In this article, we’ll explore the different routes to get Spanish citizenship, including Spain’s visa and residency options for those who make their income through online businesses.
Spain is one of the most popular expat destinations in the EU. Its warm climate, colourful history and excellent food combine to make a compelling choice for those who want to kickstart a new life in Europe. Spain is also more affordable than the UK and US in terms of property ownership, utilities, and food.
In fact, Spain is the most popular country in Europe for British nationals, with a growing number of Americans joining them too. Many choose Spain as a retirement destination, enjoying a more relaxed lifestyle in its coastal towns. Spain is also experiencing an increase in remote workers and online business owners from all over the world, who take advantage of its non-lucrative visa and residency pathway.
Spain is the perfect place for a comfortable expat lifestyle. But most of our readers are interested in becoming citizens of the EU, rather than just merely living there. So let’s look at how Spain measures up as a destination for getting citizenship.
Why get Spanish citizenship?
Spanish citizenship is also citizenship of the European Union (EU), which comes with many benefits. First, Spanish citizenship gives you the right to freely live, study, work and retire across 27 diverse and fascinating countries. It also gives you full access to the world’s largest trading bloc – the European Economic Area (EEA).
What’s more, a Spanish passport is your ticket to influencing the political decisions of the most successful community of nations ever created. If you’re from outside the EU, it’s a fantastic opportunity to expand your horizons and gain a powerful passport. If you’re a British citizen, stripped of your EU rights, getting Spanish citizenship offers you a pathway back into the EU.
Pathways to Spanish citizenship
There are several different pathways to Spanish citizenship. At Digital Émigré, we mainly focus on pathways to citizenship for those who don’t have the right connections to get citizenship through ancestry or marriage. Here, we’ll run through all the options so you can choose the best fit.
Spanish citizenship by residency
Also known as citizenship by naturalisation, citizenship by residency is the most common route to getting Spanish citizenship. If you’re not married to a Spaniard and don’t have Spanish parents, this will probably be the only route available to you.
Main requirements for Spanish citizenship by residency:
- Having legal residence in Spain for 10 years
- Passing two exams: A2 Spanish language test (DELE) and the CCSE cultural exam
- Passing a criminal record check
Spanish citizenship by marriage
In contrast to citizenship by residency, Spanish citizenship by marriage has a very fast time frame. It’s possible to be eligible for Spanish citizenship by marriage after just one year.
Spanish citizenship by option
You can use this route to citizenship if you have Spanish parents, or you were born in Spain. It doesn’t require any residency period.
Other routes to Spanish citizenship
There are several other ways to get Spanish citizenship. Some of them don’t require the 10 year residency period.
- Grandchildren law: Allows people of Spanish descent to apply for citizenship
- Refugees: Can apply after five years of residency
- Nationals of Ibero-American countries: Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, or Portugal
- Individuals of Sephardic Jewish descent (You don’t have to live in Spain, but you’ll need to prove your ancestral connections and pass the Spanish language exam)
What documents do I need to apply for citizenship?
Spain is well known for its bureaucracy and the Spanish citizenship application is no exception. You’ll need to gather the following items to make your application.
- Your completed application form
- Original and photocopy of your passport – you’ll need a copy of every page
- Original and photocopy of your valid foreign identity card (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero)
- Birth certificate, printed within the last 90 days (with a sworn translation attached, if issued in a language that isn’t Spanish.) Both documents will need to be legalised
- Spanish criminal record certificate/ penales del Registro Central de Penados, printed within the last 90 days
- Criminal record certificate or background check from your home country (certificado de antecedentes penales / certificado de antecedentes) printed within the last 90 days, with a sworn translation attached. Again, both documents will need to be legalised.
- Marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Government registration certificate/ certificado de empadronamiento, printed within the last 90 days
- A DELE (language exam) certificate showing a minimum A2 level in Spanish (read more about how EU language levels are assessed)
- A CCSE exam certificate or prueba de conocimientos constitucionales y socioculturales. This is an exam testing your general knowledge of Spanish culture and laws.
- Proof of payment of the €100 application fee
As you can see, you need a lot of documents!
Becoming eligible for Spanish permanent residency
Before you can apply for Spanish citizenship, you’ll need to have secured permanent residency in the country.
This happens after five years of temporary residency in Spain, all of which must be legal and continuous. Any time spent as a student during this period is excluded from the total time towards permanent residency.
After you lived in Spain for those five non-interrupted years, you’ll be eligible to apply for permanent residency. To do so, you’ll have to show proof of having enough finances to support yourself and your dependents, as well as proof of health insurance. Finances can come from a number of sources, including remote work and dividends from an online business.
Getting the Spanish non-lucrative visa
The next thing to consider is how to get residency in the first place. As a non-EU citizen, you’ll need to show some purpose for your move to Spain.
The best option for somebody who works remotely is the Spanish non-lucrative visa. ‘Non-lucrative’ means that your income comes from passive sources outside of Spain.
Requirements for the Spanish non-lucrative visa:
- Income level: At least €30,000 annually
- Income must come from pensions, overseas rentals, dividends from a limited company, or other investments, such as stocks
- Private health insurance, as this visa doesn’t include access to public health care
Conclusion: Should I move to Spain to get Spanish citizenship?
Despite the many advantages of living in Spain, the citizenship process is long, complicated and heavy on bureaucracy. You’ll be looking at a timeline of at least ten years living in Spain before you’ll become eligible to apply. It will likely take several more years after that, thanks to a labyrinth of hoops to jump.
Also, Spain doesn’t allow dual citizenship, so you’ll need to renounce your existing citizenship before applying for a Spanish one. We see this as a major disadvantage, especially if you come from a country that already has a powerful passport (like the UK or US). We strongly believe that two passports are better than one, especially in unstable times.
For people already living in Spain, working towards Spanish citizenship could be a logical option. But for wannabe émigrés planning their EU citizenship strategy, we recommend looking elsewhere for faster and less arduous routes.