Robbing a bank is easier

Bureaucracy NIE application

16 / May

For some months now, the Spanish government has found a new way to further complicate the application for a N.I.E. number. Although the Spanish Supreme Court made several rulings back in 2007 that Spanish law will not discriminate between Spanish and foreign notarised deeds, more and more regional offices of the Foreigners’ Service (Extranjeria) are ignoring this.

They no longer accept representatives who have a notarised power of attorney drawn up abroad. The applicant must appear in person, or the representative must have a notarised power of attorney from a Spanish notary. Proxies from foreign notaries are no longer accepted.

What is a N.I.E.?

The N.I.E. (Numero de Identificación de Extranjeros) is nothing more than a personal identification number that allows governments to process data more easily in their software. Spaniards get a D.N.I., foreigners a N.I.E., companies a C.I.F.. This mainly involves checking tax obligations, paying WOZ tax, transfer tax, income tax, VAT and corporation tax. You would expect that the N.I.E. number is thus issued by the tax authorities, but this is not the case. The Spanish government has designated the Foreigners Office to issue the N.I.E. to individuals.

Applying for a N.I.E.

In the early 2000s, it was relatively easy to obtain a N.I.E. through an application form with copy of passport and passport photograph, which could be presented by any representative. The N.I.E. number was not yet mandatory when signing a notarial deed, and all tax payments were processed through a general code that was not personal. This made it difficult to identify and verify foreign taxpayers, hence the N.I.E. became mandatory on every economic transaction where a tax liability arose.

From then on, a policy was adopted to make it as difficult as possible to obtain a N.I.E. The first change was that the N.I.E. could only be applied for in person, so no more through a representative. It was not possible to make an appointment, so you had to stand in long queues all day for the N.I.E. and hope to get your turn before closing time at 2pm. There was no distinction between EU and non-EU applicants.

As a result of protests from professionals, it was decided that representatives would be admitted after all, but only with a notarised power of attorney. This seemed like an improvement but at the same time they made up that the N.I.E. certificate had a validity of only 3 months. This led many authorities to interpret that the N.I.E. itself would no longer be valid after 3 months. Nonsense because the N.I.E. remains the same for life, but the discussions that this generated led to new protests which resulted in this limit being eliminated. At the time, the property crisis was at an all-time high and foreign buyers were scarce. Spain suffered as a result; so some years we were able to apply for N.I.E. numbers relatively easily with notarised powers of attorney drawn up in Spain or abroad. You had to queue for a morning, but that was all.

Then came Covid and appointment-based working was discovered in Spain. The Foreign Service found this system ideal to become even less efficient and eliminate the long queues at their doors. Today, you can visit them by appointment only.

Current problems when applying for N.I.E.

To make an appointment, you have to go to a central website. First, you have to enter your full first names, date and place of birth, passport number and then you have to choose a state, province and specific office where you want to submit the N.I.E. application.

If no appointment is available at that office within the next three months, you will not be able to schedule an appointment. You will not be notified if an appointment falls open and no suggestions will be made for opportunities at nearby offices. The details are not kept. You have to repeat the same process if you want to make an appointment at another office in a village next door, or if you want to verify the day or a week after if there might be an appointment after all. As you can understand, making an appointment has become a day job.

Smart professionals found a way to ease the time-consuming appointment system with the creation of a BOT that automatically continuously fills in all data at different times and for different offices until an appointment is found. This made the Foreign Office’s server inaccessible and for more than a year it was almost impossible for people to make appointments manually. These professionals offered their appointment booking services for a fee and were arrested for this reason as if they were a criminal organisation.

Meanwhile, more and more people had turned to Spain’s consulates abroad. These have now closed their gates for N.I.E. applications. It is now only possible to do so in Spain, by appointment, which is therefore almost impossible to make. On top of this, they now no longer accept notarised powers of attorney from foreign notaries.

It remains a mystery to us why the Foreign Office is trying so desperately to make it as difficult as possible to get a N.I.E. number. I suspect the latter requirement has to do with the still existing professionals with BOTs who make automatic appointments and charge a fee for them. Many of these services offer their clients to arrange everything from abroad. Spaniards are suspicious and jealous by nature. With this new requirement, I suspect they want to frustrate professional agencies without thinking about the detrimental consequences for well-intending foreigners who want to spend their retirement in Spain.

Roeland van Passel