Starting a wonderful new life in Spain is easy for those people who are EU citizens but there is a bit more involved in it for anyone travelling here from further afield.
If you are planning to retire to Spain then there are some important facts about residency in the country that you need to know at the very start of the process.
Freedom of movement within the European Union means that anyone from another EU country (or from Iceland, Switzerland, Norway or Liechtenstein) can travel to Spain with just their current passport or national identity card. If you fit this criteria and intend to stay in Spain for more than 3 months then you need to get an NIE identification number. This is also needed to buy or rent a property, to work or to open a bank account.
This number can be obtained either from the local police offices or from the Oficina de Extranjeros, depending upon where you are. You will need to show your EU passport or identity card, complete a form and give them your address in Spain, together with your reason for moving to Spain. It can take anything from 1 week to over a month to get this number through. Once you have got it then you are legally a Spanish resident.
The good news is that there is a long list of countries whose citizens don't need a visa for a visit of up to 90 days in any 6 month period. If you are planning on going on a fact-finding mission then you can just go straight to Spain if you are from the likes of the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. The official Spanish consulate site has a full list of which countries are included in the respect.
If you are already decided on making it a Spain retirement future for you then you will need a visa in order to live here. This is something that you need to do before leaving your home country. As you can imagine, this can turn into a fairly awkward and time-consuming process. The laws have been known to change from time to time, so the best idea is to check with your local Spanish embassy or consulate. This official website will get you started on obtaining the current information.
There are a number of different Spanish visas and you can expect to go through a bit of bureaucracy before you finally get settled into your new home. However, it will definitely be worth it, so bear with it and try to keep smiling through the process.
If you are going to retire to Spain then you obviously don't need a visa that allows you to work, which simplifies matters to some degree. You now just need to fill out the appropriate residency visa application form from your local consulate. Expect to be asked to show proof that you have enough money to live off among the Spain visa requirements. The current minimum annual income needed is around $28,400, with an extra $7,100 for each additional family member.
Some people get a lawyer to do this part for them but it isn't really that difficult a process. If you are used to filing tax paperwork or other forms then you will be capable of doing this too. The non refundable fee for the Retirement Residence Visa varies by nationality. For US citizens, for example, it is $160 at the time of this writing (August 2015). It can take up to 3 months for the decision to come back to you.
Once you get your visa you need to move to Spain in the next 90 days in order to go and get your NIE number, as covered earlier in the EU citizens section. You need to get this number in your first 30 days in the country. This is usually reasonably easy to do, although some people choose to pay a small fee to get a local lawyer to do it for them, as they are fed up of paperwork by this point.
Both EU and non EU citizens should also enroll in the local padrón in their area. This is a local authority register and being on it allows you to vote, to sort out local healthcare and to deal with a number of other administrative issues. You will have to show proof of your Spanish address and your NIE number in order to do this
Once you have sorted out all of this paperwork you are ready to relax and enjoy your new life as a fully documented Spanish resident. The process might be fairly complicated but you will have the rest of your life to reap the benefits of retiring to such a fantastic country.
While it is not a requirement to speak Spanish when you apply for residency, it's certainly a big help if you have at least a basic knowledge and understanding. The course "Conversational Spanish Made Easy" is ideal for beginners and intermediate levels and comes with raving reviews from more than 3,000 students.