I first attempted to move to Girona in Spain last August. The move had been in the pipeline since I first started going out with my girlfriend, Vanesa, a Spanish national originally from Argentina, back in 2015. We met on a site that helps people practice speaking foreign languages with natives through online conversation. After a couple of months of chatting on Skype, she came to visit me in Newcastle and so began a love story that would help to keep budget airlines in business for years. We took it in turns to visit the UK and Spain with the plan being that we would eventually live together. As a translator, fluent in Spanish, it was agreed that I would be the one to move to Spain. My girlfriend, a lawyer practicing Spanish law, could not simply move sticks and set up in another country, but, as a translator, I of course could. Furthermore, it would give me the chance to network with potential clients and grow my business in a country where my source language was spoken. And perhaps most importantly, it would also give me the opportunity to get an absolutely cracking tan.
So anyway, last August it really looked like our dream was finally on the cards. A few months earlier I had qualified with my MA in Translation and, as I had also just sold my house, the timing seemed ideal. I even wrote a blog post, New Beginnings in Catalonia, describing how well things were going for me in Spain since the move out there. However, things didn’t quite go to plan and I was back home again three months later with my tail tucked firmly between my legs. What I had failed to take into consideration was just how slow and complicated the bureaucratic process is to gain residency in Spain. There are so many steps to take and quite often you cannot continue to the next step until you have accomplished the previous one. For example, you might need to make an appointment online to see someone who will give you an official document. But then the whole process is reduced to a snail’s pace because you might have to wait weeks before the next slot is available to see that person.
There are several routes to go down when choosing how to apply for residency in Spain. If you are retired with a pension (permiso jubilado) this is one option available. Another is if you have a large sum of money in the bank (permiso non lucrativo) and can show that this will support you for a number of years. With this type of residency you can’t work. If you are going to be working in Spain you can apply for a permiso de residencia de trabajo. However, this option is not as straightforward as it may seem as you need to either have a work contract from an employer who you will be working for or, if self-employed, documentation to show the profitablity of your business amongst other things. As a relatively new freelance translator working for myself, none of this would have been possible to obtain. Just about the only other option I had available to me, and also the most drastic, involved either getting married or entering into a civil partnership, or as it is called in Spain, a pareja de hecho, with my girlfriend. Then I could apply for the permiso de regrupación familiar, a route where non-EU nationals can be repatriated with family members living in Spain. With no other feasible options available to me, this is the route I went down, although I chose the slightly less terrifying civil partnership option.
I might add at this point, just to tip a few mega-sized buckets of salt into the wounds, that had I arranged my residency a year earlier, there would have been another option still available to me. As 2020 was the year of transition after Brexit, everything effectively stayed the same to give the EU and the UK time to prepare for the implementation of the new immigration rules that would come into force the following year. If I had made the move to Spain in 2020, which was my intention, I could have easily gone down the relatively straightforward route of applying for residency as someone who was already living in the EU. But 2020 was also the year of Covid and, for me, an almighty spanner in the works. Due to severe travel restrictions and flight uncertainty, it became almost impossible to leave the UK, let alone move to Spain. I was going to have to do things the hard way.
To apply for my permiso de residencia in this post-Brexit world, the first thing I had to do was to obtain an empadronamiento de convivencia, a document proving I was registered as living in Spain with the person I would be entering into a civil partnership with. To do this, Vanesa had to get her landlord to add me to the rental agreement. Once this was done we had to show it to someone at the town hall who would provide us with a stamped document to make it official. Unfortunately it took a few weeks to be empadronado as there were no earlier appointments to see anyone. We also had to make an appointment with a notary to carry out the civil partnership, a key element to my entire residency application. Again, we had to wait a few weeks before someone was available.
When it came to the day of our civil partnership I was actually a little nervous. I had heard stories that it was quite common for foreigners to pay Spanish nationals large sums of money to enter into a fake relationship in a bid to gain residency. Although I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition, I presumed I would still have to answer a few questions or at least have to show proof that our relationship was a real one. I was wondering if all my old Facebook photos of us or old emails and texts would be enough to convince them. I needn’t have worried, however, as the notary didn’t ask a single question at all about our relationship. He just checked all the paperwork which I was asked to bring along. Then he read out all the legal spiel and got us to sign the documents to make our civil partnership legally binding. I think he was more interested in taking the money and probably didn’t have the time or the inclination to check whether or not we were a genuine couple.
