If you thought spelling ‘bureaucracy’ was hard, try dealing with it in Spain, in Spanish, with quite possibly the world’s most obstinate and unpitying admin staff. Fiona, of Scribbler in Seville, knows only too well what I’m getting at, as do many more of you who’ve spent time in living in Spain I’m sure.
Last week, I was FINALLY able to stride out of Granada’s oficina de extranjero with both arms held aloft, a jubilant smile stretched from ear to ear and – most importantly – a stamped, certified and credit-card sized NIE certificate tucked into my back pocket.
For those of you out there scratching your heads, an NIE is the tax identification number all foreign, working residents in Spain are required by law to have (Número de Identificación de Extanjeros). I’ve been registered ever since my first week in Spain, but at some point during the summer between my first and second year I managed to lose the original copy of my bright-blue, A4-sized certificate. At the time, I didn’t think it would matter too much, as I hadn’t had to produce it at any point during my first year and assumed that if I ever needed to then a photocopy – which I did have – would do just fine.
How wrong I was.
Not long after the Christmas period of my second year here (my first in Granada), I learned that I would be able to claim el paro throughout my jobless summer, as I had worked legitimately within Spain for over twelve months. El paro, in Spain, is what we call ‘dole’ in Britain. Now, I would’ve never dreamed on my graduation day that I’d ever wind up claiming dole, but that was before I moved to Spain and before I found out about the Spanish unemployment benefits scheme. For every twelve months worked, each individual is entitled to four months’ worth of paro at 60-70% of what he/she was previously earning. Dole in the UK was £60 per week last time I checked.
Unsurprisingly, since the onset of la crisis, many here in Spain have pointed out how absurdly generous el paro is. How it is damaging the economy not only by costing taxpayers millions and crippling small businesses who’ve to fork out an arm and a leg for redundancy payoffs, but also by actually encouraging people not to look for work. This assumption is based on that an income on el paro – depending on what was previously earned – could easily be quite a bit higher than that of an average full-time job. Claimants can go on claiming for up to two years, providing they were employed on a full-time contract for six years beforehand.
So in one respect I did feel as though I were robbing a crumbling government of money that could’ve been otherwise earned by working in another, godawful summer camp, but frankly the thought of a summer filled with free time was too tempting. Why, after all, would I want to slave away after hundreds of unruly, silver spoon-fed teenagers for six weeks when there was this alternative? And I was entitled to it wasn’t I? Controversial…
Anyway, I digress. I planned to claim, and in order to do that I would need to replace the lost original copy of my NIE.
This was no easy task.
It all started one afternoon in la oficina de extranjero, where, after an hour’s wait, I was told that before I could receive a duplicate replacement, I would first have to pay a €10 administration fee to the bank. I took the necessary form, paid the fee and returned the next week hoping to get the job done.
“¿Cuanto tiempo llevas trabajando aquí en España?” How long have you been working in Spain?
“Un año y medio” A year and a half.
“Bueno, asi que necesitas obtener una ‘vida laboral’ para probarlo” Well you need a ‘working life’ document to prove it.
Great. This meant that I had to pay a visit to la oficina de seguridad sociál – a building twice as large, thus almost certainly with queues twice as long – to file my request.
A few days later, I stopped by the social security office, where I duly waited in line for almost an hour before being told that in order to request a vida laboral, I would first have to register my residency in Granada online. I went home, did exactly what I had been told to do – several times – and ended up with the same riling message glaring back at me on each occasion:
‘Ha ocurrido un error, por favor intentelo de nuevo más tarde’.
Understandably, I was beginning feel rather irked with it all by this point.
Back I went, queue interminably I did and down I eventually sat. Though on this occasion, I was informed that in order to obtain the vida laboral, the registration process was totally unnecessary, and that one could in fact be solicited simply by making a quick phone call there and then.
Of course it could. Why wouldn’t it be? Deeeep breaths…
A week or so later the blasted thing arrived. Next day, I returned to la oficina de extranjero and re-explained everything to the new clerk, agitatedly waving my documents in her face. I had everything I needed: photocopy of my original NIE, photocopy of passport, my working contract, the pissing vida laboral, the contract for my flat, several pay slips from both schools I had worked for in Spain and the paid and stamped administration fee. The only thing I didn’t have was el empadronamiento*, which, until that point, hadn’t been mentioned by any party concerned.
*el empadronamiento, or ‘el padron’ is a legal document which serves to register the number of people living and working within each city and region.
The clerk – typically blasé about the whole thing – unhurriedly scanned through my documents, before asking me to repeat what it was that I needed.
‘Un duplicado del NIE por favor!’
‘Bueno, lo siento pero no podemos imprimir duplicados de NIE en este momento porque el ley está cambiando, y no sabemos cuando va a estar finalizado.” We’re sorry, but we can’t print NIE duplicates at the moment because the law is changing and we don’t know when it’ll be finalised.
