Lawyer Raymond Nesbitt explains what a Spanish NIE number is, who needs it, and how to get one.
By Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt
Lawyer – Abogado
8th of May 2017
What is a Spanish NIE number? This will be one of the first questions you will be asking yourself when you move on over to Spain. Succinctly, a NIE number is a tax identification number for foreigners which identifies you before the Spanish Tax Office and allows you to file and pay taxes in Spain. NIE stands for Número de Identificación de Extranjero. It is the counterpart of the NIF number which only applies to Spanish nationals.
I have written up this brief Frequently Asked Questions to give a quick rundown on what it entails. You can request a NIE number service from our law firm.
Why is a NIE number needed?
Basically, any activity in Spain that requires you, as a foreigner, to pay taxes will need you to apply for a NIE number. A NIE number does not preclude your tax residency. The list supplied below is ad exemplum; it is by no means a closed list.
- Buying property.
- Selling property.
- Connecting your property to utilities.
- Inheriting assets in Spain.
- Opening a bank account.*
- Taking out insurance.
- Buying a car.
- Buying a boat.
- Working in Spain.
- Studying in Spain.
- Claiming benefits.
- Obtaining a mortgage or any other type of loan.
- Can be used to enrol in a town hall census.
- Some elite private foreign schools require a NIE number from parents and/or new (foreign) pupils to enrol them!
*Whilst it used to be a mandatory requirement in the past to attain a NIE number as a foreign resident to open a bank account in Spain, this is no longer the case. However, although initially you can now open a bank account without a NIE number it will be required further down the line by the Tax Office.
Who needs a NIE number?
- Any foreigner who becomes resident in Spain for tax purposes.
- Any non-resident who plans to own assets in Spain i.e. real estate, car, boat etc.
- Any foreigner who plans to work, study or start a business in Spain.
What does a NIE number look like?
A NIE number is issued by the National Police on a standard A4 size of paper which also has your name, surname, date of birth and nationality (see article’s photo above for more details). Example: X-12345678-R.
How to get a NIE number
- Apply abroad in person, through a Spanish consulate.
- Apply in person in Spain before a Spanish National Police Station.
- Apply by representative. You can appoint a law firm, such as ours, to act on your behalf as proxy using a Power of Attorney specific to NIE numbers.
What is required to attain a NIE?
- Fill in the relevant application form in Spanish.
- Pay the government fee.
Advantages of hiring a law firm to apply for a NIE number on your behalf (apply by representative)
- It’s fast. We can apply for a NIE number and usually attain it within 10 days (approximately). We can then scan and email you your assigned tax number. For an extra fee, we can post you the original certificate.
- It’s cheap. Hiring us will be significantly cheaper than flying over to Spain and doing all the legwork yourself!
- It’s safe. We are registered lawyers with Professional Indemnity Insurance.
- You save yourself setting aside holidays to come over to Spain for two or three days.
- You save yourself booking flights to Spain plus hotel lodging.
- You save yourself having to hire a Spanish translator to translate all the legal jargon and documents in Spanish (Police Stations only deal with you in Spanish).
- You save yourself having to wake up early in the morning and endure endless queues at a Police Station under a scorching sun only to be attended in Spanish after several hours.
10 FAQs on NIE Numbers
- I´ve read that NIE numbers have a three-month validity, is this true? After 3 months do I need to apply for a new one?
Not true. The NIE number comes with an unfortunate wording that makes it seem as if it was only valid for three months. In practice, it does not expire. Once you have a number assigned by the National Police it will be yours for lifetime. You also do not need to renew it; so, it is basically a one-time thing.
Now that I have clarified this common misunderstanding, comes the tricky part. What actually does expire is the certificate itself which you are issued by the Police Station (the A4 size sheet of paper). Should you require a new certificate, for whatever reason, you may need to request them to re-issue you one (but as I write, it will have exactly the same NIE number as the one before). The only thing that will change is the expiry date which will be again for a further three months.
- I offer my property as a holiday rental (short-term) advertising on popular property portals such as Airbnb. Do my lodgers need to apply for a NIE number when I submit my quarterly tax model 210? Even if they are just staying overnight?
Short answer is no. Only the property owner (or joint owners) need to apply for a NIE number.
