In this article we want to help you obtain useful information on how to apply for Spanish citizenship. The information provided is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from an expert.

Introduction

The possibility of residing in Spain is open to all those who can demonstrate a sufficient motive or connection.

Foreign citizens wishing to reside in Spain must have been previously authorized to do so, normally by requesting a visa that allows them to enter Spain for one of the reasons indicated in the regulations.

Temporary residence is the situation that authorizes to stay in Spain for a period of more than 90 days and less than five years. Authorizations with a duration of less than five years may be renewed periodically, at the request of the interested party, taking into account the circumstances that led to their granting.

The initial authorization for temporary residence that does not entail work authorization will be granted to foreigners who have sufficient means for themselves and, if applicable, for their family members.

The regulations in force establish the procedure and requirements necessary to obtain a residence and work permit in Spain for the performance of gainful activities both as an employee and as a self-employed person.

Long-term residence is the situation that authorizes to reside and work in Spain indefinitely, under the same conditions as Spaniards.

Foreign citizens who have had temporary residence in Spain for five years continuously and who meet the conditions established by regulations will be entitled to long-term residence. For the purpose of obtaining the long-term residence, the periods of previous and continuous residence in other Member States, as holder of the EU Blue Card, will be computed, and the accumulated years of residence for studies will be computed at 50% for the purpose of obtaining a long-term residence. It will be considered that the residence has been continuous even if the foreigner has temporarily left the national territory for vacation periods or other reasons established by regulations. The long-term or permanent residence, which is considered a "status" rather than a residence authorization, can be lost for certain reasons, such as having been outside the EU for twelve consecutive months or having acquired a long-term residence in another EU country, among others, but also, when the authorization has been extinguished for these reasons, it can be recovered.

Find out when you can apply for Spanish citizenship or permanent residence, and what conditions and paperwork you need to qualify. If you wish to migrate/live in Spain on a long-term or even permanent basis, you will need to apply for permanent residence or become a Spanish citizen. 

Spanish citizenship: the basics

After you have lived in Spain for five years, you can apply for permanent residence, and after 10 years you can apply for Spanish nationality, although there are exceptions that allow certain people to apply earlier, for example, if you are married to a Spaniard, you are the child of a Spanish parent, you were born in Spain or you are of a specific nationality.

But... what is Spanish nationality? Nationality is defined as the legal bond that unites a person with the State and has the double aspect of being a fundamental right and constituting the legal status of persons. As a result of this relationship, the individual enjoys certain rights that he/she can demand from the state organization to which he/she belongs and the latter, in return, can impose on him/her the fulfillment of a series of obligations and duties.

Both Spanish citizenship and permanent residence allow you to remain living in Spain, but there are some differences between the two.

Permanent residence or Spanish citizenship?

Having a permanent residence permit allows you to remain a resident in Spain and keep your own nationality and passport.

As a permanent resident in Spain, you will obtain most of the same benefits enjoyed by Spanish citizens as long as you comply with certain conditions, such as staying in the country for a minimum period of time set by the regulations, in order to be able to renew your residency or permanent resident status. In addition, you will be able to move around the EU for limited periods without needing a permit or even obtaining temporary residence permits in EU countries without losing your permanent residence in Spain.

However, if you become a Spanish citizen, you must give up your original nationality and passport, unless you qualify for an exemption (see below). You will enjoy the same rights as other Spanish citizens and become an EU citizen with freedom of movement throughout the EU. You can also vote in local and European elections.

Brexit: British expatriates in Spain

As of January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom ceased to belong to the European Union. And as a consequence of the withdrawal process known as Brexit, any citizen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland residing in Spain is viewing their legal status with some uncertainty.

It is still unclear how the UK's exit from the EU will affect British expatriates living in Spain or wishing to relocate to Spain.

British expats already living in Spain could consider Spanish citizenship if they meet the necessary criteria for EU accession. This, however, would mean renouncing their British citizenship.

It is also possible that in the future British expats may be required to apply for a Blue Card, an EU-wide approved work permit that allows highly skilled, non-EU citizens to work and live in Spain and other EU countries.

You may be interested in reviewing the following articles:

Brexit: Residency for UK and Northern Ireland citizens in Spain
Brexit: The dilemma facing the Costa del Sol

How to acquire Spanish nationality?

Spanish citizenship can be applied for by persons over 18 years of age by themselves, those who are 14 years of age or older with legal assistance, or through a legal guardian for those under 14 years of age.

The different ways of acquiring nationality are:

  • Nationality by residence: This form of acquisition of nationality requires the residence of the person in Spain for ten years legally, continuously and immediately prior to the request.
  • Nationality by nature letter: This form of acquisition of nationality is ex gratia in nature and is not subject to the general rules of administrative procedure. It will be granted or not, at the discretion of the Government by Royal Decree, after assessing the existence of exceptional circumstances.
  • Spanish nationality by origin: It is applicable to all those persons who are Spaniards by origin. For example: a) Those born of a Spanish father or mother. b) Those born in Spain when they are children of foreign parents if at least one of the parents was born in Spain (the children of diplomats are excepted). Not in all cases it can be requested indefinitely in time, for that reason it is necessary to be attentive to each particular case.
  • Nationality by possession of state: A person who has possessed and used this nationality for ten years, continuously, in good faith (without being aware of the real situation, i.e., that he/she is not actually Spanish), on the basis of a title registered in the Civil Registry, will be entitled to Spanish nationality.
  • Nationality by option: The option is a benefit that our legislation offers to foreigners who meet certain conditions to acquire Spanish nationality. i) Those persons who are or have been subject to the parental authority of a Spaniard. ii) Those persons whose father or mother was a Spaniard and was born in Spain.

