Spanish residency vs Spanish citizenship: What’s the difference?
As you probably know, you don’t have to be a Spanish national to live in Spain. You can be either a temporary resident or a permanent resident, which offers new opportunities for working, studying, and travelling. If you live in the country for long enough, you could eventually apply for citizenship.
The problem is that many people confuse residence permits with permanent residency, and think that permanent residence and Spanish citizenship are the same thing. There may be some similarities, but there are also significant differences that can seriously affect your and your family’s time in Spain.
Whether you’ve already got the wheels in motion to move to Spain or you’re still in the early stages of planning possibilities, you’ll need to know more about Spanish residency and Spanish nationality. Who is eligible for what, and how do you apply? We answer these common queries and more below.
What’s the difference between a Spanish residence permit and a Spanish visa?
Before you can enter the country and apply for a residency permit, you need to apply for a short-term visa. Also known as tourist visas, they allow you to enter Spain and stay in the country or within the Schengen area for up to 90 days. If you want to stay longer than this, then you’ll need a temporary residence permit allowing you to reside in Spain for a year, which is renewable for up to 5 years.
Anybody who isn’t an EU/EEA citizen must apply for a Spanish tourist visa, then for a residency permit, or they’ll have to leave the country once their documentation expires. As confusing as it may seem, the two aren’t the same – a short-term visa allows you temporary entrance into the state for a specific purpose, while a residence permit lets you live there for longer under certain conditions.
Spanish residency is basically a continuous authorisation to live and/or work in Spain as a foreign national. Someone with Spanish residence rights will have more legal opportunities than someone on a short-term Schengen visa. Let’s run through the Spanish visa options available as a first step.
Spain Student Visa
If you’ve been accepted into a Spanish educational institution to study in Spain for more than 3 months – e.g. for a whole academic year – and you aren’t an EU or EEA citizen, then you’ll need a Spanish student visa. This includes long-term educational research, such as Masters and PhDs, as well as undergraduate courses. The visa should be valid for the duration of the study programme.
You can either apply for this visa in a Spanish consulate in your country, or apply in Spain after entering the country on a 90-day tourist visa. You’ll need proof of enrolment from your university or other institution, enough funds to support yourself financially, and healthcare insurance. You’ll be able to do paid work for up to 20 hours a week on this visa to earn further income if necessary.
Spain Work Visa
If you want to work in Spain, you’ll need a Spanish work visa. Once you have a job offer, you can apply for a Spanish work permit as an employee of a Spanish employer, known as trabajo por cuenta ajena. Your employer can then apply for a longer-term Spanish work visa on your behalf.
Those aiming to earn money through self-employment while living in Spain will need a different kind of permit. This is known as trabajo por cuenta propia or an entrepreneur visa. It applies if you’re a lone freelancer or looking to start up your own business (which needs to be an innovative project).
Alternatively, if your job offer is for a management role earning more than 40,000€ a year, you could apply for the highly qualified work permit/worker visa. Unlike the previous two options, which you need to apply for whilst still in your country of origin, you can apply when you’re already in Spain.
Spanish work visas are normally valid for 1 year, and you can renew them annually. After 5 years of this, you’ll be eligible for permanent residency. If you’ll only be working in Spain while travelling through the country as a tourist, you could be eligible for a Spanish working holiday visa instead.
Spain Non-Lucrative Visa
If you aren’t planning to work at all and just want to live in Spain for a while, without conducting any professional or economical activity, then you could apply for a Spanish non-lucrative visa. For those intending to stay in the country for more than 90 days, this option allows you to live there for up to a year. You can then renew it annually, as long as you’re living in Spain for more than 183 days a year.
You must apply for this visa at the Spanish consulate in your country of origin. If the document is granted, you’ll have 1 month to travel to Spain and register as a temporary resident. To obtain a Spanish non-working visa, or visado de residencia no lucrative, you must prove that you have a minimum of 26,000€ in the bank to support yourself without a job, plus private health insurance.
