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Getting a divorce in Spain as an expat

Getting a divorce in Spain as an expat

Getting a di­vorce in Spain needn’t be difficult so long as both parties can agree on the all-important matters of child custody and the division of assets. The conditions under which a non-Spanish national can obtain a divorce in Spain are that either they or their spouse is resident in Spain; their spouse is a Spanish national; or the chil­dren live in Spain.

Spouses may di­vorce by mu­tual agree­ment when they have been mar­ried for at least three full months. It is not ne­ces­sary for the couple to have been leg­ally sep­ar­ated for any period of time be­fore fil­ing for di­vorce. In cer­tain cases a party may pe­ti­tion for a di­vorce without wait­ing for the three-month period.

Where younger chil­dren are con­cerned, cus­tody is usually awar­ded to the mother. However, joint custody is now becoming a more common outcome of divorce proceedings in Spain. Span­ish courts gen­er­ally award al­i­mony only where one of the spouses is clearly dis­ad­vant­aged eco­nom­ic­ally as a res­ult of the di­vorce. 

Types of divorce in Spain

Uncontested divorce: The application for divorce by mutual consent may be made before the “Letrado de la Administración de Justice” (judicial secretary), notary public or the Court of First Instance. As part of the application the parties must present a con­tractual agree­ment addressing the fol­low­ing:

Co­hab­it­a­tion and cus­tody ar­range­ments for any chil­dren, in­clud­ing vis­it­a­tion rights of the non-cus­todial par­ent.

Any com­pens­a­tion al­low­ance or al­i­mony, if any, to be paid by one spouse to other.

Use of the fam­ily dwell­ing.

The man­ner, if any, in which the spouses con­tinue to con­trib­ute to fam­ily ex­penses.

An un­con­tested di­vorce can be con­cluded quite quickly. However, in cases where one of the spouses does not want to divorce or if both want to but they do not agree on the outcome, the divorce will be contentious. 

Contested divorce: In this case the di­vorce pe­ti­tion is filed by only one of the spouses. It may re­quire ne­go­ti­ation between law­yers and call on third party evid­ence. A con­tested di­vorce can take any­where from a few months to more than a year to complete. Both parties will have to at­tend a Court hear­ing.

Whichever way the spouses choose to seek a divorce (judicial or notary), they must be assisted by a practicing lawyer. And, in the case of legal proceedings, they will have to be represented by an attorney.

In addition to divorce, Spanish law also acknowledges a separation procedure. Under a separation judgement the marriage is not definitively dissolved. This means that the spouses can live together again in a marriage at any time. In a separation, all subsequent matters, such as childcare and use of the family dwelling must be presented. If no such agreement is presented, the court will independently determine the measures it deems appropriate. 

Please note these are only general guidelines and not definitive statements of the law. All questions about the law’s applications to individual cases should be directed to a Spanish lawyer.

Voting and running for office in Spain

Voting and running for office in Spain

A little-known fact among expats living in Spain is that if you are a full-time resident in the country you are entitled to vote in local and European elections. An even lesser known fact is that you can actually stand as a candidate in local elections and even run for mayor. All EU citizens have “the right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal and European Parliament elections regardless of whether they are a national of the EU country in which they reside,” the European Commission confirms on its website.

However, only around 54 percent of EU citizens are aware of this provision, according to a 2016 survey. 

If you want to participate in local politics in Spain, the first thing you need to do is to get registered on the municipal census (empadronamiento) at the local ayuntamiento or town hall. This will allow you to register on the Spanish electoral lists and vote in municipal and European elections.

Voting in Spain

You can vote and stand as candidates in the municipal elections under the following conditions: 

That you be a national of a Member State of the European Union 

That you be registered on the municipal census in Spain and domiciled in the municipality where you want to vote.

That you be at least 18 years old

You will need to provide the town hall with a written declaration stating your nationality, address in your home country and your right to vote there. Except in special cases, in order to vote, you must register before the end of the year preceding the poll.

And that’s it!

It’s worth mentioning that registering to vote in Spain doesn’t mean having to give up your right to vote in your country of origin. Some Member States allow you to cast your vote overseas, whereas others, like Ireland, require that you return home to vote in person. 

Standing for election

According to an EU website “Nationals of another EU country must be resident in the EU country where they wish to stand as a candidate and comply with the same conditions as set out for nationals,” However, the website adds “No person may stand as a candidate in more than one EU Member State at the same election.”

Spain reported the highest number of non-national candidates standing in municipal elections: 1,913 in polls before 2018. And unlike many other EU member states, in Spain, nationals from other EU countries can even run for higher offices such as mayor.

The requirements for standing as a candidate are the exact same as those required to vote, on top of which, of course you will need to register your candidacy with the relevant authorities.

Getting married in Spain as an expat

Getting married in Spain as an expat

An exchange of vows between a loving couple, whether in a civil or religious ceremony, always makes for an unforgettable occasion. What the guests assembled on the day don’t see is the huge amount of planning that goes into it. While planning and preparation is a part of every wedding day, it’s especially true for expats who want to get married in Spain, due to the need to provide certain documents from your country of origin, on top of the usual administrative procedures that need to be completed with the local authorities before the big day. 

