Buying on the Costa’s: 15 tips to beat Spanish bureaucracy

“Buenos días, I would like to register as a new resident.”

“Shht. Sorry, that won’t do. This office closes at 2 p.m.”

“But it’s only 1:15 p.m.”

“Yes, but the requested procedure will probably take longer than half an hour. I won’t take that risk. Come back tomorrow.”


One day later.

“Buenos días, I would like to register as a new resident.”

“To do so, you must first apply for Form 33C at window 12 of our second office, on the other side of town. Then you must drop off your dog’s birth certificate in triplicate at window 34, which is open every first Monday of leap years between noon and 12:02. If you do not have a dog, you must have a certificate to prove it. To apply for it, use form 394XP. To do so, however, you must first solve a sudoku in our Madrid offices.”

infinite stairs


Admittedly, dear reader, we have exaggerated. A little bit. But nevertheless, the sky-high Latin bureaucracy is one of the biggest obstacles that everyone has to overcome with an eye on a (second) home in Spain. Admit it, you’ll get used to that weather and ever-present sunshine in no time. Getting the right papers processed with the right stamps is the biggest challenge for newly expatriates.

Even to accomplish mundane things, you will have to put up a fight. Prepare for endless back-and-forth between offices, officials sending you from pillar to post. On collecting documents, going through procedures and making enough photocopies to be single-handedly responsible for a significant portion of the Amazon’s forest clearing.

Spanish bureaucracy: nuffy and lazy

So we could also have simply called this blog post “the vital importance of patience.

Because: if you want to settle in Spain or buy a second home there, you are bound to run into them – the typical Spanish civil servants, either nuffy or lazy. And okay, times change. The younger generation takes a different approach, but even then you will be regularly confronted with officials –
they call themselves – from which you will want to cry an eyeball.

The bad news is that you can’t touch it. The good thing is that a forewarned man is worth two. Least. Therefore, we present to you our tips to beat Spanish bureaucracy.

1.Accept the cultural differences

Not that the administration in Belgium is perfect. We know plenty of civil registry offices that are open only during business hours – ergo: working hours. But it is nothing compared to the frustration you sometimes experience in Spain. Especially since at least in Belgium you know what is going on and where you can file a complaint if you wish.

There is, of course, the language barrier, but it doesn’t stop there. Indeed, Spanish officials have a knack for embracing illogic. Well, you should – unfortunately – accept that blindly. You are no longer in Belgium, so you must conform to other laws and customs. It is not the job of the Spanish civil service to make foreigners feel at home.

To sleep at their desks, on the other hand….

2.Don’t expect it to be simple

Straightforward, that concept is unknown to the Spanish bureaucracy. Best assume the most pessimistic scenario. And then do that times six. So much the better if it does move faster.

3.Keep in mind WHY you are doing it

You come to Spain for the laid-back mentality, then you should also be able to tolerate it at all levels. Do not be rushed by it. Because: it doesn’t help. If the official doesn’t feel like putting the right stamp, you can stand on your head, it won’t do anything.
. You better set your clock to Spanish time, or you’ll be running to – god forbid – Germany in no time.

Yes, the Germans may have eaten cheese of
– and
, but have you really dreamed of a log cabin in the Black Forest?
Verdammt, nein!
You want sun, sea and beach and a never-ending stream of sangria. And right you are. Well, for that paradise, you must have something to spare. And then successfully finishing a shuffle race toward the counter is not the worst thing, right?

log cabin

Gosh, not so bad in the end….

Better to breathe in and out every now and then, galvanize yourself in swimsuits on a beach of your choice and realize that bureaucracy is a necessary evil to settle in Spain. Call it a kind of integration test to determine if you belong. Or better yet, whether you deserve your paradise.

4.Don’t expect anyone to speak English

Spaniards are notoriously bad at English. The older generation often didn’t learn it – they got French in school. Young people can usually speak English, but their knowledge is usually limited to the written. They speak it lamentably. Then again, even if they speak it, why would they bother to help you in English?

Of course, you remember the waiters and fresh-faced hotel receptionists on the Costa Blanca, who might ostentatiously strike up a conversation with you about the weather. There you have it: these are workers from the tourism industry, who are only too happy to put foreign guests at ease. Civil service is another matter.

5.The person behind the counter is not the one making the decisions

Getting the blood from under your nails, it is part of the official’s job description. Thinking along may not. Spanish officials are merely the foot soldiers, the wage soldiers programmed only to execute. They follow regulations to the letter. Critical sense is more often a handicap than an asset in those positions. It makes little sense to suggest doing something in a different – more efficient – way. Or to ask for an explanation. The official will look at you like a cow watching a train whiz by.

6.Know why the official is who he is

People like to cling to their post or morel power, it is of all times.

