What are your legal obligations as a foreigner in Spain?

English speaking lawyers in Spain

When you move to a different country as a foreigner, whether temporarily or to become a long-term resident, there are often many bureaucratic processes to deal with to make sure you comply with the laws of your new country.

This administrative workload will be similar for anyone moving from another country to Spain, as foreigners living in Spain will have different obligations to uphold than Spanish citizens – with the risk of having to leave the country if they don’t.

So, whether you are planning a move to Spain, still finding your feet in your new location, or have been staying in Spain for a while now, you will have various legal responsibilities that you must keep up with as a foreigner in Spain.

Here are some of the key points you’ll be responsible for and things you’ll have to do while living in Spain as a foreigner.


Obtain residency

To legally stay in Spain for longer than the 90 days out of every 180 days permitted on a tourist visa, you must make sure that you have applied for the right visa to reside in Spain – whether you’ll be working, studying, or retiring there.

You must obtain the appropriate residency authorisation for your situation, which may require application from your home country before coming to Spain, or application from within Spain before your tourist visa expires.

If you fail to obtain the applicable visa for your circumstances during the required timeframe, your situation will be considered ‘irregular’ and you will not be allowed to stay in Spain any longer.


Register at the town hall

Once you’ve found a place to live and settle down, whether you’re renting or have bought a property of your own, you must go to the town hall of your municipality to apply for a Certificado de Empadronamiento (Certificate of Registration).

Also known as a Padrón certificate, this document means the town hall officially recognises you as a registered resident at your address in Spain. You can then use it for other processes requiring proof of address, like registering at a health centre.

In any case, you’ll need to register at the town hall and receive this certificate within 3 months of your arrival in Spain – you’ll find it very difficult to access local or national services without one.


Maintain visa conditions

Whatever the conditions of your specific visa may be, you must uphold those requirements to maintain your right to enter and reside in Spain. If you break the conditions, you will get into trouble with the Spanish authorities.

For example, if you have a non-lucrative visa, you cannot carry out any economic activity in Spain, and must rely on passive income only. If you were to start working without permission, your non-lucrative visa would become invalid.

Similarly, most visas require you to maintain a minimum income and health insurance cover, and without these, you could be asked to leave the country for failing to meet your visa requirements.


Pay Social Security fees

Whether you are an EU national or non-EU national, working for a Spanish employer or self-employed, you must have a tax ID number (NIE) and register for the social security system if you’re working and earning income in Spain.

These contributions allow those who pay into the system to access state benefits in Spain, which can help with healthcare, unemployment, and retirement. Employers should help their employees with this before they begin working for them.

However, if you’re self-employed, you must still pay monthly social security fees based on your income level. You may prefer to arrange private insurance or hire a gestor to manage this for you.


Pay taxes in Spain

Anyone who lives in Spain for more than 183 days out of any tax year will be considered a tax resident, and expected to pay taxes in Spain under the same conditions as Spanish citizens – typically involving higher rates on more income sources.

Meanwhile, those who stay in Spain for less than half of the year will be considered non-tax residents – which means paying fewer taxes on their income, property, and assets within Spain only, instead of worldwide like full-time tax residents.

Learn more about different taxes in Spain (like property tax and wealth tax), taxes for remote workers or the unemployed, and filing tax returns in Spain by reading our blogs on these topics.


Renew residency

Most visas initially allow the holder to live in Spain under specified conditions for up to 1 year, after which they must either leave the country or apply for a renewal to extend their stay. You must apply to renew the visa before it expires.

To do this, you must fill out the relevant form and make an appointment at either the local police station or immigration office. If successful, you will be granted temporary residency, which you must renew every 2 years after that.

When you have spent at least 183 days a year in Spain for 5 years consecutively, you could qualify for permanent residency, which is renewable every 5 years. You could then choose to apply for Spanish citizenship after 10 years.


Respect local laws

There may be many cultural differences between your home country and Spain, but it’s important to educate yourself on the laws and customs as early as possible, so you don’t accidentally break the law without realising the activity was illegal here.

For example, there are specific rules around wearing beach clothes, smoking, or camping in public spaces that may not apply where you’re originally from – but could result in a fine or losing your right to residency in Spain, depending on the severity.

Though it isn’t legally mandated, it’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with Spanish social norms and learn the language. You’ll need to achieve a minimum level of fluency in Spanish if you want to apply for citizenship.


Get advice from English-speaking lawyers

Whatever your reason for being in Spain, and however long you intend to live there, the process will be far easier with support from English-speaking lawyers in Spain – like Manzanares Abogados.

Our team can communicate in multiple languages and bring an expert familiarity with the laws and bureaucratic systems in Spain, helping to make applications more efficient and maintain your obligations for visa maintenance and taxes.

Browse our website today to find out more about what we can do for you, or get in touch to request a consultation. You can reach us by calling one of our lawyer offices in Spain or sending an email to clientservices@manzanareslawyers.com.


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