NIE numbers become obstacle to solving Spain’s property glut

Just when the Spanish property market needs all the help it can get from foreign investors, the bureaucratic obstacle of getting a foreign ID/NIE number gets harder than ever.

Foreign investors are vital to the Spanish economy: They are Spain’s best hope for dealing with the glut of new homes on the coast, something even the incompetent former Government recognised with its futile European road-shows last year. So why, then, is the state making it harder than ever to get an ID number, known as a número de identidad de extranjero, or NIE number for short, without which foreigner investors can’t buy?

I ask the question, but don’t expect an answer from me because I’m as baffled as anyone. At a time like this the Government should be bending over backwards to make it easier for foreigners to buy property in Spain, not creating new obstacles.

NIE numbers for property buyers are nothing new, so what has changed? The fact that you can no longer use a power of attorney to authorise someone else to request a number on your behalf. That used to take the pain out of the process (whilst adding to the cost), but now you have to go in person and waste half a day in some grim government office staffed by surly bureaucrats and police.

As Graham Hunt of Houses for Sale in Spain writes in his blog piece The Law Of The Stupid. NIE Numbers in Spain:

“The applicant also needs to present themselves, at least here in Valencia, at a police station in the middle of an industrial estate on the outskirts of Valencia and queue up to be treated like a piece of dirt by the civil servants working there.”

Is there any alternative? Yes, you have the option of requesting a number from the Spanish embassy or consulate at home, if you live near one, which most people don’t. That, however, can take months, which is no use to most people buying a property.

For most people, the only option is to waste a morning of their life suffering at the hands of the Spanish bureaucracy, with the biggest queues and longest waits reserved for buyers from countries outside the EU, like Russia and China. As Graham says, “This means that millionaires wanting to invest a lot of money in Spain are treated like dirt on their first experience of the country.”

Once again, the Spanish bureaucracy comes up trumps.

+ More information on Spanish NIE numbers.



15 thoughts on “NIE numbers become obstacle to solving Spain’s property glut”

  1. Diego

    I recently got a NIF for a Jersey based company, that was easy enough.

    The real problem began when we tried to open a bank account, even with the NIF and hacienda´s blessing no bank has opened the account.

    Even the notary refused to receive payment through a transfer originating in Jersey, it had to be a cheque from London.

    it´s been the most surreal experience.

  2. Sabine

    Both my partner and I have an NIE which we obtained over 5 years ago when we bought a property. We bothe had to queue at the local police station but fortunately we werent treated like dirt possibly because we bought in Catalunya which is a bit more civilised thant the rest of Spain. Nevertheless, anybody that had dark skin or look “out of place” wa spushed to the end of the queue whereas we were “promoted”. I wouldn’t say the chap who served us was friendly – just nodding his head and grumping. One of the reasons we left Spain was the bureaucracy. Unbearable, imcompetent, long winded, unhelpful. No way can anybody run a successful business in this down trotten country – ever. We are not going back now, not even for holidays.

  3. robert

    and in Andulascia Junta officials blaming british and other nationalities for buying the buildings built by spanish developers and banks

    so if difficult to get NUIE good stop people wasting their money only buy in spain if you can afford to loose all the money if the deal goes wrong

    also spanish banks will have to realease there stocks of repossed apt soon and they will be dirt cheap

  4. Fela Hughes

    I got my NIE in less than an hour in Barcelona. The idea that you can turn up at an government office and be issued your id number on demand is pretty good if you ask me. I doubt that you can get your NI number in the UK that fast…

  5. jonte

    Bureaucracy in Spain is possibly the most pernicious in the World. The fact that they don’t recognise this is why things will never change.

    What sort of people have the elderly and infirm in queues at 7.30 in the morning trying to sort out paperwork necessary to become a resident in Spain.

    What sort of country tolerates a legal system where its lawyers are more often than not part of the problem and not the solution.

    Joining the EU gave Spain a tin pot economy and a fixed currency which is too highly valued. It’s dreadful housing problems and laws have put paid to the many expats who used to come here and the dreadful houses which it built for so long are now cold, quiet and empty and likely to stay that way.

    Spain has its faults but being wrong is not one of them. In time she will learn but by them it will probably be too late.

  6. Anne

    For most people who come to this country they find it difficult because they make NO EFFORT to learn and speak the language. Not only that, but the British are the worst of all the foreigners, and on top of it, they are rude and arrogant and think that they can bring the British Law with them.
    Most foreigners do not work legally here and 90% of the Brits live here illegally not paying any tax whatsoever and also claiming benefits from the UK.
    To get the NIE is not difficult if you know what you are doing and dealing with honest and genuine people who know the ropes.