To help make sense of it all, Sonneil has compiled this guide to getting married in Spain as expats.

Be aware, first of all, that one of the two future spouses must be resident in Spain and be registered with the municipality closest to the couple’s place of residence, and both must be at least 18 years old. In the case of marriage between an EU citizen and a citizen from outside the EU, a special check is made before marriage is genuine and not being used to obtain a residence permit.

Same-sex marriage has been allowed in Spain since 2005. Same-sex couples enjoy the same marital, legal, inheritance and adoption rights as heterosexual couples.

Civil wedding

The first step is to contact the closest Registro Civil (Civil Registry) to your place of residence in Spain. They’ll provide you with the required document (marriage licence) to obtain a wedding date. To secure this, you will need to present:

  • Your NIE, your passport or identity card as well as photocopies
  • Your birth certificate. Be aware that non-EU nationals must have this document legalised by their consulate and their foreign ministry.
  • A certificate of empadronamiento stating your place of residence during the last two years or since you entered Spain (you can obtain it from the nearest municipality). At least one of the two fiancés must have resided in Spain in the previous 2 years
  • A sworn declaration of civil status
  • In the case of a divorcee, copies of the marriage and divorce documents
  • In the case of a widow, a copy of the marriage and death certificate
  • A civil marriage application form, completed and signed

These documents must be apostilled in your country of origin and translated into Spanish by a professional translator.

The marriage licence is only valid for six months, meaning you must submit it to the Junta Municipal (city council) within this time. 

Church wedding

If you want a church wedding, contact the local parish at least 3 months in advance. Accompanying your marriage licence, you will also need to provide baptismal certificates issued at least six months before the date of the wedding. 

As a general rule, marriage at the district court or the municipality is free. But if you prefer to get married in a church, a donation of around 300 euros is customary. Church marriages do not require legal procedures, but you will still need a certificate of baptism issued at least six months before the wedding.

Once you have celebrated your marriage, you are required to register it with the registry office which will give you a family record book called Libro de Familia. 

With that, all that remains is to live happily ever after.

Islands of the Costa Blanca

The Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza may be the largest and most famous of Spain’s Mediterranean islands, but they aren’t the only ones. Indeed, the Costa Blanca is host to three beautiful island treasures of its own that are well worth a visit. Here is Sonneil’s guide to the islands of the Costa Blanca.

Benidorm Island

Peacock Island, journalists’ island, the island of Benidorm, or simply L’Illa to locals, the small triangular rock off the coast of Benidorm is a must visit for nature lovers. Measuring just 350m in length by 260m in width, its stand out feature is a 70m high cliff on its southside. The islet forms part of the Sierra Helada Nature Park, owing to its rich flora and fauna both on land and in its surrounding waters.

Situated just two and a half nautical miles from the coast, facing the Canfali headland that divides Levant and Poniente beaches in Benidorm, the uninhabited island has a bar and restaurant to attend to the needs of many daily visitors.

It can be reached by ferry from Levante Beach, with boats leaving every hour and take about 20 minutes to reach the island. The ticket price includes a trip on the

AQUASCOPE, a specialised boat with an underwater viewing deck that allows to take in the view beneath the waves. The Aquascope takes you on a short ride around the island, lasting about fifteen minutes during which you can see starfish, squid and huge shoals of fish, all at eye level.

Back on dry land, Benidorm island can be explored on foot along a guided path to the summit where you can take in the impressive views of the Benidorm coastline.

Tabarca island

Tabarca Island is a 2km long, 400m wide marine reserve situated 16km off the coast of Alicante. The island was once a refuge for Barbary pirates, before King Carlos III ordered it to be confiscated and fortified on behalf of the Crown in the 18th Century. He repopulated it with fishermen from Genoa whom he had rescued from the hands of the pirates and were being held captive in the Tunisian city of “Tabarka”.  

The only inhabited island in Valencian Community, its population fluctuates between a few dozen in winter and a few hundred in summer, when about 3,000 visitors a day arrive on the island. The annual influx of visitors is largely thanks to its main beach which is one of the most beautiful in the Alicante area. Other sites of interest include the walled old town and picturesque port area.

The island of Tabarca can be accessed from Alicante, Santa Pola, Guardamar, Torrevieja and Benidorm by boat. From Alicante the journey usually lasts about 45min and costs around 18 Euros. 

Portichol island

The Island of Portichol is located in the municipality of Javea in the Marina Alta region of Alicante province.

A peculiarly round and hilly island, Portichol is located just off the Javea coast, to which it is connected by a strip of land submerged about 3 m beneath the water, called an isthmus. It only takes five minutes to reach from Javea port and the surrounding waters are highly rated by divers thanks to their pristine quality.

Top five diving locations on the Costa Blanca

Top five diving locations on the Costa Blanca

With more than 200 km of coastline and some 170 beaches it’s no surprise that the Costa Blanca offers some wonderful diving opportunities, especially on its rockier northern coast.