After the first renewal, you only have to renew this visa once every two years. Again, once you’ve been living in Spain for more than half of each year for 5 years, you can apply for to be a permanent resident. However, you cannot carry out any paid work during this time, including remote work.
Spain Family Reunification Visa
An easier route for some is to apply for a Spanish residency visa through an eligible relative. For example, if you have a parent who is a Spanish citizen, or you’re a non-EU citizen who has married an EU citizen, you could apply for Spanish residence as a family member of a registered EU citizen.
This is one of the simplest and most beneficial visas, as you can essentially piggyback on your family member’s residency entitlements as an EU citizen. It lasts for 5 years without requiring renewals.
Another option is the Spanish family reunification visa, or reagrupación familiar. In this case, a foreigner with a residency permit who has been in Spain for at least 1 year can apply for their family members to join them. Eligible relatives include spouses, children under 18, and parents over 65.
Spain Golden Visa
Finally, if you have your own funds available to make significant investments into Spain’s economy, then you could apply for a Spanish Golden Visa. This is also known as a Spanish investment visa or a fast-track visa, as it’s an efficient way to get residence permits for you and your family simply by spending the required amount of money in Spain. The several investment options available include:
- ⦿ Purchasing at least 500,000€ worth of Spanish real estate
- ⦿ Buying at least 1,000,000€ worth of Spanish company shares
- ⦿ Acquiring at least 2,000,000€ in Spanish treasury bonds (public debt)
- ⦿ Depositing at least 1, 000,000€ into a Spanish bank account
There’s also the possibility of starting your own business in Spain and contributing to the economy that way, but this might be more suitable for a Spanish entrepreneur visa. In any case, you’ll need to prove that you have the financial means to support yourself and your family while staying in Spain.
This means showing evidence that you have at least 30,000€ in the bank for yourself as the primary investor, then another 10,000€ for every extra family member. Every applicant also needs Spanish health insurance. Once granted, this visa allows you to bring a spouse, minor children, and adult dependents (e.g. elderly parents or financially dependent children over 18) to Spain with you.
While a Golden Visa can fast-track your family’s temporary residence visas, it’s not a fast-track to citizenship. You’ll still have to meet the minimum requirements to apply for permanent residency after 5 years of living in Spain, and then apply for Spanish citizenship after 10 years in the country.
What is permanent residency in Spain?
While you usually need a short-term visa to legally enter the country at first, you can apply for a long-term visa while you’re in Spain if you plan to outstay the tourist visa’s 90-day limit. This will be a Spanish residency permit, which allows you to become a legal resident of Spain for as long as you continue to uphold the conditions of the permit and however many times you choose to renew it.
Whereas you would have to return to your home country after a limited short-stay visa expires, a long-stay permit lets you legally stay in Spain for at least 1 year. This is the main distinction between the two. A temporary residency permit gives you more rights while in Spain than a tourist visa does, including the ability to work, access state healthcare, and apply for your family members to join you.
How is permanent residency different?
However, there’s still a difference between being a temporary Spanish resident and a permanent Spanish resident. Just as you progress from an entry visa to a temporary residence permit, you can graduate to a permanent residence permit. When you secure temporary residence, you can renew your permit after the first year, then every 2 years until the 5-year mark.
At this point, provided you’ve met the conditions of your temporary permit for those 5 years – which includes living in Spain for at least 183 days out of every year, making you a Spanish tax resident – you can apply for permanent residency. While this doesn’t make you a Spanish citizen, it lets you benefit from the same continuous rights as a Spanish resident without having to reapply.
Spanish permanent residence permits are valid for 5 years, so by the time it expires, you’ll have been living in Spain for 10 years – most likely meeting the criteria to apply for Spanish citizenship. Alternatively, you can keep renewing your permanent residency status every 5 years, but you won’t have the same privileges as a state citizen, such as voting in elections or working in the civil service.
What is Spanish citizenship?
Becoming a Spanish citizen is the final step in the chain of finally claiming Spanish nationality. As a foreigner, you’ll start with an entry visa, then apply for a temporary residence permit, upgrade this to a permanent residence permit after 5 years, then finally apply for full citizenship after 10 years.
