Obtaining a Spain Non-Lucrative Visa: Tips for a Successful Application

This post may contain affiliate links, from which Poppin' Smoke earns a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support of this free website.
A toast to life in Spain at sunset

To jump straight to our recommended best practices for successfully obtaining a Non-Lucrative Visa click here. This article was originally written in Fall 2020 and reflects procedures and restrictions that were in place at that time.

Like many of you in the U.S., we’ve been hunkered down for the past several months, waiting for the world to reopen. Our whirlwind travels since my husband retired from the Army in 2015 came to a halt in February 2020, when we arrived at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) on a military Space-A flight from Naval Station Rota, Spain (NAVSTA Rota).

Now, more than 8 months later, we are in the final stages of the process to apply for Spain’s Non-lucrative Visa (NLV) aka the “Spain Retirement Visa.” Then, we’re off to Rota, a seaside town on the beautiful Costa de la Luz. The NLV is a temporary residence permit that will give us the authorization to live (but not work) in Spain for one year with the option to renew and to obtain permanent residency after 5 years.

In this post written by my husband, the first of a two-part series, he explains how we are preparing to move to Spain at a time when the European Union (EU) has imposed travel restrictions on American tourists. He also shares advice about applying for an NLV for those of you dreaming of living in Spain someday.

Part 2 of this article explains the logistics of getting to Spain, obtaining our residence cards, and setting up shop after arriving in Rota.

Assessing the Safety of Moving to Spain from the U.S.

As all of you who follow Poppin’ Smoke know, we are travelers. We have been circling the globe for the past 5 years, living and traveling, using our military benefits anywhere and in any way that we can.

But, first and foremost, we want to travel in a safe and responsible manner. That is why, prior to traveling to a country, we do our research using the Department of State (DoS) Travel Advisory Site. After our assessment and research, we go through a thorough decision-making process. We don’t travel to high-risk countries: why do that when there are so many other safe countries to visit?

The DoS gives Spain a rating of Level 3 (Reconsider Travel), which is the rating for many countries at the moment. However, there are other criteria to consider in the assessment.

We researched how Rota is faring in the fight against COVID, and the area is doing quite well. NAVSTA Rota’s Base Commander is leading the charge in that community and is lock-step with the local authorities in their fight against this pandemic. Plus, the province of Cádiz (where Rota is located) is also doing well relative to the rest of Spain.

We are closely following the news in Spain and are aware of the measures that the Spanish government is taking to control COVID, including mask requirements, curfews, lockdowns, and local border closures.

Finally, as all military members know, the best intelligence available is human intelligence (HUMINT), so that is what we obtained. We contacted Americans and locals on ground in Spain and collected HUMINT.

After assessment of our HUMINT gathering, we laid out all of the pieces and decided that in the Rota area, health risk is less than or equal to our risk here in the U.S. In addition, we are comfortable with the local measures in place to limit the spread of COVID.

We do not take this decision lightly. We don’t want to add to the problem of the NAVSTA Rota community. We want to become a part of that community, living there in a responsible way.

Traveling to Spain as a Resident

As you may know, the EU has developed a list of countries whose citizens can enter the EU as tourists. That list is dynamic, based on how countries outside the EU fare in their fight against COVID-19. As of this writing, American tourists are still restricted from travel to the EU.

However, the EU outlined some exemptions from restrictions on travel to the EU. One exception to the travel ban is that people outside of the EU who apply and are approved for long-term residence can travel to and from EU countries.

Prior to applying for a residency permit in any country, especially while American tourists are still restricted from travel, we highly recommend you contact the embassy/consulate of that country and ensure they are processing long-term visas. As of this writing, Spain is one of those countries that is still processing visas and allowing long-term visa holders to travel to their country.

| Related Reading: An American Expat Retiree in Portugal

Applying for a Long Term Visa

To apply for a long-term visa to stay in Spain for more than 90 days, you must apply through the Spanish Consulate General (consulate) corresponding to your state of residence. The map on this page shows which consulate you must use. Our state of residence is Washington, so we applied through the San Francisco consulate.

After you’ve determined which consulate corresponds to your state, visit this page, find the U.S. flag, and click on it to see links to the individual consulates in the United States. Follow that particular consulate’s procedure to apply for your long-term Spanish visa.

