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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.

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.

Suscribe to an electricity provider in your new home

Suscribe to an electricity provider in your new home

If you just moved in your apartment and you find the electricity shut down, you should know that you will have to contact an  electricity provider and sign a new contract.

It is important that you do it as soon as possible, since subscribing to an electricity provider usually takes between 5 and 9 business days, so it is important that you do it as soon as possible if you want to have electricity in your home, whether it is for light or gas.

How to subscribe to an energy provider in your new home?

For everything to go correctly, you must contact the provider assigned to you according to your zone and request for a new contract. In this first step, you’ll have to give the contracted provider all the information they need as well as the contracted power.

The contracted power you will need is very important, since if you subscribe to a one that does not fit your needs you will have future problems, such as the common power failure.

To know what contracted power you will need for your home, we advise you to use a gas and light comparator that will help you know which light company to hire and which is the best electric company in the market Knowing the best electric company to subscribe to is important, as it will facilitate the management of supplies and save energy.

Another important aspect is the requirements needed to register to that new provider. To register the light with Endesa, Iberdrola or another company, you will need to provide a series of documents, as well as know the subscription price. For example, the documents you will need to subscribe are the following:

  • Name, surname and national identity document, whether National Document of Identity, or passport.
  • Exact postal address of the home where the subscription will apply.
  • CUPS Code (JE SAIS PAS CE QUE CEST) that will be provided by the company itself if it is the first time you request that provider.
  • Certificate or the Electrical Bulletin that states that the electrical installation is in good condition…
  • The current account number (IBAN) for the payments.

Once you provide the documents, most companies spend between 5 and 9 days to craft the contract. When registering, the user must pay fees divided into rights of access, engagement and extension, and are usually linked to the provider of electricity chosen.

To do this, we advise you to contact the company in question and ask the conditions of signing a new contract.

Create a sustainable and efficient home

To create a sustainable home, it is not only necessary to take into account electrical supplies, you should also consider consumption habits. The routines that are followed at home and the type of installation will be key to creating an efficient house.

Some aspects, such as good thermal insulation, the installation of LED bulbs or appliances with an A +++ efficiency label will be the key to energy savings. If you want more advice, Fotocasa gives them to you in your last article.

Getting your spanish driving licence

Getting your spanish driving licence

Apart from driving on the other side of the road, there are a number of significant differences with the driving experience in Spain, starting with the whole process of getting your licence. So in this article Sonneil will explain how to go about getting your driving licence from the point of view of a new driver who is starting from scratch.

In order to obtain a driving licence in Spain you must be at least 17 years and 9 months, but you can’t actually get behind the wheel of a car until you are 18 years and one day old. Once you have your licence it is valid in any EU member state.

So what are the formalities for getting your Spanish driving licence?

Well it all starts with getting your NIE, or national identity number. This involves downloading an EX-15 form, from the website of the Spanish Department of Foreign Affairs, filling it out and bringing it along with your identity card or passport and proof of your economic activity in Spain to the Spanish Foreign Office (Oficina de Extranjeria).

After paying a fee of around €10 you’ll receive your NIE.

You can also go to the Spanish embassy in your country to obtain a NIE that’s valid for three months. Next, you need to get an Empadronamiento, which registers your name on the census of the local town hall. This will require proof of your identity as well as proof of address.

Once in possession of these documents, bring them to your local Directorate General for Traffic or DGT office. You will also need to bring 2 colour passport-sized photos for your licence and a medical certificate (Certificado Medico) to prove that you are both mentally and physically able to drive.

Now you are ready to start your lessons.

There are no compulsory school hours to attend before you can do your test; however, unlike in the UK, there are no provisional licences in Spain, so before you pass your test, the only person you can drive with is a licenced instructor. The average price for a one hour lesson is around €25. On top of this you will have to pay for your theory classes. These can cost between €30-35 a month or a one-off fee of about €300.

The Test

The first test covers driver theory, which consists of 30 questions to be carried out within 30 minutes, allowing a maximum of three errors. The test is done by computer and allows you a choice of language. Be warned, preparation for the theory test in Spain is quite demanding and comes in the form of a thick manual containing 629 rules, including lengthy chapters on first aid and vehicle maintenance. All of which must be learned.

The second test is a practical one of 25 minutes and is performed in Spanish. It consists of questions about the vehicle, 5 minutes of driving towards a destination and a 20 minute driving tour following the instructor’s directions. If the practical test is not passed it must be repeated and you will have to wait at least 12 days.


There are numerous fees to be paid along the way towards obtaining your licence and different formulas available to get you through the process, but in the end, depending on the number of driving hours or the driving school chosen, the cost of obtaining your license will be approximately €650 to €1200.

It’s easier said than done, but that all there is to it! Time to start planning that road trip…