Immigration, Visas & Residence in Spain

This guide gives details of the immigration rules in Spain. It covers immigration for settlement when joining relatives, immigration to work or do business, immigration based on investment in Spain and immigration for retirement. It also covers short-term visits to Spain, whether as tourists or to do business.

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The beautiful climate and the relaxed way of life make Spain a popular destination for resettlement, whether upon retirement or to work or run a business.

There are (2017) some 4.7 million expats living in Spain, almost 2.6 million of which come from outside the EU.

Can a foreigner move to Spain?

Possibly. It depends upon which country you come from and why you want to emigrate to Spain.

If you come from an EU List of EU countries country, moving to Spain is always fairly simple.

If you do not and you do not want to work in Spain, the process is also fairly simple. However, if you do want to work, it is much more difficult and complicated. Like most governments, the government of Spain is keen to preserve local jobs for local people.

At the same time, though, they do want to encourage foreigners and business to come to the country if they are going to create wealth and employment!

Video guide to immigration & visas for Spain

You can learn about coming to Spain by watching this full-length interview (below) with Spanish lawyer Miguel Manzanares, or by scrolling down and reading the detailed guide that he has written with us.

The video guide below is a playlist – split into several parts. One part will play right after the other.

The rules for a foreigner coming to Spain

Coming to Spain on a temporary (short-term) basis

This is not, strictly, immigration but it seems sensible to deal with this subject in our guides to immigration, particularly as some people thinking of immigration find that a series of temporary stays gives them all they need – and with a lot less administrative complexity and far fewer international tax issues.

In exceptional circumstances, you may need to submit a medical certificate along with the documents detailed below.

Tourist visits to Spain

Citizens of any nationality can visit Spain as a tourist (meaning somebody who is visiting on a short-term basis and who is not coming to Spain to work).

Entry into Spain for stays not exceeding 90 days in any six-month period is subject to the conditions set forth in Regulation (EC) Nº 562/2006 (see here in Spanish and here in English) of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006.

You must have a valid passport or travel document. The document must be valid for the entirety of the intended stay. Citizens from any state of the European Union (or from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein), only need a valid national identity document or passport. Most of the information below is irrelevant to EU citizens.

If a minor (child under the age of 18) is travelling alone with a national identity document, the latter must be accompanied by parental authorization.

If you are from a country whose nationals must be in possession of a visa when crossing the EU’s external borders (see the list here in Spanish and here in English), you must obtain a short-term visa – unless you are in possession of a valid residence permit or a valid long-term visa issued by another EU Member State.

Foreigners holding a valid residence permit or a long-term visa issued by another Schengen State may move for a maximum of three months, during any six-month period, through the territory of the other Schengen States, provided:

  • That they are in possession of a valid passport or travel document
  • That they justify the purpose and conditions of the intended stay
  • That they can support themselves (see below) for the duration of the intended stay in Spain
  • That they are not considered a threat to the public health, public order, national security, or international relations of Spain or of other States with which Spain has agreements in this regard. Moreover, they shall be required not to appear on the national list of alerts of the Member State in question
  • That they have the required documents (see below) and ‘sufficient means of subsistence’.In order to accredit economic means, foreigners must prove that they can support themselves in order to enter Spain. Order PRE/1282/2007 says that the minimum amount of money that you must have available is €64.53 per person per day, with a minimum total of €580.77 or its equivalent in foreign currency
Journeys to Spain as a tourist or for private reasons

If you are coming to the Costa del Sol as a tourist, or for other private (non-business) reasons, submission of any of the following documents may be required:

  • A supporting document from the establishment providing accommodation or a letter of invitation from a private individual hosting the foreigner concerned in their home, issued by the Police Station of their place of residence. IMPORTANT: under no circumstances shall the letter of invitation replace the foreigner’s other entry requirements (see above)
  • Confirmation of the booking of an organised trip, indicating the itinerary
  • A return or round-trip ticket
Journeys of a professional, political, scientific, sporting or religious nature (or other reasons)

Submission of any of the following documents may be required:

  • An invitation from a company or from an authority to participate in meetings, conferences, etc.
  • A document proving the existence of commercial or business relations
  • Access cards to trade fairs, congresses, conferences, etc.
  • Invitations, entrance cards, bookings or programmes detailing (as far as possible) the name of the hosting organisation and the duration of the stay
Journeys undertaken for the purposes of study or other types of training

Submission of any of the following documents may be required:

  • A certificate of enrolment at a school or college
  • Any other certificates regarding the courses attended

Other documents indicating the purpose of the visit may also be accepted.

