Legal matters when living in Spain
The most important legal issue you will need to deal with if you are an EU citizen spending more than three months in Spain is that you will need to register as a permanent resident in the country with the Central Register for Foreign Nationals (Registro Central de Extranjeros).
You can register this at either your local police station, or the Foreigner’s Office (Oficina de Extranjero). If you do live most of the year in Spain, you will be violating the law if you do not obtain a resident’s card. A tourist from the EU can only stay a maximum of 180 days and there is a €300 fine if you overstay.
Permanent residency versus residency for tax purposes
Becoming a permanent resident is not the same Residency for tax purposes – the latter depends on how long you spend in Spain each year. Spending more than 183 days per annum in Spain will make you a Spanish resident for tax purposes and you will have to pay Spanish Income Tax on any worldwide income.
The most important legal issue you will need to deal with is registering as a permanent resident in Spain.
There are several tax advantages of becoming a permanent resident in Spain. For example, permanent residents over the age of 65 years, who have owned their home for more than three years, are not subject to Spanish Capital Gains Tax. If you are under 65, the maximum tax you will be charged will be 20% (although this may change!); for a non-resident this will be 35% (this may also change!).
As a resident, you will not have 5% of the total purchase price withheld and kept by the Spanish Tax Authorities as a guarantee against any tax liabilities you may have when you sell your property. There are also other advantages to be taken into consideration relating to Inheritance Tax, Wealth Tax and Non-Resident Property Owner’s Tax.
If you will be living in Spain for more than six months, you must register in the Town Hall (ayuntamiento) in the locality of your property. You might consider this your first step to becoming integrated into Spanish life.
The Ayuntamientos have much more powers than town halls in the UK, and the Mayor of each town or village personally carries a lot of responsibility. The town halls require the inhabitants to register as they receive funds from local and central government for each citizen on their Municipal Register of Inhabitants (Padrón Municipal) which helps them to provide local services such as policing, maintenance, health centres and so on.
Once registered, you are an official member of the community and this confirms your presence in the country, which can be very useful. You will need the certificate of registration (Certificado de Empadronamiento) to buy or sell a car, register your child in school, get married and to vote in council elections. Most importantly, this certificate is required to apply for your NIE card (tax number, without which you cannot buy a property) and for registering your residency.
It can take time to register with each authority, but there are a number of benefits to doing so. We would recommend speaking with a tax lawyer who can fully explain all the consequence of becoming a tax resident in Spain – this is a very complicated and complex business, and we can put you in touch with the right company for you.
The Spanish Police
Another important legal matter you will need to understand in Spain is their police force. Of course you need to make sure you understand what you can and can’t do, and what is acceptable behaviour.
There are in fact three main police forces in Spain, all with different roles, but sometimes with an element of cross-over.
1. Municipal Police (Policía Local)
You will find the Policía Local in every town and they work under the direction of the Town Halls or ayuntamientos. They patrol the streets in white or blue cars, and sometimes on motor scooters. You will recognise them thanks to their blue uniforms. Their job is to deal with the lesser crimes of parking infringements, and civil disturbances as well as local laws and traffic control. They are to be seen driving around towns late at night as they also protect property. Generally they are on good terms with their local community but it is always wise to recognise their authority, and to be polite when coming across them.
2. National Police (Policía Nacional)
Usually found in larger towns and cities, the Policía Nacional deal with the major crimes like robbery and murder. They have their own police stations, which often house the foreigners (extranjeros) department, where you would go to obtain your residency card.
3. Civil Guard (Guardia Civil)
The Guardia Civil are easily recognised in their green uniforms. They travel the roads of Spain in pairs, and deal with accidents and traffic offences but also work as frontier guads, and in immigration.
The Guardia Civil travel the roads of Spain, dealing with accidents and traffic offences.
Some of the Autonomous regions of Spain, including Catalonia and the Basque region have their own police force. These include:
Catalonia – the Mossos d’Esquadra
Catalonia has its own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. They act much like the Guardia Civil, and combine forces with them when required.
Basque region – the Ertzaintza
This police force is similar to the Guardia Civil and the Mossos d’Esquadra though will work with both the other two.