8 Visas for Americans in Spain

Ah, yes. The ever-evasive question I get most asked by Americans who have no immediate European family members, “how have you been able to stay here so long?”

My answer is short, but the real answer is long. Very long.

In short, I’ve been able to stay because I became pareja de hecho, (a civil union with less rights and importance than marriage, but with residency and permission to work) with my partner in 2012. More on that later.

There are now more ways to access residency and ability to work and live in Spain than there were ten years ago when I started my process, but given my situation at the time–broke AF, no real direction for the future, cute Spanish lad by my side–I would still do the civil union again in a heartbeat. (I ended up marrying the cute Spanish lad  and we are expecting our first bebé so alls well that ended well!) To this I would also like to add that all but one of all the Americans that I have met have gained their residency through doing a civil partnership. This is due to the fact that it is by far the “easiest” to get. Of course it is A LOT of Spanish bureaucracy to wade through so it naturally requires plenty of wine and biting your finger nails in order to get through without any lingering anxiety, but it is still the easiest.

For clarity purposes, I am only to going to speak on my experience as an American looking to get residency permission in Spain. If you are lucky enough to have family members, (I believe up to your grandparents), who were immigrants from Europe, you may have a somewhat easier in, and certainly if you are already from the EU you do as well–but I am not going to go into that in this post. Those of you from the UK, I have NO idea what the requirements may be post Brexit, and doubt any one does as of April 2020. (What do we honestly know about anything in April of 2020…)

It is also important to note that anyone living in Spain legally for five years or more is eligible to apply for permanent residency.  This should be taken into account when thinking about which visa is best for you because each one is valid for a certain amount of time and requires renewal.

In the name of transparency and more things we don’t honestly know, I also want to be clear that ALL visa modification/residency application processes are long, arduous processes, and sometimes may differ depending on where you apply (different states within the US or different provinces in Spain), who you talk to, and how they’re feeling on the day they receive your application. Here I have done as much research as possible and have tried, to the best of my ability to sum up the basic things you should know. However, I urge you to contact your local embassy, (if you’ve living in the States), or your local Oficina de Extranjería (if you’re living in Spain) to get the full low-down on requirements for certain residency types.  I would also like to personally cite this visa superstar website because although I used lots of resources during the research, they were by far the most helpful.

The pictures in this post are meant to keep you calm and remind you of all the reasons it is worth going through bureaucratic hellscapes to live here.

First, let’s take a look at your options based on how long you’ve already been in Spain.

How to Get a Job as a Teacher (2)

Side note–you can obtain the cuenta ajena and cuenta propia visas after living in Spain for less than three years, but it can make things much easier. Read on!

1. Highly Skilled Worker Visa

Perhaps the most difficult of these three options, so let’s start here. This one allows for highly skilled workers to have 2 years of residency, plus renewals up to 5 years.

Minimum requirements:

  • be over 18
  • be in Spain on a tourist visa at the time, or apply from your country
  • you must have a job offer from a company
  • you need to have studied at a prestigious university or business school–highly recommended to have at least a masters or PhD.
  • the company you’ll be working for has to fulfill certain requirements–
    • Large business and corporate groups. Company must have more than 250 employees, that it generates more than 50M € in revenue per year, or that it have net assets valued higher than 43M€.
    • Small or Medium Enterprise (SME), but the company operates in a specific sector for the country. That is something certified by the Directorate-General for Trade and Investment. Which sectors might fit? Renewable energies, communication, technologies, water treatment…
    • The project that the company develops must be aligned with the socio-economic interest of Spain. Mainly, this implies that the company generates employment over time and that its activity contributes to the technological and innovative development of the country.
  • salary requirement: this varied among the different sources I found, but you should be offered a minimum of 25,000 euros yearly, more than double that if you are offered a managerial position, for example.
  • you’re hired by the university or government. If this is your case, you may not necessary need to fulfill all the aforementioned requirements.

Required documents:

  • ID photo
  • Passport original and a copy
  • Document proving that you have sufficient funds
  • A document certifying that you have paid the required fees.
  • A description of the job you are going to develop in Spain.
  • Applicant’s resume (CV).
  • It also helps to provide a copy of your degree from a prestigious university or prestigious school
  • Background check
  • Properly paid visa fees
  • Proof of insurance coverage in Spain
  • This application form

For more detailed information from people who can help you navigate this option, check out Balcells Group. A lot of the information here comes from them, and they can help you with each step of the way.

Cudillero, one of my favorite villages in Spain, tucked in the coast of Asturias.
Patio de los Leones in the Alhambra. Prepare to be impressed.

