Through the Looking Glass

A not so fun fact. After living here in Spain for more than four and a half years you’d think I would have heard it all. Jumped through nearly every hoop. But there you’d be wrong.

This year is the year of renewals. We checked our US passports off our list. Then, we just need to get our residence visas renewed. It’s an odd cadence for us. We started out on a non-lucrativo visa. Then, the Barcelona office of the company Jeff is working for sponsored our visa during the pandemic. So it threw off our renewals by six months.

Technically, we are entitled to apply for permanent residence in March of 2023, having resided legally in Spain for five years by that time. But this switch to a highly skilled worker visa, and the timing of the two year visa renewal, leaves us six months short. No problem. We will do another two year renewal. Then, we will apply for permanent residency status. It will be good for five years. Deep breath.

One thing we have yet to encounter in the renewal process is that it has completely messed up our banking. On an NL visa, the bank put in our US passports. So, our expiration dates on our NIE cards (visas) had no impact. When we switched to a Highly Skilled Worker visa the bank replaced our passports with NIE cards. And now that we are in the renewals process we hit a snag. Kind of a big one.

Jeff went to the cash machine to pull out some money to pay for the firewood. Not a problem. Then they threw up a message that said since our NIE cards expired the following day they would be freezing our bank accounts in 24 hours. What?!?

Jeff came home freaking out. Good thing the firewood guy doesn’t speak any ingles. He would have learned some new words. Still, I’m pretty sure the tone cuts through any language barrier. What could we do?

How It Works

When your visa comes up for renewal you can initiate the process 60 days before the expiration date. And up to 90 days after. You can stay in Spain during this time. Actually, you can stay until you get a positive or negative result. So it can even go on past 90 days after your visa has technically expired. Because you are waiting or appealing. If you are on a NL visa this will impact virtually nothing, except if you want to switch cell phone providers in Valencia during this period – ask me how I know.

We are not newbies. We know the drill. So Jeff emailed the Barcelona office at his work, weeks and weeks in advance, and reminded them that the visa renewal needed to get underway. They have to initiate it. He heard crickets. Then August holidays happened and the entire office was shuttered. Another deep breath.

The weeks ticked down. Our visas are technically expired on September 13. Yes, we have a 90 day cushion, but why use it up? It should be simple to file. Pay the new higher filing fee. Easy. I’ve done it myself, and I am no genius when it comes to Spanish bureaucracy.

We know we are an anomaly at the Barcelona office. Due to the pandemic, they have never met Jeff in person. So our visa issues are not top of mind. But he kept emailing. Then, the bank message came through. Thank God we had to pay the wood guy or we would never have known. And we would shortly have no access to our money. We couldn’t even transfer money from the US. The bank wouldn’t accept it. How would we pay our bills? My mind raced.

We went to the bank the next morning in Lugo (there is no branch in Melide) and they told us there was nothing they could do. Jeff shook the tree at the office, again, and they have finally filed our renewal. We even have a paper to prove it. Of course, we already had every document they asked for and sent them all immediately. And now, we wait. But that paper means nothing, other than to communicate that we have submitted paperwork.

Last time, after six months of Herculean effort, his visa was approved in 24 hours. This time, it’s been a week. Silence. We hear it might take another month. Apparently, there is a backlog of people applying for Spanish visas post-Covid and post-Brexit.

Jeff and I took out handfuls of cash before our account locked down. So we can eat, and I can pay the electric bill – if it comes to that. Looking at our bank balance now is like visiting the zoo. You can view it. Tap the glass on your phone. Ooh and ahh. Wave even. But you can’t touch any of it. I know this because I decided to try it out at our local el Chino. They denied my debit card. The guy behind the counter gave me a look of pity before I reached into my wallet for a wad of €50 notes, peeling them off and smiling back. ‘I’m not a deadbeat.’ I wanted to say. ‘Just caught in visa renewal NIE card expiration date banking HELL.’ But I didn’t.

The sad truth is that you are no one in Spain with an expired National Identity (NIE) card. So, learn from me, kiddies. When you are exactly 60 days prior to the expiration date on your visa or residency card, don’t wait. Have your documents at the ready. Pay the tax with your Modelo 790 form at the bank (before 11am <eye roll> 🙄) Then, pull the trigger on filing your renewal. You probably know the old saying A fool and his money are soon parted. Truer words were never spoken. You don’t want to be us right now. Waving to our money through glass.

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