Living undocumented

Last update : November 2023

If you are in Spain without a residence permit, you are in what the Spanish government calls an “irregular administrative situation.” This situation is commonly referred to as being “undocumented” (sin papeles). Generally, if you do not have a residence permit in Spain you do not have the right to request housing or financial assistance from the government.

However, you do have access to basic social services such as free healthcare, schooling for your children and protection from violence or discrimination. There are also several organisations that support undocumented people and can help you upon your arrival, including finding places to sleep and eat. Contact those in your city (⇒ ch. Contacts).

Attention: It is essential to be registered in the municipal census (⇒ ch. Basics for Life in Spain / Empadronamiento) in order to have access to social services and the health card (⇒ ch. Basics for Life in Spain / The Health Card), to be able to enrol your children in school or to prove roots (arraigo, in Spanish, see ⇒ ch. Regularisation / Arraigo) when regularising your situation.

For women: If you are a victim of gender violence (⇒ ch. Glossary) you have the right to protection whether you have residence or not. In such cases, contact the organizations that support migrant women in your city (⇒ ch. 12: Contacts)

There are also government services for women, these are called “Women’s Institutes” (Instituto de la Mujer) and you can find them in many cities. You can find their contact details here:

You can ask for free help on 016 (calling from Spain), WhatsApp on +34 600 000 016 or

Professionals in public health centers are also prepared to deal with gender-based violence.

Access to health care

With the Health Card, everyone has access to the general health care system (⇒ ch. Basics for Life in Spain / Health Card) and to subsidised medicines in pharmacies.

Regardless of your administrative situation, and even if you do not yet have a Health Card, you are entitled to free health care in case of emergencies, such as:

  • Accidents.
  • Serious illnesses, whatever the cause, until medical discharge.
  • Pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal problems, as well as if you wish to choose to have an abortion.

Even in the case you don’t yet have a Health Card, you should have access to free regular health care in health centres and to specialists (psychologists, gynecologists, etc.), if you are:

  • under 18 years of age.
  • a pregnant woman, during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period.

Remember: Everyone has the right to have a health card, although sometimes obtaining it can be difficult. If you have problems getting one, contact a support organisation (⇒ch. 3. Contacts).

Access to Education

Undocumented minors, from 6 to 18 years of age, have the right to access the Spanish education system free of charge. This education is called “compulsory education” in Spain, and is divided into Primary Education (from 6 to 12 years old) and Secondary Education (from 12 to 16 years old).

You are entitled to apply for grants and scholarships to help you or your children to access education. Each locality and each school has specialised services where you can get information.

For adults without a residence permit in Spain, there are some training possibilities. If you are registered on the municipal census (empadronado), it is possible to learn the language and obtain official educational qualifications or professional training. You can find out about the possibilities by consulting NGOs, social services where you live, and support associations for migrants.

You may also be able to access so-called “non-compulsory education” (such as university and other training courses). For this you may have to take an entrance exam, or validate the qualifications you have obtained in your country of origin so that they are valid in Spain.

Attention: Although you can access education without documentation, to obtain a diploma you will need at least a passport.

Remember: Having education or training diplomas obtained in an EU state is very important for your future in Europe, as diplomas from other countries are often not recognized. Keep all the proofs of education or training you have done in Spain in a safe place because they can be very helpful when you apply for residency in Spain. In order not to lose them, you can make a digital copy of them in a safe place on the Internet, or share them with someone you trust so that you can access them when you need them (⇒ ch. Regularisation / Arraigo).


You will only be able to work legally in Spain if you have a residence permit of the type “permission to work” (⇒ ch. Regularisation), or as an asylum seeker, after 6 months of having made your application. However, it is possible to find work without having documentation in Spain, especially in the sectors of agriculture, hospitality, domestic work or construction.

Without a contract to work legally, you are more vulnerable to being scams or abused by the person who hires you. Remember that the law protects your rights as a worker and you can claim for unpaid wages, compensation, or accidents that occur on the job. In Spain, it is not a crime [infracción legal] to work “without papers”. However, it can be a legal problem for the person who employs you.

Attention: Working with someone else’s documents can be considered a crime of “false documentation”.

It is important that you always keep evidence of the time you have worked, such as where you have worked, salary receipts, communications with the person who employs you, invoices, photos of the work, etc. This can help you to prove your roots in Spain. In addition, in case you have any problems at work, it may also help to have witnesses, people (e.g. co-workers) who can prove that you have done that work.

Contact migrant-led unions in your city, such as, for example, the Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes (in Madrid or Barcelona), Las Kellys, or other larger unions in Spain such as SOC/SAT, CNT, or CCOO, for information and guidance.

You can also denounce any kind of violation of your labor rights at the Labour and Social Security Inspectorate (Inspección de Trabajo), a government office, without any legal problem for you.

What to do when the police ask you for documentation?

Spanish law states that all persons are required to carry an identity document.

In addition, foreigners are required to carry a document that proves their regular administrative situation in Spain (red card or asylum application, residence permit, NIE, etc.).

Even if you are registered on the municipal census, have a valid health card and passport, if you do not have a valid visa, residence permit or asylum application, you are in an irregular administrative situation. In Spain, this is considered a “minor administrative offence”, not a crime. This could mean that the police will fine you.

If you do not identify yourself, they can also take you to the police station. In that case, once the irregularity has been verified, they may notify the National Police, the section of the police that has jurisdiction over immigration issues.

To avoid being detained, we recommend that you behave in a non-challenging manner with the police. Do not be provoked. Stay calm, as the infraction is administrative and not criminal.

If you are carrying your original passport, the police may take it from you by giving you a receipt for it. It will be returned to you when the judge decides what administrative sanction you are charged with. This does not affect your application for residency or asylum in Spain, as you will have a receipt for your documentation.

If you are taken to the police station, remember that you have the right to ask for a lawyer to assist you in court.

If you are arrested, find more information in (⇒ ch. Detention and Deportation).

Remember: Police stops based on racial profiling are not legal in Spain. You can learn about your rights in this guide from SOS Racisme Catalunya (in Spanish only):