The Nuts and Bolts of Moving to Spain Part 2: The Empadronamiento

June 2, 2018

Does "Empadronamiento" sound like a word you'll never be able to pronounce, much less understand how it impacts your child's school choices in Spain? Worry not, we're going to explain it all here. 



Picking up from where we left off in Part 1: The Visa -


Once we had our visas, our flight, our health insurance, housing, and everything else worked out, everything else we had to take care of could only be done once we arrived in Spain. And those first two weeks after we arrived were incredibly, incredibly frustrating. We kept trying to accomplish things that we considered basic elements of moving—like getting local phones and internet set up—and every time we’d go into a shop to start that process would get turned away because we didn’t have a bank account in Spain. And then we’d go to the banks, and they’d say “You can’t set up a bank account unless you have a job, or a NIE.” So we spent our first few weeks in limbo, constantly trying to take steps towards getting more settled here and being thwarted every time.


In the midst of this, we were also trying to set up appointments to register for things with the Spanish government. There were three things we needed to do in our first month of living in Spain:


  • Get our empadronamiento

  • Register our son for school

  • Get our NIE— the official foreigner’s identification card. 


What is an empadronamiento?


The empadronamiento is an official document that you send to the government when you move into a residence, and it entitles you to all sorts of government services. It’s basically your registration at an address, and how the government keeps track of its citizens. Once you have this document together, you can enroll your kids in school, you can apply for your NIE, you can get a library card, and so on. It’s a super useful document, and you don’t even necessarily need a visa to get it.


In order to get ours, we needed to first make an appointment with the nearest city hall branch, and then show up with the following documents in hand:


  • A signed original copy of your lease agreement, plus a photocopy

  • A passport (and a photocopy) for every member of your family

  • A libro de familia, original and copies 


The libro de familia in Spain is what you get from the government to prove that your children are indeed yours, with both mother and father listed. For this, we provided two copies of our marriage license, including two copies sworn translation, as well as two copies of our son’s birth certificate, also with two copies of the sworn translation. You may have noticed that there are two of everything. Spanish bureaucrats are big on having both the original and a photocopy. Make sure you’ve got that before you do anything with the government here. 


The Appointment


Our first appointment for the empadronamiento was unsuccessful. We went to our neighborhood's city hall, which is just around the corner from our apartment. Since we had done our lease agreement over the internet, all of our signatures were either print-outs or scans of things that had passed back and forth across the internet. The woman who saw us the first time looked at that document for a second, saw that it wasn’t an original signed document, looked at me and said “Esto no sirve.” This won’t work. You’ll have to come back later with an original. 


That meant that we had to call our landlord, who lived in a completely different part of Spain, and ask her to send us, by mail, a signed copy of our lease agreement. This was probably the most stressful moment of our immigration experience (for which we count ourselves lucky), as we needed an empadronamiento in order to register for school, and school registration was only a few days away, and there was no way to be sure when we’d get the necessary documents, and so on and so on.


Hoping for the best, we simply rescheduled our appointment, figuring that if we didn’t get the necessary document in the mail before our next appointment, we’d simply go back again. You may notice while you’re in Spain that people here are kind of uniquely laid back, not spending a lot of time stressing about circumstances they can’t control. Dealing with Spanish bureaucracy may have given me some insight into why they are that way. 


We got the original copy of the lease agreement in the mail from our landlord exactly five minutes before our new appointment for our empadronamiento. I grabbed it out of the letter carrier’s hand, and walked with my family to city hall.


When it was our turn, things went off more or less without a hitch. I went through the whole meeting with a pit in my stomach, though, sure that the woman helping us would turn us away because our marriage license and birth certificate weren’t original copies, but ultimately she didn’t. We walked away from this appointment with our completed empadronamiento, a single-page document declaring that we lived at our address in Barcelona, and an unbelievable sense that things were starting to look up. 


Part 3 is coming soon!

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