If you're one of the hundreds (okay, probably more like hundreds of thousands) of people who are searching the internet on how to move to Spain from the US you're probably overwhelmed by the amount of information you find.
How do I know that? Because I was where you are over four years ago when I decided to move to Germany: checking blogs, news articles, Twitter hashtags, and comments on Instagram posts while feeling overwhelmed and completely unprepared. After several months and separate trips to the Ausländerbehörde (German immigration office), I was finally able to get my residency. So after all of those hard-learned lessons, when I decided to relocate to Spain, I thought that I knew what to expect in order to get my Spanish residence permit.
Nearly a year later, I'm just now making headway. Despite going through the residency process a handful of times in Germany, applying for a Spanish residence permit is a completely different beast. If you're just starting your research on how to move to Spain, I'm here to help you by answering some questions about applying for Spanish residency.
What Kind of Spanish Residency Applies to Me?
This is the first question you should ask yourself when planning your move to Spain. As with many countries, there are several Spanish residence permits based on your family situation, job status, and more. Unlike the commonly held belief that you have to marry to gain Spanish residency, you're absolutely able to move to Spain without having to say 'I Do'.
On the Gobierno de Espana (Government of Spain) website for foreigners, there are resources including entry requirements, what to expect when living in Spain, as well as short-term and long-term residency permit options.
It's important to note that as a US citizen, you're able to visit Spain (as well as other European Union countries) for up to 90 days without needing an official visa *in non-COVID times. So if you're just looking for a short-term getaway, you won't have to embark on this process.
If you're confident you're ready to hightail it out of the US, then let's see which Spanish residency permit may be best for you.
Non-profit Spanish residence visa: If you are not planning to earn an income while living in Spain, for example, if you're retired or working remotely with employment in another country.
Spanish residence and work visa: If you would like to live and work in the country, this would require a written commitment of employment from a company in Spain.
Spanish residence visa and self-employment: If you are an entrepreneur or self-employed, this would require proof that you bring in over a certain amount of income (the exact number will be provided by the Spanish Embassy in the US). If you're moving with a partner and/or dependents, the proof of income is per person.
Spanish residence visa for resident family reunification: If you have family already living and registered in Spain that you will be living with.
Student visa for Spain: If you have been accepted into an accredited academic program within Spain.
Entrepreneur Law Visas in Spain: If you are an investor, entrepreneur, highly qualified professional, researcher, or worker. (There are specific qualifications for each title.)
Once you feel that you've found the best Spanish residence permit for you, there are several Spain US Embassies across the country. You will have to apply through the one that is closest to where you live in the US. Their website will also provide a contact email and office hours for you to apply *may vary during COVID times.
What Do I Need to Apply for My Spanish Residence Permit?
As you look at your local Spanish Embassy website, you'll see a list of general requirements that may seem straightforward at first glance. However, after going through the process myself, these requirements aren't as clear as they seem.
While there may be a variation of requirements based on the visa you choose, there are a few that are standard:
A Passport that is valid for one year. For non-US citizens, a Resident Card (Green Card) or valid Visa (this doesn't include B1 or B2 visa holders).
Proof that you have the necessary financial funds or commitment of support from financial institutions.
If you are applying for a work-related visa, proof of the activity you will be working on. If you are independent or an investor some details you may be required to provide are: The expected investment and profitability, the number of jobs expected to be created, authorizations or licenses that are required, and more.
A Criminal Record Certificate. If you were previously based outside of the US, it can include the previous year of the place of residence. It must have been issued within 90 days prior to the visa application. It must also be translated into Spanish and legalized with the Apostille of the Hague.
A Medical Certificate issued by a doctor detailing that you don't have any contagious diseases or mental illnesses. It must be issued within 90 days prior to the visa application and translated into Spanish.
Spanish Residency Visa Fee(s) detailed below.
One thing that is not mentioned when it comes to the medical certificate: the doctor must be a US doctor. So if you're based outside of the US, like I was, you will have to return to the States in order to be seen. While the text also states that you should send them a "medical certificate", what they're really asking for is a basic letter with a doctor's letterhead that vaguely states you're in good health. Don't waste time or money trying to secure an actual certificate (like I did).