- In my country we have several Spanish diplomatic missions. Why would I need to hire a law firm instead of applying for a NIE number in person through any one of them?
Although on paper this may seem like a good idea, in practice it´s botched. The main problem on applying for a NIE number through a Spanish consulate is that your paperwork is sent from your home country over to Spain (usually Madrid) and then back again. This winded process can take up to several months to fruition with little to no feedback. You will endure first-hand the wonders of Spanish red tape setting you back by several months. Besides, not all consulates allow you to apply for one. So basically, it’s a no-no unless you enjoy watching grass grow.
- Does attaining a NIE number make me a Spanish tax resident?
No, it doesn´t. All it is really is just an admin number to identify you before the Spanish Tax Office. It does not preclude your tax status.
- I’m planning to buy a property in Spain jointly with my wife. Do we both need a NIE number or only myself? If I buy a property with my children (to mitigate IHT) do they also need a NIE?
Both of you need one. Any owner or joint owner of a property needs to apply for a NIE number. This will also include your children should they also become joint owners with yourself and your wife.
I take the opportunity to introduce a shameless commercial plug and advise that our law firm offers significant discounts when you apply through us for two or more NIE numbers.
- I was planning to buy a property in Spain but at completion the Notary refused to sign because I didn´t have a NIE number. Is this correct?
Yes. One of the roles of a Spanish Notary is to ensure all taxes are paid to the Tax Office. It stands to reason that if you don’t have a NIE number you cannot pay the associated taxes of a purchase. In other words, to buy or sell property in Spain it is mandatory by law to have a NIE number (if you are a foreigner) at completion so you can pay the appropriate taxes. A Notary will check if a buyer has a NIE number and will refuse to witness the signing if he lacks one.
- I have read online that one can no longer apply for a NIE number using a representative through a Power of Attorney; you need to apply for it in person. Is this advice wrong?
Rather than wrong, I would say this advice you have read on internet is out-of-date. Please excuse me digressing for a bit.
For a few months in 2012 National Police Stations turned down representatives using PoA to apply for a NIE. Lo and behold, it panned out that many non-residents simply did not have the sweet time to waste two or three days to leave their work and fly over to Spain in person just for the privilege of queueing up at a Spanish Police Station for hours on end under a baking sun. On top of it (booking flights, hotel lodging) these foreigners also needed to hire a translator to deal with Spanish police as they only communicate in ta-da: Spanish!
So, the dire combination of costs ballooning coupled with all the red tape translated into a sharp dip in property sales at a time when Spain’s ailing economy sorely needed its property market to pick up. The ensuing public outcry was such that the Government came back into its senses and backpedaled on its new policy only months after introducing it. As a result of such a short-sighted policy, the economy had virtually ground to a halt. You really couldn’t make it up.
What can be gleaned from this amusing little story is that the whole property market in Spain pivots on this first step, a NIE number; if you mess with it the property market tumbles like a house of cards which is exactly what happened. Long story short, business is back to usual and National Police Stations now accept representatives applying for NIE numbers using PoA.
- What happens if I lose my NIE number certificate?
Nothing much. You can always request a duplicate. As previously mentioned, the number you have been assigned does not change.
- What happens if I move and change my address in Spain, do I need a new NIE number?
No. You get to keep the one you were assigned.
- What happens if I change my surname?
You must apply for a another NIE number that matches your new surname.
If you are interested in buying, working, studying or simply living in Spain, you will need a NIE number.
My advice is that you keep it simple and hire a competent law firm such as ours to sort it out on your behalf for a (very) competitive fee. We will save you time, money, hassle and considerable aggravation under the sun.
Article also published at Larraín Nesbitt Lawyers: NIE Number Explained.
Legal services Larraín Nesbitt Lawyers can offer you
- NIE Number (Tax Identification Number).
- Conveyancing – Buying.
- Fiscal Representation (Non-Resident Income Tax).
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- House Hunting in Spain – 17th June 2015. The New York Times
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- Buying Property in Spain – 10 Reasons to Hire a Lawyer – 8th November 2016
- Buying Property in Spain from a Private Seller (Resale Property) – 21st of February 2017
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2.017 © Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt. All rights reserved.
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