to TIE (residence card) in hand? About 12 weeks and three visits. 

Yes, all four of us. Luckily the local immigration office is only a 20 minute walk away.

Paperwork Pilgrimage Part 2

Or is it paperwork pilgrimage part 3? I’ve lost count.

Will we ever just get to live in Spain without incessantly applying for permits to live in Spain?

Oficina de Extranjería Visit Number One: Stand in line for half hour or so, wondering if we’re in the correct line. Make appointment to come back and stand in line again.

More forms in more Spanish fine print.

One form is to pay the “tasas” (fees). But we don’t pay the tasas in the immigration office. We’re told to pay them at “cualquier banco.” (Any bank.)

The Spanish TIE Residence Card for Foreigners

Really? Like any bank? I just walk in to any bank? Not being a customer of the bank or even a resident of this country, and I just hand the person behind the counter this little of paper and give them money?

More copies. ID page of the passports (again), copy of the page with the visa issued by the consulate. Copy of the page where passport control stamped the entry visa on our arrival into Spain.

Oficina de Extranjería Visit Number Two: Return with all the above, including proof we paid the tasa at the bank, at the previously scheduled appointment we were given during visit number one.

Fingerprints — all four of us this time. Good fun for the kids.

We’re given a date and time to return once again about five weeks later. 

Oficina de Extranjería Visit Number Three: Wait in line once again. A little more confident this time we’re in the right line. And…

Voila! Or perhaps I should say ¡Ya está!

One “Permiso de Residencia No Lucrativa” valid for one year from our date of arrival in Spain.

Who would guess, looking at those little pink plastic cards we hold in our hands, what a tour de force it took to get them? 

And yes, the effort was more that worth it.

Curious about being an American Expat in Spain?

Learn more about the Spanish Non Lucrative Visa here. Click here to Find Your Consulate.

7 thoughts on “Our Epic Journey to Get a Spanish Non Lucrative Visa”

  1. when did you get your NIE number? don’t you need that to rent a house or apartment? are you saying it took 5 weeks from the time you arrived in Spain to get your NIE number?

    1. Andy my apologies I missed seeing your comment. Assuming you’re applying for the non lucrative visa, your NIE number will be printed on the visa sealed in your passport by the consulate where you applied. The number alone is sufficient for most if not all of the typical transactions you’ll be setting up on arrival, such as getting mobile phone contract, internet service in house, even opening a bank account and yes, if your landlord wants to see it, to sign a housing contract. In the blog post, I’m referring to obtaining the physical TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero). This is the official Spanish residence identification card that serves as physical proof (to a police officer or passport control officer, for example) of one’s legal right to be residing in Spain as a foreigner. To obtain it, you must first present yourself at your local Oficina de Extranjeria (Immigration Office) within 30 days of your arrival in Spain, and we didn’t do so until day 28 (because we were traveling in other parts of the country). From that date, it took about 12 weeks and the multiple appointments until we had that card in hand. However, bear in mind, the processing time might vary from province to province. Hope this helps. Please use my contact form to reach out privately if you need more info.

    2. NIE number assigned and appears on the non lucrative residence visa sealed into your passport. But the process to get the residence card occurs on arrival in Spain, and the exact nuances of that process vary depending on the region of Spain that you’re living in, but regardless of where you go in Spain, you must start that process within 30 days of arrival in Spain.

  2. Hey there, I’ve read so many of these (painful) processes, but yes, seems completely worthwhile. We’re in UT, so I think our consulate would be in LA, and I hear they all have slightly different requirements … but one question is that of “proof of income”: Did your consulate require a certain amount in the bank or just proof of ongoing income? Thanks!

    1. Ideally you have a bit of both, some money in the bank (in cash or cash equivalents) as well as ongoing income from non working sources (annuities, pension, rental property income, etc.) In my experience helping people apply at five different consulates now, I’d further say they tend to favor seeing money coming in regularly, unless you’re really sitting on a big stock pile of cash (significantly in excess of the required amount). In other words, I’ve seen people who had just a bit more than the required amount coming in monthly with only nominal savings get approved with less hassle than people who had large savings, more than double or even triple the requirement, but no fresh money coming in regularly. Eventually the got approved but had to jump through some hoops showing where that savings had come from. Hope this helps.

  3. My family (I have two sons 11 and 13 years old) were planning to head to Spain on an NLV then Covid hit. We are going to try again this year timing it for August 2021 (or earlier) but curious if they are still processing NLV and how difficult it would be to settle in Malaga to deal with all the after arrival bureaucracy in a pandemic. What has been your experience helping families during Covid?

    1. Hi, I have helped numerous individuals and families move over since COVID. I also had a few families change their plans and try to wait things out. I think what drove the decisions of those who canceled were more concerns about how Spain would handle lockdowns and school shutdowns, didn’t want to move kids over only to have them sit in an apartment for three months. But though life isn’t ‘normal’ there, to my knowledge many schools have remained opened. If you’re interested in more details or help plan your move to Spain, feel free to contact me!

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