There has always been a confusion between the Spanish NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero, that is, the Foreinger Identification Number) and other documents such as the certificate of registration of a European Union’s Citizen, the UE family member’s card, or the foreigner’s residence and work permits, for instance.
So it is crucial to clearly explain what the Spanish NIE is, how it differs from such registrations, cards and permits, and what you can or can not do with it.
What is the Spanish NIE? The Basics
The Foreigner Identification Number (NIE) is, as the name indicates, a personal number that is assigned to each foreigner to identify him/her in any petition that he/she may present before the Spanish authorities. It consists of a letter followed by seven digits and another letter at the end. It is granted in certain cases and, by itself, does not grant any right, as explained below.
What is the Spanish NIE? Cases in which it is granted
1 – Citizen of the European Union
If a national of one of the member states of the European Union or the European Common Space plans to reside in Spain for more than 3 months, he must apply for what is called a Citizen of the Union’s Registration Certificate (Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión).
To do so, he/she shall fill an application before the police station located in the town or city where him/her is going to live in Spain (in some provinces it is necessary to book an appointment via Internet, in others it is not), and attach the documents indicated in article 7 of Royal Decree 240/2007, demonstrating that he/she has livelihoods to stay during that period. The registration will be granted if it meets the requirements indicated in said regulations.
The certificate or registration delivered to the European Union citizen will include the Spanish NIE which has been assigned to him/her.
In order for said UE citizen to identify himself/herself before the Spanish authorities, the certificate shall be presented together with an ID issued by his/her country of origin (a passport, for instance).
2- Relatives of an European Union Citizen
The same applies in cases of family members indicated in article 2 of Royal Decree 240/2007 who wish to live in Spain with a Spanish or other European Union citizen. Indeed, they must apply for a Resident Card of a European Union Citizen’s family member (Tarjeta de Residencia de Familiar de Ciudadano de la Unión Europea) .
Consequently, the card shall be issued if the requirements are met, and it will include a Spanish NIE.
3- Visitors and resident visas. Asylum
If you obtain a temporary visa for a 6 month-plus stay (for example, as a student), which is called visado de estancia, or a residence permit (either a non-profit, employed, self-employed, family reunification, etc.), you must apply for your Foreigner’s Identification Card (tarjeta de identificación de extranjero, o TIE). It will show your Spanish NIE at the bottom.
Likewise, if you are an asylum seeker, you will first be granted an Temporary Accreditation Document for a Petitioner of International Protection and, if granted, a definitive one. Both will indicate your Spanish NIE.
Therefore, when you submit any of the applications indicated in points 1, 2 and 3 above, they are assigned a provisional a Spanish NIE, which will become definitive when resolved favorably.
4- What is the Spanish NIE? Special cases
In addition to the cases mentioned in 1,2, and 3 above, a Spanish NIE will only be issued to a foreigner who is not in such cases (i.e., if he/she does not have authorization to live in Spain), if he/she is going to engage in certain transactions, such as the opening of a bank account, the buying of a property in Spain or his/her participating as a partner in a corporation or business.
If you get this “special” Spanish NIE you are not allowed either to reside in Spain for more than 90 days or to work, for you also need the corresponding residence and work permits. If someone hires you, it would be a violation of inmigration laws.
In fact, with this special Spanish NIE you will not be able to sign up for Social Security, either as an employee or self-employed. Likewise, you will not be able to register before the Spanish Tax Authorities in order to perform activities on your own as an autonomous worker.
Spanish NIE: How to apply
For cases mentioned in points 1 to 3 (citizen or family member of a UE citizen, a residence permit or asylum applicant), there is no special procedure to do so, as the granting of the card or permission includes the granting of the alien identification number or Spanish NIE.
The NIE should not be confused with the TIE, the foreigner’s identification card, that must be processed after obtaining the corresponding authorization, and in which also the mention to the Spanish NIE will appear. In the case of an EU citizen, a TIE is not to be processed, for the certificate is self-sufficient.
For cases mentioned in point 4 (special cases), application for the NIE can be made before the consulate of Spain in your country of origin or residence, or in a police station in Spain, personally or through a proxy. In some Spanish Provinces it is necessary to book an appointment via Internet, in others it isn’t.
A form (EX-15) must be completed, attaching a copy of a valid passport and explaining the reasons for issuing the Spanish NIE. It would be better if you can show some kind of document, like a preliminary contract if you are buying a property, for example.