The nearly infamous, and relatively easy-to-get nonlucrative visa for Spain is now the primary route to Spanish residency for Americans, Canadians, Russians, and (thanks to Brexit) even for Brits. Here's a guide to doing the American NLV application process (assisted by an immigration attorney) with detailed consulate requirements variations and exclusive consulate ratings!
Before Caliente Travels (Tiffany) gets into her story below, let's cover some definitions and facts about what the non-lucrative visa really is.
Non-lucrative – no lucrativo
"Non-lucrative" is defined as not profitable or not gaining money. This means that you must support yourself without earning an income, in Spain or elsewhere (although as you'll see this isn't applied universally). To qualify at the most basic level you'll need to show sufficient savings in a bank account or income from retirement accounts, trust fund or a pension. Alternatively, you could show income from investments like dividends, rental income from an investment property, or interest earned. One family showed regular income from Google Adsense earnings, although this was not through a Spanish consulate in the US (it was in Mexico).
On the NLV, you are not supposed to carry out economic or professional activities in Spain. In essence, you can live in Spain as long as you are not a burden or taking jobs from locals. In Spanish, the visa is called “Visado de Residencia no Lucrativa”.
Spain doesn't have a "retirement visa" per se, instead it has set up this visa in such a way that those who are retired and make a sufficient pension or live on a suitably large enough pile of savings will be allowed to live in Spain with a path to permanent residency.
Several key advantages to the non-lucrative visa:
There are a few restrictions or conditions compared to other types of visas and residencias:
…And now back to Tiffany's guide to the non-lucrative visa.
So you’re thinking about making the leap from the U.S. to Spain on a non-lucrative visa? This article is here to help you get through the process and avoid all the mistakes we made!
We started our adventure from California and decided during quarantine that we needed a big change. Here we are a couple in our 30s, with a toddler and two dogs, but we decided to sell off all our belongings (including our cars and a house) and leave California – the only place I've ever known (yikes) – to move to Alicante, Spain. The real kicker is...we've never actually been to Spain! In fact, the closest we've been to traveling abroad has been hopping across the boarder to Mexico. So, what makes a sane (ahem) couple change their whole lives? Let's begin!
So real quick here's a brief intro to the crazy people you will be traveling with. There is me Tiffany (34), my husband Johnny (39), and my son Jackson (3). We see ourselves as pretty down-to-earth people but found trying to make a life in California kept us anything but grounded. I am an original Californian and my husband moved here about 9 years ago. In that time, we were married (2016), bought a house (2017), and had a baby (2018). We were living the dream, or we were supposed to be right? And then came the pandemic...
At the time the pandemic hit I was working 40+ hours as a mental health therapist, Johnny was working 40+ as an installer, and our son spent more time at daycare than with us. We had always talked about moving to Europe as we felt there was an energy there that was much more our style (based on the European TV shows we watched haha). This is when the light bulb turned on.
Living in California "the best place in the world," I realized I had bought into the hype. Working like a dog to pay my $2200 mortgage and paying $1000 a month for daycare that allowed me to work in order to pay the daycare bill... somehow it had seemed worth it. When I thought about moving to Europe in the past, I was told how expensive it was going to be, and "why would I ever want to live anywhere else?" But I decided to look into it because, well, what the hell – nothing else is happening.
What I discovered blew my mind! We could live in Spain and cover the rent, utilities, medical, food, school (see cost of living), etc. for what it cost to pay my mortgage!!! If we sold our house we could definitely afford to live in Spain for the year work-free. Heck, maybe even 2 years. I could actually be around to see my son grow up! It was a no-brainer.
And it's all made possible because of the non lucrative (visado no lucrativo, aka, retirement) visa.
And so the process begins!! Before we get to the visa description, there are a few steps that I would recommend at this point in your journey.
From what I have been told they are the easiest to get, but there are a few catches. This visa entails that you will not work in Spain, so in order to survive you must have enough savings.
The amount of savings required is based on the monthly IPREM (Indicador Público de Renta de Efectos Múltiples), which was recently raised by about 5% for 2021 to €564,90, giving an IPREM of €6,778.70 for a whole year.
The amount you need to show is 400% of the IPREM, so €27,115.20 in available savings or guaranteed income.
You’ll need an additional single annual IPREM of €6,778.70 for each family member on the application.
This table shows the total financial requirement for a range of applications.
|Single Applicant||€27,115 = $32,888|
|Applicant + 1 dependant||€33,893 = $41,109|
|Applicant + 2 dependants||€40,671 = $49,330|
|Applicant + 3 dependants||€47,450 = $57,552|
I did read that you may want to have a little more than this as a buffer (Editor's note: the more the better). I didn't have that much money laying around, so we are doing a crazy, totally committed thing: we are raising the funds from the sale of our house! Apparently the L.A. consulate doesn't want you to own property unless you are renting it for income anyway. My understanding is that they feel it means that you may not stay in Spain long enough, but hey, check with your consulate!
