How To Retire in Europe Permanently Using the Spanish Non-Lucrative Visa

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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After the surprising amount of interest over the article “How to Stay in Europe for More than 90 Days,” I was inspired to find a way for people who are American to do it as well. Or over the age of 35.

Fortunately, as it often does, our intrepid readers pointed me towards the blog Bucking The Trend, where fellow traveller Jed did exactly that. So I thought I’d ask him how he did it.

Jed, welcome, and thanks for talking to us about this.

First question. What is a Spanish non-lucrative visa? What does non-lucrative mean?

Thanks for the opportunity! The non-lucrative visa basically means the Spanish government will give you long-term residency with open arms knowing that you’ll be spending a bunch of your money on rent, tapas, and vino all while not occupying (or stealing?) a Spaniard’s job. The “non-lucrative” part of the visa means you are not allowed to work for a Spanish entity. It also allows your kids to enroll in public school in Spain.

And this is available for US citizens?

Yes, definitely for US and Canadian citizens. And I imagine it’s also available to just about every other country as well (outside of the E.U.). I just have never seen a complete list of eligible countries. I’d guess that if your country has a Spanish consulate, that this visa would be available for you, too. But of course this is Spanish bureaucracy we’re talking about here, so your mileage may vary.

How did you find out about this visa?

Hmmm. Good question. I don’t recall there being clear-cut blog posts about this back in 2014 when I first started looking but I do remember scouring expat forums and the like and hearing about it that way. Later, on a business trip to Chicago, my wife stopped by our nearest consulate to ask for more details. It was from there that we had our initial checklist of requirements and started down the application path.

How much money do you need to have to qualify?

As an individual, you need to prove €2,130 ($2,600) per month and an additional €532 ($650) for a spouse and each additional child. This means €3,726 (about $4,540) per month for a family of four.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard you can prove this amount by showing a recurring paycheck (from employment outside of Spain, obviously), straight lump sum savings, pension, and/or social security.

I applied for a German Working Holiday Visa, and that was a TON of paperwork. How much paperwork was involved with yours?

Haha. Having read your blog post about that, I would have to classify it as a TON SQUARED! We had to round up a similar list as you and then some.

Here is a quick rundown:

  • Passport
  • Passport photos
  • Background check (certified with Apostille)
  • Medical Certificate from your doctor basically saying you are of sound body and mind
  • Proof of financial means
  • Proof of accommodation in Spain
  • Proof of health insurance coverage in Spain
  • Marriage License (if applying with spouse)
  • Birth Certificates (for each dependent)
  • Letter of Intent
  • And a handful of application forms

Oh, and everything needs to have official translations to Spanish. Essentially you need to prove you aren’t a deranged, diseased, insurance-less axe murderer on welfare who is going to be a drain on their public services.

For all the gory details, see this starting post where I documented all we went through as we went through it.

What the Hell is Apostille?

An Apostille is an internationally recognized stamp that makes important documents certified and legal. Here’s the Wikipedia article for more info.

And how much did it cost?

For our family of four, application fees cost us $616 ($154/person) but that doesn’t include any expenses associated with obtaining the necessary papers, having them certified, translation services, or transportation costs to/from the consulate (which for some US citizens can be several states away). You can pretty much plan on at least doubling that amount to be on the conservative side once you factor in those things.

How long does the visa allow you to stay in Spain? And can you renew?

The initial visa application is good for one (1) year. Subsequent renewals are good for two (2) years.

How many trips to the embassy did it take to finally push your application through? I think for us it was 4 in total.

Two trips to the consulate.  One to submit our paperwork and another to pick up our passports with the visa included.

Whoa, that is impressive. What was the renewal process like? Was it harder or easier than getting the initial visa?

Muuuuuch easier, faster, and cheaper. Again, for the exact details around renewing, see this post. In a nutshell, they primarily want to make sure that during your first year of residency in Spain that you actually resided more than half your time in the country (at least 183 days to be exact) and that you still have money to support yourself going forward.