In Spain, historically, rulers succeeded each other at a lightning pace . For the officials, it was a matter of making themselves indispensable, matter of not ending up on the paving stones at every change of power. How? By making the administration so needlessly complicated that no one else could get heads or tails of it. And ordinary citizens least of all. Thus, the civil service was already inefficient and corrupt to the bone before General Franco came to power in 1939. The dictator perpetuated that system.


Intent succeeded.

Since then, fortunately, much has improved. The most absurd aspects of bureaucracy have been eliminated, some things have been streamlined, opening hours have been expanded and more information is available to the public. But there are still remnants of the old era and the atmosphere in the civil service has not changed that much. There are dinosaurs behind their desks everywhere, still claiming that their job is not to help you, but to make your life as difficult as possible. Even the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sometimes exhort Spain to simplify its bureaucracy.

7.Persistence pays off

Lazy officials will try to fob you off. If you speak little or no Spanish or if they are just in the mood for a coffee, they will try to send you on a walk with an excuse. If so, it sounds that you have not yet completed this or that procedure correctly or that there is a form missing from your application. That’s not always the case. Though you must be able to recognize when you are being fooled. If you are confident, feel free to insist on being helped. Insist, insist, insist. Persistence pays off.

8.Come back again later

Yes, we know, in the previous item we still recommended staying patient and persevering. But alas, with an official in a mad dash, there is no land to negotiate. In some cases, it is better to ball it off. Try again later. Then there might be another official behind the counter and it might work out. You did lose that half-day leave.

Don’t lose your good mood

There used to be a program on MTV called
Boiling Points,
that pranked unsuspecting Americans. If they managed to stay calm in front of the hidden camera, they won $100.

Actually, Spanish bureaucracy is little different than an episode of
Boiling Points.
Anyone who loses their cool, shoots into a Spanish fury or starts calling the
on duty for street dirt, he loses the game anyway.


Caution: explosion hazard

Once you realize it is just that, a game, it becomes easier to win it. Hounding you or pissing you off doesn’t help. It also makes little sense to bawl out some poor person at a reception, unless you feel like taking an anger management course.

Ultimately, you need something from him – an official paper, a stamp or a signature, whatever – and irritating the official only has the opposite effect. You will have to wait even longer.

10.Don’t write letters

It is much more efficient to pull up to the office in person. In fact, Spain has a face-to-face culture. Letters there have a nasty habit of getting lost. Although that doesn’t mean that once you arrive at the office, you don’t have to fill out endless forms. Then again, they did.

11.Do not be tempted by bribery

During such a bureaucratic war of attrition, it will seem tempting at times. Now if you hide a 20 euro bill among your paperwork. Or slip into the official’s shirt pocket.


“So? Do you still have no authority now?”

But no, that’s not a good idea. First, because it is heartily illegal, even in Spain. And second, because it often has the opposite effect and can be used against you.

12.Be flexible

Flexibility is the key that fits the gate of the impregnable fortress called the Spanish bureaucracy. There are fifty shades of gray between black and white – and Spaniards like to seek them out. In other words, there are a lot of ways *cough* trickery *cough* to get something done. If you are hypercorrect, then Spain is not the place to be. But reportedly that log cabin in Germany is still empty.

13.Forget the computer

The EU may approve directives, but that does not mean the Spaniards have to follow them. Because why do simple when it can be complicated? Prepare to make copies of copies of copies of copies. No, the digital revolution has not yet entered the Iberian Peninsula. Many government websites are not even updated. Moving mountains of paper is a daily activity there.

14.Comfort yourself with the thought that everyone is going through the same thing

You cannot accuse the official of good customer service. But that doesn’t mean you should suspect him of racism. Or suspect that your poor treatment stems from your flawed Spanish accent. No, you won’t: your Spanish neighbors are just as badly served. The big difference is that they are used to one and other. And above all: that, thanks to their native Spanish language, they know what is going on. Although.

Everyone undergoes the same thing, here at the Oficina de empleo

15.Know the right people

In Spain, who you know is more important than what you know. To get something done, Spaniards often turn to a
literally: a plug. It’s a family member or friend on the inside who puts their request on the right stack of papers.

Often, however, foreigners have no such helper, condemning them to the whims of the system. No civil servant is eager to take
a foreigner, by the hand and guide him through the labyrinth. Therefore, it is appropriate to do the necessary research yourself.

Or better yet, by surrounding yourself with professionals who know what they are doing.

Gold Estates has years of experience in the Spanish real estate market, fills out the appropriate paperwork with your eyes closed and introduces you to lawyers you can rely on if necessary. Together we will guide you past the pitfalls on the way to your dream home under the Spanish sun. Please feel free to contact us to discuss.

And if it does get really too much for you? Ah, be glad you don’t buy from Italy.



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