Stop reading nonsense on the Internet: NIE number vs Spanish residency

Spanish NIE number and Spanish residency

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:

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!


Before we start… Yours Free

Spain 101 is a free ebook full of unique tips that will save you thousands of Euros when moving to / living in Spain.

Would you like to get it now?

Please click / tap on the image below:


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).

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:

Spanish 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:

Spanish residency for EU

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.


Yours Free

Spain 101 is a free ebook full of unique tips that will save you thousands of Euros when moving to / living in Spain.

Would you like to get it now?

Please click / tap on the image below:



Coverage areas

Alicante Province

Alicante Province

Costa Blanca: These are my usual in-person coverage areas in Costa Blanca Spain,  Altea,  Calpe, Orihuela Costa,  BenissaGuadalest,  GuardamarJaveaMorairaAlicante, La Marina, DeniaVillajoyosa, Pilar de la Horadada, Benidorm, El Campello, Santa Pola, and, of course, Torrevieja; as well as other towns near Alicante.

Inland Alicante province: OrihuelaElche, Pinoso, Almoradi, Alcoy, Orba, Rojales, Biar, Crevillente, Los Montesinos, San Miguel de Salinas, Benijofar, Algorfa.

Murcia Province

Costa Cálida: including Costa Calida SpainSan Pedro del PinatarLos Alcazares, Santiago de la  Rivera, Mar Menor , San JavierMazarronAguilas.

Cities and towns in Murcia province: 

CartagenaYecla, Sucina, Totana, Alhama, Molina de Segura, Fortuna, Murcia city.

Other areas in Spain

I have collaborators almost everywhere all over Spain, so no worries, I can assist you anywhere you are in Spain, in cities such as: Zaragoza, Vitoria, Bilbao, Albacete, Almería, Logroño, Avila, Badajoz, Caceres, Majorca, Zamora, Barcelona, Burgos, Oviedo, Cadiz, Santander, Castellon, Pontevedra, Ciudad Real, Cordoba, Cuenca, Gerona, Granada, Guadalajara, San Sebastian, Huelva, Huesca, Jaen, Navarra, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gijon, Leon, Lleida, Lugo, Madrid, Malaga, Orense, Palencia, Salamanca, Segovia, Sevilla, Soria, Tarragona, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Teruel, Toledo, Valencia, Valladolid.


  1. Shihab says

    Ah mate wish I’d seen this before we hired someone else. A lot of stress, a lot of wasted flights, so much money down the toilet… We got our nies in the end, I just wish we had someone likeable and thorough to help us through it, which you sound like! Will definitely come to you if brexit throws us a curve ball

    • David Ruiz says

      THank you so much Shihab, I appreciate it :-)