What is a NIE and what is it good for?

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The Spanish NIE is a tax identification number, which has many other functions as well, but mostly used by the tax authority to track people and their money movements. Spanish people have their IDs, but for foreigner people the NIE functions more or less like an ID number. When you interact with the Spanish bureaucratic system, you will always need your NIE, because that is simpler then coping with all kind of foreign ID numbers that can vary in length and composition.

Do you need a NIE at all?

I know many people who were living in Malaga for years without getting a NIE, so it’s not really a matter of life or death, but it depends on what do you want to do? For example you can’t get officially employed without a NIE, because that is the first thing that your employer will ask for. You can’t sign contracts with businesses, such as mobile, cable TV or internet, electricity or anything without a NIE. To open a bank account you also need a NIE, but even if you want to book a barbecue spot on the authorized beaches they will ask for your NIE as well.

Without a NIE it’s possible to live in Malaga, but with a NIE it’s easier, you can do much more things, easier. Simply having a NIE doesn’t mean too much, the Spanish government still won’t care about you, because having a NIE that doesn’t necessarily mean that you live here in Malaga. For example to buy property in Spain, you need a NIE, but just because you have a property that you use for a couple of weeks in the summer, you are not considered as Spanish resident and the tax authority will not care about you. Your NIE number doesn’t have an expiration date, it’s yours for your whole life. So if you get a NIE number and you leave Spain for 10 years, it will be still valid and yours when you come back. As you can see, having a NIE number doesn’t mean you have any tax obligations towards the Spanish government.

However, if you plan to stay longer than 3 months in Malaga, you are obligated to apply for residency. Again, I know people who were living here for years without doing that, since no one can track your movement and prove that you didn’t leave Spain for a day to visit another country since in the EU we don’t have borders and you can just go when and wherever you want.

But without residency, you can’t start a business, nor use the Spanish social security system. To do that, you need to be a resident, and that is the point when the tax authority will notice you. If you spend more than 183 days in Spain in a year, that will mean you are tax resident here, and you will have to pay Spanish tax on your worldwide income. Doesn’t matter where where your income is coming from, from the US, the UK or North-Korea, if you earn money you have to pay tax in Spain.

But residency is another story, explained in another article. For now let’s get back to the NIE itself. If you want to get a NIE, here is our step-by-step guide of how to get a NIE in Malaga.

How is it like not having a NIE?

You can get into some absolutely ridiculous scenarios if you don’t have a NIE. There are several websites in Spain where I can just buy whatever I want. I throw stuff in the shopping cart, click on checkout, pay with my bank card and get the stuff delivered. Easy peasy right? Then check out my horror story, how did I buy a phone on black Friday, without a NIE.

I had a phone that started acting a bit weird, so I decided to update it’s software. Nothing complicated, I just poked the “Install System Update” link in the settings menu. That was enough for my phone to turn into a brick. I got fairly pissed and decided to buy a new phone instead of trying to figure out how to revive the old one, especially because it happened to be black Friday!

I checked the available phones online and found a fairly good one in El Cortes Inglés. The website said that if I order, they deliver it in 3 hours. So I ordered… waited… and 5 hours later I called the customer service, asking where the hell is my phone? They told me that

– Sorry, because of black Friday you have to wait more…
– Ok, how much more?
– About 2 weeks.
– Damn it!

I cancelled my order, and kept searching. Fortunately I found the same phone on the MediaMarkt website too with the exact same price. Ok cool, phone in the shopping cart, checkout, filling my data… when the website asks for a NIE. That time I didn’t have one, so I left it empty. No, not good. Ok, I entered some gibberish. No, still not good.

I called the customer service:

– Hello, I want to buy something on the website, but it asks for a NIE, what I don’t have.
– You need a NIE to order.
– I know, but I just said that I don’t have that.
– Then you should go and get a NIE number to order.
– Thank you captain obvious! But why can’t I order without a NIE? There are a lot of tourists here, just like me, and believe me when they come to Spain for a few weeks to spend their money in your country, to pay for example your salary, their first though is not to get a NIE. Also, I’ve ordered from several other websites already, and nobody asked for a NIE, only your website. Why is that?
– I don’t know, but you can’t order without a NIE.
– In the store I can buy it without a NIE, right?
– Right.
– Do you have this XY phone in your store?
– Well, in the store in Plaza Mayor we have some left.
– Can you reserve a phone for me? I am going to buy it now.
– No I can’t.
– So you are telling me, that I can’t order online, and you can’t reserve a phone for me, but I should go to your store which is basically outside the city, hoping that there might be a phone left when I get there. Are you kidding me?

Anyway, I needed a phone, so I went to their store and I managed to buy the phone. I went to the cashier, paid with my bank card… or at least… I wanted to pay.

PIN Incorrect.
Ok, let’s try again, sloooowwwwwlyyyyyy…
PIN incorrect.

I was 100% sure about the pin code and that I entered the code correctly, so I didn’t try it again since it was obvious that it’s some technical issue. I asked the cashier:

– I go and get some cash or another card, can you reserve the phone for me?
– If you pay X% of the product, yes I can reserve it for you.
– Actually, I can’t pay that because my card doesn’t work.
– Sorry then.

Anyway, I grabbed the phone and took it back to the main floor from the cashiers where I buried it under a ton of hairdryers that they on display, to make sure I will find it when I get back. Went home, came back to the store with my back-up bank card which happen to have the exact same pin code and it worked.

Moral of the story is: There are some stupid companies who don’t need your money, so they don’t allow people order on their website without a NIE. So far in my experience it’s MediaMarkt and Decathlon. Oh… by the way, next day I tried my card at the bank’s ATM and it was working perfectly.

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