The essential documents for foreigners living in Barcelona

The essential documents for foreigners living in Barcelona
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Bureaucracy. It’s boring and often frustrating, but there’s no avoiding it.

Unfortunately, Spain doesn’t exactly have a reputation for streamlined efficiency when it comes to public administration. If you weren’t aware of this, here’s a brief taste of what you’re in for:

So where do you start? Here is a list, with links to where you can find more information. Below you’ll find my tips for making the process as painless as possible.

Here are the top five documents that foreigners need in Barcelona:

  1. NIE – Your Spanish identity number as a foreigner living in Spain.
  2. Empadronamiento – Your registration with the local council certifying where you actually live. Necessary in order to access public services.
  3. Social Security Number – Necessary in order to work and to use the health service.
  4. Cat Salut Card (Tarjeta Sanitaria) – the card that gives you access to the Catalan Public Health Service, if you’re eligible.
  5. Autonomo status – the registration to work and pay tax as a freelance worker.


Tips for getting the job done:

  • Make an appointment – cita previa – online before showing up at the office.
  • Take a book and a full phone battery. Do not take your children if you can avoid it.
  • Take a translator or friend who speaks the language (if you don’t).
  • Double and triple check that you have every document that could possibly be required. Often, you will need to make the copies in advance yourself. Take everything, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
  • Expect to be fobbed off at every turn and go prepared (see video above). Often it seems like a game where their objective is just to get rid of you. Calm insistence often pays off.
  • Don’t leave until you either have the document you require, or a bullet point list of what you need to do next. Don’t let them rush you out.
  • Once you’ve got your documents, scan them and make copies to keep somewhere safe. It will save you a giant headache if you lose them.


So take a deep breath, download the Google Translate app, and get started!

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