This article talks specifically about applying for and obtaining a non-lucrative residence visa (NLV) for a U.S. citizen from the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles, California in late November 2021. The Spanish Consulates in other locations (e.g., San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, New York) have different requirements. Always refer to your consulate’s web page as the “final word” on the requirements.
When I decided to move to Spain to live with my girlfriend there, a top question was how? For an American citizen to stay in Spain—or any country in the Schengen Area for that matter—for more than three of the last six months, a special visa is needed.
Fortunately, for Spain there are a lot of different visa options including: work, student, golden, and non-lucrative residence visa. I decided on the latter because it is the easiest and easiest to obtain of the four. The main requirements of that visa is showing evidence of having enough savings or passive income to live for a year in Spain and committing to living there for more than half a year (if you wanted to renew the visa). In contrast, the work or student visas required applying for and getting accepted to a job or school, and the golden visa required a 500,000€ investment in the country.
(Note: since January 2023–well after I wrote this article–Spain has had a digital nomad visa. I wish that was an option when I was applying.)
Unfortunately, with any of the visas, there’s a lot of bureaucracy, documentation, and waiting involved. Hopefully this article will help other people in a similar situation. I learned quite a bit during the whole visa process, information I wish I had earlier at it would have saved a bit of expense, time, and anxiousness.
A rough procedure is as follows:
- Familiarize yourself with the requirements and start planning a timeline. If you need a federal background check because you lived in multiple states during the last five years, apply for it even before Step 2 because it can take months to get it apostilled.
- Make an appointment for an in-person visa interview online. You will likely not be able to schedule one any sooner than thirty days out.
- Gather all your documents.
- Go to your appointment the General Consulate of Spain in Los Angeles and submit the documents and passport.
- Go back to the Los Angeles and pick up your passport, which will have your visa stuck inside it.
- Move to Spain, ideally after the start date of your visa, otherwise you will have to leave the Schengen Area and return after that date.
- After you have arrived in Spain, make an appointment online with the Foreigners Office (often it’s at the Police Station) in the city you will stay in to apply for a Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (foreigner’s identity card) as soon as you can.
Familiarize yourself with the requirements and start planning a timeline
At least when I was applying, the documentation requirements were clearly spelled out on the L.A. Consulate’s official website. In early March 2022, all of the official web pages that I relied on in November 2021 were taken down. There are new ones, but confusingly, the requirements in Spanish and English do not match. The Spanish ones mention things like not being allowed to have a U.S. mortgage. You may want to email the contacts on the official webpage for the L.A. Consulate for guidance on the contradictions.
Especially be wary about visiting the web page of an immigration lawyer. Those web pages will try to intimidate you so you want to hire a lawyer, which would actually be counterproductive. Other applicants have overheard the L.A. Consulate’s employees saying they don’t like working with the lawyers since they often submit too much documentation. They are also expensive (thousands of dollars) and as you’ll still be doing a lot of the document collection, won’t save you much time.
The requirements when I applied were as follows:
- Visa application. Easy form to fill out.
- One passport-type photo. Easy; just go to Walgreens or AAA to get one.
- Passport (original and photocopy). Easy.
- I.D. card, e.g., driver’s license (original and photocopy), that shows you live within jurisdiction of the Spanish Consulate of Los Angeles. Easy, unless you had moved or something and your i.d. card is not up to date.
- EX 01 form. Moderate difficulty because it’s in Spanish. But at least it’s just filling out a form.
- (Non-U.S. citizens only): U.S. resident alien card or visa. Most likely not applicable to readers of this post.
- 790-52 form. Moderate difficulty because it’s in Spanish. But at least it’s just filling out a form.
- Medical certificate from your doctor.
- Background check letter from the FBI or your state department. Critical.
- Proof of funds: Another critical step.
- Copy of 1040 tax return. Only the L.A. Consulate requests this! They specifically want this because they want to see that you did not claim a tax deduction for a mortgage… because they also happen to be the only consulate that says, “Residency applicants cannot have/leave loans or mortgages in the United States when applying for residency in Spain.” They did explicitly tell me that the tax returns did not have to be translated to Spanish.
- Medical insurance: You will need to get full-coverage private insurance in advance for the year you will live in Spain.
- Visa fee: It was $153 when I applied. Only money orders are accepted. Go to a USPS post office to buy one.
- Disclaimer form. Easy; you just sign a document saying that you don’t hold the consulate employees responsible for lost documents.
