Spanish residency, begins with a having a right to reside in Spain, either unconditionally, or, for as as long as you continue to meet residency criteria.
Since 28th March 2007, the law (Royal Decree 240/07), has required that all EU citizens planning to reside in Spain for more than 3 months should register in person at the Oficina de Extranjeros in their province of residence or at designated Police stations. Upon registering, you are issued a credit card size residency certificate, (certificado de residencia) with your name, address, nationality, NIE number (Número de Identificación Extranjero) and your date of registration as a Spanish resident.
Apart from the legal obligation to register based on your intention to take up residency in Spain, if you spend 183 days or more per year in the country, then you are deemed to have taken up Spanish residency. You therefore don’t ‘become resident’ by obtaining your residency certificate, in most cases you will by definition and law, be deemed resident in Spain due to the amount of the time you spend here.
All EU and EEA (European Economic Area) citizens and their family members have the right to visit, live or work in Spain, and a Spanish residency certificates confirms your status as a resident in Spain. For stays of up to 3 months there is no need to register or obtain any Spanish documentation unless you are going to be working, or for example buying a property, in which case you’ll need an NIE. After that period, or if you intend to stay more than 3 months, you are expected to register as a resident.
You are given a residency certificate, or ‘certificado de residencia’, when you successfully register, and the issue of certificates is controlled by the National Police, (Cuerpo Nacional de Policia).
The NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero), meaning – Foreigner Identification Number, is the counterpart to a DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad), the ID card issued to Spanish citizens, and is the identification number issued to people who are not a Spanish nationals.
The National Police, (Cuerpo Nacional de Policia), handle the issue of NIE’s and any one planning to carry out a transaction in Spain, e.g. buying a holiday home, or various other interests, needs to have one.
The NIE identifies you whenever you do something official, or which involves the authorities. For example paying taxes, buying a property; signing a document at Notary; starting a business; taking shares in or becoming a director of a Spanish company, even registering as a student on a Spanish university course.
The NIE is not a fiscal (tax) residency identification – you can have a NIE and be fiscal resident in another country, however it is used to link payments to you that may be due, including tax amongst others. Both EU citizens and non-EU citizens are issued with NIE’s, and if you become resident, you keep the same NIE when you apply for your residence certificate.