Foreigners buying property in Spain no longer have to go in person to a Spanish police station to get their NIE numbers, after a Spanish Government u-turn.
Some nine million UK and Irish people travel to Spain each year. Of those, over one million have acquired holiday homes or timeshares. Even without owning property, many have opened Spanish bank accounts to facilitate transactions while there. Spanish law has for many years required foreigners conducting business, professional or social matters in Spain to obtain a Numero de Identificación de Extranjeros (Foreigners Identification Number), or NIE for short.
Your Spanish NIE certificate number is essential for all types of financial or property transaction and acts as your tax identification number as a foreign resident. It is required for all property and finance related transactions e.g. paying your bills, opening bank accounts or buying or selling property.
It used to be possible to get an NIE through a third party acting on your behalf with a power of attorney (POA, or a poder in Spanish), but that changed in December 2011, when the Government insisted that foreigners would have to go in person to a police station in Spain (or to a consulate abroad) to request their NIE.
In practical terms that meant applying in person at a local police station, which opens early in the morning and tends to close early in the day, resulting in long queues and delays for personal applications. Very often the desk in the police station (when you have eventually reached the head of the queue) is manned by a bored and overworked policeman who does little more than shuffle forms, accept the documents and take a copy of your Passport to check your photo.
In the middle of a deep recession, which has crippled the Spanish property market, the Spanish authorities appeared to have shot themselves in the foot by introducing a ludicrous regulation requiring all foreigners to appear personally at the police station, merely for the purpose of applying for NIE.
The problem stemmed from a little known and little observed regulation dated 20 April 2011, which established that foreigners intending to carry on business in Spain were required to appear personally at their local (Spanish) police station to apply for NIE. In typical Spanish manner, and displaying sound common sense, this regulation was largely disregarded throughout many parts of Spain where the police would accept applications for NIE presented via Power of Attorney in favour of a lawyer or other authorised representative of the applicant. Provided the Power of Attorney was correctly drawn up and properly sealed by a Notary Public and the UK authorities, it was acceptable for use to make application for NIE without requiring the applicant to trek in person all the way to Spain.
However all that changed since a communique from the Secretary of State for Immigration on 13 December 2011 indicating that the expression “personally” contained in the rule governing such foreign related matters did not leave any room for interpretation and whilst acknowledging it hampered the use of Notarial powers to apply for NIE, directed that the personal appearance of applicants was required at police stations all over Spain, and that applications by Power of Attorney would no longer be acceptable
Naturally this literal interpretation of what anyway was initially a daft regulation caused huge consternation throughout Spain in the legal profession and the property construction and sales sector. It also meant that there were probably a lot of unhappy policemen who were likely going to be buried under an avalanche of paperwork from foreigners queuing up to apply for NIE.
In one extreme case, in Almeria,some clients of our firm, a married couple buying an apartment off-plan, were told by the local police not only would they have to attend personally to present their NIE applications, but they would both have to come back again about three weeks later to collect their original certificates!
There was some optimism among the legal profession in Spain that this nonsense would eventually be resolved but for that period, chaos reigned in the property holiday sector involving non-nationals having bank accounts or property in Spain.
Now, it appears the Spanish authorities have had a rethink and change of heart. A recent communiqué dated 13th April 2012 issued by the department of the Spanish Interior Ministry responsible for policing matters – Direccion General de la Policia – has advised that henceforth applications for NIE will be accepted whether made personally or through a representative. In other words, Powers of Attorney will once again be accepted for such applications. The communiqué also states that this new instruction shall be circulated to all the relevant police or other offices and departments affected by the instruction. Three cheers for common sense!
You can see a copy of the Ministry of the Interior memo to police stations authorising the request of NIE numbers through legal representatives clicking the following link(pdf, in Spanish): Presentación de solicitud de NIE por medio de representante