So how long have you been in Spain on this visa?

A little over 2 years.

Tell us about your experience living there.

Estupendo! It’s great. I always say Spain is my favorite country in Western Europe because it ticks all of my boxes when it comes to evaluating a place to visit or live. You just can’t beat its combination of weather, sights, people, food, cost and overall culture. (Although Portugal comes close – I just wish I knew the language!)

What about health care? How is the health care situation in Spain?

Satisfactory and inexpensive. Well, in comparison to US health care and insurance premiums, it’s cheap.

Knock on wood, we don’t have a lot of experience using the Spanish health care system.   We opted to purchase catastrophic insurance which would only cover emergencies and elected to just pay out-of-pocket for regular doctor visits. A visit to the clinic the last time I went was €40 and prescriptions are very reasonable.

One fun tidbit: For the price of one month of health insurance for our family under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the US, we can get a full year’s worth of coverage in Spain. It’s mind-boggling.

How’s your Spanish?

My Spanish is OK to Good I would say. My wife and I have enough to get around and operate on a daily basis with relative ease. Our bigger challenge remains when trying to have deeper conversations about politics, religion, etc when our vocabulary and nuance don’t always hold up. I also find trying to be (intentionally) funny in a foreign language difficult as well.

My boys’ ability, however, is on another level. I guess that is what being immersed in the local dialect for 6-8 hours per day at the public school will get you. I’m always hesitant to say they are fluent, but they are darn proficient.

Are you able to travel throughout the EU on this visa or are you limited to staying in Spain?

You can travel throughout the EU pretty much as if you were a Spanish citizen with this visa. No limitations whatsoever (that we experienced anyway).

So having lived in Spain that long, are you eligible for a permanent residency?

No. My understanding is that you need 10 years minimum to be considered for permanent residency. The typical routine goes something like this:

  • Initial application approved for one year = Year 1
  • First renewal approved for two years = Years 2-3
  • Second renewal approved for two years = Years 4-5
  • Third renewal approved for five years = Years 6-10
  • After 10 years of “temporary” long-term residency, you are eligible for permanent residency

Or at least this is how I’ve heard it is done. I don’t know anyone yet on their third renewal or beyond.

What’s the best and worst thing about applying for this visa?

By far the worst part is gathering all the papers and trying to navigate the sea of red tape that surrounds the visa. I found the Spanish officials quite nice and accommodating considering they have to deal with frustrated foreigners who often don’t speak or understand the language. It’s like going to the DMV and trying to communicate what you need in Pig Latin – it’s tough for those on both sides of the desk. The hardest part is dealing with the inconsistencies that inevitably come about when dealing with “official papers” in Spain. Don’t be surprised if you receive conflicting, inconsistent, or incomplete direction (or maybe you just misunderstood the answer all together!)

You can guess the best part is getting that approval letter in the mail knowing you can formally move your life status from ‘pending’ to “We’re moving to Spain!”

What’s the best and worst thing about living in Spain?

The best part is living carless, in the heart of an old town or city, knowing you can operate your entire life by foot or bike with periodic jaunts on public transportation for further destinations.

One of the harder things we had to adjust to in the beginning was the pace of life in Spain. It’s not an ‘open 24 hours’, get a coffee to-go kind of culture and it takes some getting used to. After a couple of years, however, it has become something revered and aspired to in our lives.

What’s the best and worst thing about being an expat?

Familiarity (or lack thereof) is both the best and worst part of being an expat.

Pre-Spain, our lives had become set in a familiar routine. Neither good nor bad, mind you, but definitely comfortable. That’s when we elected to change things up. There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from figuring out how to successfully navigate mundane tasks in a foreign environment. And that is where the most growth happens.

But at the same time, sometimes while living abroad you just want your Kellogg’s cereal with familiar 2% milk or some Oreos.

