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

Spanish NIE number and Spanish residency

One thing before I reveal the mystery NIE number vs Spanish residency: If you’re from the UK and would like to obtain your permanent Spanish residency card click here.

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!


The two well-known documents for foreigners living in Spain

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 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 permit that allows one to legally stay in Spain.

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).

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 and British 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.


One more thing

Having an NIE number certificate does not mean that you are a legal resident of 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 Spanish residency card?

If yes, you’re in the right place!

On my professional CV there are over 500 Spanish residencies done to perfection since 2010 (and still counting) so I promise you’ll be in good hands :-)

Please fill out the form below, I’ll get back to you shortly.

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Image credit: Dawn, Phil Gold

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