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Filing Cabinet

Red Tape

Spain is a wonderful place to live or retire. The weather is good, the beaches are great. The way of life is mostly tranquil and the Spaniards are generally very helpful and friendly. But there is a black side to living in Spain, and that is the Red Tape, otherwise known worldwide as 'Spanish Bureaucracy'. It's in a league of its own.

If you are thinking of moving to Spain, consider getting a filing cabinet, because the amount of paper, forms and documents that will come your way will astound you, and all must be kept, not only for future reference, but often in the distant future someone, from some organisation or government department, will want to see it, and often for a reason that seems completely incomprehensible.

The Spanish have an affinity with paper. They have it for any reason that you can imagine, signed by all sorts of people, rubber stamped at least three times, photocopied by the score, and duplicates made available and distributed to just about any local or government department. OK, so that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. The situation is ridiculous and nobody in charge seems to be able to do anything about it, while at the same time complaining about it - and using up forests at an alarming rate.

It is typical to have two or three organisations which don't work together, where in most countries one is enough. As an example, there may be between two and six different Police forces depending on the area that you live in, and they don't work together and rarely communicate with each other. Some are simply the local 'bobby' type, while others are more para-military. If you are moving to Spain to live permanently, you will need, in addition to deeds of your property, a paper which says you are residing in Spain. Another which acts like a residents card and will need to be shown to all and sundry, and yet another will be needed if you want to vote in an election. In most cases there will be a charge for each of them. These could easily be cut down to one piece of paper, or a card. And that's just the start. The paperwork needed for your property will astound you. As an example, it's not unknown to buy something insignificant in a DIY store and be asked for your postcode, or passport or residents number !


It's quite common for town halls to loose records of you or your property, or they can't find them, or even don't want the bother to look for them because of the vast amount of records kept. All the more reason for keeping copies of everything yourself. If that paperwork has to be replaced it won't normally be at the council's expense. You will be expected to pay for it all, and if that includes such things as architects drawings for your house, you can be talking about a lot of money. Be prepared. Try to take photocopies of all legal paperwork in case someone asks for, and will only accept, the originals. It will pay to have a PC printer that scans and prints copies - and if possible A3 size. If you don't read Spanish it might be a good idea to get as many of these documents translated into your own language.

The examples of this type of thing can go on and on. If you speak little or no Spanish, all this paperwork, plus local rules and regulations, can be a nightmare and not for the faint hearted. If you have a problem with high blood pressure, take a tablet before you visit your local town hall. Take an interpreter if you can, although if you are lucky, your local council may have a foreigners department - mostly in coastal tourists resorts where there are many English speaking residents and holiday makers.


The comments on this page are not intended to put you off coming to Spain, but are included as a few words of advice. Get yourself a good and trusted Solicitor or Asesoría who has been recommended to you. Get him to guide you through all the bureaucracy that comes your way (not just the things you think you should know), and in particular, ask him to inform you when something new crops up that involves you, such as new laws on property. You may not be aware of new rules and regulations if you struggle to read or understand Spanish, and it might be vitally important to you.

Finally, there has been a spate of articles in the media in recent years about fully legal buildings in Spain being made illegal. While some of this is due to rouge builders and council executives making money on the side, much more has been caused by local Town Halls giving genuine planning permission, which a Regional Council then decides to annul at a later date, leaving you, the buyer, with an illegal property. If the worst comes to the worst, your property will be bulldozed, but usually the authorities eventually see the stupidity of their decisions and things get back to normal - but this can take considerable time - usually party politics plays a large part in these disruptions.

It is essential that you get the best advice right from the start. The cost may not be small, but in the end you should have peace of mind. Don't take advice from local Spaniards as they tend to do what they like and talk (or argue) themselves out of trouble later.