How can a non-European spend 6 months in Spain legally?

When we were planning our retirement, Terry and I dreamt of spending the winter months somewhere warm and sunny.  The winters in Vancouver are mild but dark and rainy.  I have always had this deep love for Europe and Terry loves it too.  Spain is Europe’s warmest and sunniest destination in the winter months.  So, it was only normal to start looking at Spain for our first winter abroad.

Snowbirding is customary  to many retired Canadians.  Our winters are harsh and when given the chance, many will head south to better climates for several months.  The US and Mexico, the most usual destinations for Canadians snowbirds, allow a six month stay.  When starting planning our long-stay in Spain, I never even thought six months was going to be an issue.

Spain is part of the Schengen Agreement which consists of 26 European countries. The Schengen Area operates very much like a single state for international travel purposes with external border controls for travellers entering and exiting the area, and common visas, but with no internal border controls.  Non-Europeans can only stay 3 months in the Schengen area at a time and a total of two 90 day period in a given year. So, this means that you can not stay in any country of the Schengen area without a special visa and no, you can NOT go out of the country or area for one day and come back.  The periods must be separated by 90 days.

We were shocked to find that out and I was almost in tears at the idea of not being able to come for the six month period, I had for several months by now, planned and dreamt about. So, we decided to bite the bullet and embarked on the long and tidous journey of applying for a long-stay Spanish Visa.  What fun 😤 it has been to navigate through this process!

Before going through the numerous steps we had to go through, let me say that most Canadians we spoke to, never applied for a Visa.  They just come and stay for as long as they want without any issues.  We are told and read in several online publications that the Spanish authorities are reknown for letting retires stay and turning the blind eye at border controls.  Terry and I however, like to sleep at night and play by the rules.  So, taking a chance wasn’t an option.  Little we knew however how ridiculously onerous the process would be.  To stay for more than 6 months, you have to apply for the non-lucrative residency visa.  It is the same visa if you want to move there or just, like us, visit for 6 months. Here are the steps if you are interested in continuing reading.

Step one: apply for the Spanish visa at the Spanish consulate. We had to go through Toronto as there are none in Vancouver. So everything was done by mail.  You must travel within 3 months of the visa approval.  So you can’t start the process too long in advance.  They require 3 forms completed, photos, original passports, proof of income, list of assets, proof of medical coverage, letter from your doctor stating that you do not have any infectious deseases and are in good health, a criminal record check, flights details and $760 Canadian each.  It took 2 and half months before getting the visas and our passports back.  We had to make numerous phone calls and follow ups to ensure that they had everything and to find out if we would be approved before our flights.  It was nerve racking to say the least but we got everything back 3 weeks before our trip and everything worked out.  Here is the link to the National Visas requirement page.

Step two: They give you a visa for 90 days, not 6 months.  When you get to Spain, you must report to the authorities within a month. Your passport is stamped when you entered the Schengen area.  For us it was Amsterdam on October 31. You then have to go to city hall in the town where you are staying and get on the padron (census). They will need your passport, your NIE (foreigner identity number issued by the Toronto consulate) and your rental contract where you are staying. We rented a Homeaway property for 5 months and we will be travelling the last month so, we used the Nerja 5 month property and drafted a short rental contract email confirmed by the property owners. That worked without issues. You then have to go to the closest comisaria de policia, Torre Del Mar for us, at 7:30am to line up for an hour to make sure you get in that day.

You then are given a number and have to patiently wait to see someone who will hopefully speak a little English. With my limited Spanish and the friendly person we met, we filled out more forms and were asked to get two more photos, form 790 and go pay the tax at a bank.


