9 Hacks to Help You Survive Bureaucracy When Moving to Barcelona

Thinking about moving to Barcelona, but scared of all the paperwork that’s awaiting you here? The Spanish bureaucratic system gets such a bad rap that people actually get discouraged to move to Spain or start a business here. Some of the horror stories they may have heard certainly don’t paint a bright picture of what is going on in the dreaded offices where foreigners need to make an appearance, but let us tell you, the reality is not nearly as bad.

If you take the following nine pieces of advice, you’ll be in and out of there in time, whether you need to sort out your NIE, your social security, your empadronamiento, or all of those things combined and more. Just be prepared like a diligent little schoolgirl (or boy), and you won’t have to leave any of those offices feeling angry and frustrated. Let’s see what you need to keep in mind!


Always check if there’s an option to make an appointment online.

Most of the places that you’ll have to go to get your documents sorted are always at full capacity. Scheduling online can save you hours of waiting, and keep you from being sent away for not having made an appointment in advance. Note: they’re usually overbooked, so you might have to wait for your turn anyway. There’s always a bit of queuing, even if everyone made an appointment. So just take a good book and sit tight!


If you want to get your NIE as soon as possible, make an appointment on Monday morning at 8 AM sharp.

The NIE (número de identidad de extranjero) is an identification number for foreigners in Spain. If you don’t have a NIE, you’re basically just a tourist. You need it for basically everything, like getting a job, opening a bank account, starting a business, etc. There are a couple of requirements that you need to fulfil in order to be granted a NIE, and you have to make an appointment at the immigration office. You can book your “cita previa” online, just make sure you do it at 8 AM on a Monday morning (not 7:59, not 8:10, 8:00!), because that’s when the new slots are opened. Note: if you’re lucky, you’ll get an appointment for the coming week, but if not, you may have to wait another two or three weeks.


Double check the list of documents that you need to take with you.

There’s nothing more frustrating than finally getting your turn and then finding out that you’re missing a piece of paper that is just vital to getting your paperwork filled out. Don’t make the mistake of being sloppy, have all your documents ready and stacked in a folder before you leave for your appointment. This information is available on the website of each office that you may have to go to.

9 Hacks to Help You Survive Bureaucracy When Moving to Barcelona
Got all your papers ready? Photo Credit: Ksenija Toyechkina / Shutterstock, Inc.

Take a friend who speaks Spanish.

Documents written in the official, bureaucratic style are hard enough to comprehend, even in your own language. To make sure you don’t misunderstand anything, ask a local or someone who speaks Spanish well enough to accompany you. The people behind the desks are usually patient and are trying to be helpful, but don’t expect them to speak any English at all. And remember, when you’re doing your research online and no Spanish friend is available: Google Translate is your best friend.

Once you have a NIE number, memorize it.

When you start living in Barcelona, you’re going to be asked for you NIE number on a daily basis: when you sign a contract, when you apply for a loyalty card at a store, and every time you get a delivery. Memorizing the number on it is the easiest way to go: if you know the number by heart, you don’t have to carry the card around all the time (because, you know, it could get stolen).

Always make at least two photocopies of your Passport/EU identity card and your NIE, whenever you need to go and get paperwork done.

Some of the offices you may need to go to don’t offer photocopying, but there’s a good chance that they will be asking for those duplicates. It’ll cost you no more than a few cents to have photocopies made in a shop that offers printing and copying services anywhere in the city, so just forego it and save yourself a lot of running back and forth.

Never trust that “the government” will inform you of your duties and administrative tasks.

In Spain, you never really escape the labyrinth of bureaucracy, and you just can’t get lazy. You need to do your research, because no one will inform you of what taxes you have to pay after certain properties, for example. What they will do is fine you if you fail to deliver. Don’t get all stressed out, just Google whatever specific question you have, and keep yourself informed, especially in financial matters. It’s all you have to do to avoid a nasty surprise check.

Don’t leave any original copies of important papers in your home country.

You never know when you will need your birth certificate or your university degree, so make sure to bring those things with you when you come to Barcelona. If you don’t know where they are, just ask your momma, she’ll have it stashed away somewhere at the bottom of a desk drawer.

Do some yoga.

Seriously, though. Getting all your documents sorted in Spain can be a pain in the a, but if you’re well-prepared and you get into the mindset of “I’m so chill, I can do this”, it’s not going to be a traumatic experience. Make sure you relax a little before embarking on your bureaudventure: sip on a cup of tea, get those yoga flows going, switch into zen mode, and you’ll be able to tackle it all like a champ. And if you’re still feeling lost or have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to contact us, we’ll try to help you!