This process is known as naturalisation, as you gradually become accustomed to the country and its ways of life over time. You’ll also learn the language, customs, and laws, which you’ll have to pass some tests on before being granted Spanish citizenship and the right to have a Spanish passport.
A resident is someone who simply lives in the country, but a Spanish citizen is a legal national of the country. Citizens have the right to vote and run for office in Spain, as well as the ability to work and live in any EU country. You’ll essentially have the same rights as anyone born and raised in Spain.
How can you become a Spanish citizen?
Applying for Spanish citizenship involves proving that you’re a financially stable and law-abiding resident, who has successfully integrated into Spanish life and contributes to Spanish society. It may also require renouncing your original nationality, as Spain only allows dual citizenship for applicants from former Spanish colonies and France. This is one reason for remaining a permanent resident.
Of course, there are other ways to become a Spanish citizen, which are often faster. These include claiming citizenship:
- ⦿ By origin – the ‘right of blood’ allows you to claim Spanish nationality through a Spanish-born parent, or a parent or adopted guardian who is a Spanish citizen.
- ⦿ By descent – citizens of former Spanish colonies and descendants of Sephardic Jews can apply for citizenship after living in Spain for 2 years.
- ⦿ By marriage – after marrying a Spanish citizen and living together in Spain for at least 1 year (full-time, on a valid visa or permit), you can apply for citizenship as a spouse.
- ⦿ By guardianship – someone who has been under the guardianship of a Spanish institution for at least 2 years and living in Spain for at least 1 year can apply to be a citizen.
There are a few other routes to Spanish citizenship which are less common, such as being granted refugee status by the Spanish government. Even in this case, you would need to live in the country and abide by all the relevant legal conditions for 5 years before being eligible for full citizenship.
What’s the difference between Spanish residency and Spanish citizenship?
You should now have an understanding of what being a visitor, a resident, and a citizen of Spain means. If you’re still unsure about the differences between these legal statuses, here’s a quick summary of the benefits and drawbacks of each:
|Requires regular renewals||✔||✖|
|Must live in Spain for minimum periods of time to maintain status||✔||✖|
|Can be cancelled/withdrawn if all conditions aren’t met||✔||✖|
|Can be passed on to family members||✖ (circumstantial)||✔|
|Freedom of movement within the EU||✖ (Schengen Area only)||✔|
|Eligibility for a Spanish passport||✖||✔|
|Voting in elections/working for public offices||✖||✔|
For both Spanish residency and Spanish citizenship, you’ll have to prove a clean criminal record and sufficient finances to support yourself (and any family members you plan to bring to Spain with you later on).
Another major difference is that you won’t have to give up your original nationality to be a Spanish resident, whereas most foreigners have to do this to officially become a Spanish citizen.
What is Spanish tax residency?
It may seem like a side note to the important issue of the distinctions between residency and citizenship, but Spanish tax residency is another major concern that you shouldn’t overlook.
If you have a temporary residence permit and live/work in Spain for more than half the year (183 days), you’ll automatically be classed as a Spanish tax resident. This means you’ll have to pay all of the taxes that a full-time or permanent resident would, while temporary residents spending less than 183 days a year in Spain will be classed as Spanish non-tax residents and pay fewer taxes.
Spanish resident taxes include income tax on global earnings, while non-resident income tax only applies to earnings within Spain. Both still have to register with the Spanish tax agency and submit declarations, but these tend to be more complicated with higher Spanish tax rates for tax residents.
Get legal assistance from a Spanish lawyer
Whether you want to move to Spain to study, for a job, or to start a new life, the legal process is much easier with experts like Manzanares Lawyers by your side. As English-speaking lawyers in Spain, we can support your journey with our detailed knowledge of Spanish laws and customs.
Simply get in touch with the Manzanares Abogados team by filling out our online enquiry form to arrange a no-obligation consultation. We’ll gladly guide you through your options to help you find the best pathway to Spanish residency – or Spanish citizenship – for your individual circumstances.