The super important part everyone wants to know is if you can work remotely on a non-lucrative visa. The answer I received from the Los Angeles consulate is a big fat no! On their website under frequently asked questions, it says you will be denied if you state you are working tele-remotely. So here's the deal: this rule is there to prevent people from coming in and stealing Spanish jobs and to avoid people making money elsewhere but using resources locally and not paying taxes. If I'm working remotely for another country then technically I'm not doing that, right?. In my opinion, the problem is that Spain has not caught up with the technological advances and takes it very literally. They have not modified the law yet.
If you receive a pension or draw from a retirement investment account, you're set – obviously.
Now on a non-lucrative visa you are not working in Spain, so you are also not paying Spanish taxes, thus are not able to get public assistance until you reapply with a different visa. You will have to pay for private health insurance which came to about $1900 for my family of three for an annual policy. For us in California it normally costs us about $1000 a month so that’s a huge difference!
On top of this huge cost savings, Spain lets your kids attend public school for free, although some may opt to pay for private education. Once the first year is up, you are able to apply to change your visa to a freelance or employment visa, and are eligible for public programs, which is what we are planning to do.
I guess this would be a good place to list all the things you need for the non-lucrative visa Spain. Some of these items will be common with all of the visas, like the passport photo.
Always best to check out your own Spanish Consulate's page (Editor's note: many Spanish consulates around the world haven't updated the information on their sites in a long time, but they'll provide you the latest requirements and information on informal-looking PDFs). The consulates' sites usually have common questions (FAQs) and printouts of the forms needed. Below I will list the differences between the Visas based on consulate.
If applying with dependents (husband, wife, or children), the dependents require the following documents in addition to the above-mentioned ones for each corresponding applicant:
You will need a letter of motivation! It doesn't say so on the site, but my lawyer is having us do one and I've heard other people say they need one! It's basically a love letter to Spain. You write who is applying, why you want to move to Spain, and how you plan on supporting yourself, (how much savings you are bringing). This letter may also be different based on the consulate.
If your consulate requires tax records and bank statements, then they will have to be translated (95% of the time – confirm with your consulate). The tax record can be a summary; it does not have to be your entire tax report.
Translations are best provided by translators found on the list of Sworn Spanish translators certified by the Government of Spain. Though, as with so many elements of Spanish bureaucracy, it's not always necesary if you have another preferred sworn translator.
I wanted to include a list of consulates and differences in Non-Lucrative Visa application in hopes to help you make the most informed decision. Here are all the Spanish Consulates in the U.S. I have written the differences for the Visa application based on the consulate.
Based on my subjective experience going through the NLV application process as well as on my research and discussions with other expats through the Facebook group and other forums, I've put together a novel rating system that summarizes the relative ease of the nonlucrative visa application procedure through each of the consulates. The more arduous requirements can include additional translations, property leases, apostilling, and more.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Spanish Consulate of Boston processes NLV applications for: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont y Maine.
⭐️ Spanish Consulate of Chicago processes for these states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
⭐️ Spanish Consulate of Houston handles non-lucrative visa applications for: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee or Texas.
⭐️⭐️ Spanish Consulate of Los Angeles processes nonlucrative visas for Southern California (Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Sand Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties), Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
⭐️ Spanish Consulate of Miami processes "residence visa for non-profit purposes" applications for Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Spanish Consulate of New York covers these states: New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
⭐️⭐️ Spanish Consulate of San Francisco covers Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Pacific islands (Guam, American Samoa, Mariana Islands, US Minor Outlying Islands), Alaska, as well as Northern Californian counties including: Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Buttle, Calaveras, Colusa, Contracosta, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humbboldt, Inyo, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Wood, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Pleasure, Feathers, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehema, Trinity, Tulare, Toulumne, Yolo, Yuba
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Spanish Consulate of San Juan, Puerto Rico covers the USVI
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Spanish Consulate of Washington DC covers these states: District of Columbia, Washington, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and, West Virginia
As you can see, you will need to check the consulate nearest to your home to confirm which rules apply and I have found they're often receptive to emailed questions (taking care not to overshare information about your situation). I have heard of people moving temporarily to another consulate jurisdiction by registering their residency at a friend or relative's house because the rules were more lenient and it was easier to get a visa. That may sound like a lot of work but may ultimately prove cheaper and less difficult then selling your house or getting a 12 month apartment lease in Spain.
Welcome to the bane of my existence – the apostille process. This is the area where pretty much everything went wrong for us. Don’t be scared away though, all of the mishaps we dealt with along the way should make for a great what-not-to-do list!
An apostille is pretty much a super fancy notarization by a government figure. What the Secretary of State providing the Apostille of the Hague does is, upon receiving your documents, they vouch for their veracity (that they are real) and provide a certified letter to provide to the Spanish Consulate that you are not using a forgery. It costs $20 per item to have it apostilled.