You will note that Spain has numerous options for long-term visas. We are applying for a Non-Lucrative/Retirement visa (NLV), so the following information pertains to that visa only – we do not have experience applying for any other type of visa in Spain.

| Related Reading: Interview With a Military Retiree Working at NAVSTA Rota

While the main requirements for obtaining an NLV are the same for all consulates, the exact documentation needed and the application procedures differ in each location. In addition, due to COVID, the procedures have been in flux, so you must keep checking with your consulate for updates.

For instance, prior to COVID, the San Francisco (SF) consulate required applicants to make an appointment via their website for an in-person interview to initiate the application process. At the appointment, you submitted your application materials in hard copy along with your passport and payment of the visa fee.

After the consulate approved your application, you had to travel to SF again to pick up your passport containing the new visa.

In recent months, to limit physical contact, the SF consulate has changed their procedures. They are not accepting appointments through their website. Instead, they require applicants to email their documents to begin the application process.

The consulate will review your application, and if your documentation is complete and satisfies the requirements, they will ask you to mail the hard copies along with your passport, payment, and a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope. Once your visa is approved, they will mail your passport with the visa to your home.

This is the current procedure in SF, but it can change at any time, so you must check with the consulate prior to applying. The same is true for all other consulates; confirm their current process before you apply.

Best Practices for Applying for a Spain Non-Lucrative Visa

As noted above, each consulate provides a list of requirements to apply for an NLV. We will not list each requirement here, because each consulate is a little bit different. Instead, here are some basic learning points we want to share with you in applying for your NLV:


Many documents require an apostille, which is a form of authentication issued to documents for use in countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961. Basically, it is a notary public seal for international use.

In each Spanish consulate’s visa information section, they will tell you which documents must have an apostille.

You must have federally-issued documents apostilled by the U.S. Department of State. All state-issued documents are sent to the respective state’s Secretary of State for an apostille.


The entire NLV process is time-sensitive. Marriage certificates, birth certificates, police records, and medical certificates must have been issued within 3 months of the day you submit your application.

You must time all of this correctly, or else a document you acquired too early will expire by the time you receive another. You must also take into account the time required for apostille authentication AND the time needed to have documents translated.

Note: among the items that you need to plan ahead to obtain is the “criminal record certificate” from your home country AND from any country of residence in the past 5 years. We lived in Japan until 2019, so we needed to request a police report through the Japanese Embassy, and it took 2 months.

The first thing to do before gathering any of the documents is to make sure you understand how and when you can get an appointment (if needed) at your consulate. If the next available appointment at your consulate is not for several months, you should wait to begin gathering time-sensitive documents to ensure that they will not expire prior to your appointment.


The NLV process generates a lot of paperwork, so organization is key. Have sticky tabs or another system to keep your documents separate. Also, use a spreadsheet or checklist to track the status and important dates related to each document you are compiling for your application.

In general, you must actively manage this process to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. It involves a lot of waiting punctuated by flurries of activity, usually with something that requires a quick turnaround, so make sure you give it your full attention.

Medical Insurance

NLV applicants are required to provide proof of medical insurance. The coverage cannot have copayments or waiting periods, and it must include repatriation of remains.

The SF consulate did not accept our TRICARE military health insurance as proof of coverage, so we had to purchase private health insurance from a Spanish company. It was a painless process but cost us about $2,000 for one year (the total cost depends on age and number of family members, and it will vary by applicant and insurance company).

Proof of Sufficient Funds

Follow your consulate’s guidance for the financial requirements. The SF consulate wanted 3 months of bank account statements. Some consulates require more history or even a personal income tax return.

If you’re retired military, the Defense Finance Accounting Service and the VA websites will spit out official letters to verify your retired pay and VA compensation, if applicable, but these letters were not accepted by the SF consulate as proof of sufficient economic means.

| Military? Join Poppin’ Smoke’s Facebook group for veterans living overseas!

It’s a good idea to provide exactly what the consulate requests for each requirement. As we learned, if you submit documentation that you think is a substitute for what the consulate requests, you will waste time and money on translations.


Each consulate instructs you to have specific documents translated. You can only use translators certified by Spain. The list provided by the consulates was more than 1,500 pages and included translators around the world.

We chose a translator from that list and highly recommend her. Her name is Irene Igualada (igualada.stranslator@gmail.com). Irene is professional, efficient, prompt, and reasonably-priced. Most important, her communication and responsiveness are excellent, which is critical with such a time-sensitive process.