2. Entrepreneur visa

This visa is for those who want to begin their start up company in Spain. This business must be innovative and have Spain’s interests in mind–provide new jobs, create investment opportunities, use technology and increase Spain’s socioeconomic development.

Minimum requirements:

  • have a professional profile demonstrating your skills and knowledge for starting this business. Obviously degrees, masters, and any form of higher education is highly valued.
  • have a business plan. This is perhaps the most important part of your application, where you will state your business plan, how you will implement it, and how Spain will benefit from your services.
  • have proof that your company is highly innovative and does not already exist in Spain, and that its existence will benefit Spain and its economy highly once it does exist.
  • be over 18
  • be living either in your home country or in Spain on a tourist or student visa–but NOT illegally in Spain or on an overstayed visa.
  • have sufficient means for you and your family (if you apply jointly). The required amount is 2.130€ for the main applicant and 532€ for each family member that they are in charge of.

Required documents:

  • Passport size photos
  • Application form and copy
  • Passport original and photocopy
  • Proof of insurance coverage in Spain
  • Cleared background checks anywhere you’ve lived in the last 5 years prior to application
  • Proof of sufficient means for you and your family (if you apply jointly). The required amount is 2.130€ for the main applicant and 532€ for each family member that you are in charge of.
  • Proof of paid visa fees
  • Favorable report of your start up from the Economic and Commercial Office
  • Business plan detailing your intentions for your company. Here Spain is more relaxed as they do not necessarily require you to already have clients and/or employees, as long as you can convince them of your company’s innovation and value to the Spanish economy.
Mogarraz, a truly unique town in Salamanca with painted ID photos of old inhabitants of the houses. 
Jerez de Caballeros in Extremadura. Don’t miss their medieval festival in the summer!

3. Pareja de Hecho (or Marriage)

Finally! My personal favorite and the option the vast majority of Americans opt for, especially us language assistants. Here I am going to focus only on pareja de hecho. Why? Because I assume for most of you it is your preferred option at this point versus actually getting married, and it will allow you to have the same rights as far as residency and working go. It also doesn’t mean *much* in the eyes of the law, (except for the huge residency benefit for you!), and doesn’t mean your partner is part owner of your money or anything else you own, nor do they receive any part of your inheritance in the event of your death, unless you prepared a will ahead of time. If you want to know more about the differences between pareja de hecho and getting married, be sure to check out that post. Successfully becoming pareja de hecho allows you to have 5 years of residency, which you renew after 5 years, which gives you permanent residency for 10 years, and after that renews automatically. (I don’t honestly know what this means, but I assume it means not having to get all the paperwork again. Good enough for me!)

As I stated at the beginning of this article, the specific requirements for a civil partnership may vary based on where and who you talk to, which is why I highly recommend a stop at your local office of Consejería de Igualdad, Salud y Políticas Sociales to ask for the specifics. (I promise you, you’ll need to go here many times, so just get used to seeing their smiling faces and make an appointment asap!) Perhaps most notably, and arguably most unfairly, some autonomous communities require you to prove you’ve lived together for at least a year, (Madrid) while others don’t, (Andalucía). Some require that your certificado de empadronamiento has both of your names, and some require only one. Unfortunately, you’ll need to ask these questions as soon as possible in the corresponding offices to be sure you can qualify.

Minimum requirements:

  • one partner is from an EU country, (yes, you can register as pareja de hecho in Spain even if your partner is not Spanish, as long as they are from an EU member state), and the other is not
  • **proof of 1 year minimum cohabitation** (or not, depending)
  • over the age of 18 or legally emancipated
  • neither one is currently married, dead, or in another civil union
  • declaration that you are not family members
  • declaration of mental capacity to make decisions

Required documents:

Remember–any of these documents that are not in Spanish must be translated officially first. Sometimes the process of requesting documents from the States and getting them translated is the hardest part, so its best to start requesting documents as soon as possible.

  • Original and copy of non-EU member’s NIE (cannot be expired)
  • Original and copy of non-EU member’s passport
  • Original and copy of EU member’s DNI
  • Original and copy (always have at least two copies of everything. Ev.Ery.Thing) of your certificado de empadronamiento–this is the official certificate you get from your town hall, NOT the volante, which is like a temporary one. Depending on your autonomous community and/or province, you may be asked to show a padrón with you and your partner listed on it. In Cádiz, I was required to do this, however, in order to do so I only had to show a rental contract with at least one name on it, as well as my partner’s DNI and signature. (Spoiler alert, we were not actually living together at the time.)
  • Official copy of non-EU member’s birth certificate, with the Apostille of the Hague. Both officially translated to Spanish.
  • Official document and copy (usually obtained in the same office as your birth certificate) certifying that you are not currently married.
  • Same official document from your partner–in Spain its called “Fe de Vida y Estado”
  • Original and copy of the application they will give to you
  • Payment of the fees of modelo-030, costing about 80 euros.

