OPINION: The cost of Spain’s lunatic bureaucratic residency process

OPINION: The cost of Spain's lunatic bureaucratic residency process
Some people are willing to pay a lot of money to avoid having to navigate their own way through Spain's hellish maze of bureaucracy, writes Graham Keeley.

In the midst of this pandemic, many people have been forced to think about changing careers.

Perhaps one job which might suit foreigners living in Spain – and which must pay well from my experience- would be setting up a business guiding other foreigners through the madness of this country’s bureaucracy.

Think about it for a moment. If you have ever negotiated your way through this hellish maze, then you will know how difficult it is.

The experience might have left you bruised and vowing never to go near a police station or government website for a very long time.

But it will probably have taught you some of ‘the knowledge’ – as London cab drivers call it – to do the job yourself.

So, imagine if you took the time to get up to speed on how the lunatic system really works, then you could be laughing.

All the way to the bank.

This flash of inspiration came to me after my own experience trying at the last minute to try to get a TIE (post-Brexit identity card for foreigners) cards for myself and my three boys back in November 2020.

I know, I know! Hands up, I should have got myself organised way before. But there was a little matter of a pandemic and that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.


As for my efforts to get the job done, I will spare you the gory details; we have all been there after all haven’t we? As we crept closer and closer to the December 31st Brexit deadline, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it.

I asked friends who had been through the experience for their advice. 

Some had used agencies so I decided to explore this for myself. To be honest, I have always had a thing against using these people;  after all with decent Spanish, we should be able to work our way through the system, shouldn’t we?

The experience was a real eye opener.

The first company I approached, which I will not name, was recommended by a friend who had been charged €150 to help sort out TIE cards for each of her two sons.

When I asked the same company, the price had gone up to €250 per person to sort out a NIE number. And that was before we got on to the TIE card.

When I questioned the price rise, I was offered a deal: pay half now, pay the rest later. So, €500 all in.

Their tone was not friendly, it was pretty aggressive.

But then another agency which I had approached came back to me explaining what they could do.


They seemed friendly and helpful but then came the bottom line.

The agency wanted €1,000 to help me get two TIE cards. But then they added that they would make me an offer and give me a discount of €50. So, that is €950 for two NIEs. Sounds reasonable? Not really.

Needless to say, I walked away and resolved to sort it out myself.

It made me think that there is a cottage industry out there which preys on foreign residents who have not mastered Spanish – or in my case simply do not have time to spend hours battling with government websites.

Now, I hear you say, hey, it is a business and they are exploiting an opportunity. And you would, of course, be right.

The real fault lies with the system itself.

So, does it need to be this complex? No, of course not.

You could probably write down on the back of a cigarette packet what you need to do to get a NIE number (I know I could before we sorted it out as it haunted my dreams).

The TIE is a bit more complex but basically you should take every piece of personal documentation you have ever owned, with photocopies, pics and bank receipts for paying for some of these forms.

And then get copies of all these forms again.

The whole craziness is perfectly illustrated by this short film which shows a woman who is applying for some innocuous piece of paper coming out victorious over the evil funcionario (civil servant).

Of course, we can laugh. We can also believe that these people take a delight in tripping us up in our attempts to get a TIE or whatever it is.

It may actually be true.

Perhaps they love seeing us slink away, defeated because we forgot to bring that photocopy of a passport or a bank statement. Who will ever know?

One thing is certain, it seems your chances of success when your turn finally comes up basically depends on who is behind the desk.

Thankfully, there are organisations such as IOM, Age in Spain and Babelia which are helping Britons to register as residents for no added cost.  A big thanks goes out to them all.

For other official matters in Spain, whether you choose to enlist the help of an expert depends on whether you’ve mastered the art of dealing with Spanish bureaucracy, which usually comes through trial and error.


Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley


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