You run a blog called Bucking The Trend. Tell us about that.

When we quit our jobs to move to Spain, a lot of people asked how (and why) we could do such a thing so I wanted a place to point them where they could get more background at a pace they chose. As opposed to me overwhelming them since I can get pretty fired up talking about finances and travel.

Now it’s my online journal, of sorts, where I like to document interesting experiences that we’ve encountered while abroad. It’s also a place I like to put my amateur videos of our trips. It’s fun to look back at them as a family.

The website has been a great way to not only keep connected with friends and family, but has also given me a way to connect with other like-minded folks from around the world. I can’t tell you how many meals or beers I’ve shared with readers that have reached out to me through the blog.

Lastly, I still have lot of cool things planned in the future and need a place to document those.

Jed, thanks for talking to us about this.

Jed has written in extensive detail his process of applying for, and getting, his Spanish non-lucrative visa, so check that out if this sounds like something you’d like to consider. His blog Bucking The Trend is also a great resource for people who want to live abroad with their families, so definitely check that out as well.



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36 thoughts on “How To Retire in Europe Permanently Using the Spanish Non-Lucrative Visa”

  1. OMG, such a neat program to highlight! Always killer content here. Our future family would definitely be open to trying something like this.

    I think early retirees could benefit from the stability of a program that allows one to stay for a few years, rather than just a few months.

    1. My understanding is that Portugal has something very similar. I think France, Italy, and Sweden too?

      What looks interesting are the self-employment visas you can apply for Germany and Czech Republic.

    2. Apparently France has one too. Germany also has some kind of freelancer visa that bloggers or artists have been able to use that doesn’t have an age restriction.

  2. Very Cool! I’ve been following Jed’s blog since near the beginning! His blog was part of the impetus behind our travels in Southern Spain in Andalucia.

      1. Tough call. Mexico wins for food but Spain makes a good showing (and you can drink the water and wash fresh veggies and fruit in the water 🙂 ). Point to MX.

        Spain is slightly more 1st world-ish (a pro in my book). Mexico is a little rougher and dirtier. I assume corruption is worse in MX and police are more honest in Spain. Point to Spain!

        Mexico is cheaper. Maybe 1/2 the price of Spain?? Some stuff is super cheap like transit and street food. Point to Mexico.

        Mexico has the whole drug gangs killing one another (but not an issue in much of the country) whereas Spain has the Catalan independence movement (peaceful so far, but…) and I haven’t kept up with the Basque separatists to know if they want to kill people for their cause. 1 point to Espana!

        Mexico is much closer to the US (under 4 hrs non stop from Charlotte, for example, to Mex City; 3 hrs non-stop Raleigh to Cancun). Most of Mexico is closer to us than the west coast of USA. Spain is 8-10 hrs with at least 1 connection. Easier and cheaper to visit back home and near-zero jetlag with Mexico. Point to MX.

        Central Highland MX has better year round weather (less seasonal variation; summer not unbearably hot) whereas Spain gets hot as shit in the summer at least in the south and Barcelona is hot and crazy humid I’ve heard. Point goes to Mexico, inferno-laden Yucatan peninsula notwithstanding.

        Overall it looks like Mexico is ahead in the tally. Ignoring the money angle, I think I would put Spain and Mexico on equal footing though (with the pros and cons as noted). But I’d just stick with Raleigh if it was going to be Raleigh vs. Spain for about the same cost. 🙂

        1. Nice! Thanks for the pros/cons breakdown, Justin! Distance and price-wise Mexico definitely wins, but biggest pro for me in Spain would be the easy of travel to other European countries. Flying from Mexico to Central and South American ain’t cheap and takes a long time.

          1. That’s a good point about Spain being a portal to Europe. I still think Mexico City proximity is a good starting point for international travel wherever. They have a hundred non-stop destinations all over Mexico, the US and Canada and Latin America plus direct flights to many European hubs. Not necessarily cheap I guess but I haven’t priced anything beyond flights from Raleigh/Charlotte (which are dirt cheap – like <$300).

