Five Places You’ll Wait in Line in Spain

I asked my First Certificate students to tell me their strengths and weaknesses during our last class. We were talking about how personality factors into the type of job you choose and your success in your profession.

My weakness? I am crazy impatient (an obvious reason to not teach babies). The problem with living in Spain, then, is the amount of waiting one has to do in order to be a productive human in society here. Even the simplest of tasks can take an enormously long time, and with the ongoing stream of budget cuts, there are less personnel in the office and more people free in the am to stand in line.



By far the biggest place you’ll waste your time in Spain is at the Foreigner’s Office. Getting a NIE is a three-step process, asking information requires parking it on an uncomfortable plastic bench for hours and arriving after 7am ensures that you’re likely to not receive a number. The hours (perhaps days) I’ve spent in the office – particularly when trying to determine my status in 2010 after losing the Ministry of Education grant – are immeasurable.

There are ways to make the whole experience a little bit better, but listening to people tell you their sob stories while you’re surrounded by one of Seville’s most enchanting plazas is just torturous. My advice is to arrive later in the morning, after all of the civil servants have had a chance to eat breakfast, bring extra photocopies of everything and to be polite, even when the funcionario sends you away for the third time in one morning. Being polite can go a long way to a civil servant who’s really just wishing you’d get out of her hair so she can chat with the guy at the desk next to hers.


Banker’s hours in Spain tend to be 8:15 – 14:15. This means, of course, if you’re a normal human being, that you can’t make it in to pay bills, make a deposit or complain that your card has been swallowed up again. What’s more, Saturdays and Sundays mean the place is chapá.

To avoid the line waiting, and banks for the most part, I’d sign up for either La Caixa, which offers great rates for students under 26 and a full-service ATM that allows you to do everything from deposit your check to top up your bonobus at any hour of the day. Likewise, ING Direct offers extended hours AND they’re open on Saturdays (you’ll just need a paycheck stub to open a cuenta nómina).

Post Office

Another place you’ll wait in line, thanks to budget cuts, is the post office. In Spain, your address assigns you to a certain correos office. Mine happens to be a 15-minute bike ride from my house, while there is one not 250 meters from my front door.

While I was home visiting Chicago, I won a book contest put on by Books4Spain. The book was sent to my house, but no one was home to receive it. A notice was left in my mailbox to pick it up at the correos office, so I found a bit of time to go immediately the first morning I was back in Seville, arriving just as the doors opened. I was the fifteenth person in line, but still waited 45 minutes for them to tell me my book was returned two months earlier. Word to the wise: if a letter or package is not picked up within 15 days, it goes back to the sender, though if it’s not a certified letter, you can send someone else in your name, so long as they carry a piece of paper giving them the power to do so, signed by you with your NIE number.

Frustrated, I got a tostada with ham and a big cup of coffee. Even at the crack of dawn, the place was still packed!

Government Buildings

Recently, I had to get a page of stickers with my IRS tax code on it. I walked into the Hacienda building at opening time on a Monday morning and was delighted to find only half a dozen seats full. I got a number and watched the screen. Only one person was in line in front of me, so I turned on my Kindle and began reading.

…and waited for nearly 45 minutes. When my number was finally called, the three women behind the desk were sitting, chattering away. I cleared my throat. Nothing. Being the cara dura I am, I finally asked for their assistance and a woman slowly rose and wordlessly took my passport. No more words were exchanged while I stood for an additional five minutes waiting for her to print my stickers. If only I could have used TurboTax Online, things would have been so much easier.

Let’s face it, I was cutting into her breakfast time. She had reason to be mad.

Be it Hacienda or even the Distrito office, allot way more time than you think necessary. And bring a book.

Supermarket on Saturday

Everyone is here, since they’re all closed on Sundays. Even I have thrown my hands up in an, “Ok, Spain! You win today!” gesture as I drop my potato chips and litronas of beer at the counter and walk out. I can wait if it’s important enough, but why wait for beer if I can walk across the street for a fresquita anyway?

Rules for Waiting in Line

People in Spain tend to ask the person in front of them to save their place in line. When I say their place in line, I also mean their place in line with their whole family, who will take turns standing their place.

Banks are utterly confusing if there’s a lot of chairs available. Whenever a new patron comes in, he or she will as for el último? and memorize that person’s face. It’s up to you to remember who you’re after and to be aware that people are ruthless when it comes to money matters.

There are VERY special rules for the abuelitas. They’ll come at you, all nice and calling you hija and corazón and mi arma, just one loaf of bread and some eggs in their frail little arms. Then, once you’ve given into the cuteness of little María de los Sietes Dolores, she’ll call over her granddaughter and the cart full of everything Dolores will need for the three weeks of winter she hibernates and cooks for her two dozen children and grandchildren. DO NOT, under any circumstances, give into an abuelita!