Checking the Status of Your Application

If there is one thing we would have done differently, it’s following up on our application sooner than we did.

We submitted our documents via e-mail on 1 August, and a few days later, they requested bank statements (see the note above about proof of funds). We replied promptly with the bank statements, but then we did not hear from them for a month.

When we followed up via e-mail, they told us that they had not received the bank statements, and in fact, the person who responded did not know what we were applying for. So, we re-submitted our entire application on 8 September, having lost more than a month of time.

Lesson learned: we should have been more persistent in our follow-up.

As previously stated, each consulate works differently, and your consulate may have a phone number that you can call to ask questions or inquire about the status of your application. The only contact info we found for the SF consulate was an e-mail.

Spanish Consulates in Your State

Besides the nine Consulates General that issue NLVs, many cities in the U.S. have smaller Spanish consulates that provide limited services. If you live in a state with one of these smaller consulates and need additional assistance, try contacting them.

You can find a list of of all U.S. consulates here. Please note that this page is NOT an official website of the Spanish Embassy and incorrectly states that all U.S. consulates issue visas. However, you can use the page to find contact information for the consulate closest to you.

Learning from Other Visa Applicants’ Experiences

As we began the NLV application process, we joined several Facebook groups for American expats in Spain. The advice and tips shared in these groups proved very valuable, particularly as they related to application processes during COVID.

For example, as of this writing, the SF consulate website gives no indication that they are accepting NLV applications via e-mail. We found out that we could apply this way through a fellow group member who was also applying through SF.

If not for the information gathered from the group, we would still be waiting for SF’s online appointment system to re-open (and all of our time-sensitive documents would have expired in the meantime).

We also used the groups to obtain recommendations for insurance brokers and to learn about others’ experiences moving to Spain in the midst of COVID.

If you join a Facebook group, please remember that each consulate has its own application procedures, so a group member’s experience with the Miami consulate may not be what you can expect with the Houston consulate, for example.

Also, this goes without saying, but do not take legal or financial advice from anyone in those groups. Use the information to figure out what you need to research and verify through official sources.

What’s Next in the Process?

As of 1 November, the SF consulate has received our passports and the original versions of our documents. They told us that it usually takes 4 – 6 weeks to receive our passports with our visas.

While we wait, we will continue monitoring the situation in Spain. We have 3 months from the date our visa is issued to arrive in country. We will not book flights until we have our passports in hand.

After arriving in Spain, we must obtain our residence cards within one month. That process will require more paperwork and more time dealing with Spanish authorities, including the National police station or immigration office. Getting the NLV here in the U.S. is only the first step in moving to Spain!

We are excited for this new adventure and look forward to becoming part of the NAVSTA Rota community. We will keep you posted on our travels here on Poppin’ Smoke, on our Facebook and Instagram pages, and via email.

Update! We moved to Spain in December 2020! Read Part 2 to learn about what it takes to get a “TIE” (a residence card or foreigner’s identity card) and become a legal resident of Spain, plus everything we had to do to get settled in Rota!

Link to Pinterest: How to Get a Retirement Visa to Live in Spain

Good article? Share it!

42 thoughts on “Obtaining a Spain Non-Lucrative Visa: Tips for a Successful Application”

  1. Hi! Thank you for this post!
    I won’t be retiring but my husband is actually PCS’ed in Spain for a year with unaccompanied orders and I’ve been looking into how I can stay with him for more than 90 days without amending his orders. I feel like the non lucrative visa is the least complicated for just one year so I began looking into applying for it, thank you for the breakdown!
    I’m also in the SF jurisdiction so I’m glad I got an insight on your experience with them.

  2. I’m PTD (permanently disabled) and I receive VA disability. It’s already tax exempt but I thought I needed to live in the US to receive it. Do you know whether if I move to another country it will invalidate my VA disability?

    Thanks for all you do. I bought all the gear you recommended for Space A flights just before CoVid… so it’s sitting in my garage and it’s getting antsy.

    Best, C

  3. Very Informative article. You mentioned you are going to live in the Rota area. As a military retiree, what facilities are you allowed to use on the base at Rota. If I recall, the agreement with Spain does not allow retirees to use the Exchange or Commissary, but are retirees allowed to use the base for any MWR type services? Thanks!

