How We Became Spanish Residents

How two Americans leveraged the Irish citizenship of one to establish residency in Spain for both

With citizenship in any member state of the European Union comes E.U. citizenship. Just as U.S. citizens can live and work anywhere in the U.S., E.U. citizens can live and work anywhere in the E.U. It’s not quite as seamless as the U.S., though. Non-Spanish E.U. citizens living in Spain are still considered foreigners and have some administrative requirements to fulfill, but there is no application process, per se.

Furthermore, the E.U. grants its citizens the right to bring their non-E.U. spouse and certain other family members with them under a policy of “family reunification.” So my husband also gets to live and work in Spain (or any other country in the E.U.), as long as we remain married and I remain in the same country. (Someone has to be very, very nice to me!)

Read my post about becoming an Irish citizen, which is the basis for our Spanish residency.

Step One

Becoming Spanish residents was a two-step process. First I had to present myself in person at the appropriate police station in Barcelona to obtain my Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión (Certificate of registration of a citizen of the Union.) Among other things, this triggers the issuance of a número de identidad de extranjero, or NIE, a foreigner’s national identity number.

As an E.U. citizen moving to Spain without employment, I did have to show financial resources and have private healthcare insurance. Because we were being relocated to Barcelona by Brian’s employer, they provided legal services to help us. This was particularly helpful as we were at the height of the pandemic, so everything was discombobulated; getting the necessary in-person appointments was particularly tricky. The lawyers knew how to navigate it all.

I believe with the return to normalcy it has become easier to DIY this, but it never hurts to have professional assistance — if you have the budget for it. My employer, BCN Life Relocation Experts, does provide the service for a fee, as do many other relocation agencies and immigration attorneys.

Because I had to present myself in person and I was still living in the U.S., I made a 96-hour door-to-door trip to Barcelona for a 5-minute appointment. I left the U.S. on Tuesday, arrived in Barcelona on Wednesday, appeared at the police station on Thursday and flew home on Friday! Whew! Luckily, again, this was at the height of the pandemic and the planes were only about 10% full, so there was plenty of room to spread out away from other passengers and stretch out across several seats.

Step Two

After I registered my residency, Brian was able to join me in Spain under “family reunification.” Once he arrived, we began the process of acquiring his “Tarjeta de Residencia de Familiar de un Ciudadano de la Unión” or the residence card of a family member of a union citizen. This was mostly just paperwork, including a certified and apostilled copy of our marriage certificate, which had to be translated to Spanish by an accredited translator. He also have to have a photo taken and fingerprints processed. (I do not have one of these cards; EU citizens don’t get them. I carry an Irish passport card as my ID here.) He acquired his NIE in this process as well. It took about four months. The card is good for five years and after that he can apply for permanent residency. Until then, he has to be nice to me and encourage me to stay in Spain!

And that’s it! Now we both have the right to live and work in Spain without restrictions, and we have freedom of movement around the E.U.