I thought that once I made it through the visa process that the worst was behind me. In some ways, it was. The stress of the tight timeline was over, but I realized that arriving in Spain meant a spade of new tasks to tackle.
I had no idea where to even begin. It was ridiculously difficult to find clear-cut information on what steps to take first. I just had to fumble my way through it, and after a lot of trial and error (emphasis on error) I made it through. Here’s what I found is the best way to get things done.
1. Get a Spanish phone number
The first thing you should do once you’re in Spain is get a Spanish phone number. We ended up just getting a prepaid SIM card through DIGI Mobil, but there are a host of other options for prepaid SIMs. We chose the 20 GB/month option and it was only €10. The nice thing about a prepaid card is that you can cancel it or recharge it as needed. This gives you some freedom from worry because you don’t need to feel rushed to get a monthly phone plan.
If you walk up any given street, you’ll find an alementacion that sells prepaid cards. They will have signs outside and you can inquire about getting one. You could also go to a phone store like Movistar, Vodafone, or Orange and ask to buy a prepaid SIM. It’s up to you!
2. Open a Spanish Bank Account
Whew this one was a doozy. I still get mad thinking about my experience with opening a bank account.
Banks are only open M-F from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. So for someone who works from 9-2, it was pretty much physically impossible for me to get to a bank. I tried so many times and half the time the bank was closed, I needed a cita previa (appointment), or they just straight up said I didn’t have the appropriate documentation and they couldn’t help me.
I speak Spanish at a pretty advanced level, but when it comes to banking terms, I was completely lost. After multiple attempts, I finally found a BBVA that was willing to help me with opening an account. At this point, I was desperate to get a bank account because I needed one immediately to get my first paycheck. This desperation led me to ignore my gut feeling when I felt like I was not completely understanding something important that they were telling me as they were trying to open my account. I remember telling my boyfriend “I think I’m gonna get screwed over for this.”
What did I miss? Well after I had given them all my documentation and signed all of the forms, they told me to select my health insurance. HEALTH INSURANCE? I was flabbergasted and asked incredulously what the hell she meant health insurance, this is a bank for gods sake. To me, this was the equivalent of the United States Postal Service asking me to choose my health insurance plan. It made no sense. That was a real reality check for me that the institutions in place in Spain can be very different than the institutions in the U.S.
I tried to prove that I already had health insurance through my job to no avail. They insisted that with BBVA, if you are a foreigner opening an account, you have to pay for health insurance for at least the first year. It’s obligatory. This is done to ensure that you are paying into the socialized healthcare system and you aren’t just coming to another country, opening an account, and mooching off of the system without contributing. I understand, but even writing this story out I’m still fuming. I felt duped because it was clear I wasn’t fully understanding when they tried to explain it to me, and instead of writing it down or showing me the screen, they just continued to open my account. Then finally once I was committed, she turned the screen around and showed me the health insurance plans. I was so stressed and exhausted that I couldn’t even fight at that point.
Luckily, the total insurance cost for the year is €399. It gets taken out every 3 months, so it’s only about €99 every three months that I have to pay. It isn’t going to make me go broke, but it definitely isn’t something I’m super happy about, especially because I already had health insurance for free through my employment contract.
My boyfriend was luckily able to escape opening a bank account with BBVA because I went first and so he was able to back out of opening with BBVA. He opened an account with Santander. It was completely free and all he needed was his passport. He went to the Santander right outside of the La Latina Metro station and had an amazing, easy experience. They were kind and helpful and were able to explain and walk him through everything. Definitely recommend Santander in general, and if you are in Madrid, the La Latina branch. And definitely do not open an account with BBVA.
When that €99 gets taken out every 3 months it just rubs salt in the wound but hey, you live and you learn.
3. Find a Flat to Rent
I have a whole post about my advice for renting a flat because it really was a god awful experience for us. We’re happily settled in a flat we love now, but it was quite the journey to get here.
You should start looking as soon as you get to Spain. It will take a while, so don’t expect to be into a place within the first week. So, while you’re looking, carve some time out for getting a Spanish phone number and bank account, because you will need these to communicate with listing agents, schedule viewings, and eventually send your security deposits and rent once you find a place.
To empadron is basically to register your address with the Spanish government. The certificate you will receive is an essential document that you will need to apply for your TIE, and it’s a relatively simple process. Once you have your rental contract signed and in hand, you need to make an empadronamiento appointment on this site.