    • Hi Alan – we can use virtually all of the MWR services, including the fitness center, pool, tennis courts, Outdoor Rec trips/rentals, restaurants, and my husband’s favorite, the golf course! We can also shop at the NEX Mart, which is pretty big. More details in this article.

      • Thank you…that article has a lot of great information. I skimmed through the rules for entry to the base that you linked in that article. As a U.S. military retiree, it appears you can get a base pass for as long as you are legally in Spain? We are interested in spending a few weeks in the area once things are sort of back to normal. Did you ever have any problems getting access to the base as a retiree?

        • We never had problems gaining access, but you have to get a new base pass every 24 hours. It’s a minor inconvenience, and if you’re staying in town, which I recommend if you plan to be in the area for a few weeks, you probably won’t need to go on the base every day, anyway.

  4. Hello Stephanie,
    Thank you for the helpful and precise information regarding current procedures in San Francisco. As you, I have submitted documents for the NLV, mine being for retirees. As you, I received two extremely short replies, asking for a letter from my insurer in Spain (ADESLAS) not the policy, and one copy, not three, of each supporting financial information.
    Question: How do I know that they are actually reviewing the documentation, since the Consulate only replies with a form letter regarding current conditions there? You said when you followed up, they said they hadn’t received your documentation., and had to resubmit.
    How long after you resubmitted your documentation did you get an acknowledgement that they had received it, or did you get any acknowledgement ?
    How long after you resubmitted did you get the Consulate’s request for your hard copies and passport(s) ?
    Thank you so much for your time. Am not Military, but your information is precise and to the point.

    • Hi Davide – They never specifically acknowledged receipt of anything, except when they replied to tell us what items we were missing or did not meet the requirements (and they did not tell us all of the problems at once, it was piece by piece). It took us several tries to complete everything to their satisfaction. When we finally submitted everything they needed, I think it took less than a week for them to reply with the request to send the originals and passports. From what I gathered in the various Expat Facebook groups, everyone’s timeline is different. You just have to be patient and ready to provide whatever else they request asap. Good luck!

  5. Thank you so much for your speedy reply and this information. Much appreciated.
    I look forward to your further updates.

  6. I receive a retirement check and VA disability check, which will be my primary sources of income, but I also freelance online as an editor and a writer, is that something that I can continue to do on this non-lucrative visa? Or is no work permitted?

    • When applying for your visa, use your retirement/VA to meet the income requirements, because few, if any, consulates will accept freelance income to qualify you. Whether you can continue earning income from sources outside of Spain once you have the visa is a matter of recent debate. In general, the NLV was designed to protect Spanish jobs, so outside income was not a problem, but the interpretation of the rules depends on whom you ask. I’m sorry I can’t provide a more definitive answer, but I would recommend consulting a lawyer before moving to Spain if your freelance income is an integral part of your earnings.

  7. Is it possible to get health insurance if one is over 70 and do you have any idea which company might provide coverage.
    Great information with great helpful information…thanks

    • Great question, but I’m not entirely sure of the answer! I think you will have to check with the companies directly to find out if they have a policy that fits you. We used Adeslas, and another popular option is Sanitas.

  8. Hi Stephanie, Thanks for the very informative blog post. I’m also applying for the NLV through SF and I had the same experience – after submitting my documents and re-submitting the requested changes, they went silent for a month. Now half my documents are expired and I have to redo the background check! Lesson learned. I’m curious, when they told you to physically mail in your documents and passport, did they give you the option of sending the passport when they were ready to issue the visa (as opposed to them holding your passport indefinitely)?

    Looking forward to an update on how it’s going!

    • Hi Patrick – They did not give us that option, but once we finally sent them our originals and passports, it went very quickly. They received our documents at the end of October, and we had our passports with visas back by mid-November. Good luck!

  9. Hi there,
    Thanks for the great intel. I’m a retired US Navy officer going through the Spanish residency process. I didn’t have to go the non-lucrative route since my wife has permanent residency status in Spain, so I could leverage her status for my residency. I concur that the 3-month recency limit on apostille certified documents is a struggle! Timing multiple documents is way harder than I expected it would be. We had to request apostille certified copies of some documents a few times.

    I didn’t realize that my Navy retirement pay was not subject to Spanish income taxes. Sweet! Our home is on the Med coast in a little village which is locked down due to COVID. Best of luck on your adventures.

