29 Apr

This week we are focusing our energies on obtaining our NIE, (the Spanish equivalent of a green card in the U.S.), and our Tarjeta de Residencia, which recognizes a foreigner’s residency and allows them to work and generally go about their daily lives without too much trouble.  To get the NIE, we need either proof of employment in Spain, or proof that we have money in the bank and private health insurance.  In our case, because Aleta is currently unemployed and Rob is his own employer, the latter is the best option.  This was chosen in part because Spaniards are notorious for arbitrarily creating bureaucratic hoops to jump through.  If the person processing our form slept wrong the night before, they may decide that our evidence to meet the requirements is insufficient.  While we have money in a US bank account that would meet this requirement, we wanted to improve our chances of not getting turned away when applying by showing a letter from a local bank, in Spanish, showing currency in Euros, that says exactly what the Oficina de Extranjeros is looking for.

Additionally, we need a bank account to set up accounts with many local service providers.  It’s much more common to pay for recurring services with a bank account; many companies won’t allow you to sign up without providing a bank account number.  We walked into a local bank with our passports and money to deposit, however they could only give one of us an account because we have different nationalities.  Their bank account system isn’t able to enter passport numbers from different countries on the same account.  Once we have a NIE they can add me to the account.  However, even with just Rob’s name on the account, it’s still not fully useable.  To sign up for online banking, one needs to prove their identification with – you  guessed it – a NIE.  Additionally, he can’t withdraw money or send payments without his bank contact manually clearing it.  His account is basically being watched very closely until he can provide a NIE.  Thankfully the bank has been willing to work with us through all of this and we have at least something to use.

Similarly, our internet service provider, Movistar, can’t finalize our contract for the package deal with internet, mobile phones, and landline until we can provide an NIE.  Thankfully, they went ahead and installed the fiber optic internet line but refuse to give us our permanent phone numbers until we provide a NIE.  So we’re using prepaid mobile phone SIM cards as a temporary solution, however it’s difficult to establish long-term relationships with people and businesses if we can’t give out a phone number that will reach us a month from now.

Today was the kicker, though. As stated above, we need private health insurance as well as money in the bank to get our NIE. Of course, there’s no clear instructions available as to how much – or  what type – of coverage the insurance needs to provide. The only guidelines I could find were that they need to be equivalent – if not better than – public health insurance. This is impossible, of course, because even here insurers have exclusions for preexisting conditions, whereas public healthcare does not.  Ignoring this glaring hole in their logic, however, we looked at various health insurance plans, and found that even the cheapest ones are quite decent, and much cheaper than U.S. health insurance. The plan we landed on was a lower level offering, with a 5€ copay per visit, and no deductible, for 45€/person/month.  This includes the 1.50€/person/month add-on for coverage in the U.S.!   However, on the final page of the process to sign up for our insurance plan online, they asked for my bank account number.  Which I don’t have because I don’t have an NIE yet.  Which I can’t get without health insurance.  And so it goes around in circles.

Thankfully, they allowed me to use Rob’s bank account number, even though I’m the policy holder.  We’ll write our bank contact to make sure he approves the transaction for our first payment so that we can take our proof of health insurance to the Oficina de Extranjeros tomorrow and apply for Rob’s NIE. Wish us luck as we brave the Spanish bureaucrats!

3 Responses to “Catch-22”

  1. Tyler J. Wagner 2013/04/30 at 11:25 #

    Your story is familiar to me. Bootstrapping in a foreign country is always like this. Every document you need requires yet another document you need. You spend the first 3 months waiting for accounts to be set up, funds to clear, and utility bills on original letterhead to arrive. You pay bills in cash at paypoints, or with pre-paid cards, and often with service fees.

    And when you finally get it all figured out, you learn that the terms of your visa require you to maintain huge funds in savings, or to constantly maintain an outbound flight in the future, or some other ridiculous proof that you’re capable of immediate departure.

    You’ll be OK. In a few months. Just hang on and be patient.

  2. mayhem 2013/04/30 at 11:38 #


    So far, the picture you painted is far worse than what we’re experiencing. We’ve done a ton of research and had a lot of help on the ground to help put the pieces together. I’m rather hoping for a few weeks than months. :)

    Thanks for the words of encouragement. :)

  3. Steve 2013/04/30 at 17:24 #

    “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Aleta was healthy and could be insured. All she had to do was ask; and as soon as she did, she would no longer be insurable and would have to…”