There are two Secretaries of State that can and do provide an Apostille of the Hague in the nonlucrative visa process:
Checklist of documents you will need apostilled:
Prior to quarantine, getting your documentation apostilled for the nonlucrative visa application was a relatively simple process as you could either walk-in and have it stamped the same day or if you lived close enough to your Spanish consulate you could mail in your paperwork with a pre-addressed return stamped envelope and have the whole process done in about 1 week.
Due to quarantine there are no more in-person appointments and so the majority are being mailed, which is generating a very long backlog – about 2 months at the federal level, but sometimes much less depending on your state. At some Secretary of State DoJ locations you can utilize their drop box to turn in the paperwork with a pre-addressed return envelope and get it in about 3-5 days. To find your state's dropbox, google for "[state name] secretary of state apostille drop box".
There are also online apostille services, but I haven't tried them – maybe share with us your experience using an online apostille service in the comments?
The simplest process is to request your background check from your state DOJ because then you can submit all of your forms that need to be apostilled to the same place. The main reason to use the FBI background check is for people who have lived in multiple states in the last 5 years – a single FBI check can cover multiple states, saving significant time, hassle and money requesting a background check from each state individually.
Example: I lived in California for the last 5 years. Get DOJ background from your State Secretary and turn in all of your paperwork together. Remember once you receive the background check you need to email your State DOJ and get a certified letter, which is what you submit to the apostille.
I lived in California and Nevada within the last 5 years. Option A: I can either get 1 FBI background check that covers both states or Option B I would need to do get 2 background checks, one for Nevada and one for California and have them each apostilled in the states they came from.
Editor's Pro-tip: Prior to the pandemic (and hopefully afterward) the FBI background check was very easy using local Private Investigator services. Just google around for them. We didn't have to apostille our FBI background check either!
Initially what we did was collect our documents plus the FBI background check and mailed them all in as we did not realize the wait would be about 2 months. I later did further research and saw that the California Secretary of State's drop box was available at our local LA consulate which for us was pretty lucky as it was about 2 hours away.
You may remember that you are supposed to send your FBI background check to the apostille it was received from, we did not catch this and submitted our FBI background check to the California State DOJ (will get to more of that later). Because we had submitted all of our original paperwork, we needed to request new certified paperwork in order to put it in the dropbox. Because we are in a time crunch we used a company called VitalChek in order to have these forms expedited to us. In total, all of the forms cost about $115. The FBI background check is able to be printed from email, multiple times, so we printed out a new copy. We collected all our new certified documents, drove up to LA, and submitted them to the dropbox. 3 days later we received our paperwork back but there was an issue. Remember when I said make sure you send your background check to the right place? Well, we didn’t know that and sent the FBI background check with the rest of our paperwork to the California State DOJ, when we should have sent it to the U.S. Department of State!!!
We looked up how to send our FBI background check to the right place and found that they are backlogged for about 3 months due to, you guessed it, COVID restrictions. Because again time was of the essence we re-did all of our fingerprinting and background checks with the DOJ in order to submit it to the dropbox with the 3-5 day turnaround. The DOJ background check took about 2 weeks to get to us. We put our background checks in a new shiny envelope, made the drive back up to LA, and submitted it. 5 days later we received it back, and you will not believe it, but it was wrong again!!! Basically what had happened is that the FBI background check came to you fully ready to be submitted, which is what we thought the DOJ background check was like too….Nope. Once you receive your DOJ paperwork you have to then email the immigration department at the Secretary of State to send you a certified letter that this background check is authentic. You then turn in the background check and letter to have it apostilled. One more trip to LA and finally get it apostilled.
Depending on your consulate there will be different paperwork that your consulate may require. As we are in LA we had to add proof that we do not have a mortgage. In our non-lucrative visa packet was our forms, apostilled items, medical insurance proof, a medical letter from MD, proof of the sale of our house, a stamped letter from our bank stating the funds were in our account, the last 3 months of bank statements, and our taxes for this year (just a summary). One question I have been asked is: do you have to have your bank statements, letter, and taxes translated? Yes you do. Fortunately, you only need the summary of the taxes translated.
I would love to say that we are currently in Spain, however, we are waiting for our house to officially sell, to get the proof of funds and proof of sale. Once these are all in our possession the NLV application appointment process is a little different than in the past. Each consulate has different ways they are doing their application appointments. Currently, the LA consulate is not doing in-person interviews. Our lawyer will compile all our copies and will email them to the consulate. If everything that is needed is there we will then be told to mail in all of our original documents. If the visa is approved, the consulate will keep all the paperwork, and we will have our passport only returned to us.
In conclusion, I know it may seem overwhelming, but it is a very doable process and if you keep your patience and have a good sense of humor, it will be so worth it! I hope this helped you decide if the Non-Lucrative Visa is for you. We have had a crazy ride getting our passports, and our paperwork apostilled, with too many mistakes to put in one article. It can seem like it’s an impossible task but if we can do it anyone can!
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