The week we made it into the system

Also known as the week we slept outside in the street for a night to apply for our “alien cards”…

When we finally picked up our Spanish visas last month, the Melbourne consulate said we needed to present ourselves to the Oficina de Extranjería (foreigner or alien office) within a month of arrival and apply for a Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE, or Foreigner card) to make sure the visa stayed valid. No worries, we thought, easy!

Obviously not quite that easy. When we arrived and spoke to some other extranjeros, they told us that we needed to go to the Policia (or Comisaría Local) because there was no Oficina de Extranjeía in town. Most of the people we spoke to were also from other European countries, and didn’t know about the TIE process because they don’t need one.

So we visited the Police station, and after several trips and conversations, the smiling El Jefe told us that we need to provide proof of where we live, some more documents, some photos and a copy of our passports. For anyone playing at home, more specifically you need:

  • A volante empadronamiento, a form from the local town hall that shows you are a registered resident of the area. To get THIS form you need a bond form (or Model 2) from your landlord or real estate agent. It took three visits to the town hall before we cracked this nut.
  • A photocopy of your visa
  • Two passport photos
  • A copy of your resolution, a letter from the Ministerio de Empleo y Seguridad Social authorising your residency (you need this to get your visa as well)

We have by some miracle managed to cobble together these documents already. Great! Can we apply now? No no, says El Jefe. You need to be one of the first 20 extranjeros here in the morning. Come at 6am, we will hand out the tickets at 8am.

We get there at 7am the next morning. Too late. There are 25 names on the makeshift list taped to the wall next to the police station and everyone there looks cold and tired. The next morning we write our names on a new sheet of paper that has been stuck up at about 10am for the following day. We get up at 6am and rush down to the station but that new list has been replaced by yet another list, and our names are not on it. Instead there is a mob of tired, slightly scary extranjeros that tell us no, you need to be here all night to ensure your spot.

And so it was that we spent the next night, one of the longest of the year, camping out. We were there from 7pm until 8am when the policemen arrived to hand out the 20 numbers to those who would be seen that day.

Waiting outside the police station with the other extranjeros

I’m not sure how I would have felt if I had been there alone as a woman, but with my man there I felt perfectly safe. All of the other extranjeros, from Pakistan, Algeria, Romania, Belarus, were very friendly. Some were lining up for their partners, their nieces, and many were old hats at the process. Apparently you need to go through the same process to renew your residence card, which needs to happen every one to five years depending on your visa.

We ate snacks, listened to audiobooks, huddled under a blanket, rested on some cardboard boxes and kept a beady eye on the list. At around 4am, the original sheet of paper was taken down and a revised list was made, crossing out the five or so people who had simply written their names down and walked away. Fools! we thought as we shivered. Despite the unofficial nature of the process, there was a real sense of dignified procedure to it, a sense of earning your place.

As the sky slowly grew lighter there was some kerfuffle as the list finally hit its limit and the people who had not stayed over returned to find themselves gone. This was one of the only times we’ve been glad to not speak much Spanish, because all we could do was watch the discussions play out while making sure the list was still taped securely to the wall.

Man with the list. The first list…

At 8am the policemen arrived and we formed the order that had been decided at 4am. We were numbers 7 and 8. The cops did not seem to care how the order was determined, as long as they didn’t have to do it. After we received the numbers we had an hour before we would be processed – just enough time for some food and rejuvinating hot tea.

Finally we made it through to the police administration lady who processed our applications in about five minutes and sent us off to the bank to pay the 15€ taza (tax). After we had returned with our receipt that was it! Well, not absolutely it. We are now in possession of two justificantes, or letters to say that our application is in the pipeline. We’re in the system! In 45 days we can go to the police station between 1pm and 1:30pm and start asking if our alien cards are ready yet. Isn’t that civilised?

UPDATE 16 February 2015: We are with cards!! This afternoon I picked up my tarjeta de extranjero. It has a big smiling picture of me on it (none of that neutral face stuff you need to do for your passport in Australia) and it valid until the end of October. October! Which means we will have to do this all again in eight months.

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