Once you are able to get all of these documents and turn them in, they should give you a date to come into the office and officially sign the papers. If your “ceremony” is anything like ours was, it lasts about 2 minutes. To be honest, our city hall wedding wasn’t much longer! Once you have that process finished, you are ready to apply for residency–yes the fun isn’t over yet!

For this, I again suggest that you make an appointment to speak with your local Oficina de Extranjería so they can tell you exactly what they need. The list should be simliar to this:

Required documents to request residency:

  • Official document and photocopy certifying your new pareja de hecho status
  • Passport and photocopy of non-EU member
  • DNI and photocopy of EU member
  • If one of you is unemployed, you will need to show sufficient funds–usually deemed as around 700 euros per month, or 8400 euros per year, but again, ask in your respective office.
  • If the non-EU member is not employed, (therefore not contributing to Social Security), they may also need to provide proof of insurance coverage in Spain. (I did.)

Common question here is how long does this take? A lot of that depends on you, dear reader. Of course, the sooner you start requesting your documents from the States, (with the Apostille of the Hague when necessary), the sooner you can get everything together. My advice is to first be sure that based on your relationship status and your autonomous community, you are eligible to even start the process. Get an appointment at your local Consejería de Igualdad, Salud y Políticas Sociales. Once you turn in all of your paperwork to Extranjería, they can take up to three months to respond, so keep that in mind. And if you hit August in there, well, count it as four.

Another common question–what happens if you break up? From my research I’ve seen that if you are with the person for 3 years, nothing happens to your residence status. Even if you did break up with your partner, hopefully it could be reasonable to ask them not to dissolve the partnership officially until you hit that three year mark, (they wouldn’t really need to unless they wanted to get married). In any case, dissolving the partnership is not difficult and does not have to go through lawyers because unless you specifically made a legal document stating so, your partner has no claim to your property, nor you theirs.

Bureaucracy is better handled with rebujitos in hand. 
The white washed walls of Binibeca; my favorite town in all of Menorca.

4. Cuenta propia: freelancer/autónomo

In Spain there are two types of “normal” work visas–one for the self employed, and one for those working for others. Let’s start with self employed and freelancers. Now, this is under the “at least three years” part, which I believe only means that if you have been here for at least three years, you can apply for a modification of the visa you have, (perhaps a student visa), and you don’t need to go to the US to get it. Otherwise, it is stated that you need to have obtained the work visa at least 90 days before you depart for Spain. As always, it is best to make an appointment with your local Oficina de Extranjería or Spanish Consulate or Embassy if you’re in the States. Visa requirements can often change!

Minimum requirements:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • have an approved business plan to be self employed
  • have sufficient funds to keep you and your business afloat indefinitely

Required documents: 

  • Original passport and copy
  • Passport size photos
  • Approved business plan– having one preapproved by one of these organizations can make the process go faster:
    • Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de Empresarios y Trabajadores Autónomos (ATA)
    • Unión de Profesionales y Trabajadores Autónomos (UPTA)
    • Confederación Intersectorial de Autónomos del Estado Español (CIAE)
    • Organización de Profesionales y Autónomos (OPA)
    • Unión de Asociaciones de Trabajadores Autónomos y Emprendedores (UATAE)
  • Proof of education to carry out the work you would like to
  • Clean background check for the last 5 years everywhere you’ve lived
  • Payment of the required fees
  • Medical certificate

If and when you are approved, you will need to start paying into the Spanish Social Security system as well as health insurance. You will be required to pay 30.3% of your earnings (as of 2020) to cover you in case of temporary sickness or leave, as well as your retirement.

La Rotonda, just another reason to look up in Barcelona. 
Hervás, one of Spain’s most beautiful pueblos, is home to the oldest Jewish quarter in the country.

5. Cuenta ajena: working for an employer

This is the visa everyone thinks they should be able to get just because someone wants to hire them in Spain. Haven’t we all been there? Its the last year of your language assistant program and the academy you’re working for offers you a job to stay and continue working. Little do they know the cost, or process, of doing so. Since the economic crisis in 2008, the Spanish government put certain barriers in place to favor Spanish employment first, EU employment second, and every body else last. Yeah, that’s you, America.

In short, it is very difficult to get an employer to sponsor you because it is a very long and difficult process, and if teaching English is your best offer, there are plenty of native speakers within the EU who don’t have our visa woes.

