Experiencing the wonderful life that Spain offers expats worldwide requires just one thing: getting the residency and becoming a legal individual in the country. And then is when some doubts arise, especially when considering the length of your adventure in the country. Which is the main difference between residency and the stay status? When would you need one and the other? How do I know if I’m a resident? In this article we will answer those and other relevant questions related to your short term or resident status. 

What is the difference between residency and (short) stay status in Spain?


Basically, the residency is granted to those individuals who, after meeting the required needs, want to live more than 3 months in the Spanish territory. On the other hand, stay or short-stay visa is the status conceded to immigrants who just want to be in the country for less than 3 months, under certain requirements. 

Let’s analyze each one with more detail, defining under which situations the stay will be conceded, and which are the different kinds of residencies and how to obtain them. 


How long can I stay in Spain?


The answer to this question depends on your country of origin. But, as a general rule, you can stay in Spain with your tourist visa for 3 months. After that, you must get a valid residence permit in order to legally stay in Spain

Nevertheless, if you are a European Union citizen or from any of the following countries, you won’t need to get a visa to enter Spain for those initial 90 days:

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong & Macao (China), Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela.

So, if your home country is any of those mentioned above, you can freely enter Spain with just your passport. 


How to stay in Spain for more than 3 months 

But, once those initial 3 months come to an end, you will directly become illegal and need to get your residence card. Again, according to where you come the process of obtaining this residence card is different: 

  • If you are from the EU, you just need to get your European Union certificate; which is easy and straightforward to do. You can learn more about how to legally settle in Spain as a European Union citizen here
  • On the other hand, if you are a non-EU, you must get a residence permit. Bear in mind that the vast majority of them require you to be in your country of origin. Getting the residency as a tourist can only work under some specific types of permits, like those under the Entrepreneur Law, the family member of an EU citizen, or the student visa.


How long can I stay in Spain without becoming a resident?


You can stay in Spain for a maximum of 183 days per year (6 months) in order to not become a resident. If you spend an extra day (184 days and onwards), you will be regarded as a resident, hence paying resident taxes in the country.

This is a really important question, and different from the prior one. 

Because one thing is how long you can legally stay in Spain (which was answered before), and another is to determine how long can you stay in the country without becoming a resident. This last situation has important implications, especially stemming from all the tax liabilities you will gain. 

But it is crucial not to confuse residency for immigration purposes and fiscal residency, which are two different things.

It is also important to bear in mind that many residence permits require you to stay in Spain for longer than 183 days per year if you want to renew them. Hence, you will become a resident in the country for that. 


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Short-Stay Visa


If you are planning to just stay in Spain for 90 days or less (3 months max.), then the stay status is what you will be conceded. This translates to obtaining a tourist visa or at all nothing in some cases.

As we have already mentioned, if you are from a European Union country, with just your passport and ID you can have access to the short-stay visa. Bear in mind that this visa will NOT enable you to work in the country.  

Relatives from an individual who is from an EU country who come as accompanists (even if they are not from any of those countries themselves), can also have the possibility to live in the country for less than 90 days with their passport or ID. 

Rights and conditions of the stay status


There is something crucial that you must understand. And that is related to the rights and legal situation you will enjoy with the short-stay visa in Spain.

In that sense, you won’t be allowed either to work in the country or to pay for social security contributions. 

This status just grants you the possibility to legally stay in the country in order to do one of the following.


When can you get the short-stay visa?


There are a set of limited occasions that will give you the opportunity to reside legally in the country for 3 months, which are: 

  • Doing tourism
  • Staying for study or research purposes
  • Doing volunteer work

So, as long as you are planning to do any of the above 3, you will be granted a short-stay visa. 

We will now analyze the case of staying due to study purposes carefully, as it is the most extensive in terms of related legal issues. 

Legal stay in Spain for study purposes


Let’s say you would like to do your masters or P.h.D in Spain. 

Then, and if the course or research will last for less than one year, you do not need to get a residence permit (student visa) in order to reside legally in the country.

The Spanish immigration law contemplates this situation and you will be granted the stay status (which is not a student visa). 

As you can see, the main upside of this is that you can skip all the legal paperwork of applying for an actual visa. The downside is that that period will not count for your Spanish nationality (remember that in order to obtain the Spanish citizenship you need to accumulate a certain amount of years lived in the country). 

Furthermore, it won’t count either for permanent residency. 

And what happens when your studies or research have finished? In that case, you have two different options.

First of all, you can extend your stay for study purposes (renew your student visa). Or you can also switch to a special residency that allows you to work as a former student.

Under which conditions can you go for this procedure?

  • You need, at least, 3 years of having studied in Spain.
  • You need to prove that you have harnessed those 3 years productively (that means, really studied).
  • Having any kind of scholarship will deny your access to it.
  • You need to provide the job offer you have found, and that must be related to what you have studied in Spain.

What happens when my short-stay visa time is out?


When the 90 days of your tourist visa come to an end, you will have two options. 