Short-term visits to work in Spain

For the purposes of this guide, by “work”, we mean working in paid employment on the Costa del Sol. This does not include coming to Spain for business purposes (e.g. meeting clients or to discuss business opportunities). For that, see below.

To come to Spain for short-term employment (less than one year) you need a short term work visa.

This must be obtained, in advance, from the Consulate of Spain nearest to where you live.

To apply for a visa, you must have a written offer of employment (such as short term contract, training contract, or management contract).

Whether it is easy or impossible to obtain such a visa depends upon what you want to do by way of work.

It is relatively easy to obtain short-term visas to work in areas where there is a labour shortage. This includes harvesting olives during the short harvest period, from mid-September to mid-October.

Short-term visas for office work in Spain are extremely hard to obtain.

The national employment department must allow the foreign worker to be hired, or there must be proof of the worker being in certain spacial circumstances. See this web page (in English) for more details.

Coming to Spain to do business

People wishing to visit Spain to meet clients and/or discuss business are allowed to do so as tourists.

Causes for refusing entry to Spain

The following are causes for refusing entry:

  • Having previously been expelled or deported by Spain or another Schengen State
  • Having been expressly denied entry for “activities contrary to the interests of Spain”, activities against human rights, or for notorious connections with criminal organisations
  • Being wanted internationally for criminal reasons
  • Being considered a threat to the public health, public order, national security, or international relations of Spain, or of other States with which Spain has agreements in this regard
  • Having already stayed in Spain for three months during a six-month period

Long-term visits to Spain

There are special visas available for various types of longer term – but still temporary – visits to Spain.

Student visas

See our Guide to Coming to Spain as a Student for details.

Basically, the proposed student will have to show that they have been offered a place at one of the list of approved institutions in Spain, that they can support themselves during their stay and that they have health insurance.

Long-term visas to work in Spain

These visas are very difficult to obtain. There is a high level of unemployment in Spain and the government wishes to protect local jobs.

However, there are some exceptions. Every year the government produces a list of job categories in which it considers there are shortages. These are, mainly, highly skilled jobs requiring high-level qualifications. You can view the current list here. For example, select ‘Malaga’ from the drop-down list for information about the Costa del Sol). Malaga province, where the Costa del Sol is located, is mainly in need of naval workers.

If you have the required qualifications and a written offer of employment you may be granted a visa in this category. It will last for either one or two years and is renewable provided there is still a recognised shortage of labour in the field.

Permanent settlement in Spain

There are many different categories of settlement visa. The rules can be confusing. worse still, the rules do not contain all the ‘rules’! There are various requirements in the rules that are no longer followed in practice; and there are ‘unofficial’ requirements with which you will have to comply despite the fact that they are mentioned nowhere in the immigration rules.

Taking legal advice from an immigration expert is highly recommended. It is almost certain to save you both money and time. It could also open your eyes to some possibilities you had previously not considered.

There are five main groups of visas allowing permanent settlement in Spain: settlement to join existing family members, settlement to work, settlement to engage in business, settlement based on investment in Spain and settlement on retirement or for people who are ‘not economically active’ (not working, basically).

Settlement to join close family members in Spain

The rules governing this are complex but set out on the Department of Immigration website.

In essence, a person who is a citizen of Spain or who has been permanently and legally settled in Spain for at least one year (“the sponsor”) may apply for their spouse, parent or child under 18 to join them. They need to show that they can afford to keep those people and that they have adequate accommodation for them – which need not be in the sponsor’s own home.

Settlement to work in Spain

If you have been living and working in Spain for at least five years your temporary long-term work visa will be converted into a permanent work visa.

Settlement to engage in business in Spain

If you wish to start a business in Spain or to pursue the activities of your foreign business in Spain, then you can obtain a visa to live in Spain. You need to prepare a business plan, show that you have sufficient fund to start the business and that you will generate jobs in Spain.

You will, initially, be given a visa for one year. This can be renewed for further two year periods, provided you continue to employ people and the affairs of the business are in “good order”: primarily, it has no criminal convictions, no debts and it has paid its taxes.