This is a one year visa with the possibility to renew if the requirements are still met.

Minimum requirements

  • FULL TIME job offer from a Spanish company
  • not currently living in Spain**
  • be at least 18 years old
  • job offer must be on a “shortage list” of jobs that are needed in Spain and there are not enough workers
    • if it is not on the shortage list it must meet one of these two requirements
      • 1. The job has been offered to Spanish nationals or EU citizens first and none of them has accepted.
      • 2. You are the children of legal residents in Spain or the spouse of legal residents in the country

**You’ll notice here that it is stated you cannot obtain this visa if you are already in Spain, and also cannot obtain it if you don’t have a job offer. Which has some people wondering how one goes about getting a job offer without actually living in Spain. Not the government’s problem or concern. The exception to this would be if you had been on a student visa for at least three years. In this case, you do not need to go back to the United States to modify your visa.

Required documents

  • the official and accepted job offer from your company, making sure it meets the requirements established above. (It would be good to ask the lawyer for your company to make sure he/she is up to date and knowledgeable about these types of proceedings).
  • In an effort not to bore you further, the required documents should not differ much from the documents for the cuenta propia, the main difference here being that you should not have to prove your income because that is being taken care of with the job contract.
  • Passport photos
  • Original and copies of passport and/or NIE
  • Necessary application forms
  • Necessary fees paid
Don’t miss El Paseo de los Tristes as you walk down from the Albaycín in Granada.
Any GOT fans out there? Dragonstone is real, but its called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in the Basque Country.

6. Arraigo social

Roughly translated to “social integration visa”, also known as the unicorn visa to me. Not because of the fact that it is only a legend–far from it. But rather because of its magical powers and relative ease to obtain, compared to the numerous types of elusive work visas mentioned here. Please take “ease” with a large grain of salt, and maybe a bit of tequila. Nothing is truly easy when it comes to Spanish bureaucracy, but you get what I mean.

Interestingly enough, this visa is specifically for those sneaky people who have managed to stay in Spain illegally. I imagine the case applies to those who have been here legally as well, but in order to apply you need to let your NIE or visa permission run out.

Minimum requirements:

  • have lived in Spain legally or illegally for three years- you’ll need to prove this not necessarily only with your “padrón” when you register you’re living somewhere, but also with other documents such as doctor’s appointments, bills, payments, things like this.
  • a job contract. Yes, it seems you need to find a place willing to offer you a job before you may apply for this kind of visa, and it needs to be for at least 30 hours. You are able to have more than one job if necessary.
  • show your link to Spanish society. If you don’t have family members living in Spain, in order to do this you’ll need to have an interview with someone from the town council to determine your knowledge of the language, culture, politics, etc of Spain. If you are doing it in Catalonia, Galicia, Pais Vasco, Valencia, etc, it would be in your interest to know some of the local language, too.
  • language courses. Certain autonomous communities also require additional language classes as part of this visa.

Required Documents:

  • Original and copy of the application form
  • Passport and copy
  • NIE and copy (if you have one)
  • Proof you’ve paid the fees
  • Your current census/padrón
  • Clear back ground check for last 5 years

***This visa is special because it can’t be renewed, exactly. It gives you residency and work permission for a year, but can’t be renewed. After that, you can modify it, however, and this usually isn’t a problem.

Iconic doorway in Barcelona. 

7. Student Visa Modification

Many of you may tsk-tsk this option because it requires you to wait longer and undoubtedly spend more money on classes, (although it is nothing compared to the States!), because in order to qualify you need to have studied in Spain on a student visa for at least three years. It should be mentioned that any time you’re on a student visa you’re legally allowed to work 20 hours a week anyway, which will be helpful for most students.

You may think that simply skipping to a work visa will be easier than waiting, but there is a good chance it is not. Work visas are hard to come by, and with Covid wreaking havoc on jobs and the economy, they will likely only get more difficult to come by, because you’ll need to prove your worth over other Spaniards and EU workers. This isn’t  the case when you simply modify your student visa, as the unemployment rate won’t be factored in.

Minimum requirements:

  • lived in Spain with student visa for three years
  • job offer for a minimum of 30 hours per week, for one year minimum
  • OR an approved business plan if you want to be self employed

Required documents:

These will be the same, if not identical to the required documents for the cuenta ajena visa or the cuenta propia visa, but it is best to get informed with your university, oficina de extranjería, or, arguably the best option, the professionals here. (Guys I swear I’m not making any money off of them but they were by far the best source for this post!)