In the months of June to October, the average temperature of the water is more than 20 degrees. In the months of February and March, the sea is at its coldest, with an average of 14 degrees Celsius.

The water is relatively calm, free of dangerous currents and home to a highly diverse underwater life. Apart from the Mediterranean fish, you can find rays, sea horses, crabs, octopus and moray eels. Sunfish visit the Costa Blanca coast from late spring onwards and in September and October sardine and barracudas heat along the coast. There are also rich and colourful seagrasses to be observed. Lister below are Sonneil’s top five diving locations on the Costa Blanca.

Tabarca Island 

The Tabarca Marine Reserve, off the coast of Alicante, was the first such reserve to be declared in all of Spain in 1986 and occupies 1,400 hectares around the entire island. Being one of the few protected marine spaces, it makes for one of the most incredible diving locations on the Costa Blanca and boast of a particularly rich biodiversity beneath the waves. As for its flora, the Posidonia Oceanica seagrass prairies stand out, and as for the fauna, fish such as grouper, gilthead and even some specimens of loggerhead turtle frequent these waters. Of course, diving in the Tabarca Marine Reserve is prohibited without first getting permission from one of the authorised dive centres in the province.

The Vaporet

About 2.6 miles from the port of Denia, lies the remains of a cargo ship, commonly known as El Vaporet, which sank at the end of the 19th century. The considerable depth, the likely presence of currents and reduced visibility, make it advisable that only those with considerable experience undertake the dive and only under optimum conditions. A wealth of fish life inhabits the ruins of the ship, including sardines and lobsters.


The island of Portixol is a nature reserve with a popular bird sanctuary, that also has much to offer under the water. Its rocky bottom, covered with seagrass, is inhabited by several species of perch, eels and damselfish. The odd squid can also be seen. The water is easily accessible from the pebble beach, which is close to the main road, just down some stairs.

La Granadella

Located in the town of Javea, this beach is considered one of the best in Spain. It is a dream location where sea and mountains combine perfectly. Thanks to its turquoise waters, the experience of diving here is unmatched. In La Granadella we can observe white sands alternating with posidonia plains, in which we can see octopuses, dorados, nacra molluscs and other underwater species. In addition, the beach is shallow and calm, so it is ideal for those divers who are taking their first breaths underwater. La Granadella is also an unbeatable place for other activities such as sea kayaking. 

El Peñón de Ifach

This beautiful dive takes place on the north side of the Peñón de Ifach, in Calpe, and is characterised by its rocky bottom and the huge arches that have formed in some of the rocks. In this area we can find some of the largest octopuses to inhabit the Costa Blanca, and numerous yellow-crusted anemones. Bream, moray eels, groupers and croakers are also to be seen. This is a deep dive, so it will be necessary to have a certain level of diving experience. 

Retiring in Spain

Retiring in Spain

There is a reason that some 70,000 British pensioners have chosen to retire in Spain. There are the amazing golf courses, complemented by its food and climate, which have been recognised by the World Health Organisation as the best in the world in terms of offering a healthy lifestyle. Not to mention that the cost of living in Spain is around 30-40 percent lower than in the UK, meaning that your monthly pension payments go significantly further in Spain than in the UK.

Besides all of this, there’s the fact that common membership of the EU made it almost as easy to retire in Spain as to retire in the UK. Obviously that’s all going to change with the UK set to depart from the bloc; however, the Spanish government has been eager to address the concerns of the British expat community in Spain. To this end Madrid announced in March that Britons living in Spain will be able to apply for a “foreigner identity card” before 31 December 2020 to prove their legal residency status. Once this is obtained, expats should find their access to services like healthcare and social security largely unchanged regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with or without an agreement.

So, Brexit notwithstanding, what are the administrative steps to be taken to settle down to retire in Spain?

First you need a residence permit, to get this you need to register at your local Oficina de Extranjeros who will then issue you with the permit. Once you have this you can register on your local town hall’s census (padrón), which brings a variety of benefits including the right to vote and free or discounted access to services such as sports centres and libraries.


Retirees living in Spain who are in receipt of a UK State Pension can choose to have their monthly payments paid into either UK or Spanish bank account. For the second option, you’ll need the international bank account number (IBAN) and bank identification code (BIC) numbers for your Spanish account.

If you have a private or workplace pension plan in place it is advisable to talk to a financial advisor before leaving the UK. They will look at the various pension funds and investments available to you as well as tax efficient options for structuring your assets and funds.

To retire on a modest salary in Spain, you might plan to spend around €17,000 a year, but to retire comfortably it would be good to have around €25,000. If you’re willing to budget and live cheaply, as little as €15,000 yearly will do.


Emergency cover in Spain is available to anyone, whether you are an EU or non-EU citizen. To qualify, if you live in Spain and receive a UK state pension or long-term incapacity benefit, you may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK. You will need an S1 form, which must be obtained in the UK and certifies that you are of retirement age and have paid all the necessary social security taxes in the UK. You will then be entitled to the same benefits as a Spanish national.