Settlement based on investment

Like many similar countries, Spain has a programme of settlement by investment for:

  • Investors who make a significant investment in Spain in the form of:
    • Real estate assets (€500,000)
    • Shares or bank deposits (€1 million)
    • Public debt (€2 million)
  • Business projects in Spain considered to be of general interest to the country

An investment visa permits you to live permanently in Spain but does not require you to do so. It permits you to work or run a business in Spain.

Settlement upon retirement – or ‘non-lucrative’ residence

Strictly speaking, this is settlement for people who are “not economically active” – i.e. people who are not working or running businesses but living off their investments, pensions and capital.

There are no age limits. you can “retire” (for these purposes) at 30 or at 90.

These visas are fairly easy to obtain. You need to show that you can afford to support yourself (about €26,000 per year for a single applicant, €35,000 for a couple); that you have somewhere to live (which can be rented), that you have a clean criminal record in your own country and that you have health insurance.

Citizenship in Spain

A person who has legally been living permanently in Spain in most of the cases during a period of 10 years (meaning at least 183 days in each year) may apply for Spanish citizenship.

You need to prove that:

  • You speak Spanish to at least a modest/low standard
  • You have a basic understanding of Spanish history and culture
  • You are of good character: basically, you have no criminal convictions or debts and you have paid your taxes

Taxes in Spain

If you spend more than 183 days in the calendar year (1 January – December 31) in Spain, you will become liable to pay your taxes there: taxes on your worldwide income, capital gains and wealth.

In general, the tax regime in Spain is similar to the rest of the EU. There is a comprehensive selection of ‘double taxation treaties’, so you should not be caught in the situation where you are expected to pay tax twice: once in Spain and once in your own country. However, becoming liable to pay taxes in Spain is not, generally, a cheap thing.

See our guides to taxes in Spain.

Wealth tax in Spain

Wealth tax comes as a nasty shock to those who come from countries without it. The government, each year, takes a small part of your accumulated wealth, wherever in the world it may be located. Bank balances, real estate, investments, cash, gold, cars etc.: all are taxed.

Wealth Tax in Spain is only due if you own assets in Spain with a net value of €700,000 or more. If that’s applicable, the tax rate is progressive: from 0.24% to a maximum of 3.03%.

Wealth tax in Spain will most likely disappear in 2017, but that’s still to be confirmed.

Taxes back at home

You may come from a country that will insist on taking its taxes from you even if you are living in Spain. This is not the Spanish’ fault but you still need to work out how to deal with the problem. The answer, usually, lies in the double taxation treaty between Spain and your own country – plus a dollop of good tax advice.

Try not to make your solution too complex. You should, normally, be able to find an acceptable compromise!

Inheritance rights in Spain

Spain has some fixed rules as to what should happen to your assets on your death. You are not free to do with them exactly as you wish.

For many people, these do not pose a problem and, if there are any issues, your lawyers and tax advisers can usually find good and effective ways around them.

See our guides to inheritance and inheritance planning in Spain.

An alternative approach?

Many people find it more beneficial to keep a foot in both camps: to spend just less than six months in Spain (so avoiding becoming resident there for tax purposes) and the rest of the year either at “home” or visiting friends and family around the world.

Professional help for moving to Spain

If you are going to be moving to Spain, you need specialist immigration attorney. Don’t try to skimp upon this. It will cost you dearly.

How long will all of this take?

The length of time taken to go through the visa process varies depending upon the category of visa concerned.

An application for a settlement though business visa is likely to take between three and six months.

A visa for settlement by investment is much quicker – it usually takes 10 working days from when the application is presented at your Spanish Consulate.

Your immigration attorney should, very early on, be able to give you an estimate of both your chances of success and the length of time needed to obtain your visa.

How much does it cost to get a visa for Spain?

This depends on how you wish to do the work.

The following example is a fairly straight-forward case in which a single buyer emigrates using an investment for residency visa and decides to invest in property.

 Item Cost
Your minimum investment €500,000
Taxes (transfer tax in this case) €41,000
Specialist immigration lawyer €3,000
Spanish consulate – admin fee €60
Miscellaneous expenses Around €500


Miscellaneous expenses would include things like health insurance and translator fees.


Immigration to Spain is easy if you don’t intend to work. It’s a lot more difficult if you do. Always take specialist advice – you may baulk at the initial cost but it will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

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