What is an N.I.E Number?
N.I.E. is an abbreviation for Número de Identidad de Extranjero, which translates as Identification Number for Foreigners, or Foreigners’ Identification Number if you prefer.
The NIE is your all-purpose identification and tax number in Spain. You need it for everything that involves a tramite or official process in Spain. For example, you will need an NIE number to buy a property, buy a car, get connected to the utilities and, most importantly as far as the Spanish state is concerned, pay your taxes. Without an NIE number, the Spanish tax authorities are unable to assess or process annual tax payments such as income tax (IRPF), and the annual wealth tax (Patrimonio), both of which are declared by resident and non-resident property owners.
NIE number certificates were being issued with a 3-month validity from the time of issue, after which you were expected to apply for residency, or register as a non-resident. So after three months the certificate was no longer valid, at least in principle. However, in mid-2016 the regulation was changed to eliminate the three-month expiry deadline, so NIE numbers are now valid indefinitely. But this is Spain and the bureaucracy is a bit of a mess, and regulations are not uniformly implemented or even understood. You may find that some notaries refuse to accept a certificate that is older than three months, which could cause problems for property buyers trying to sign deeds more than three months after obtaining their NIE certificate. In principle you can get your NIE number anytime before you buy, but to be on the safe side you might want to sort out your NIE number on your last trip to Spain, when you find a property you want to buy and can complete within three months.
If you are an EU citizen and spend longer than 3 months in Spain after getting your NIE number, you are required to register and get a government certificate that shows your NIE number.
Who needs an NIE in Spain?
1. Any foreigner who becomes resident for tax purposes in Spain needs an NIE number in Spain.
2. Any non-resident foreigner who buys property in Spain. If a couple buys a property in Spain together, and they register the property in both their names, then both of them must obtain an NIE number in Spain.
3. Anyone who wants to work in Spain, or start a business in Spain.
When do you need to have an NIE number?
If you are buying property in Spain, then you need to have an NIE number by the time you sign the deeds of purchase before notary, an event known in Spanish as the escritura.
Getting your NIE number in time for escritura means applying at least 1 month before hand if you are applying in Spain, and at least 2 months before hand if you are applying via a consulate abroad. The actual time it takes depends upon where you apply, and the time of the year. You might be able to get an NIE number in person in Spain in a couple of days, but it could also take weeks, so best allow yourself plenty of time.