The first one is to ask for an extension of the stay status. In order for that prorogation to be accepted, you will need to prove that you have sufficient funds to sustain yourself in the country.

Furthermore, and this is the most important part, you will need to justify which is the reason you demand the extension. Having proper reasoning is crucial here.

Finally, you’ll need to provide any guarantee that demonstrates that you will go back to your country once the extension comes to an end. That is, the government does not want you to become an illegal citizen who stays in Spain for the long-run.

On the other hand, and if you are considering moving into Spain for the long-run, you can ask for a residency authorization, which is a regular residency permit. 


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Residency in Spain


The residency is the legal condition granted to those individuals who are willing to stay in the country for the long-run. That is, for a period longer than 90 days. In this sense, there are two different kinds of residencies in Spain: the temporary residency and permanent residency


Temporary residency


Temporary residency is the long-run residency status that enables any non-EU citizen to live in Spain for longer than 90 days, but for less than 5 years

It requires a legal and complete application process and, depending on whether you are planning to embark on any economic activity in the country or not, it will be divided into two different groups.

  • If you have sufficient funds and you are not willing to work in the country, you can apply for the non-lucrative residency.
  • Otherwise, you can get any of the different types of lucrative residencies

Which are the options you have in order to obtain your residency permit and live in the country for 5 years (with yearly renovations of that residency)?


Student visa

If you are willing to study in Spain for more than three months (for a complete year) at a public or private institution, you will need to get a student visa

Remember that if your studies last less than 3 months, then you don’t need this visa. 

How can you apply for this kind of temporal residency?

You need to submit the enrolment document from the university or center, prove that you have sufficient funds and demonstrate that you have health care insurance.

And you can get it while being directly in Spain as a tourist. 


Work permit

Working in the country is another option that will grant you the long-run residency. In this case, you have three options: 

  • If you have a job offer from a company in Spain, you can apply for the work permit as an employee, the so-called “trabajo por cuenta ajena”. 
  • On the other side, if you are willing to start your own company and work as a self-employed, you can apply for the “trabajo por cuenta propia” permit. In this concrete case, you will need to provide some proof of the status, which in many cases is the document of your company in the Trade Registry of Spain (Registro Mercantil). This kind of permit is also called the entrepreneur visa
  • Finally, if you get an offer as a manager earning over 40.000€ per year, the right work visa is the highly qualified work permit

*The first 2 options must be obtained from your country of origin, whereas the last one can be processed while in Spain.

If you are willing to start your company in Spain, we can help you both by making sure you obtain your permit, and also with your business plan. Our business lawyers will be glad to turn your project into a success!


Family member of an EU citizen

If you are the relative of someone who is a European Union citizen (being because she was born in any of those countries or because she obtained the residency there), you can get the residency in Spain.

This includes, for example, those cases in which non-EU individuals that get registered through a civil union in Spain with an EU citizen. Then, they can apply for the residency as a family member of an EU citizen, now their new registered partner. And directly from Spain.


Golden visa

Finally, if you are willing to invest over 500.000 € in the Spanish territory, then the golden visa is the right option for you, as its application process is really straightforward. 

You can learn more about the specific requirements of the investor visa here. 


Permanent residency


On the other hand we have permanent residency; a long-run resident card.

This type of residency will enable you to not only live in the country indefinitely but also to work in Spain for 5 years. Then, you will be able to renew this permit, but also to apply for the nationality. 

So basically it eliminates the need to renew every 2 years.

And, another of its main benefits is that it grants you the right to work, even if you were holding a permit which did not contemplate that (like the non-lucrative visa).  


What is the difference between citizenship and residency?


Even though both conditions enable you to live in the Spanish territory for the long-run, they are separate things. Spanish citizenship allows you to live and work both in Spain and in any other EU country, at the same time that grants you some rights as the right to vote in Spain. On the other hand, permanent residency just enables you to work in the Spanish territory

Obtaining nationality means you directly get the Spanish passport. With the permanent residency, that won’t happen: you will still keep a resident card.

Just to sum up, a Spanish citizen is an individual who has the same rights as any other Spanish national. A permanent resident is a foreigner who is allowed to live in Spain for the long-run, but who lacks those specific rights.  

The procedure and requirements needed to get the Spanish citizenship vary depending on your country of origin, as the number of years you must live in Spain in for eligibility will be higher or lower. 


How can I check my residency status in Spain?


Many clients ask the same question to our lawyers: how can I know my specific resident status and how long I can live in Spain legally? 

And the answer is really simple: everything is detailed in your TIE or residency card (“tarjeta de identificación del extranjero”). 

This is the physical paper that you were given at the police office after entering the country. The same card in which you find your NIE. 

This document contains your specific condition as a foreigner in Spain: whether you have become a legal resident (and under which specific residence permit), or whether you hold a stay status (so you can just be in Spain for 3 months). 


And remember that if you still have doubts, we are at your complete disposal. 


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