WHAT!? So essentially, I’d been wasting my time all along and had spent €10 on a wholly pointless administration fee.
“Why wasn’t I informed of this the last time I visited?” I demanded
“No sé. Lo siento.” I don’t know. I’m sorry.
“What can I do then?”
“You have to go to the oficina del empleo (employment office) and tell them that at this moment it isn’t possible to receive a duplicate copy of the NIE but you may request a written and signed residency certificate, with which you’ll be able to claim el paro”.
I was massively skeptical about this. ‘A written certificate?’ Didn’t seem likely. I asked the clerk to write it down for me anyway.
Sure enough, the first person I spoke to in la oficina del empleo looked utterly baffled when I showed her my scribbled piece of paper.
“Certificado escrito? Que es eso?” Written certificate? What in great oden’s raven is that?
I was rapidly losing patience now.
“No sé. Es simplemente lo que me dijeron a pedir cuando vení aqui” I don’t know. It’s just what they told me to ask for when I came here.
Numerous confused exchanges with other members of staff ensued, and predictably, so did the same looks of bewilderment. They seemed to be under the impression that the folks over at the other ODE had perhaps misunderstood that I only needed a duplicate – not a new NIE number. I assured them that, despite my questionable Spanish when it came to formal matters as such, this wasn’t the case. They apologized and suggested I go back to the ODE to get a clearer explanation before coming back.
I did so with the secretary from my work, Carmen, who I hoped would be able to resolve the matter for me in one brisk discussion. She wasn’t, although we were able to get a better description than ‘written certificate’. What I actually needed to ask for was a 3-month, temporary residence card – ‘una tarjeta de residencia temporal’. Why the employment office would be responsible for issuing residency cards I had no idea, but at least I seemed to be making progress.
Ok, this may be a bit of an exaggeration…
On my next visit to the employment office – three days before the end of my working contract – I finally managed to obtain the residency card and promptly made an appointment to ‘sign on’. Oh the relief. I still didn’t have my NIE but it seemed – for the moment at least – that I could rest assured.
The day of the appointment came and I inevitably had to speak to a clerk who’d never dealt with me before (by this point I’d become ‘that guiri’ as a few of the clerks had already had to slog it out with me on multiple occasions). She asked for my NIE, and looked tritely perplexed when I produced my tarjeta de residencia temporal. Thankfully, she seemed to get bored with my explanation rather quickly and simply waved her hand saying ‘vale’ a few times. Then she stamped a form, handed it to me and said ‘ya está’. All done.
And it was all done. Thank the Gods.
Or was it? This past Christmas, I miraculously stumbled upon the original copy of my NIE. It was stuffed between various bank statements and phone bills, in a cardboard box, in the loft.
Though I shan’t be claiming el paro this year, as I have not worked the minimum period of 12 months since my last claim, I still needed to have my NIE renewed as the stated address was my old one in El Puerto.
So, after another brief and fruitless encounter with my best pals at la oficina de extanjero, I first had to repay the administration fee as my previous one had expired (obviously) and then obtain the previously unstated empadronamiento (el padron) in order to prove I lived in Granada. For this I needed a contract of residency, which this year I don’t have (like many other tenants in Spain, I simply withdraw the necessary cash and pass it on to the housemate in charge of collecting rent every month). Rather than trying to explain this myself at el ayuntamiento (the local council office), where one must go to obtain el padron, I took a Spanish housemate with me, who essentially said ‘yeah, he lives with me’ and within five minutes I was the proud owner of an empadronamiento certificate.
And with that, I headed back to la oficina de extranjero for the umpteenth time and was at long last granted a new NIE, approximately one year after my first attempt.
What an ordeal. It wouldn’t be half as exasperating if things were just better organised, the staff better informed and people from different offices didn’t contradict each other all the bloody time. Perhaps then I wouldn’t have been continuously pinged between offices like a ball in a pinball machine. I also cannot comprehend how some clerks are so unshakeably painstaking, like the woman who made me go and get a vida laboral, yet others so astoundingly laid-back, like the woman who authorised my padron on a stranger’s promise that I lived here.
Moreover, you’d have thought that in the la oficina de extranjero there would be someone on hand to translate the odd thing or two into English but there was nary a soul.
Take it from me, Spanish governmental offices are miserable and thoroughly deplorable places, where newbie expats tackling their mission solo and without a solid grasp of the language are bound to run into infinite obstacles. Their exterior walls are also often made of brick, which come in handy for banging your head against as you leave.
Hilarious video I first came across on Scribbler in Seville
Expats– have you ever had a similar or worse (is that possible?) experience akin to this?
Would-be expats– has this information/rambling narrative been at all useful?