How I Changed Teaching Programs and Renewed my Spanish Residency Without Returning to the U.S.

renewing residency in Spain

Disclaimer: This post is 1750 words about renewing residency in Spain, specifically if you are switching from one teaching program to another. While I try to make all my posts entertaining regardless of topic, you’ve been warned: Visa processes are generally duller than garage sale kitchen knives. If you’re looking for a spicier read, why not try WanderLust: Dating in Spain or The Italian Diet: How to Gain 1,000 pounds (454 kilos) in 9 Days. That last one is actually proven to work. 

The phrase “visa process” makes my hair stand on end. The sound of it is as unpleasant as nails on a chalkboard, my 5-month-old students screaming for a bottle, or the literally continual construction happening on the other side of my bedroom wall.

Renewing residency in Spain while switching teaching programs instills an even deeper sense of dread. 

This is a big issue for many readers because, apparently, if you switch teaching programs in Spain, say from the Ministry program to Meddeas, or BEDA, or a list of others, you are required to return to the U.S. to get a whole new visa, instead of merely renewing your residency card in Spain. And that takes a lot of time and money, especially if you want to stay in Europe over the summer.

I’ve been hesitant to write a post on this because I myself am a bit unclear on how I managed it. And by “a bit,” I mean it’s both hazy because it was a year ago, and also because I didn’t even fully understand what was happening at the time. But since so many people have asked, I thought one big (really big) blogpost would be easier than writing tons of separate emails. Girl’s getting carpal tunnel over here.

So here are as many details as I can pull together on how I managed to renew my residency in Spain while switching teaching programs, without having to get a whole new visa back in the U.S.

*Note: This is not a step-by-step guide on how to get a visa, or even exactly on how to renew one. Many appointments are involved—I think I may have blacked out the trauma, actually. For detailed information on how to apply for a visa for the auxiliar program, fellow Spain blogger Trevor Huxham has the patience to write it down ;) And for exactly what you must present at the appointment, in exactly which province, check the Extranjeria’s (foreigners’ office) website

Besalu Spain

Besalú, Spain

Renewing Residency in Spain: First Appointment at the Extranjería 

For my appointment at the extranjería, to renew my NIE (foreign identification number) and NOT to get it for the first time, I was asked to present:

  • Passport and copy
  • Current residency card (TIE) and copy
  • Proof of medical coverage, if you’re not an EU citizen (Meddeas walks you through how to sign up for a third party, something that cost me about $300 for the whole year)
  • Letter of completion from your current school saying you successfully completed the course (I just asked my boss to write something simple, signed and printed on the school letterhead)
  • The acceptance letter for the coming school year (which also shows proof of sufficient funds)

When I went to my appointment, I had still not received the acceptance letter from Meddeas, so I planned on turning it in later within the 10-day period they allot to present missing documents. This acceptance letter shows proof of funds and proof of “studies,” since although we are working, it’s considered a grant and we receive a student visa.

However, although I technically lacked both proof of funds and proof of studies at the appointment, the woman only asked me for proof of funds. She may have taken the letter of completion from my current school as somehow proving I was still employed with them—I don’t know. To prove the funds, she told me to merely print off my bank statements from the past year and highlight the monthly deposits I had received, and that would suffice. How this showed proof of funds for the following year, I have no idea, but I didn’t argue. This means that I didn’t have to return showing my Meddeas letter, which in turn means I didn’t have to raise any questions about whether or not I was switching programs.

I think.

Like I said, I’m not totally sure what was going on. The worker didn’t seem sure either—she had never heard of the auxiliars program. At one point I asked her if it was possible to forward all my documents to Barcelona, since I’d be living there, and she said, “But why would you be living in Barcelona and working in Bilbao?” There was my clue that she didn’t really understand that I was switching programs, but rather thought that I was continuing in Bilbao. Instead of pressing her on it, I just sort of chalked it up to language problems and mumbled something like, “Oh right! Duh!”

At the end of the meeting, I needed to provide a mailing address in Spain where she could send a follow-up paper that I would then take to the police station in order to get fingerprinted. I gave her my mailbox in Bilbao, even though I was moving out, because my roommate said he would just collect it for me. Had I given her an address not in that same city, again, I’m not sure it would have worked.

Don’t you love how clear this all is thus far? 

mercat at night

Outdoor market in Barcelona

The Final Appointment: Fingerprints

When the paper came, maybe two weeks later, I went into the police department (not the extranjería this time) to take my fingerprints. This is the last step to renewing residency in Spain, so I knew that I basically made it through.

Here’s the catch, though: The residency card had to be collected in 30–45 days time in person. But I was heading to Barcelona right after, and I reaaaaallly didn’t want to come all the way back to Bilbao, an 8 hour bus ride, just to collect a card.

Luckily, and I mean SO SO LUCKILY, the man working at the station told me that for student residency cards (not all type of residency cards, mind you) I could have a friend pick it up for me. She needed to attend my fingerprinting appointment so that she could write down her NIE (foreign identification number) and sign a piece of paper saying she would collect it. I am not sure every province or every police precinct allows this. Refer to the LUCKILY above.

(Some people have had luck switching regions [with the same program, however] and having the extranjería in one region forward all the papers to the other region, which saves you the hassle of returning to Point A to pick up your residency card. Again, when I mentioned this at the appointment, I may have raised some red flags about why I was leaving Bilbao, so I didn’t push it.)

