Is it Better to Seek Permanent Residency or Citizenship in Spain? The Pros and Cons

If you’ve been living in Spain for a while and feel ready to make the country your permanent home, then you might be wondering what your options are. Some people sing the praises of seeking permanent residency as a route to giving you roots and stability in Spain, whilst others believe that taking the extra step of becoming a fully-fledged Spanish citizen is the better option. Both residency and citizenship will allow you to stay in Spain on a long-term basis.  But which choice is the right one for you? And what are the differences between permanent residency and citizenship anyway? Here’s everything you need to know:

What is Permanent Residency?

Permanent residency is now known as long-term residency in Spain, though many people continue to use the terms interchangeably. You can apply for long-term residency in the country once you have been registered as a resident in the country and have been living there continuously on a legal basis (meaning that your visa has been renewed on time and within the predefined parameters of the terms of your residency) for at least five years.

What is Spanish Citizenship?

Citizenship is the process by which you renounce your allegiance to your home country in order to become a Spanish citizen instead. You cannot apply for citizenship in Spain until you have been a permanent and legal resident of the country for ten years in the majority of cases. Exceptions are made that will allow you to apply for citizenship after a shorter period of time if: you are married to someone from Spain, or if one of your parents is Spanish.

The Benefits of Choosing Residency

  • Applying for residency once you have been living in Spain for at least five years involves much less bureaucracy than the initial application process. The level of paperwork involved in applying for long-term residency is similar to the paperwork you would complete when undertaking a renewal: the only stumbling block you might experience to a straightforward application is if you have spent too much time outside of Spain during that five year period. Once you have your long-term residency card, you will only need to renew it every five years.
  • If you are a non-EU national, then another benefit of long-term Spanish residency is that you can spend up to three months travelling in other Schengen countries without needing to apply for a visa. You will not be able to spend longer than three months in these countries in most circumstances though.
  • Long-term Spanish residency gives you access to Spanish social security and other benefits if you need it. This includes access to the Spanish public healthcare system, as well as work-related sickness or injury pay, retirement and pensions benefits, child allowance, and maternity and paternity care. This does come with a caveat however: to access the Spanish social security system, you should be paying into it. This payment is usually in the form of paid employment.
  • Unlike applying for citizenship, you won’t have to revise for or sit any exams in order to apply for long-term residency in Spain.

The Drawbacks of Choosing Residency

  • If you live out of Spain for more than two years consecutively then you will lose your right to permanent residency in the country. That means that you can’t be as flexible or spontaneous as you might like with your travel plans when you are a long-term Spanish resident.
  • Another drawback of long-term residency for some is the requirement to prove that you can support yourself and any dependents included on your residency permit. Usually, this proof is in the form of a salary, pension, or investments.
  • There is also the possibility that you could lose residency if you do something that will breach the terms of your residency card. The main factor that could impact this is living outside of Spain for two consecutive years, but being convicted of a criminal offence could also lead to the loss of your permit.
  • Finally, as a permanent resident, whilst Spanish politics will have a huge impact on your life, you are not eligible to either vote in Spanish elections or become involved in Spanish politics.

The Benefits of Choosing Citizenship

  • As a Spanish citizen, you will be afforded all of the benefits that natural Spanish citizens are given. If you want to be fully integrated into Spanish life, then this is a huge benefit of choosing citizenship.
  • Another benefit of citizenship is that you will be afforded freedom of movement across all of the EU. This means that you will be able to live and work in any other EU country without having to apply for residency: something that UK nationals in particular have been denied since they the UK left the EU. The Spanish passport is considered to be one of the most powerful in the world and holding a Spanish passport will give you access to visa-free travel to 190 countries.
  • You can spend as much time as you wish outside of Spain without worrying about whether you will be eligible to remain in the country when you return. This should give you peace of mind that you won’t lose your home if you decide to up and travel the world for a long period of time!
  • Spanish citizenship is both cheap and easy to renew. It will only cost you €104.05 to complete the application (based on 2022 prices), and then when you renew your citizenship, something that you will have to do every ten years, you can do this at your local police station quickly and simply. There is even an online booking system to make the process as easy as possible.
  • Your family will be entitled to Spanish nationality and residency too. This applies to children under the age of 18 and will also apply if your spouse is not already an EU citizen. In this case they will be eligible for residency, and after a year, they can also apply for Spanish nationality.

The Drawbacks of Choosing Citizenship

  • The main drawback of choosing to apply for Spanish citizenship is that, in most cases, you will have to give up your old nationality and passport. The only exceptions to this are if you are a citizen of most Latin American countries, Portugal, the Philippines, Andorra and more recently France, all of whom are allowed dual nationality. Identity is a very personal thing, and integral to your wellbeing. That means that giving up your citizenship can feel like a very big decision to some people.
  • You must wait at least ten years before you can apply for citizenship, whilst you can apply for long-term residency after just five years. And once you make your application, it can take between one and three years to get a decision. If you don’t have the right documentation, your application could take even longer. Therefore, from the day you first arrival in Spain, you can expect to wait around 13 years to get a citizenship decision.
  • Finally, you will need to pass two exams in order to be granted Spanish citizenship. You will need to revise for these exams, as you can’t achieve citizenship without them. The first test will look at your level of Spanish, although the threshold is quite low, and the other will test your knowledge of Spanish history and culture. Both tests are completed in Spanish, so it’s important that you have a good level of Spanish language skills.

Only you can decide which path is right for you: whether long-term residency or citizenship will best suit your needs as you follow your dreams of living permanently in Spain.

Are you thinking of moving to Spain? Would you like to become a Spanish citizen, and dream of owning property in the country? Then why not get in touch with our locally based property experts, who have years of experience in helping house hunters just like you to find the property of their dreams.