They don’t give you the form. You either have to download it yourself or to a printing office who specialize in doing just that for you. We met there another friendly man (everyone in Spain is super friendly which is a bonus dealing with this insane process) who printed the form, helped us filling it in and showed us the way to the photographer and the bank. Oh la la! What a day. You then go back to the comisaria de policia with all your signed forms, proof of paid tax which was 15.65 Euros and your photos. They then get your finger prints and issue a document which is your temporary foreigner card good for one year. They then explain that we have to come back in January to pick up the real card and if you want to come back next year, you need to renew it 3 months prior to expiry date at the Malaga foreigners office. Wait!! Three months prior! But we will be back in Canada then. We are pretty sure that we do want to come back next year after all this work, we are not prepare to let this foreign card go away. Once renewed next year, it will be good for 2 years given us the choice to go somewhere else and then maybe come back again if we want. So, we now need to go to step 3.

Step 3:  We wrote to the Malaga office and they confirmed in writing that you have to renew 3 months before or after the expiry date of your foreigner’s residence permit BUT you must come back to Spain before expiry date.  That is the main think to remember.  So we will be back before October 30 2018 to renew our Permiso de residencia which will be then renewed for a period of two years.  

You can read here about the renewal process every two years.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris Tabor says:

    Hello , enjoying your Blog a great find for us . We are newly retired ( Kingston Ontario) and returning to CDS to spend winters in Estepona . Evaluating buy versus long term rent and the bureaucratic overhead associated with either option. Your post have been helpful and informative , Thanks ! PS Nerja a terrific choice ,


    1. Awesome. I will be posting more information about buying a house in a few weeks. Let me know if you have specific questions. I am happy to share our experience!


  2. Jo Amos says:

    Did you have to declare worldwide assets and pay your tax in Spain? We also wish to stay for 6 months but are anxious, about the tax liabilities.


    1. Hi Jo, as long as you spend less than 183 days per year in Spain, AND are tax residents of another country, you won’t be a Spanish tax resident. For the VISA you MUST be in Spain 180 days. So, just stick to 180days in Spain and keep your primary residence in your country available to you at all times as well as keeping all your “ties” in that country. I will write a post soon on taxes so, make sure to subscribe!


  3. Bert says:

    Hi Jo,
    Thank you for your excellent info!
    DO you know if UK residents can apply for the 180 days, after Jan. 1st I “think” the max is 90 days…?
    I have a CDN and UK passport… I wonder if I could stay 180 days, leave, and return for 90 days on my UK passport..? 🤫 Thanks.


    1. Hi Bert, my name is Odette. There is no specific visa for 180 days. It is the Permiso de residencia, also called the TIE for non-lucrative visa. After Brexit, the rules will essentially be the same as Canada unless there is a new deal for UK people. So, unless you have a Permiso the residencia, you will not be able to be here more than 90 days at a time. Good luck with your planning!


      1. Bert says:

        Hi Odette, I just found your reply in “Junk”…Thank you so much!


  4. Kelly Kugi says:

    Hello Odette,

    We are from Penticton, BC. My husband and I are in the process of purchasing an apartment in Fuengirola, Spain. There are a couple of things that are making us anxious that I am hoping you can help with. With regards to medical and our non-lucrative visa and TIE, we have private medical insurance covered by my retirement benefits for 2 months every year. Will the Consulate of Spain in Toronto (boy they are difficult to contact!) allow us to just top up this insurance (like we normally travel) with Manulife, or do we have to get a Spanish company that will make us have a year long policy. We are hoping to just do a 4 month top up to satisfy 180 days per year we plan on staying. Ok, second concern…if we get our TIE and only stay 180 days, are we considered taxable residents or non-taxable residents? Does the reciprocal agreement with Canada and Spain apply to our work and government (CPP/OAS) pensions or does Spain apply more tax to this? We will not be renting out our apartment and will not be making any revenue in Spain – i.e. not working/retired.

    Any help you could provide would be much appreciated.

    Thank you.



    1. Hi Kelly, on our first application, they accepted six months of Pacific Blue Cross insurance but for the renewal, the insurance must be from a Spainish Insurance company, for a full year and full coverage. We have the Sanitas Más which is approved for the residence permit called TIE. I don’t think your insurance will be accepted. Regarding taxes, if you don’t live in Spain for more than 183 days and have no rental property or other income in Spain, there is no income tax to pay. I have blog post on that subject. I hope this helps. Good luck with your project!!


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