In 30 days time, my friend went to collect the residency card without a problem.

(Another story for another time [probably never] is that after alllllll this, I instructed her to just send it via regular uninsured mail, BECAUSE I LACK STREET SMARTS, and it was either stolen or lost in transit. So I had to repeat the process of getting the residency card all over again in Barcelona. Of course. But replacing a lost card is different than filing for a renewal, so it was relatively smooth sailing, thankfully.)

One more piece of advice: Either be fluent in Spanish when you deal with these extranjería meetings, or bring someone along who is.

Hiking in Basque Country.

Hiking in Basque Country

A Fuzzy Gray Area

In every email I respond to you readers, I say something along the lines of “I’m not really sure what happened, I may have slid through the cracks. But maybe not! I don’t know!!!” Which is, incidentally, why people might stop emailing me ;)

So, as you can see from above, I may have gotten lucky. Or, the whole “you have to return to the U.S. for a new visa when switching programs” might not really be a law, or it might be an unfollowed rule. Three constants I’ve found in Spain: The clubs WILL BE EMPTY before 2:30 a.m.; patatas bravas ARE BETTER than regular french fries; and Spanish bureaucracy WILL LEAVE YOU GUESSING.

Spanish laws change so often that even government workers aren’t always abreast of what is going on, so it could happen that they are just as confused as you and I are. Or they could know their stuff, and we are the confused ones who read a slew of different things on Facebook groups and then don’t know what to think. Your guess is as good as mine.

I want it to be VERY clear here: I am in Spain 100% legally. I have a current residency card. Whether or not I renewed it in Spain or the U.S. does not affect the endgame. I’d also like to note that I didn’t go into the meeting acting like I was renewing for the Ministry just to get a visa. I never brought an acceptance letter from the Ministry for a second year (obviously, I didn’t even have one!), nor said I was continuing at the same school in Bilbao. We just didn’t talk about much—I followed her instructions, she read my documents and put them through. And that was that and I’m legal and didn’t have to redo the process in the U.S. Three cheers.


Granada, my first Spanish love.


If you’re switching teaching programs in Spain, my recommendation would be to make an appointment at the extranjería before your current card expires, and try to renew your residency in Spain. Why not? You don’t have much to lose. As a fallback plan, be prepared that you might have to get a new visa in the States.

For those who are basing a decision of which program to choose on whether or not you can renew your residency in Spain: I’m so sorry I don’t have all the answers. This was just my personal experience, and I hope it gives you at least a smidgen of insight. To keep you from total despair, if you stop by Barcelona, the next beer’s on me.

We’re done here, I promise. Thank you for making it to the end of a 1750 word post about “Here’s how I may have gotten lucky, I can’t really give you solid details.” You guys are such loyal readers!!

If you have questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them as best I can. And to never miss a future update, sign up to have posts delivered to your inbox!

Good luck!

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  • Alicia Foster

    I realize this is late, but I’m currently trying to navigate the NIE/TIE renewal process while changing programs, and I have some info that might help others. I emailed the Oficina de Extranjeria here in Barcelona and their reply (which I pasted part of below) explains that they make exceptions to the go-back-to-your-country policy if your studies are complimentary to those you’ve just completed. I plan to do like you did (I don’t think I’ll have every single paper ready either, but I’m going right when my card expires and taking all the paperwork I can) and I hope it works out! But I’m also kind of a weird case, coming from a sketchy, not-well-known program and changing to either being directly contracted by a school, doing a master’s, or maybe taking a spot in a more well-established teaching assistant program. Wish me luck!

    “En caso de desear cambiar de estudios, con carácter general, sería necesario volver a su país de origen, y tramitar nuevamente un visado de estudios adecuado a los estudios que pretenda realizar.

    Sin embargo, cuando queda suficientemente probado que los ”nuevos estudios” que se van a realizar, complementan los ya realizados, que se trata de materias de la misma naturaleza, o directamente relacionadas, así como que el segundo curso no sea de un nivel inferior al primero, se podrá solicitar la prórroga de la autorización de estancia, que ha de presentarse en los 60 días anteriores a la caducidad de su tarjeta.

    En caso de producirse un cambio de estudios, la concesión de la renovación de la autorización de estancia por estudios se valorará por el instructor del expediente, a posteriori de su presentación ante esta Oficina. A estos efectos, la persona interesada deberá aportar, además de la documentación genérica indicada en la hoja informativa número 08 del Ministerio de Trabajo, la documentación que acredite que:
    – En relación al centro de estudios anterior: que ha aprovechado los estudios durante el curso anterior.
    – En relación al nuevo centro de estudios: acreditar haber sido reglamentariamente admitido en cualesquiera centros docentes o científicos españoles, públicos o privados, oficialmente reconocidos, para cursar o ampliar estudios o realizar trabajos de investigación o formación, no remunerados laboralmente, con indicación, según corresponda, de un horario que implique asistencia y/o de un plan de estudios, investigación o formación aprobado.”

  • Luis Flynn

    I agree with you my friend Renewing residency in Spain while switching teaching programs instills an even deeper sense of dread.
    residency letter of interest

  • Bahaha, I love the disclaimer because IT IS SO TRUE!!!!

  • And the notorious residency renewal saga continues without any clear answers! Gotta love Spain…

    thanks for the shoutout to my visa post btw!