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are counting towards permanent residency, which, as we established, can be applied for once you’ve been in Spain for 5 years (legally), the years you spend on a student visa only count for HALF. This isn’t necessarily the end of the world if you can change your visa to a work visa after 3 years, and then continue on that visa until applying for permanent residency, but if your job conditions change, you could find yourself in a pickle. Just something to take into consideration!

8. EDIT: Non-Lucrative Visa

I hadn’t originally included this type of visa in my post because I, (perhaps too hastily) assumed that most of my readers might be former language assistants who, like me, do not have enough economic means to survive in Spain without working. But, after someone brought it to my attention, I think she is absolutely right that everyone’s situations may be different and this visa may be perfect for someone in the right circumstances. This visa is good for one year, after which it can be renewed and is good for two years, and can continue being renewed until you gain permanent residency after 5 years.

It is a fairly easy visa to obtain as long as you can prove you have enough means to support yourself and any family members you may bring with you. This visa is many times used for those wanting to retire in Spain who have the economic means to do so, without working in the country.

You must start the application process in your country of origin! You cannot come on a tourist visa and do the process in Spain.

Unique aspects:

  • you cannot work for any companies in Spain but you can invest in order to make more income
  • you can use it to enroll in classes if you wish
  • you can be paid for an internship because the internship is created with educational purposes
  • you can continue to work remotely from your home country, if you have, for example, an online business

Minimum requirements:

  • you may not work for any company within Spain
  • you must have sufficient means to support yourself during (at least) the first year
    • In general, you need to have 400% of what is called the IPREM (an indicator of how much money a person needs to make in order to be eligible for certain subsides), in 2020 that number is 537 euros per month, or 6,454 euros per year, which means 400% of that would be roughly 25,816 euros. It is suggested that you speak with someone at the consulate you’ll be applying at, though, because that number could be higher depending on where you apply.
    • You can use bank statements, credit cards, property values, and really “any means necessary” to prove you have the minimum amount of money required. If you are able to prove you have more than that, your application is more likely to be approved. Any funds must be under the name of the person applying.
    • For any additional family member coming with you, you must show proof of another 100% of the IPREM
  • you must have a valid, private, Spanish healthcare plan which gives 100% coverage in all areas and is valid for a minimum of one year.

Required documents: 

  • National visa form.
  • Form Ex-01.
  • private Spanish insurance coverage for a minimum of one year
  • bank certificate or similar showing you have the minimum money required
  • passport sized photos
  • original passport and photocopy
  • medical certificate, showing you don’t have any conditions which would not allow you in the country.
  • criminal background check for the last 5 years
  • proof of fees paid

For more information, please check out this article on non-lucrative visas in Spain


As you can see, rounding out at over 4,600 words, this is a dense article. There is a lot of information to ponder and decide what option, if any, best fits for you. Any questions you have, or personal experiences with any of these types of visas and permissions, I would love to hear about, so please leave a comment or write to me.

Does one actually need another reason to stay in Spain? The Alhambra itself is enough!


9 thoughts on “8 Visas for Americans in Spain

  1. You’re article gives too much false hope and lends too much credence to half baked truths or opinions based on conjecture rather than iron clad facts.
    Admittedly, you were only successful because you attached yourself to someone as a common law wife = the equivalent to Pareja Hecha.
    I am an American/Spaniard and have been involved in legalities for many years on both sides of the Atlantic, suffice it to say, had you written this article in the States you’d have your ass in a bath of hot water with the authorities. As you’re in Spain, perhaps you feel that you can get away with this or have impunity…A word to the wise is that it could eventually catch up to you, here, as well.
    This ain’t America kid!


    1. Thanks for your opinion, Mitch. To start, my article is filled with caveats and personal circumstances that I am clear to mention straight away. This post took me longer than any other due to all of the research and cross referencing I did, and even then, I am quite clear that a) requirements can change at any time and should be confirmed at your local consulate and b) I am not an immigration lawyer or expert of any kind. I am simply an American living in Spain for over a decade who has been through and come in contact with certain legal circumstances I feel comfortable talking about and sharing with others on my personal blog. Were I a person reading this blog, I would find this information helpful and my next step would be to confirm the requirements and documentation necessary with my local consulate, as I imagine anyone reading this would do. Im fairly certain if people can spew hate speech and conspiracy theories all over the internet, me sharing my experiences and knowledge to the best of my ability on my blog is just fine, but I do appreciate your concern. If yoi have an issue with something specific in the article, on the other hand, i am always open and welcoming to corrections that need to be made.


    2. Wow, Mitch. Are you from the internet police?
      If you want to clear up the “facts”, get off your high horse and do it already. Plus, it’s a BLOG whose purpose is to share personal experiences not a legal immigration website…geez.

      Liked by 1 person

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