  10. I am u.s. citizen and have been retired coast of Spain permanent resident over 20 years now. I PAY taxes in both countries but bottom line is I paid u.s. about $4000/year and now pay $2000 to u.s. and $2000 here due to reciprocity. 😇

  11. I’m a Naval Officer currently stationed at Rota and live in New Rota. We’re currently in wave three and the restrictions are the tightest they’ve been since my arrival almost 5 months ago. We started vaccinating people with their first dose of Moderna on the 16th. It’s flu shot sore, not anthrax painful. El Puerto is the only town that hasn’t closed its borders. Continued good luck! I’m trying to help a retired Navy CAPT, move here. It’s been a lot of work to say the least.

    • Thank you! We made it here last month, and I’m in the process of writing up part 2 of the NLV process. Definitely a lot of work, but well worth it, even amidst COVID restrictions.

  12. I read that you had to provide an address where you will be living in Spain. How would you do this if you are in the US?

    • We provided a friend’s address. Check with your consulate to confirm what’s required. Some may only require the name of the city where you plan to reside, while others now require a signed lease as part of the NLV application process,

  13. Thank you, I so wish I had found this months ago. We were doing exactly as you said, waiting for their appointment system to open back up, knowing we can start this process is SO invigorating. Our original appointment was for April 16, 2020 and we’ve been on hold ever since!!!!

    Can you share with me how you started the email application process with the SF Consulate? Did you send an initial email or just attached all (& there’s a lot) the forms to the first correspondence?

    Thank you, thank you!!

    • Hi Jaemie – Glad you found our article! We sent the consulate an e-mail in an attempt to ask a question. After the initial auto-reply stating that the consulate was closed except for “exceptional cases” and that all appointments had been canceled, we got another message shortly thereafter from a real person telling us to send all required documents via e-mail for review. We replied to that e-mail with all of our (nearly 40) attachments. Good luck!

      • Thanks. We’ve only ever received the auto response,. We’re considering just mailing everything straight in.

        Also when/how did you pay the fees?

        So appreciate your insight!

  14. I’m divorced for 40 years. Do I need to even mention it?
    Q 2:: do we need FBI background check or wood our state where we live over 20 years be sufficient enough?
    Q 3:

    • I did not see anything in the application requirements to indicate that you need to mention that you are divorced. Check with your consulate about whether you can get a background check from your state. Rules vary by consulate, but if they will accept the state background check, getting the apostille from your state will likely be faster.

  15. Thank you for your story! I have a couple of questions:
    1. On SF Consulate site they say that for income proof you need to provide a monthly wages, pension, etc. while on pother consulates they say that either proof of monthly income or money in the bank, investment account or 401 K. Do you know if showing money in the bank would be sufficient?

    2. As I understand you need to provide a rental agreement for 1 year. First, it looks like it’s almost impossible to rent an apartment unless you are in Spain, have a residency, etc. In the best case, you can rent it by paying money upfront. And in that case what if the application is denied? You are going to loose all the money you paid for rent? How do people go around this problem?

    Thank you,

    • Hi Robert – Yes, showing money in the bank is sufficient for the NLV. Somewhere on the SF website it should say the current amount needed (it’s not always easy to find). For SF, you do not need to provide a rental agreement.

      • Thanks for the quick answer! 🙂 I was asking about income proof because on SF website it says:
        “7. Proof of sufficient periodic income: Including, but not limited to: investments, annuities, sabbaticals and any other
        source of income, providing sufficient funds to live in Spain without working. The minimum income required is
        400% of the IPREM (Public Income Index) annually plus the required percentage per each additional family
        member. For further information about the current IPREM, please follow this link. All documentation must be
        accompanied by a certified translated into Spanish.”

        So, the info on the website is not correct then.

        And you are right, I didn’t see a mention about rental agreement! Is it only for SF or for US in general?

        Thanks again!

        • Since we showed proof of periodic income from my husband’s military pension, the info I have about other applicants receiving their NLV based on savings/investments is anecdotal. But from what I’ve read of others’ experiences, if you can show that you have the equivalent of a year’s worth of income (plus the amount needed for dependents) in the bank, they will accept it.
          All consulates have different requirements, which is why I cautioned to only follow procedures and advice related to the consulate corresponding to your state of residence. Some of the other consulates do require a signed lease, so we were fortunate that we did not have to deal with that headache!

Comments are closed.