Please note that as of early March 2022, the consulate lists the requirements in a different order than above. And in February 2023, I see that the consulate requires applicants “of working age” to provide a notarized statement that they will not work (not even remotely) while in Spain. Always check the latest requirements.
Of the above steps, I’d say that the background check and obtaining proof of funds are the most headache-inducing of them all, followed by the medical stuff especially if you are not in good health. The no-mortgage stipulation could also be a deal-breaker for many folks unless they planned a while in advance and did not take a mortgage deduction. Getting translations can also be a headache since you will need to find a sworn translator, and there aren’t many in the U.S. (But a sworn translator from any country will suffice.)
Below are some tips on how to deal with each of those topics.
Background Check Letter with Apostille
This is a critical step because the background checks take time, and then the background check letter has to be apostilled and translated, which takes more time.
If you lived in only one state in the last five years, get a background check from that state instead of the FBI as it will be quicker for the apostilling.
Also, if possible, request the background check a couple months before your visa interview. I was only able to go in for electronic fingerprints three weeks before my visa appointment, and since the State Department of Colorado was no longer doing in-person appointments for apostilling due to the pandemic, I had to Express Mail the background check letter (which took six days to receive after fingerprinting) to them and include an Express Mail return-envelope back. In addition, I had to bug the State Department by email to get the apostille in time, since their turnaround time was two weeks.
I sent a scanned copy of the background check letter to be translated by a sworn translater as soon as I received it so that it could be done while I was waiting for the apostille.
Proof of Funds
How much you need per month or year is defined by Spain as 400% of the IPREM (el Indicador Público de Renta de Efectos Múltiples) index. In 2021, this was roughly 28000€ or about US$32,000/year. You either have to demonstrate you have that amount of savings or passive income.
The L.A. Consulate accepts the last three months worth of bank statements or investment brokerage statements, but they explicitly say they must be stamped originals. Then they have to be translated.
A few tips:
- If you are lucky to have a bank that can print out your statements in Spanish, do that so that you won’t need to get translations.
- The funds can be split across multiple institutions, but you’ll have to provide documentation.
- Investment brokerage statements are often a dozen pages long. Instead of submitting translations of those which gets expensive, you can have a bank write a letter summarizing the last three months’ account. But be sure to have them write “these funds are available at a moment’s notice.” The L.A. Consulate wants to see such a sentence, which might preclude you from using, say, retirement accounts if you cannot access those funds to live off of at a moments’ notice.
- Many U.S. banks or investment brokerages will not have something to stamp the statements with. But the consulate wants original copies with stamps or seals. What my investment brokerage did was write a letter (the above tip) and notarize that instead.
- If you do submit the statements and need them to be translated, the translator does not need to translate the entire Terms & Conditions page that statements often include. They can just write something like, “Consta información irrelevante sobre el banco, información géneral y términos clave, etc.“
- I paid for a translator to translate one of my 12-page statements and then did the other two months’ myself based off her translations. I noted this on each page I translated and it seemed to be acceptable. But if I were to do it again, I would just get a bank letter and have that translated, and attach the untranslated (but official) statements to it. It would have saved a lot of time and money. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about the bank letter tip prior to doing the translations of all the statements.
Print out the generic bilingual form that was on the L.A. Consulate’s website and get your doctor to sign it, saying that you don’t have pre-exisiting conditions, drug addiction, and mental illness. You will likely have to schedule a physical with your doctor to do this, or some sort of clinic that does physicals. The advantage of the bilingual form is that you won’t have to get it translated for the Spanish Consulate.
The person who signs it should also note the location of their practice. Ideally, they would stamp it with the stamp of their medical license. Spain loves stamps!
I’d say this step is relatively easy if you are healthy and have ready access to your doctor. The main thing would be scheduling a checkup in time, but not too early as the certificate must have been signed no more than three months before your interview.
I was especially lucky to be both in good health and that my girlfriend is a (Spanish) doctor, so she was able to sign and stamp it for me!
You will need to show proof of private Spanish health insurance for the whole year you will live in Spain. I.e., you need to buy a whole year’s worth of health insurance from a Spanish insurance company before you even apply for a visa. It needs to be full-coverage with no co-pays and includes repatriation back to Spain in the event you became gravely ill outside the country.
What many other ex-pats and I did was obtain health insurance from Adeslas through agent Carlos A Blanco Rey ([email protected]) for roughly $800/year—an absolutely bargain compared to insurance rates in the U.S. Through Carlos, I was able to obtain proof of insurance in about five days after pre-paying the amount.