To make the appointment, you should fill in the drop down menus as follows:
- Tipo de servicio: Padrón
- Gestión: Padrón
- Oficina: Whatever office is closest to you, or you can also click the blue button that says “Consultar oficinas con disponibilidad” (Consult offices with availability) if you want to search by the first free appointment.
You need to bring your passport, your rental contact with your name and signature and the landlords name and signature , and the application form. If you are living with another person and they empadronarse before you, you need to bring a copy of their passport as well! If you are renting a room in a house, you will need the landlord to write an authorization for you, in addition to the rental contract, and also a copy of the landlord’s ID document.
This isn’t a super difficult process once you get the documents in order. The appointment didn’t take long and it was another thing to cross off the list.
5. TIE Appointment
First things first: as always, everything in Spain requires an appointment. So, make one here.
After selecting the region, you will see a drop-down menu for “Oficina” and I recommend leaving it at “Cualquier Oficina” (any office) to give yourself the most options. Then you can select which one works best accounting for date and location when the appointments are shown.
Next, click on the drop-down menu for TRÁMITES CUERPO NACIONAL DE POLICÍA and then select TOMA DE HUELLAS (EXPEDICIÓN DE TARJETA) Y RENOVACIÓN DE TARJETA DE LARGA DURACIÓN. Select the appointment in the location and time that works best for you.
For the appointment, you have to fill out a few forms.
TIE Application Form
First, fill out the TIE Application form, which you can download here.
This form is super straightforward with your basic information in Section 1. If you are applying on your own (i.e. aren’t using a lawyer) you leave Section 2 blank. You will probably leave Section 3 blank too, so long as the address you put in Section 1 is where you would like to be contacted.
In Section 4, select “Tarjeta Inicial” (First Card) for “Tipo de Documento” and below, select “Estancia por estudios, investigación formación, intercambio, prácticas o voluntariado” for “Situación en España”
Then, sign and date and you are done with the application form!
Tax Form 790
There is a fee you have to pay as a tax before your TIE appointment. The current price as of this posting is €16.08. You must go to a bank to pay the tax. The good news is you can go to any bank, any location to pay it. You don’t need to have an account. I went to the nearest bank which was a CaixaBank to pay mine.
To pay the tax, you first need to fill out an online form.
If you don’t have your NIE number yet (I didn’t, sometimes it’s printed in the visa, sometimes it’s not–mine wasn’t) then you can just put in your passport number. After you put in your information, scroll down to the section called”Tarjetas de identidad de extranjeros (TIE) y certificados de registro de residentes comunitarios” and select “TIE que documenta la primera concesión de la autorización de residencia temporal, de estancia o para trabajadores transfronterizos“
Then put in your city for “Localidad” and under the section for Ingreso, under “Forma de Pago” select “En efectivo” (in cash). Once you submit at the bottom, a PDF will be created. You need to print this out and take it to the bank with you, along with the cash to pay the tax.
At the bank, after you pay, the bank will stamp the tax form and give it back to you. You can then take it with you to the TIE appointment as proof that you have paid the fee.
Passport Sized Photo
You will also need to get a passport-sized photo for the TIE appointment. This should show you with your face completely showing (no bangs, hair in your face, sunglasses, etc.) because it will go on your TIE card.
The sized photo needed for this is different than the standard size in the U.S., so if you have an extra one of these it will not work.
I used the photo booth in the Sol metro station because it was easily accessible. I know there are a couple other metros with these photo booths, but Sol definitely has one. It cost €5 and prints 2 in the correct size for the TIE.
List of Documents Needed for Your Appointment
- Appointment confirmation email
- TIE Application Form
- Tax Form Stamped by Bank
- Empadronamiento Document
- Proof of Health Insurance
- Letter of Acceptance from NALCAP, university, etc.
- Colored passport sized photo
- Visa (in passport)
Once you have applied it usually takes between 30-45 days for the card to be ready. In typical Spanish fashion, you will need to make an appointment to pick up your TIE. In even more typical Spanish fashion, they will not send you any sort of notification that your TIE is ready. You should make an appointment assuming the maximum amount of days your specific office tells you it will take upon application. To make the cita to collect your TIE, you can follow the same link you used to make the original appointment, but this time select “POLICIA- RECOGIDA DE TARJETA DE IDENTIDAD EXTRANJERO (T.I.E)” Make sure you choose the same office that you applied for the T.I.E at to go collect it, because it will only be available for pickup at that location.
Once you are done with all of this with your T.I.E in hand, you are officially legal in Spain! It’s a great feeling and your next step to being settled in beautiful Spain.