  7. Ha Spain

    I remember when I went for mine, about 7 years ago now. The first day, I joined the long queue, by the time I got within 10m of the door, they closed!
    The second day, someone had informed me that as an EU citizen I didn´t have to queue, so I walked straight passed the queue, to the policeman on the door, told him I was English and he ushered me through, I took a number and was seen within 10 minutes!
    I actually felt embarrased. They did change the arrangement, it seems crazy that they have now taken a step backwards again.

  8. Glen Paterson-Mandagie

    I am a foreign non-resident property owner in the Estepona district, and had reason to apply for a replacement NIE. I Joined a queue outside the National Police station for approx. 1 hour, was seen by a friendly non-English speaking official and told to fill in their form, pay the €7 fee to the bank and return the following day, when after only 20 minutes or so in another queue, was given the new certificate. Excellent service and the only pain was finding a parking space in the near vicinity.

  9. njsmithson

    Oh dear how awful – you mean that some toffee nosed Brit has to stand in a queue for a couple of hours like some low life foreigner instead of being able to snap their fingers and get some lackey do do it for them ? Haven’t you got anything better to do than write such rubbish ? If foreigners ( yes that’s what Brits are when in Spain ) want to live here then they might as well get used to Spanish ways before they buy their property. I have stood in lots of Spanish queues, I am British and have never been treated like dirt ( except – frequently – by British airline staff at Malaga airport ).

  10. Wilhelmus Hijmans

    Dear Marc,

    Because I am dutch please forgive if my english is inproper in this story :
    In december 2009 we signed a provisional contract concerning a country house in Jijona (Xixona),
    some 20 km from Alicante (town).
    Because we did not speak sufficent spanish, we drove up to the city of Alicante with our real estate agent, sat 2,5 hours in a queue and we where eventually told that if we intended to buy property in Jijona, we had to get our NIE in Alcoy
    In Alcoy, some 45 km inland from Jijona,our real estate agent was told, by telephone,that we were obliged to come to the police office in that town,
    to get a queue number for the next day; so we did.
    The next day, accompanied by our agent, we had to wait 1.5 hours and then were send off because the office had problems with the internet.
    We had to pay our fees at the bank and return 2 hours later.So we did and recieved handwritten (!) NIE’s on copys of our passports.
    When finally buying the property,as the mains water and electricity were established, in march 2010,the NIE’s proved to be incorrect but were corrected by the notary in the title deeds according to the central spanish administration.
    Also we were told by the notary that we had to return to Alcoy to get our officially (“corrected”) NIE’s.
    And yes, again someone had to go in person to Alcoy to get a queue number for the next day, and yes, we had to wait 2 hours and, by the way, had to pay the fee!!!(no big deal, but indicates that the system sucks).

    In my opinion that is also the case concerning IBI
    altough correctly administrated in ‘Registro de Propriodad’ and having a ‘fiscal representave’,
    I had to urge 3 times to avoid a panalty(!)just because the SUMA- bill was just for the land and not for the house!
    Their mistake, but when I was not in place (as non recident) I should be obliged to pay a penalty ???Shame to the system!(Epecially that spaniards pay lesser penaltys than foreingers)

    police office to get a queue number for the n

  11. Martyn Swan

    It’s not a problem here in Extremadura. We just checked with the local office and they are still accepting NIE application via a power of attorney where the buyers can’t or don’t want to apply in person.

  12. Pelle

    Anyone ever thought that it isnt much easier to become a tax payer and registered in the UK?? Since the UK is also a very conservative and backwards country, it is exactly the same.
    I came there in 2004, on a contract with a large US company, and to pay tax I needed an NI number…took no less than 3 weeks, probably trying 25 times a day, to get through to book a time at a Jobcentre…unless you wanted to queue, which meant going to another town that had a JC, stand in the queue and wait.
    I was treated like a piece of crap, being Swedish and all, they probably thought I was there to rape and pillage again, and had to answer a hundred questions, mostly about my mum and dad and what they did…and guess what, to be invited to my appointed meeting, I still had to sit in a queue and wait for an hour since they were busy.

    So don’t judge Spains system before you have looked at your own. You want efficiency, go to Germany…

  13. Profile photo of Mark

    Fair comment about the UK Pelle. But the thing is we are talking about Spain and a change for the worse that creates an obstacle to selling homes to foreigners, which is a key priority of the Spanish Government. They didn’t need to make this change.

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About Mark Stücklin

Mark Stücklin is a Barcelona-based property market analyst and consultant, and author of the 'Spanish Property Doctor' column in the Sunday Times (2005 - 2008). He can be reached by email on