Welcome to the most clarifying article on the Internet where I will explain the difference between NIE number and Spanish residency.
Before we start reading the article:
- Are you from the United Kingdom? Please read my 2022 guide all about moving to Spain from the UK
- Are you from the USA? Please read my 2022 guide all about moving to Spain from the USA
- Are you from Canada? Please read my 2022 guide all about moving to Spain from Canada
- Are you from South Africa? Please read my 2022 guide all about moving to Spain from South Africa
- Are you from Australia? Please read my 2022 guide all about moving to Spain from Australia
Or perhaps you would like to know more about:
The 2022 definitive Spain visa guide and types of Spanish visas for non-European Union citizens
Spanish residency for non-European Union citizens married/family members of European Union citizens
Are you ready to become a citizen of Spain? Please read my article Spanish citizenship
Otherwise, read on!
At last, the truth!
You’ve been confused all these years.
You’ve read many contradictory articles and opinions on the Internet about the Spanish NIE number and the Spanish residency card.
You’ve got the impression Spain is a hard country to start a new life because of the crazy amount of paperwork and procedures people mention on Facebook.
I can’t blame you. The Internet has given a voice to everybody on the earth: experts, amateurs, and those who have no clue but have “an opinion”.
Let me give you a fictitious example.
My grandma (who turned 89 in August 2018 and knows nothing about foreign affairs legal documentation) could write an article, say, about the end of Spanish residency card.
On purpose, she could write a text full of typos in English in her cooking blog.
Then, give it a similar title such as: Warning: the end of the Spanish residency card is coming, you’ll be kicked out of Spain soon! (and post it on Facebook groups)
I’m 100% sure a significant amount of people would give credit to her article, which could even become viral.
(My grandma’s list of requirements to apply for your Spanish residency card)
The bottom line?
Don’t believe anything that comes from people who do not have real experience on the topic they speak about.
Now… let’s unveil the mystery!
NIE number vs Spanish residency
One common misunderstanding (in part because of the mountain of nonsense on the Internet) is not knowing the difference between the NIE number and the Spanish residency card, or even mixing them up. But that’s all right, because I’m going to explain the difference right here, right now.
In simple words:
- The NIE number certificate is just a fiscal number to carry out legal activities in Spain (I’ll tell you which ones in a moment).
- The Spanish residency is a residence permit Spain that allows one to legally stay in this country.
EU and British pensioners tend to confuse the two documents, although they are not even similar in format or usage.
The NIE certificate is printed on a white A4 sheet (with no photo), whereas the Spanish residency for EU and British citizens is a small green card (also without a photo… some people call it “green nie”).
Here is an example of an NIE number certificate:
See? Within the rectangle you get the words “N.I.E.” and right next to it the number itself (which I’ve deleted to keep it confidential).
It usually starts with ‘X’ or ‘Y’ and can end up in any letter. It would read like this on the certificate:
Or using the ‘Y’ version:
Your NIE number will not be all zeroes (well, I don’t think so), they are just two examples I’ve made up.
Here is an example of a Spanish residency certificate card for EU citizens:
There is an old A4 sheet version for Spanish residency. It looks kind of similar to the card, but A4 sheet format. Nevertheless, the A4 version is not printed by the police anymore.
Non-EU citizens have a complete different residency card.
The Spanish residency card for non-EU citizens is a photo ID card, and various formats based on the type of residency they have.
One more thing
Having an NIE number certificate does not mean that you are a legal resident of Spain. You will not either be able to have healthcare in Spain.
However, when you become a Spanish resident by obtaining the proper Spanish residency card, the police will print your existing NIE number (to find it, have a look at the residency card image, in the NIE field), if you applied for it in the past, or will generate a new one.
Can you now see the difference between them?
I hope so.
Otherwise, let me tell you something else to try to clarify it even more if possible.
One case people tend to confuse a lot
Sooner or later your EU or UK driving licence will expire while living in Spain.
To exchange your licence, one of the main requirements is having Spanish residency. And this is a no-way-you-will-get-it-without-it requirement.
I always get inquiries from people trying to bypass it, because they don’t know the difference between the NIE number and the Spanish residency. This is the kind of question I usually get:
“I’ve got an NIE number, can I exchange my EU driving licence for a Spanish licence?”
My answer is always:
“By NIE number, do you mean the A4 white sheet or the A4 green sheet or the small green card?”
Why do I ask them that?
Because, as mentioned earlier, many people think their NIE number certificate is their Spanish residency and vice versa.
I used to get confused too. I promise. Perhaps it took me around 20 or 30 applications to deeply understand what’s what. Yeah, the learning curve.
In short, depending on what type of legal procedure you’re applying for, you’ll be asked to provide one document or another. However, just remember that the NIE number and the Spanish residency are different and individual documents.
Are you ready to apply for your EU Spanish residency card?
If yes, here is the starting point.
Please click / tap on the image below:
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