I'd also like to point out that once you receive your criminal record in order to apply for your Spanish residence permit, whether it's a background check from the FBI or the country you were previously based in, it will need to be validated. This process is done by a separate agency called the Office of Authentications. (During COVID times, their office has had a 2-month delay which could push your criminal record date past 90 days. If you explain this to your local Spanish Embassy in the US they will likely make an exception.)
How Much Does Spanish Residency Cost?
Along with different Spanish residence permits having different requirements, there are also different fees associated with each.
If you are applying to live but not work in Spain or are self-employed, there is an added Spanish residence permit fee of $13.
If you are moving to Spain but don't plan to apply for a work-related visa, the cost is $140 for US Citizens and $73 for non-US Citizens. This is non-refundable.
If you are self-employed, you'll be required to pay $270 for your visa and $228 for your Spanish residence permit.
If you're applying for residency alongside a work visa, the fee is $190.00 for US Citizens and $67 for non-US Citizens. This is non-refundable but does not include the permit fee.
If you're joining family in Spain, the fee for adults is $97 and $49 for children between ages 6 and 12. This is non-refundable and excluded a permit fee.
If you are applying for a student visa, US Citizens will pay $160.00 while non-US Citizens pay $73. This is non-refundable and doesn't require a permit fee.
The only accepted forms of payment for all fees are in cash or money order.
How Do I Apply For My Spanish Residence Permit?
Now that you've got all of your documents ready to go along with your passport or US residency visa/green card, then the Spanish residency application process actually starts.
You'll want to contact your local Spanish Embassy in the US to notify them that you're planning to move to Spain. They may require you to email them all of your documents just to make sure you qualify before moving forward. Then they will schedule an appointment for you to present all of those same documents in person.
Fun fact: I flew all the way from Spain to the US for my appointment—but wasn't allowed in because I had been to a high-risk COVID country within the last 14 days. As a result, I was able to continue the process through email.
While this may seem more convenient, later on, I had to fly back to the US again because I needed to visit a US doctor for my medical certificate. Moral of the story: you'll need to complete this process firmly planted in the States.
In the case that you are all ready to go and do receive an in-person appointment they will retain all of your documents, yes, that also means your passport or residency visa/green card, in order to process your application.
As most Spanish Embassies in the US service multiple states, the closest one may be far from where you live. You can request to have your passport and visa mailed back to you instead of returning to their office. Bring with you a USPS prepaid Express Mail envelope to your appointment (don't just bring the envelop, you must pay for the postage as well). Keep in mind that they will only send everything back to an address in the US and no other courier is accepted.
Now I've Got My Spanish Residency, Right?
You didn't think it would be that challengingly easy to get your Spanish residence permit, did you? *Laughs in the key of sadness*
I learned the hard way that after going through all this, what you're essentially going to receive from the Spanish Embassy in the US is your residency starter pack. There's still more to do.
While applying you'll need to provide the Spanish Embassy with your travel dates as this initial Spanish residence permit is only valid for 90 days. It's best to secure exactly where you're planning to stay in Spain before committing to your travel date, just to be safe.
After arriving in Spain, you'll have to take all of the documents, your ID with your Spanish residency permit, and your proof of payment to your local City Hall in Spain. There you will receive a certificate. But you're still not done.
You're going to have to take your documents, ID with the Spanish residence permit, proof of payment, and the certificate from City Hall to your area Oficinas de Extranjeria (Office of Immigration) in Spain. THEN you will finally receive your Spanish residency!
This may seem like a lot, but as long as you apply while located in the US, compile all of the documents required for your application, and carefully review this blog, you'll be moving to Spain sooner than you can say, "Me estoy moviendo a España!" The Spanish residence permit I received is only valid for a year, which I believe is the standard amount of time for every type. Here's hoping that I don't have to go through all of this again in order to renew it in 12 months.