            But outside of Mexico City and maybe Guadalajara your non-stop flights will probably be limited, and you're looking at 1+ connections to get elsewhere. I guess it's the same way in Spain since the smaller airports don't have tons of non-stops beyond the regional hubs. So if you're outside of Madrid or Barcelona metro areas, then you're probably connecting somewhere else to get to your final destination. We totally lucked up by finding a cheap non-stop from Seville to Milan on Ryanair given how tiny the Seville Airport is. And we had to change our itinerary when we realized you can't cheaply fly from Lisbon to Seville (though we literally flew over Seville en route to Malaga!!).

            1. Mexico City is definitely a good hub, that’s why we were able to get around pretty easily with cheap flights in Mexico. Once we got to Central and South American, the flights started being pretty limited and it takes SO long to get anywhere. South America is MASSIVE.

              Somehow it would’ve cost less to fly from Toronto to Cusco, Peru than to fly there from neighbouring Ecuador. I guess it has something to do with volume of travellers and demand.

  3. Very interesting. Since my wife is Danish, we are considering moving to Denmark one of these days. But for me, that’s a bit problematic to stay in Denmark for longer than 90 days. Basically I’d need to get a job. I came across the Spanish long term stay visa during research and that looks quite interesting.

    Question though, with this Spanish visa, are you required to stay in Spain?

  4. Thanks for the interview, guys. FIRECracker asked good questions and I hope I was clear enough in my answers. I’ll try to keep an eye on these comments in case anyone has any follow-ups I can answer. Keep doing what you’re doing. Cheers!

  5. I heart Spain in a major way, after spending a semester abroad there as a junior. What an amazing place to live. Jed, thanks so much for all the details about how to live there for several years! I’m looking forward to reading more of your story!

  6. This is great information, I love Spain. I think this kind of visa would also be great for those of us who love to travel but also enjoy having a home base, I could definitely see this as a possibility for us. I can imagine visiting all the great cities in Europe from Barcelona. Thanks for doing this post!

  7. I am an MD with citizenship in the US and a European country, and be aware that for complicated issues you tend to get what you pay for- there is a reason people from allover the world come to the Mayo Clinic, Baylor, Mass General etc and less so to Europe.

    Spanish healthcare is fine for routine things, but for anything not routine their training, equipment, and general standards are far below the US (I can’t speak for Canada). They just don’t have the resources to deal certain complications. I’ve had more than one previously young and healthy study abroad patient whose medical problems just couldn’t be solved in Spain. The most recent was a young man with perforated appendicitis who spent a month (!) in the hospital in Spain and eventually had to be medevac-ed back to the US for definitive care at an academic medical center, where he recovered uneventfully.

    It’s a fantasy to think anyone gets great, comprehensive care for less money. Europe does a great job providing good, routine, preventive care at low cost, but they keep costs low by not providing the advanced level of care available in the US.

    Perhaps this is a better use of healthcare dollars (or pesos)- it probably is. But that’s cold comfort when you are the one with the cancer only treatable at the Cleveland Clinic. Caveat emptor…

    1. Interesting take on that. I wonder if that health insurance was able to cross borders to go to Germany or another EU country…

      1. German healthcare is somewhat similar to Spanish, except that many of the German doctors have decamped to the UK for better salaries, replaced by Greek doctors.

        All the European-style national insurance programs are more similar than different, with the possible exception of Switzerland (which has the second highest medical costs in the world, not coincidentally) and perhaps the Nordic countries. If you want an integrated trauma system, availability of specialists all day and all night, emergent cardiac catheterization for all heart attacks, and cutting edge cancer therapy, you have to pay more at every level of the healthcare system.

