The Cheat's tale of trial and meditation: getting your NIE.
As you know, it is a legal requirement for foreigners in this country to sign up with the police and get an NIE (numero de identificación extranjero) alien identity card. Without this you are a floating human, a nobody without access to anything. Opening a bank account, registering a car, getting a mobile phone contract and just about anything requiring any degree of commitment demands that an identity card be shown, which is different for residents, nationals and registered aliens.
Now the deal is pretty simple, as far as bureaucracy is concerned. You need two copies of your passport (and the original of course), four passport pictures, the filled in application and a copy (solicitude NIE), a small amount of cash and you’re off to the races. You also need a legal reason for your request, such as studies, a job, or simply because you like it here and plan to stay past your visa. These bits, the hardware, are altogether easy to sort out. The hard part is physical, finding the patience and temperament to wait in a very long line with a few hundred other would-be expats to submit your application.
My personal experience was one of trial and meditation. Trial because I had to get up and be there by 6am if I had any ambition of being served before they closed punctually at 2pm; meditative because standing outside in the cold for upwards of four or five hours requires you to be pretty self entertaining. The first hour went by pretty slowly, because I was still fully conscious and mentally shifting back and forth between irritation and melancholy. Then I began daydreaming of being on my racing bicycle, stamping the pedals up some challenging mountain road with the sun on my face and clean, fresh air sucking into my lungs. This was the wrong thing to do, because all it did was serve to emphasize that cold, uncomfortable situation and made me wish I was someplace else. Eventually I managed to mentally simulate the lung busting suffering of that climb, focussing intently on imagining every realistic detail of a physical experience. This worked wonders, because I “tuned out” of the real world and was transported to the top of the mountain. All of a sudden it was 9am, the doors opened, and in we went.
Inside the Oficina de Extranjeros, I took a number, found a seat and considered myself done. The bicycle was put away; figuring that at this point it would be an hour, max, before my turn. Sure enough, the first ten people or so were dealt with quickly, but then something bizarre happened: three of the four staff upped and left, at like 9:45. Cheerfully, they donned their coats and wandered outside leaving one hapless dude with a bad Elvis haircut to deal with 80 immigrants. I was flabbergasted. Where the hell are they going, It’s not lunch yet? About an hour later, two of them returned, and settled back into what can only be called a lethargic work pace. Being a civil servant in Europe must be great. My lawyer explained that they can’t be fired, and the benefits are tasty too. An acquaintance of mine in the Netherlands once proudly boasted that she got 36 paid vacation days working for the Dutch government. There’s motivation for you.
The truth of the matter is that getting this done is a royal pain, but do it you must. Following this “formality”, you must then also make an appointment to request a residence permit. I will not explain this now, because it’s 3:48, and I need a break. I need to get out of here. Be patient. Settle down a while and wait. We’re in Spain.