Basics for life in Spain

Basic knowledge for life in Spain

Last update : November 2023

Basics for life in Spain


The “Empadronamiento” or “Padrón” is the municipal register in Spain. It is a very important procedure, because it allows you to access the public health care system and the social services network. Later on, it will also provide proof of how long you have been in Spain, allowing you to request a residence and work permit. To register under the Empadronamiento procedure, you have to go to the town hall (⇒ch. Glossary) of the place where you live. You will need an identification document such as a passport, asylum seeker’s document, certificate as unaccompanied minor, or other (photo) ID.

Remember: According to Spanish law, you are obliged to register where you actually live. This is not always easy, and many people register in other places (for example, in friends’ houses), but always giving a valid address so as to receive any notifications by post.

You can also register in collective housing such as a hostel; or you can register as “no fixed address” (for example, if you live in the street), providing an address where you can be sent documentation; or through social services, who will register you at a municipal address where you can receive communications.

Go to the Social Services for advice and help with the procedure, or look for an association that can support you. If you are registered with an NGO (⇒ch. Glossary) ask them to register you with the address of the NGO. Sometimes you will have to insist until they do it.

Attention: You are obliged to renew your registration every two years: remember that if you do not renew it, you will lose the proof of time spent living in Spain, which is essential for future paperwork.

The Health Card

Everyone has the right to receive emergency medical care, but to make appointments and receive ongoing treatment or regular visits you need a Tarjeta Sanitaria (Health Card).

Once you are registered through “Empadronamiento”, you can apply for a Tarjeta Sanitaria at the health centre closest to where you live (or where you are registered as living). This card gives you access to the entire public health system (General Medicine, Specialists). Depending on the region (Comunidad Autónoma) where you live in Spain, you may have problems obtaining this card. Some organisations such as the Red Cross can help you get it. If you cannot get it, contact an association in your city (⇒ ch. 3. Contacts).

Education in Spain

If you come from a non-Spanish-speaking country, one of the first things you can do is to learn the Spanish language, or other official local languages in Spain like Catalan, Euskera, and Galician. This can allow you to access education and training in your chosen subject or profession, and improve your chances of getting a job.

While you are waiting to join a class, you can also download the “Ojalá!” application on your Android smartphone, which is designed to teach Spanish to people who speak Arabic (fusha, dariya), Wolof, French and English.

There are different organisations (trade unions, NGOs, neighbourhood organisations, civic centres…) that offer language courses, and courses on how to find a job. Sometimes they also offer employment training for people without a residence permit. If you have a residence permit, you can also approach the employment office where you live, where they can offer you practical training to learn a profession.

If you are in contact with an NGO, ask about vocational training and language courses. There is a wide range of courses that NGOs can fund, although you will often have to insist on it.

If you speak Spanish or another official language in Spain, there are several possibilities for training. If you are registered through “Empadronamiento”, you can try to enrol in secondary education for adults (free of charge!). After 1 or 2 years, you can obtain the ESO (general secondary education) and after 2 more years you can obtain the Bachillerato for university entrance. Studying at university in Spain costs money, but if you have a residence permit, you can also access financial support.



The NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjeros) is the identification number that the Spanish government assigns to each foreigner once they are registered by police, regardless of their state of residence. During your stay in Spain, you will use this number to identify yourself to a range of institutions.

Attention: Outside Spain, the NIE is not valid.

The Passport

What do I need my passport for?
There are some procedures for which it is necessary or useful to have a passport in Europe. The most important ones are:

  • Empadronamiento
  • Applying for legal residence
  • Receiving official diplomas for vocational training or academic degrees
  • Getting married

Attention: The passport must be valid.

How can I obtain my passport?
There are practically two options for obtaining your passport once you are in Spain: you can have it posted from your country or the place you left it, if you already have a valid one, or you can do it through your country’s embassy in Madrid (in some cases also through your country’s consular offices in other cities).

Attention: For nationals of some countries it is very difficult to obtain a passport through the embassy, as they rarely issue them. If this is your case and you have a passport, it is a good idea to get it posted to Spain.

When should I NOT have my passport and why?
Never walk around with your passport on you if you do not have a residence permit, because as soon as the police have your passport, you are much more likely to be deported. It is especially important not to travel or cross borders into other European countries with your passport on you, as there are frequent police checks on public transport.

If you have to travel and need your passport where you are going, it is advisable to leave your passport (along with other papers from your home country) with someone you trust, and have them send it to you once you arrive.

Attention: Do not try to enter Spain irregularly with your passport on you. Once you have arrived, contact someone you trust to get it to you. However, if you are a minor, it may be a good idea to carry your passport directly, as it facilitates some of the procedures.