This was the biggest difference between the consulate in Los Angeles and the other ones in the United States. No other one had the requirement of not having an existing mortgage in the U.S. (Update February 2023: I saw a Facebook group post about another city–Chicago, I think–also disallowing existing mortgages. Always check your consulate’s webpage for the exact requirements.)
Fortunately, despite retaining my Colorado home, I had already paid off the mortgage on it a while ago, and even included a certified copy of the Release of Deed (with translation) as proof.
But if you haven’t paid off your mortgage, then you will need to do something like not itemize your deductions on your latest tax return (take the standard deduction instead) so that it doesn’t appear that you have a mortgage.
A reader named Steve sent me the following. Perhaps having a mortgage is not as much of a deal-breaker with the Los Angeles Spanish Consulate that they make it out to be.
I’ve chatted with people that got their NLV at the LA consulate, who had a mortgage, and had no issues getting the NLV.
They say that the home mortgage is only a bone of contention if your income isn’t enough to cover a home mortgage and place in Spain.
IE, Spain requires a monthly income of €2,316. If your mortgage is $1800, they’ll say you really only have $516 a month to live on in Spain. Application rejected.
Rental income on the home isn’t allowed since rental income is not reliable.
In that scenario, the applicant would need to show a verified minimal monthly income of $4110 to meet the €2316 requirement. Hope that explanation makes sense.
The Spanish consulate’s website has a link to a PDF of sworn translators you can get translations from. Since it seems to have been taken down in early March 2022, you might have to email the consulate for the list.
The list contained four pages (pages 614-617) of sworn translators in the United States. That seems like a lot, but I contacted six, and only two replied. Of those two, one said she was too busy. Note that you don’t have to get a translation from someone based in the U.S.
Wawi had mailed me her translations via USPS whereas Raphael of Spain emailed hers. For the latter, I printed hers out in color at a local UPS Store so that it looked original (her stamp was blue).
Make a Visa Appointment Online
For me, I started trying to make a visa appointment starting in late September. You do this online on their official website. But to make a long story short, the L.A. Consulate apparently was not offering in-person appointments around that time due to the pandemic.
I emailed the consulate and they told me that in-person appointments for mid-October would soon be opening up. That did happen. Soon it became apparent that a new day of appointments would be offered exactly 30 days in advance at 12:00:00 p.m. Pacific Time. Since I wanted an appointment for Monday, November 29, I made an appointment on Sunday, October 30 for that date.
If you want to assure yourself of a spot, log on the appointment website right at 12:00:00 p.m. Pacific Time and select a time right away. All you have to do from there is enter your name, phone number and email address. You can only book one appointment at a time using the same phone number (and maybe name and email address).
Once you book the appointment, it is easy to cancel it if you need to via the same online portal.
Gather All Your Documents
It took me about three weeks to get all my documentation together, but I had spent several weeks before that reviewing what I’d need.
The result was an application over an inch thick. But most of it was three months’ worth of investment bank statements with translations and a copy of my most recent federal tax return.
At Your Appointment at the Los Angeles Consulate
Since you are going to Los Angeles anyhow, you might as well make a mini-vacation out of it especially if you are not from the area.
In my case, my girlfriend and I drove down there a few days after flying into the Bay Area, and visited the Santa Monica Pier, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Hollywood sign, and Malibu, among other places. (See the post entitled Southern California Visit. Also consider visiting the nearby Petersen Automotive Museum.)
Obviously, don’t be late to your appointment; try to get there a little early. But don’t be surprised if they are running late. There are chairs and tables to wait at.
You don’t have to check in; just wait for them to call your name. I was called up about 20 minutes after my designated appointment time.
There is absolutely no privacy as the room is otherwise dead quiet. Keep that in mind especially if you are discussing financial information. They will ask you for the required documents one by one, and if you had done your homework and followed their checklist to the tee, you will get through the interview rapidly and efficiently.
In my case, I lacked a photocopy of the background check letter. I thought the translation, which included a photocopy, would be sufficient. But they wanted another one.
Fortunately, they did not send me out of there; they simply made a photocopy themselves. From that incident, I got the feeling that they are reasonable and want to work with you.
Now comes perhaps the most anxiety-causing part of the process: waiting to hear that the visa is approved. The Los Angeles branch has a reputation of taking the longest of all Spanish consulates in the U.S.
For me, when I finished the visa interview, I asked about the processing time. The consulate employee told me “about six weeks,” which was what I expected from other people’s experiences.
However, six weeks passed and I hadn’t heard a peep from the consulate.
Seven weeks passed and still… crickets. I was getting anxious enough that I browsed the Spanish NLV Facebook Group to ask about recent processing time for other NLV applicants of the L.A. Consulate.