        There are fine physicians in all these countries, but they are severely constrained by their limited resources. Ancillary staff (nurses, respiratory therapists etc) are not as highly trained, either. The US encourages BSN degrees and pays nurses well, with many earning six figures; most countries in Europe require less education and pay as little as $15-20 an hour!

        Ease of access is important, but patient satisfaction and accessibility do not ensure quality care. The people in all of these countries live to fine old ages compared to the average American for a variety of reasons including fewer people living in extreme poverty, less gun violence, good preventive medicine and better lifestyle. But the very old and the very ill survive longer in the US.

        I’m not saying one system is better than the other. There are pluses and minuses to both, but it’s important to be aware in order to make an informed choice.

  8. Interesting, but let me give you a hint here. My husband came to Poland from the US on a student visa. He enrolled in a one year Polish language course, and he got a one year visa. Then he met me and we got married so now he has a permanent EU residency, which means he can live and work anywhere in EU.

    Our friend however came to Poland to do her Masters degree on Jagiellonian University. Tuition cost her 1000€ for a 2-year program, and after finishing it she had no problem in getting a job here, permanent residency that allows the same, without needing to marry EU citizen.

    Can you wrap your head around it? A MA program taught fully in English for 1000€! And she gets to live in Krakow, one of the prettiest cities! And enjoy the good food at 5$ per day, plus a 1.5$ beer. If only more Americans knew that studying in Europe is one way to avoid student debt!

    1. Shit, really? I always thought being an international student was hella expensive but now you’ve got me all turned around on the subject!

      1. Well, European countrors offer studies to Europeans for free, mostly, and they realized that offering them for a small fee to out of EU students brings them cash. Win win. You can do a medical doctor program here for a fraction of a cost, and the program is US certified! How about that for a blog post to future FIRE kids, or parents!

        1. Wow, that’s incredible. “Studying in Europe to avoid student debt”. Definitely a great suggestion for a future blog post. Thanks!

          1. This is exactly what I’m trying to do. I’m in the process of applying to a German engineering master’s program conducted totally in English. The fees for NON-EU citizens are a couple hundred Euros a semester!
            I’m quitting my decent-paying engineering job in the USA in order to attend German university full time, which will hopefully turn into a full time engineering job in the EU.

  9. Great summary of the visa program guys! I came across this visa a few years ago and we’ve been working our FI goals to make it happen…ideally an eventual move to Spain.

    Jed, your blog was one that helped us put our plan together! Much appreciated! Are you still in Granada…if my memory serves?

    Justin, Glad you had a chance to get over to Anadalucia. It is an amazing part of the world. I’ve been following your story as well.

  10. Impressive but as your guest said, Portugal is way better and cheaper and they have a similar visa program as well although it requires less income proof.

    Thanks God I know the language so I don’t have this problem. You guys should definitely check Portugal and learn how to speak Portuguese, a language spoken by 12 countries worldwide and most people never heard about that!

    1. Portugal also has a similar visa program? Wow. I had no idea. Have you gone through the process of getting the visa?

      Would love to learn to speak Portuguese! Actually, we’ll be going to Porto later this year, so I will get a chance to learn a few phrases!

      1. I’m looking into that right now as I’m still a couple years away from FIREing but yes, google Portugal Visa D-7.

        Each household must have the following as a means of livelihood for the 12-month period:
        – First adult: 6,960 Euros;
        – Second or more adults: 3,480 Euros;
        – Children under age of 18 and older children who are dependents: 2,088 euros.

        (Per year guys, not month)!!!

        The D7 visa enables the respective holder to obtain a residence permit in Portugal for a period of one year, which can then be renewed for successive periods of 2 years and can be converted into a permanent residence permit after 5 years.
        Source: https://goo.gl/cd2Fpf

    1. I know I’d have to prove I’m not a deranged, diseased, insurance-less axe murderer on welfare who is going to be a drain on their public services, but does that mean I have to prove I’m not ANY of that, or just that I’m just not ALL of that?

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