Due to the implications of Brexit, I was in Spain as a non-EU national on a tourist visa which meant I was only allowed to stay in the country for three months. It soon started to dawn on me that I was never going to be in a position to send off my residency application, never mind receive a decision about it, before my visa expired. I could have remained in Spain indefinitely but I didn’t know if being in Spain illegally would harm my chances of gaining residency, so I decided that instead of risking it, I would return to the UK in November when my three months were up and wait for a decision there. As non-EU nationals are only allowed to stay in the EU for 3 months during a 6 month period it would also mean I couldn’t return for another 3 months as I had already used my allowance up.
There would be further delays in sending off my application including obtaining health insurance. Without a NIE, a number assigned to foreigners in Spain when they have been granted residency, companies wouldn’t supply me with insurance, but without it I couldn’t apply for residency. Vanesa thankfully managed to find a way round this crazy Catch 22 situation by adding me to her insurance, but it took several weeks to organise. By January all the required paperwork for my residency application was in place and Vanesa was finally able to send it. I should add at this point that without a lawyer the entire process would have been virtually impossible. I was very fortunate to have my girlfriend acting on my behalf, not just because of the fortune I saved in fees, but also the priority she gave to it. It was also very beneficial to be able to speak Spanish fluently as everything was conducted in Spanish including all of the form filling and the meetings with civil servants, lawyers and notaries. For anyone attempting to obtain residency in Spain who doesn’t speak the language, it would be fundamental to find a lawyer who speaks good English and is also prepared to take you through the infinite hoops you will inevitably need to jump through.
I was never in any doubt that my residency application would be accepted. It was just a question of waiting patiently back in Newcastle enjoying daily doses of my Mam’s delicious homemade food and the occasional trip to the fish and chip shop. Therefore, it came as an almighty blow (think of the groin area taking a direct hit, full pelt, from a wrecking ball) when I received the news one day from Vanesa that my application had been rejected. I couldn’t believe it. What were we supposed to do now? There must have been a mistake. Fortunately, Vanesa believed there had been one. My application had been turned down because it stated I did not have enough money in the bank. However, she said that this was an error because for the type of residency I was applying for, it would be assumed that I would be working in Spain so the amount required was quite low. As my bank statements submitted with my application showed that I had in excess of this figure, we therefore had really good grounds for an appeal. Vanesa promptly set the ball in motion stating that the decision should be overturned because my application fully abided by all the requisites.
Again I had to sit tight and wait for a decision. It was a nerve racking time as I now had little faith in the people who would decide whether to accept my residency after making such a calamitous decision the first time round. A few months passed until in May I finally received the news I had been waiting for all along; my residency had been approved. It was such a relief that after seven years apart, and despite the obstacles of Brexit, Covid and Spanish bureaucracy, we could finally be together in Spain.
I moved back to Spain this July and since then work has been picking up very nicely compared to my first year as a freelance translator which, largely down to the distractions of selling my house, an aborted move to Spain and endless residency complications, turned out to be a bit of a shambles. I am now working with a selection of agencies of varying quality and pay and the number of projects I receive are increasing month on month. I also have a number of new contacts here in Girona, including people from the world of football, marketing and tourism which are areas I specialise in, and this has helped to open the doors to winning my first private clients. Meanwhile, the bureaucratic shenanigans still haven’t ended. It took an eternity to obtain my Spanish residency card from the police. You must be in possession of this card before you can do things such as open a bank account and sort out your social security and tax registration. Although I am now registered with the Spanish tax offices, it has taken over three months of absolute mayhem, and has proved to be just as much of a minefield as my residency application. It would have been complicated enough in English so you can imagine what it is like trying to handle it in a foreign language, even if it is one I do speak fluently. In turn, having to wait so long has had an impact on my business growth as certain agencies won’t work with you until you have the correct tax documentation in place.
However, in the grand scheme of things, and looking at how far I have come, I do feel as though I am finally nearing the top of the mountain. My plan now is to work really hard on growing my translation businesses – Lucid Eye Translations and Tiki-Taka Linguistics – over the next few years. I still have the vast majority of my possessions packed into cardboard boxes in my parent’s garage in Newcastle. I haven’t figured out how to bring them over yet, not that I have the space for them as our apartment is too small. What I would love to do in the not too distant future is to buy a house with Vanesa, hopefully with a nice outside area including swimming pool, terrace and a barbecue. As for my tan, it is still fairly cracking but I’m looking forward to topping it up next year when the temperatures start fizzing again! And for anyone else wishing to move to Spain or anywhere else in the EU, although Brexit has made things complicated, there are still ways to make your dreams a reality. Since applying for my residency, Spain has introduced something called a digital nomad visa which has been brought in to help remote workers move to the country. With this initiative and other positive changes to some of their immigration laws, it does seem as though Spain has started to make it easier for non-EU citizens to gain residency and the chances are that this pattern will continue in the years to come.