Differences between NIE, TIE and Green Card

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European citizens enjoy the freedom of movement and the freedom to settle in Spain. But these freedoms are certainly subject to rules concerning their content and procedure.

Freedom of movement allows the presence of a European citizen for 90 days in Spain, without the intention of staying here.

The freedom of establishment or stay allows living and working in Spain without any time limit. This freedom is subject to the registration formalities we will discuss.

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 just studies.

The NIE is really 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 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 have expired.

Likewise, Spain uses this number for the other documents that we will discuss immediately. This is the reason why many people talk about the NIE when they really mean the TIE or the 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 means of an appearance with 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 an NIE number, if the applicant has not obtained it in advance.

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It should be noted that the Green Card is not a document identifying the holder. There 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 applies also to their relatives bearing an european passport that join him/her.

The T.I.E.

Non-UE foreigners must apply for residence permit. As seen before, they may own a NIE number whenever they previously 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 allowed, the foreigner must ask for an Identity Card, named “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 an European national must get a special permit by means of an EX19 proceedings and then request the dispatch of the TIE (identity card).

We must point that British citizens after Brexit are due to exchange their former “green cards” for a TIE (EX-23 form). By now, they’re not compelled to do it but this could change in the future and anyway this card can make things easier for British residents.

The document bears the owner’s information (date of birth, country of origin, domicile, photo, etc.) and the type of authorization.

This document uses the NIE number previously assigned to the holder as an identifier. This is the reason for the confusion between the word NIE (number) and TIE (card).

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