An Overview of Spanish Visas and Residence

It’s easy to go to Spain as a tourist for up to 90 days at a stretch. If you’re from the U.S., Canada, most other Commonwealth countries, or numerous other nations, you simply enter Spain as a tourist, no paperwork required. If you’re flying in from North America, for instance, your passport will simply be stamped when you enter the country.

Now for the fine print…

Like most of mainland Europe, Spain is part of the Schengen Zone. The Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985, did away with the need to show a passport when traveling from one country to another within the zone. It also means that all Schengen Zone countries share the same tourist-visa policy, including the time limits.

And that limit is as follows: You can stay in the Schengen Zone (whether that’s in Spain, France, Italy, or any combination of Schengen countries) for up to 90 days out of a 180-day period. (And note that, while 90 days is almost three months, it isn’t exactly.) You can easily live part-time in Spain for up to 90 days…but you must then leave the country for 90 days before you return for a second 90 days. And you can’t spend that interim in any other Schengen country.

Residence Visas in Spain

If you want to spend more than 90 days at a time in Spain—whether you’re interested in staying a full 12 months or just a consecutive four- to five-month period—you’ll need to get a residence visa.

There are numerous options available to you. Here are a few of the current ones that may be of particular interest. (Please note that visa categories and requirements are always subject to change. Be sure to check with the nearest Spanish consulate for the latest guidelines.)

Residence visa without the right to work. If you are retired and/or have sufficient investments to support yourself, this visa may be the easiest to get. You’ll need to provide the following:

  • A printed, signed copy of the long-term residence visa application (formulario de solicitud de visado de larga duración), with a passport-sized photo attached.
  • A printed, signed copy of the application for temporary residence without the right to work (solicitud de autorización de residencia temporal no lucrativa), Form EX-01.
  • Evidence of enough funds to support yourself and any dependents (see below for specific amounts).
  • Evidence of a health insurance policy valid throughout Spain.
  • An address in Spain, or evidence that you have the funds to rent or buy a property.
  • A police report from your home country, or from the country or countries where you’ve been living during the past five years.
  • A doctor’s report indicating that you are free of diseases or conditions that hold a risk to the public health.

There is an official minimum annual income you must show to demonstrate that you can support yourself. The amount is updated annually. However, you can pretty much ignore it: Spanish immigration will decide the actual minimum income you must show, based on where in Spain you plan to live… and it almost certainly will be higher than the official amount. In fact, the more income you can show, the better. The minimum is likely to be at least €2,000 ($2,460) a month. And if you wish to live in an expensive destination like Madrid or Barcelona, the minimum is likely to be significantly higher.

Work Visas in Spain

If, after being granted a residence visa, you decide you want to be self-employed, you can apply for a work visa later.

Work visa as an independent with right to residence: Entrepreneurs and consultants who want to work independently in Spain can apply for this visa. You must show credentials for the work you wish to perform and also show that you can support yourself financially, either through existing contracts, your own funds, or both.

You must apply at your nearest Spanish consulate either for a residence visa without the right to work or for a work visa as an independent.

Work visa as a salaried employee with right to residence: If you get a job with a company in Spain, you can have your employer get your work and residence visa. However, in general, it’s very difficult for non-EU citizens to get a salaried position in an EU country unless you have specialized, highly valued skills.

New “economic-resident” visa: Spain has recently created a new “economic resident” visa (also known as the “Golden Visa”) aimed at attracting high-net-worth individuals and families. To qualify, you must buy a property or properties worth at least €500,000 ($615,000). Every member of the buyer’s immediate family is granted a one-year residence visa. You must apply for the visa at your nearest consulate and come to Spain at least once to activate it. If you meet the requirements, the visa can then be renewed after one year.

Residence visas with special exceptions to work: Like many countries, Spain allows professionals in certain disciplines to work in their field and get residence. These include foreign professors working for universities in Spain; scientists doing research projects authorized by the Ministry of Education and Science or the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Commerce; accredited journalists; artists coming to Spain for specific performances or projects; and missionaries and ministers. Individuals must be highly qualified to get this type of visa. And researchers, professors, and others must get the visa through the company wishing to contract them.

General Requirements

You must apply for your visa at the nearest Spanish consulate in the country you live in. You’ll submit all your documentation there along with an application fee (generally around €60 [$74]).

(The one exception is if you plan to work for a Spanish company. In that case, the company applies on your behalf in Spain.)

Visa applications are granted or denied within a month of submission of all paperwork. The only exception is residence visas without the right to work, which can take up to three months to be granted or denied. Once your visa has been granted, you have a month to go collect it in person or to send an authorized representative to get it. You must then go to Spain and activate your residence.

If your residence application is denied, you’ll receive printed notification of its rejection and the reason why. If you want to contest the rejection, you have one to two months to present your case, depending on whether it’s presented at the nearest consulate or in Madrid.

Long-term visas for Spain are initially granted for one year. At renewal, the visa period is extended to two years, followed by a second two-year period. After five years’ residence in Spain, residence cards are granted for a five-year period.

A residence visa for Spain also allows you to travel throughout Europe— although the 90-day limit still holds for travel in other Schengen Zone countries. Keep in mind that you must live in Spain at least six months of the year to keep your residence visa valid. If you don’t, your application may be denied when your visa comes up for renewal. (The exception to this rule is the Golden Visa; you are required to be in Spain only once a year to keep this visa valid.)