I recently moved to Barcelona, transferring my job in Budapest to our office in Spain. I’ve been here many times on work trips, preparing for this move. It’s taken a long time – 1.5 years in fact – so it still feels like a dream. I can’t believe I’m finally here!
Now that I am, I’m instantly struck by so many new things that I was completely unaware of, and unprepared for, despite the fact that I’ve been here so often. What better way to chronicle it all than in a journal, and to share bits of it in a blog, which could maybe help out the next person relocating here?
I’ve grown up surrounded by many different cultures, and my life has constantly involved moving country, and change. I love it, and adapt well to it, and that’s part of the reason I keep a journal. I know that adjusting to a southern European lifestyle, pace and culture will be interesting, but I hadn’t thought about all the bizarre nuances that you don’t see until you start living and working in a place – and that’s what I’ll be writing about.
So to kick off this section of the blog: paperwork!
I arrived here on the 1st of August and began work on the 2nd. Everyone I’ve spoken to is surprised by that decision, since the city is empty of most locals as they go on holiday, and everything grinds to a halt. I’ve clearly chosen the best month of the year to start my new life.
You can’t legally start working here until you register for social security, which if your employer’s hired a lawyer to help you with, takes just a few hours to do, in person. And what if you don’t, I’ve asked, and am met with the ‘meh, it’ll get done when it gets done’ shrug that I’ve since grown accustomed to.
This is a – probably non-exhaustive – list of documents needed to work and live here.
1. A work permit from the labour authorities of the locality I’ll live in (in this case, Catalunya).
Sidenote: This post is only about the second phase of my paperwork in Spain – the residence permit, social security, tax documents, and my Spanish ID. The process to get a work permit (a six-page letter) is the first stage, and is needed for every single other document to be secured. This whole bureaucratic nightmare took more than a year, and included unbelievably complex steps of writing specific documents, and explaining to European governments why a non-EU immigrant is qualified and worth sponsoring for a work permit. I am still so happy that my employer chose to stick by me and sponsor this transfer; I’m sure most others would have given up looking at the list of justifications needed – including samples of my university work, if you can believe that.
Send me an email if you want to talk more about the work permit process, it still stresses me out to think about it so I’m happy to share what I learned about the process and the levels of organisation needed. I had a masterfile Excel sheet and four separate binders of papers. This whole nightmare was validation of my paperwork hoarding; you never know when you’ll need proof of your qualifications and ability to do your job well.
2. Social security number and registration documents
3. Tax number and registration documents
4. An empadronamiento – a paper from your local council confirming your address and residential status.
5. A NIE number and card
Nothing can get done if you work in Spain without your NIE number, it seems – an identification number assigned to each foreigner, regardless of country of origin, when your work permit is approved by the labour authorities, and provided on your work permit.
(This is a refreshing change from the standard ‘all EU nationals go in here, quickly sign this paper, and bob’s your uncle. All you undesirable non-EU nationals, stand over there, provide stacks of paper, wads of money, and just wait. We’ll get to you when we get to you.’)
If applying from outside Spain, the NIE number also goes on your entry clearance visa, issued for between three to four months, which acts as the interim NIE card until it arrives. As soon as you enter Spain, you have to present yourself to the police to apply for the NIE card. This interim visa though, is only useful at the border – you cannot use it to apply for anything else in Spain that needs a NIE card (like a bank account, which I’ll find out later.)
In March, when the work permit was finally approved, I had to then apply for permission to live in Spain. This is a separate permit, and I know you’re thinking the same thing – surely, if i have permission to work here, I would also have permission to live here? Oh no. Why would it be so simple, so logical?
For this, I had to go to the Spanish Embassy in Budapest and apply for a brand new permit, using the work permit letter, and anything else proving I would have a good job, be a decent tax-paying citizen, not fund terrorist cells, and all the usual proofs of a solid character as demanded by bureaucrats.
I also then had to show:
- A clean police record/letter from the police, from every country I have lived in as an adult. Yes, really.
- Duly translated into Spanish and Hungarian,
- Apostilled by various authorities in the country of origin,
- Further apostilled by the Hungarian Foreign Office;
- A medical certificate verifying that I am in good physical health:
- Signed by a doctor, with proof of her MD
- Verified by the Hungarian Association of Doctors
- Her signature and seals also verified
- This duly translated into Hungarian and Spanish
- All of these seals, verifications and signatures also apostilled by the Hungarian Foreign Office.
