Tips to Surviving the Spanish Immigration Nightmare

redtapeSpain is notorious for its bureaucracy and red tape. And trust me when I say that its reputation does NOT precede it! This post contains little sprinkles of useful tips from someone who surmounted this bureaucratic nightmare that is the Spanish immigration system. It more about helping you make the gruelling immigration process (before and after your arrival) as frustration free as possible (if possible).

For more detailed practical advice, read our other articles on NIE and Student Resident Card and Visa procedures.


Tip 1 – Get Accurate Information

Conduct extensive research on the procedure and what documents you need to assemble pertaining to your own case going directly to the source i.e. The Spanish embassy or consulate in your country and Immigration offices in Spain. Hearsay and second hand advice could be helpful but not always enough and specific to you. To complement the hard facts, go online and read personal accounts of those who have undergone the process before you.

!!! Be sure to have the most up to date information.

Tip 2 – Translate all Documents

Sometimes this may be an issue, sometimes not. if you can, translate all documents to Spanish beforehand-especially if the language is not in English or French.


Tip 3 – Make Copies (at least 3 each)

Have at least 3 copies of all important documents. It may seem a drag to have so many papers but it is better than having to come back the next day or postpone your application process or pretty much start from scratch. You could recycle the extra copies later.

!!! Once in Spain, you can make copies all over the city at Locutorios and the cost is usually 10 cents per page in Black and White.

Tip 4 – Organise your Schedule

Go to the Immigration Office on a day where you have nothing else scheduled so that you have ample time to remedy unforeseen bumps in the road without collateral damage and the long waiting times will not matter so much.

Tip 5 Timely Arrival

It is always best to get to the Immigration offices as early as possible. If the opening time is at 9 am…get there at least at 8.30 am…in some cases 8 am. Larger cities have larger crowds so plan accordingly.

!!! Start the entire immigration process months in advance to make up for potential mistakes or delays.

Tip 6 – Ask for Directions

If you lose your way when going to the immigration offices in Spain, do not hesitate to ask for directions even if you do not yet speak Spanish. A simple, ¨Por favor¨with a sheet of paper in hand containing the name of the establishment and the full address clearly written will suffice. Include a nearby popular landmark that the average local would know just in case they are not familiar with your actual destination.

!!! To understand their directions in Spanish pay close attention to their hand gestures and listen for (derecha=right) (izquierdo=left) (recto=straight). Remember to say “gracais”

Tip 7 – Stay Occupied in Waiting Linescrossword_puzzle

At many immigration offices, both in Spain and your home country, there are many excruciatingly LONG queues and waiting times. Take a book, music player, friend or something to occupy your time with. Note that you will be lucky if you have a place to sit down.

 !!! Check the weather forceast, dress accordingly and always take an umbrella and something to snack on. 

Tip 8 – Keep Good Company

If possible, go to the Immigration Office with someone else  (from your school, internship or flatshare for example)- preferably, someone who speaks Spanish and/or has experience with the process. Their presence could be golden as they could interpret the language, navigate the system or even just keep you calm if your exasperation with the situation starts to get the better of you.

!!! Yes it can be a drag to ask for favours from people you barely know but you will be surprised at how helpful some people can be.

Tip 9 – Be Prepared to Communicate in Spanish

If you are on your own, write down key words and phrases that you will need to say that are relevant to your paperwork. If all fails, try and get a Spanish speaker on the phone or ask publicly if someone speaks (__insert native language __?)

!!! There is a 99.9% chance that the staff working at Immigration offices will speak ONLY Spanish.

Tip 10 – Breathe, you will be okay


You may be missing information or documents. You may arrive late or find yourself in a loophole. You may run into some people who are really nice, or really mean. In some unfortunate cases, you may even run into ignorance, prejudice and outright xenophobia and racism. But what do you care? You know what your purpose is, to study Spanish in Spain. So focus on that and get your paperwork done so that you can start studying already!

It may all seem intimidating, but I assure you that many have successfully done it. And afterwards you will have nothing more to think about but the beauty of the Spanish landscapes, the dynamism of your Spanish language courses and a boat-load’s worth of positive experiences in Spain waiting for you.

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