You can apply for Spanish nationality after 10 years of residence in Spain. You can also acquire Spanish nationality by marriage or by birth (in this case 1 year of residence in Spain is required), even if you or your Spanish parents were born outside Spain.

For this, you will also be asked to prove that you are a "good citizen", with no criminal record, and that the authorities consider that you have a "sufficient" degree of integration into Spanish society, for example, being able to speak Spanish (an exam is taken), as well as, a "constitutional knowledge" exam, which encompasses knowledge in the political, social and cultural fields of Spain.

You have to apply telematically or through the registries of the Government Delegations or Subdelegations. You must bring the required supporting documents for your Spanish citizenship application, plus a completed Spanish citizenship application form.

Application for permanent residence in Spain

Once they have lived legally in Spain for five uninterrupted years, citizens of non-EU countries can apply for an EU permanent residence permit. A long-term residence permit allows you to remain in Spain working indefinitely, under the same conditions as Spanish citizens.

Once you have this permit, you can work freely and enjoy Spain's social services and benefits. In general, you can move around other EU member states for up to 3 months, and even longer for certain purposes and as long as you are granted a permit to do so (in order to apply for temporary residence cards in other EU countries, you must have EU long-term residence in Spain beforehand).

If you have a blue card from another EU member state and have lived elsewhere in the EU for the same period, this may also allow you long-term residence in Spain. However, as long as you have lived two years in Spain in advance.

Exemptions to 10-year standards

  • Refugees only have to have accumulated five years of continuous legal residence and nationals of Spanish-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal and those of Sephardic origin only have to wait two years of residence before they can apply for Spanish nationality. 
  • The period of residence required for citizenship is only 1 year if the person: i) Was born in Spain, ii) Is married to a Spaniard, iii) Is the widow/widower of a Spaniard, or is a child or grandchild (even if born outside Spain) of a Spanish national by birth or residence.

Application fees for Spanish citizenship

Spain charges a non-refundable fee to process your citizenship application, fixed, even if your application is rejected. In 2021 the fee per nationality application was 103.02 €.

Procedures for after obtaining nationality

After the acquisition of the Spanish nationality there are some procedures that you will have to carry out in the Civil Registry closest to your domicile in Spain (the civil registry corresponding to your place of registration).

In the event that you have acquired Spanish nationality by residence, by letter of nature or by option you will have to:

  • Persons over 14 years of age and capable of making a declaration on their own behalf, have to swear or promise fidelity to the King and obedience to the Constitution and the laws.
  • Declare that they renounce their previous nationality, unless the person is in one of the cases of dual nationality listed in Section 2 of Art. 24 of the Spanish Civil Code (Latin American countries, Andorra, Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal). For further information, please check this out.

Foreigners who acquire Spanish nationality

In addition, Spanish law states that the Spanish nationalized person must be registered in the Spanish Civil Registry with one name and two surnames.

Name

In the birth registration, the name that appears in the foreign certification presented must be indicated, unless the habitual use of a different name is proven. If the name appearing in the foreign certification or the one habitually used is included in any of the established limitations, the name must be substituted by another one, according to the Spanish rules, either chosen by the interested person or his legal representative or, as a last resort, by one imposed ex officio.

However, in the case of proper names that use a writing system different from Spanish (Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, etc.), it will be registered by means of transcription or transliteration, in such a way that a graphic adaptation is achieved, as well as a phonetic equivalence.

The law establishes that in proper names written with Latin characters, spelling adaptations are allowed at the request of the interested party to facilitate their writing and phonetics.

Surnames

The application of Spanish law determines the surnames of foreign nationals who are Spanish nationals. In general, for a foreign person with a determined filiation, who acquires Spanish nationality, the surnames determined by said filiation must be registered in the Spanish Civil Registry in his or her birth registration. This is in accordance with the Spanish laws, which are superimposed on those used de facto (cfr. art. 213, rule 1.ª, R.R.C.).

For all of the above, the birth registration must reflect these surnames, and it will be possible to choose which surname to put first, that of the mother or that of the father. In case the filiation does not determine other surnames, or when it is impossible to prove the identity of the parents of the person concerned, the surnames already in use will be maintained.

Double nationality

If you are successful, you will have to swear your allegiance to the King and promise to obey the Spanish Constitution and laws.

Unless you are from a Spanish-American country, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea or Portugal, you will also have to make a formal declaration of renunciation of your previous nationality, before the Civil Registrar. Sephardic Jews and Spanish descendants may also maintain their original citizenship and have dual nationality.

You will lose your Spanish citizenship if you reside abroad and acquire another nationality, or if you use your former nationality for more than three years, unless within that three-year period you declare to the Consular Civil Registrar your wish to retain your Spanish nationality.

For more information, please check this: Dual nationality: What do I need to know?

Links of interest

Nationality procedures are not something simple, so receiving advice can guide you throughout the process to make it easier and less tedious. You may also be interested in the following resources:

The process of legalization of documents can in some cases be complicated, lengthy and cumbersome for the people involved. Aware of this problem, we have enabled a telephone number (+34) 943-425-726 and an email address help@echeverriaabogados.es to answer questions. If you write an email, please include first name, last name and contact phone number.

The information provided is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice with an expert or consult your nearest Spanish embassy or consulate in your country of origin.

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