The NIE is converted into a card upon presenting yourself at the police station to apply for it, though the card itself takes four weeks to arrive. Some people say it takes two weeks, others three – but everyone is clear on one thing: this is August, and in August everything grinds to a halt. Four weeks it is, then. No worries, I’ll enjoy the sun and cocktails in the meantime!
I couldn’t start legally working here without my social security registration, so this was the first procedure in Barcelona involving the NIE; all I had to do was show them the original work contract, which was easy enough. This took a quick 3 hours, so I could at least start earning as soon as I got here.
I’m lucky to have an employer that hires lawyers. I would not want to imagine doing this by myself, as scores of other immigrants regularly must do. Throughout this process, I’m reminding myself that as frustrating as it is, my irritations pale in comparison to those who wait months and can’t afford lawyers, who have to wade through this quagmire alone.
I received the work permit in March, the residence permit/visa in May, social security, tax papers and empadronamiento in July, and NIE at the end of September. All of this hinged on me securing an apartment in Barcelona, since you need to prove you have a valid address.
I was again lucky, since I took over the apartment from a colleague who left Barcelona in August.
There has to be some negatives of living in this gorgeous, creative, exciting seaside town surrounded by mountains, right? I can’t expect every country I live in to value efficiency like Central Europe, after all, so part of the experience will be watching myself let it go and stop complaining all the damn time!
Something else I was lucky to be warned of ahead of moving: rent prices are incredibly high in the city, the condition of your apartment won’t always correlate to the price, and you also need to have thousands in the bank if you want to rent an apartment to yourself rather than share.
- The deposit is between two and three months,
- The first month’s rent is to be paid in advance,
- If going through an agent – as almost 97% of rentals seem to be – you also have to pay their fees.
With average rents of €1000, you’ll need to have something in the range of €3,000-4,000 on hand before moving. Not easy.
So all of this was slowly and steadily getting done, at a snail’s pace, to my chagrin. A phrase I kept repeating to myself to calm down is ‘time is relative’ – and that is truer in Spain than it’s been anywhere else I know. Everything gets done when people are good and ready for it to get done, which is incredibly irritating when you’re waiting for registration documents. But it can also work in your favour when for example, the list of required documents says one thing, but having a charming lawyer and a kind official means information which would normally be required is overlooked since “you seem sweet”. I’ll take it.
We had my NIE appointment for the day after I started working, on 2 August, so I was all set when I left Budapest. However, we discovered the day before that I didn’t have an empadronamiento, since I hadn’t yet moved into the house. This is a pre-requisite, which I wasn’t made aware of before moving (another frustration, but there’s nothing I can do about it except wait and complain about it to colleagues, which I did).
A second appointment was booked for the 16th, and we made plans to secure the empadronamiento and apartment documents before then. I heard back from the lawyers a few days before that however, saying that the appointment had been ‘lost’.
It seems the booking software for the police station isn’t reliable, and appointments magically do fall through the cracks from time to time. This is not new to any of the lawyers: “these things happen, Sanjukta. It is unfortunate.” I want to scream and swear but I’m a local now, so my solution is wine and complaining. I’m already acclimatising.
In the meantime, TripAdvisor’s sister company ‘The Fork’ has a booking service which texts and emails you your restaurant booking, links with Google Maps to show you the time and place of your booking, and reminds you on the day.
So when can I get another NIE appointment, then? The 20th seemed possible, and was confirmed. Magically, one more time, this appointment vanished. The 31st? Sure, I said. The 31st. I’ll see you then. Sure.
The 31st came, no sign of a cancellation so it looked like I may finally get my ID card! Our appointment was at 11:00, but it was 15:00 by the time we finally saw someone. In the meantime, we had to messenger back to the office to collect a paper I was not told to bring, have my photos taken – again, news to me – and waited out a torrent of rain. All of this for a ten minute appointment to submit the papers, provide my fingerprint scans, and make polite small talk with the official.
All done, we were told. Come back in four weeks to collect your card.
I moved here on 1 August, with my Central European mindset and expectations, and frustrations. I was registered, had all my papers and a bank account on 31 September. It seems I’ve absorbed more of the local culture than anticipated, because I look back at this episode with a smirk and a slight shake of the head rather than a migraine-based aggression. Welcome to Spain!