Differences between Green Card, NIE and TIE

European citizens enjoy freedom of movement and establishment in Spain. However, these rights are subject to rules concerning their content and procedure.

On the one hand, freedom of movement allows a European citizen to be present in Spain for 90 days, i.e. to stay without intending to stay for more than a 90-day period, without any specific formalities.

On the other hand, freedom of establishment or residence allows a European citizen to live and work in Spain for an unlimited period, i.e. for more than 90 days, subject to completing the registration formalities explained below, such as obtaining a Spanish NIE number, and a Spanish TIE.

Table of Contents

The Foreigner Identification Number (NIE)

When we talk about the NIE we must differentiate the document from the number itself. The NIE Number is assigned to every foreign national who starts any kind of economic activity in Spain, either a capital investment, rent or buy a building or is studying. The NIE is a tax identifier, it is not a residence permit. Consequently, the document bearing the NIE number is not a valid document to identify a person. This is easily deduced by the fact that it does not carry a photo, and it is only valid for three months (the maximum stay of free movement).

However, the allocation of the NIE Number is permanent, it does not matter that the document bearing the NIE or their renovations has expired. 

Likewise, Spain uses this number for the other documents that we will explain. This is the reason why many people talk about the NIE when they really mean the Spanish TIE or a green card. The NIE Number is assigned by the Spanish Police or the Spanish Consulates after filing the EX15 form accompanied by a supporting file.

Registration of European citizens: The Green Card

Any European national wanting to stay in Spain for more than three months or to work as an employee or self-employed person must register in the National Register of Community Citizens. This is done by appearing before the Police of the Province where you have decided to live, accompanying the EX-18 form and the documents appropriate to the chosen modality of residence (employee, self-employed, retired, student or savings). The Police, after checking the file provided, will immediately issue on the spot: 

  • A receipt known as the “Green Card”. 
  • The allocation of a Spanish NIE number, if the applicant has not obtained it in advance. 

It should be noted that the Green Card is not a document identifying the holder. It is just a receipt for having completed the registration process. European nationals living in Spain are identified with their identity documents (passport, C.N.I., Personalausweis, …). This proceeding also applies to their relatives bearing a European passport who are joining him/her.

The T.I.E.

Non-UE foreigners must apply for a Spanish residence permit. As mentioned before, they may have an NIE number from previously having had any kind of relationship with Spain (student, real-state owner, business partnership) even if it didn’t imply residence. Once the Residence permit is granted, the foreigner must ask for an Identity Card, called the “Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero TIE” (Foreigner Identity Card). That is extended to spouses, descendants or accompanying parents of Spanish or European citizens when they hold a non-UE passport (EX-19). Those relatives of a European national must get a special permit using EX19 proceedings and then request the dispatch of the TIE (identity card). 

We must point out that British citizens after Brexit are due to exchange their former “green cards” for a TIE (EX-23 form). Until now, they were not compelled to do it but this could change in the future. Regardless, this card can make things easier for British residents, so it is a good idea to apply for it. The document bears the owner’s information (date of birth, country of origin, domicile, photo, etc.) and the type of authorisation.

This document uses the NIE number previously assigned to the holder as an identifier. This is what causes confusion between the words NIE (number) and TIE (card).

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