Finally, on January 19th I received confirmation that the visa was approved and ready! That was an exciting day worthy of celebration.
So for my visa to be approved, it took seven weeks and two days. However, another woman I talked with on the Spanish NLV Facebook Group did her interview at the L.A. Consulate exactly 11 days after I did. She was notified of her visa approval on the same day I was—or just under six weeks. As they say, your mileage may vary.
The confirmation I received was from [email protected]. Considering the importance of this email—I did not receive a text or a phone call—you might want to add that to your address book so it doesn’t get marked as Junk Mail.
The message read,
Your visa has been approved and issued.
You must pick it up in person at this Consulate either Monday, Wednesday, or Friday between 9.00 am to 1.00 pm. No appointment needed.
Please bring a form of identification with a picture on it, and show this email in order to pick it up at the visa window.
***PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL***email from [email protected]
You also could check the status online if you have a N.I.E. (número de identidad de extranjero) or número de expediente (appointment number). On the online form, enter your N.I.E. or número de expediente, the appointment date, and your birth year. The status information (resolved or not resolved) is available even years after the appointment.
However, I did not have an N.I.E. until after they had approved my visa and automatically assigned me one. (It was listed on my visa.) But I think I was handed a receipt (“resguardo“) with the appointment number when I had successfully completed the in-person interview.
In any case, the online status checker is good for printing out the “approved” status for when you are in Spain applying for an obligatory T.I.E. (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero).
Picking up Your Visa
You must pick up your passport and visa in person on the days and times listed on your confirmation email. No appointment is necessary. Have a copy (e.g., on your phone) of the approval email ready to show the consulate employees.
In my case, I booked a flight to the Burbank Airport, took a Lyft to the Spanish Consulate of Los Angeles, picked up the passport with visa… and then had a celebratory lunch before taking a Lyft back to the Burbank Airport. I returned home to Colorado the same day.
Move to Spain!
Once you have your visa and passport, you can book plane tickets to Spain. But be sure to look at the visa start date first.
I unwittingly booked tickets to Spain as soon as I got confirmation that my visa was ready. I had mistakenly assumed that the visa start date would be the date it was approved or the date I had requested it to start—January 10th—and hence was a little surprised after picking up my visa that the visa start date was February 10th.
My arrival flight to Spain was February 5th, which caused a little bit of a problem. I would have no problems in coming to Spain—the default travel visa for Americans in the Schengen Area would apply—but to apply for the Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero afterwards, the Spanish officials would be looking for a passport stamp showing your entry into the European Union for after the visa start date.
The solution, then, was to leave the E.U. and come back to get that stamp after the visa start date. I did this by doing a 48-hour trip to London with my girlfriend. It was just a two-hour, direct flight from Spain and we had a lot of fun.
Obtain Your T.I.E.
One thing you will notice on your visa is that the expiration date is only three months after the start date. This is because to be a resident, there is still one more step that needs to be done: applying for a Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE). You must do that in your region in Spain, within 30 days of arrival.
This is kind of beyond the scope of this article and the process varies by region. In Galicia, I made a cita previa (appointment) a few days in advance online. The appointment page listed all the documentation you will need to bring. Some of the documentation includes a form for paying a fee… which you pay at any bank before the appointment. I paid it at a Santander, in cash (about 17 euros).
For the appointment, I had to go to the police station, check in, then walk upstairs to the Extranjería (foreigner’s office) and wait. When the sole employee came out to the waiting room, I told her I was there and my appointment time.
I then presented my documentation and 10 minutes later, was given a printed Resguardo de Solicitud de Tarjeta de Extranjero (Receipt of Application for the T.I.E). I was then told to come back in a month (five weeks to be safe) to pick up the actual tarjeta (card).
I was glad that my Spanish was good enough to do this without the help of my bilingual girlfriend. In Galicia, I have yet to meet any official who speaks English. Depending on the region you are in, if you don’t speak Spanish, you might need to bring a friend who can translate for you.
For more information on this topic, visit Frugal Vagapond’s page on this subject. It includes helpful tips on booking the appointment online filling out the forms. Good luck!
If you have questions that you can’t find the answer to online, don’t hesitate to email the Los Angeles Consulate. In my experience, they are good about replying, although not always in a timely fashion. The responses can range from immediate (for easy questions) to weeks (for more complicated questions).
The following forums are where you can ask other Americans who had gone through the experience. You can join them and post questions, although I would encourage you to search the forums before asking because very often, someone had already asked the same question.