Have any more to add, Spain dwellers? Where do the rest of you expats wait in line in your respective countries?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Oh, I’m lovin’ this – I’m nodding furiously the whole way through.

    My personal bête noire is the Ayuntamiento, and more specifically the Oficina Técnica. Above all, I just love the way that you are expected to “come back in 45 mins” – después del desayunao/ la almuerza.
    No worries – I haven’t really got my own business to run …

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Ugh, so true. I’m glad to be an early riser, which makes my getting in line early easy to do!

      • Sunshine and Siestas says:

        If you’re willing to be patient, the lines are just another laughable part of your life, you’ll do just fine! Please write if you’ve got questions or qualms!!

  2. I´ve also learned “hacer la pelota” can get you free photocopies in Extranjería and also, según te toca, can get you a rarely ever seen stamp to “saltar la cola cuando tengas toda la documentación”. Que viven los piropos!
    And also, totally agree…. do not listen to others´sob stories. It makes the wait that much more unbareable and makes you all that more nerviosa y rabiosa por el proceso…

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Agreed! I’ve been extremely lucky at extranjería the last few times I’ve gone. And PM me your address – got yo name on one already!

  3. I feel like the post office is a given worldwide. Even in the States, you have to wait in line. The banks, not so much. I’ve never had to wait very long in an American bank. But the grocery store? Definitely! I just went last weekend to Stop and Shop and it was freaking packed!

    Oh and last but not least: the always much despised DMV. I think that is our version of Extranjeria.
    amelie88 recently posted..American Presidential Debates: 5 Incredible Moments + Mitt Romney and Gangnam StyleMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Ew, totally agreed on the DMV. I had to renew my license lastyear when I turned 26, but was able to do it by mail, luckily.

      Send me your mailing address – there’s a postcard with your name on it!

  4. I am planning a move to Spain, next September and this waiting in line and no one seems like they want to help you ,even though they are in a position to help. Is the number one thing that is on the height of pistivity (is there are proper spelling) list on just about all the expat blogs I have come across. I am making a mental note.

  5. Oh how the Spanish and us foreigners have to wait in line!
    No kidding about the abuelitas. They can be ruthless.
    I’ve also had to wait in long lines at the grocery store and have been surprised to see other staff around or lingering without any interest or plan to open another register. Customer service just hasn’t quite reached Spain, has it?!
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  6. I had to grin when you included Correos on this list; the last time I went to the post office I messaged my friend saying how I had packed enough entertainment for a small child on a road trip. BECAUSE I GET BORED AND I’M IN LINE FOR FOREVERRRRRRRR.
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  7. So true! When I studied abroad (late ’90s), email/internet cafes were not really an option. There was a room with about 10 computers at the Complutense. 10 computers for every extranjero studying abroad. Now that was a line!!!!
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  8. Love this post. Would also include the doctors’ surgery or hospital. When I had to go for a blood test while pregnant I was given an appointment time of 08.15. I naiively assumed that was MY appointment time but it turns out that’s the time they give everyone who needs a blood test and you have to do the whole figuring out who ‘el ultimo’ is thing. Which at 08.15am and with pregnancy hormones coursing through your body is more challenging than it should be.
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    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Ah, yes, the dreaded blodd test. I’ve just had to do one, but my school was not keen on me missing the first few minutes of school. I was already annoyed, so I told them to provide private healthcare to their employees. Shut them up reaaaal quick!

  9. Ha! Yes, yes, yes. I don’t shop on Saturdays. I avoid banks….I avoid mail….I go of off times because I can’t deal with the crush of people and all the waiting. I also bring books. And I speak up these days if I am ignored. I used to just wait until they asked me what I wanted; do that and you may wait forever!
    Reg of The Spain Scoop recently posted..Photo Friday! Where In Spain Is This?My Profile

  10. Ha, where DON’T you have to wait in line in Spain?? My post office situation is the exact same as yours – it’s 100 meters away tops, but for some mysterious reason my mail can’t get sent there. And the Saturday evening supermarket crush is always horrific, but at least I run into friends there quite often!

    Actually, one place I don’t have to wait in line much is the doctor’s office (knock on wood!). Is that the same for you or have I just been really lucky?
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    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I don’t go to the doctor often, which is a relief! The last time I went to the ER because of my allergies, I waited for nearly two hours, first thing in the morning. Late to school, and after they gave me the shot, I could do little else but make the kids color and sharper their crayons. The meds here knock me out!!

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