Find out when you can apply for Spanish citizenship or permanent residency, and what conditions and paperwork you need to qualify.
If you want to live in Spain long term or even permanently, you will need to apply for either permanent residence or become a Spanish citizen. After you have lived in Spain for five years you can apply for permanent residence and after 10 years you can apply for Spanish nationality, although exemptions exist that allow certain people to apply sooner, for example, if you are married to a Spaniard or the child of a Spanish parent. Both Spanish citizenship and permanent residency allow you to stay living in Spain, but some differences exist between the two.
Should you choose Spanish permanent residency or Spanish citizenship?
Holding an EU long-term permanent residence permit allows you to stay on as a resident in Spain while retaining your own nationality and passport. As a Spanish permanent resident you will get most of the same benefits enjoyed by Spanish citizens as long as you fulfil certain conditions, such as being able to support yourself financially. You can move around the EU for limited periods, and longer with permission.
If you become a Spanish citizen, however, you will need to give up your original nationality and passport, unless you qualify for an exemption (see below). You will enjoy all the same rights as other Spanish citizens, as well as become a citizen of the EU with freedom of movement throughout the EU. You can also vote in European elections.
Brexit: British expats in Spain
It is unclear how the UK’s vote to leave the EU will affect British expats living in Spain or wishing to relocate to Spain. British expats who already live in Spain might consider applying for Spanish citizenship if they meet the necessary criteria to main EU access. However, this also means surrending their British citizenship. British expats may also be asked in future to apply for a Blue Card, an approved EU-wide work permit that allows high-skilled, non-EU citizens to work and live in Spain and other EU countries.
Applying for permanent residence in Spain
Once you have legally lived in Spain for five uninterrupted years, non-EU nationals can apply for an ‘EU long-term residence permit’. A long-term residence permit allows you to stay in Spain indefinitely working or otherwise, under the same conditions as Spanish citizens.
You have to prove that you have adequate financial resources to provide for you and your family (if applicable) – such as pension, scholarship or salary – and proof of public or private health insurance with a company authorised to operate in Spain.
You may also be asked to submit:
- a valid passport;
- proof of legal residence in Spain eg. a long-term rental contract or receipts for rent;
- criminal record certificate issued by the authorities in your home country;
- medical certificate (certificado medico), in cases where the applicant didn’t present it when applying for temporary residence.
- proof that health assistance is guaranteed during your residence in Spain;
- marriage or divorce certificate or other papers relating to your marital status (translated into Spanish if required).
When you have this permit, you can work freely and enjoy social services and benefits in Spain. You can generally move between other EU member states for up to three months, and longer for certain purposes if you’re granted a permit to do so.
If you hold a Blue Card from another EU-member state, and have lived elsewhere in the EU for the same period, this also permits you to long-term residence in Spain as long as you have lived for two years in Spain beforehand.
If you hold an EU long-term residence permit granted by another EU member state and want to stay on in Spain, you will have to relinquish your long-term residence status in the other country and apply for an EU long-term residence permit from the Foreigner’s Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) in Spain. Click here to find your local office.
How to get Spanish citizenship
You can apply for Spanish nationality after 10 years of residence in Spain. You can also acquire Spanish nationality through marriage or birth, even if you or your Spanish parents were born outside Spain.
You will also be required to prove you are a ‘good citizen’ – financially stable with no criminal record – and be deemed by the authorities to have a ‘sufficient’ degree of integration into Spanish society, for example, being able to speak Spanish and taking part in social activities that are part of the Spanish way of life.
You have to apply at the Civil Registry where you live in Spain. You will need to take along the required supporting documents for your Spanish citizenship application (listed here) plus a completed Spanish citizenship application form.
You can apply for Spanish citizenship if you are 18 or older, 14 or older with legal assistance, or the legal guardian of a person under 14.
Exemptions to the 10-year rules
Refugees only wait five years and nationals from Spanish-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal and those of Sephardic origin only have to wait two years. The Spanish government currently has a bill going through parliament that aims to change the law regarding those of Sephardic origin so that any applicant, Jewish or not, who can fulfil certain criteria such as having links to Sephardic culture or even knowledge of Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language, may be offered instant naturalisation – so watch for updates.
The required period of residence for citizenship is just one year if you are born in Spain to legal foreign residents, married to a Spaniard, widowed from a Spaniard, or the child or grandchild (even if born outside Spain) of a Spanish national by birth or residence.
Descendents of expelled Sephardic Jews from Spain can also apply for Spanish citizenship without residing in Spain if they can prove special connections to Spain and pass tests on the Spanish language and history; applications must be submitted before 1 October 2018.
Spanish citizenship by origin or birth
You are considered Spanish by origin and can apply for Spanish citizenship by ‘Option’ (no residency period is required) if you:
- have a Spanish mother or father.
- were born in Spain to foreign parents, if at least one parent was also born in Spain (except children of diplomats and consuls accredited in Spain).
- adopted by a Spaniard and under 18, or are over 18 and have been adopted within the last two years;
- were born in Spain to foreign parents whose identity is unknown or country of origin is undetermined (stateless or refugee status), or if neither parents’ nationality could be legally passed onto you.
There are also other situations to qualify for Spanish citizenship, where residency is required for one year. These include those born outside Spain to parents (also born outside Spain) and grandparents all of whom were originally Spanish, those with a Spanish guardian or foster parent, or those who did not duly exercise their right to acquire Spanish nationality by option.
Spanish citizenship by marriage
You can fast-track citizenship if you are married to a Spaniard, where you can become a Spanish citizen after a one-year residence period in Spain. The application and conditions follow the standard citizenship procedure, with the exception that you don’t need to wait 10 years to apply. You will have to surrender your existing citizenship to become Spanish.
You can also claim Spanish citizenship as the widower or widow of a Spaniards, provided you were not separated or de facto at the time of your spouse’s death.
Fees and timeline
Spain charges a non-refundable fee to process your citizenship application, which varies and can range from EUR 60–100 even if your application is rejected. Fees may also apply to issue certificates and documents required for your application.
If you are successful, you will have to swear your loyalty to the King and promise to obey the Spanish constitution and laws.
Unless you’re from a Spanish-American country, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea or Portugal, you will also have to renounce your previous nationality. Sephardic Jews and descendents can also maintain their original citizenship to have dual nationality.
You will lose your Spanish citizenship if you reside abroad and take up another nationality (or use your old nationality) for more than three years, unless within that three-year period you declare to the Civil Registry your will to keep Spanish nationality.
For more information
- Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: this is the English version of the website for the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, supplying information on visas and migration to Spain.
- Spanish Ministry of Employment and Social Security: this is the Spanish-language website for information on employment and social security policy in Spain.