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NIE for dummies: information about applying for a NIE number in plain English

What is a NIE number?

NIE is the abbreviation of Numero de Identidad de Extranjero (Identity number of a Foreigner). It’s a unique identification number for foreigners who want to live in Spain or need to perform certain transactions.

What does a NIE number look like?

A NIE number begins with an X, Y or Z, followed by seven numbers and one letter. You will get a certificate with this number, printed on an A4 page.

When does the NIE number expire?

A NIE number is personal and unique and does not have an expiration date. Unlike the certificate, which has a validity of 3 months and needs to be renewed before expiration via the same procedure. Once you are a resident, you don’t need to do this anymore: in that case you will have a Tarjeta de Residencia.

Why do you need a NIE number?

Without a NIE number there’s not much you can do in Spain. You need this number to complete official documents, but you also need it for important purchases, registration in a school or university, to take out insurance or to conclude a contract (even for utilities for example).

Where can you apply for a NIE number?

There are two options:

  • -You can go to the Spanish embassy or consulate in your country of origin
  • -You can apply for the NIE number in Spain. In that case you have to go tot he office of the National Police or Extranjería (depending on your location).

How to apply for a NIE number?

To apply for a NIE number, you need to provide certain documents. First of all, the application form EX-15 needs to be filled in correctly. In one of the fields you need to explain why you are applying for a NIE number (for example to purchase a property) and you need to add a document to prove this.

Next, you will also need to go to the bank to pay the tax (9,45 euros). You can get this tax form (Modelo 790) at the embassy or the police office/office of Extranjería where you apply for the NIE number.

To complete the application you need to add the following documents:

  • -A copy of passport or ID card. On-the-spot you will also need to show the original document.
  • -When you apply for a NIE number for your children, you also need to add a sworn translation of the birth certificate or family book. Next to a copy of the passport or ID card of your child you also need to add a copy of the identity document of the parents.

A foto is not required!

How long does the application process for a NIE number take?

If you decide to apply for a NIE number via the Spanish embassy, some patience will be required: the process can take about 8 weeks.

In Spain the procedure is a lot faster, although it depends of your location. The first step is to arrange an appointment (in some cases you can arrange this online via a Cita Previa, in other cases you need to go to the office to get the appointment). After handing in the application, it usually takes 1 or 2 weeks before you can pick up your certificate with your NIE number.

Apply for a NIE number yourself or not?

There are a lot of wild stories about applying for a NIE number, but overall this is a pretty simple procedure. If you decide to handle the application yourself, make sure you are well-prepared and you foresee all required photocopies (a golden rule for all contacts with public institutions in Spain!). Be aware you will most probably lose quite some time (while queing at the bank or police office for example) and the process can be quite stressful, certainly if you don’t speak Spanish. But, looking at the bright side: maybe you will have some funny anecdote to tell later!

If you want to be sure everything is handled smoothly and you want to avoid all possible stress, then it might be a good idea to hire someone to do this for you. It will also save you quite some time.


The NIE number is the equivalent of the DNI number for Spanish citizens. DNI stands for Documento Nacional de Identidad. If you are asked to give your DNI number, you just need to give your NIE number.

NIE number vs Residencia

Applying for a NIE number or registering as a resident are two separate procedures. If you decide to become a resident, you will automatically get a NIE number (in case you didn’t have it already). According to Spanish law you are a Spanish resident if you reside at least 183 days in the country. There are a couple of conditions before you can become a resident (such as proving you have an income or enough resources to be financially independent).