N.I.E. is an abbreviation for Número de Identidad de Extranjero, which translates as Identification Number for Foreigners, or Foreigners' Identification Number if you prefer.
The NIE is your all-purpose identification and tax number in Spain. You need it for everything that involves a tramite or official process in Spain. For example, you will need an NIE number to buy a property, buy a car, get connected to the utilities and, most importantly as far as the Spanish state is concerned, pay your taxes. Without an NIE number, the Spanish tax authorities are unable to assess or process annual tax payments such as income tax (IRPF), and the annual wealth tax (Patrimonio), both of which are declared by resident and non-resident property owners.
NIE number certificates were being issued with a 3-month validity from the time of issue, after which you were expected to apply for residency, or register as a non-resident. So after three months the certificate was no longer valid, at least in principle. However, at some point the regulation was changed to eliminate the three-month expiry deadline, so NIE number certificates now bear no expiry date. But this is Spain, the bureaucracy is a bit of a mess, and regulations are not uniformly implemented or even understood. You may find that some notaries refuse to accept an old certificate that expired after three months, which could cause problems for people who have one of the old certificates. So if you happen to have requested an NIE number in the past, check it to make sure it doesn't bear an expiry date. If it does, request a new copy without an expiry date.
If you are an EU citizen and spend longer than 3 months in Spain after getting your NIE number, you are required to register and get a government certificate that shows your NIE number.
Registry certificate instructions (in Spanish)
Who needs an NIE in Spain?
1. Any foreigner who becomes resident for tax purposes in Spain needs an NIE number in Spain.
2. Any non-resident foreigner who buys property in Spain. If a couple buys a property in Spain together, and they register the property in both their names, then both of them must obtain an NIE number in Spain.
3. Anyone who wants to work in Spain, or start a business in Spain.
When do you need to have an NIE number?
If you are buying property in Spain, then you need to have an NIE number by the time you sign the deeds of purchase before notary, an event known in Spanish as the escritura.
Getting your NIE number in time for escritura means applying at least 1 month before hand if you are applying in Spain, and at least 2 months before hand if you are applying via a consulate abroad. The actual time it takes depends upon where you apply, and the time of the year. You might be able to get an NIE number in person in Spain in a couple of days, but it could also take weeks, so best allow yourself plenty of time.
How do you apply for an NIE number?
The first thing to understand is that dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy is often a perplexing, not to mention frustrating affair. The way they interpret the regulations in Andalusia might differ from the way they interpret the same rules in Catalonia. In one area, for example Barcelona, you need to book an appointment online in advance to request your NIE number, then spend hours waiting in a queue, whilst in other areas you can just turn up and get everything done in half an hour. I have confirmed for myself that the rules are inconsistently applied, which makes it difficult to prepare a guide to NIE numbers.
So keeping in mind that the process and interpretation of requirements might be different depending on how and where you apply for an NIE number, here is a general guide that explains the official requirements and the process as it should work (but might not)
There are three ways to apply for a Spanish NIE number:
1. Apply in person in Spain.
2. Apply in person via a Spanish Consulate abroad.
3. Apply through a representative in Spain
1. Applying for NIE number in person in Spain
Applying in person for an NIE number whilst in Spain is a relatively straightforward procedure. The only inconvenience is that you may have to wait for several hours in a queue in order to submit your application at a Spanish police station. It does depend upon the police station where you apply, and the time of day (early is better). With a bit of luck you will be in and out in half an hour or less.
The process is as follows:
1) Prepare the necessary documentation:
All applicants: Two copies of the Ex-15 application form filled out and signed . The Spanish name for the NIE form is Solicitud de Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE) y Certificados (EX-15), and you can download this NIE application form by clicking on the link below.
All applicants: An original document (plus a photocopy) that justifies your reason for applying for an NIE number, such as a private purchase contract for a property, deposit contract, or a mortgage approval.
EU nationals: Your passport and a photocopy of the main page of your passport (the page that includes your photo, name, passport number, address, etc.).
Non-EU nationals: Your passport and a photocopy of your entire passport (all pages), plus proof of your legal entry into Spain (for instance a landing card, known in Spanish as a declaración de entrada or a título de viaje or cédula de inscripción). Some Oficinas de Extranjeros might accept a valid entry stamp in your passport as proof of legal entry. To be on the safe side non-EU nationals might also want to take along two recent passport size colour photographs with a plain coloured background.
To download the form see the link at the bottom of this page.
2) Take all documentation in person to the appropriate place of submission.
You have to go to one of the immigration offices (oficinas de extranjeros) that are usually found in designated police stations (comisaría de policía), preferably in the area where you are buying your property. If there is no immigration office in your area then it should be possible to make your application through a local police station. In any event the local police station will be able to tell you the best place to go to apply for an NIE in your area.
In Barcelona, and some other places, you have to request an appointment online using the “Certificados EU” (for EU nationals) option at the Public Administration website. You might have to book an appointment a month in advance – you can't just turn up. (More information from the Public Administration website in Spanish)
You will have to pay a tax of around €10.00 at the nearest bank branch after making your application, then take proof of this payment (the stamped receipt from the bank) back to the Oficina de Extranjeros. That completes the application process.
3) Collect NIE number immediately or after a few days
After you have submitted your NIE application you will be given an official receipt (resguardo) and a time / date after which you can return to collect your NIE document. In some places you can collect your NIE number immediately, in other places it might be a couple of days later, or a couple of weeks – the police station will tell you. The time it takes varies by region and time of the year. Generally speaking it seems that places where there are not many foreigners requesting NIE numbers deliver quicker, in some cases immediately (for example the city of Segovia).
You do not have to collect your NIE in person – anyone can collect it for you if they have the official receipt or resguardo you were given when you submitted your application.
The time it takes to get an NIE varies greatly by region. Whilst it is still common in most areas to wait 15 days or more before collecting an NIE, in some areas, for instance Oviedo, in Asturias, (North Spain), you can apply for, and collect, an NIE in one single visit, which might not take longer than half an hour.