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?

Seville Snapshots: Plaza de España

My first visit to Plaza de España was on my day of arrival to Seville after studying in Valladolid. I sat on the tiled bench of the province and wrote my observations of the city that I would later reside in and call home. Those reflections are lost in a mountain of possessions in Chicago, but the city left enough of an impression on me to call me back two years later.

I took my grandma to Plaza de España on our first day in Seville, fresh off the plane. The day was sweltering for mid September, and we mostly hung to the colonnades and in the mist of the enormous fountain in the middle of the half-moon  square crowning the María Luisa Park. I used to argue it was the most beautiful building in the city.

But five years later as a semi-jaded expat, it’s hard to see this beautiful neo-mudejár palace as anything but a place where the government has wasted far too many hours of my life. Hidden beneath the brick and marble are government offices, including police headquarters, military outposts and the dreaded Oficina de Extranjeros – the foreigner’s office.

Rolling out of bed to get my Número de Identificación de Extranjeros meant rolling out of bed at 5:30 a.m., just as day was breaking. I waited for a number until 8am, then wasn’t seen until 11a.m. Doing anything within that slack little office means rethinking your willingness to stay in Spain, but there are ways to make the experience more pleasant. The best one? Walking out into the sunshine after being in a windowless office for hours and seeing the south tower reflected in the moat of a place witness to the Iberoamerican Fair, several marches and demonstrations, and even the filming of The Dictator.

Thanks to my pal, Jeremy Bassetti, for the gorgeous photo! Follow him at:

Photo © A Painter of Modern Life (

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On Becoming Pareja de Hecho in Spain

“What’s taking so long at table three?” I asked Kike. “Is there even a man working there?”

It was 3:42, twelve minutes past my appointment at Extranjería. Nervously tapping my toe, I looked over to my starved boyfriend whose unamused face had turned into extreme impatience. I was ok missing twelve more minutes of school but was concerned my pareja wasn’t thrilled to be waiting a few more for his puchero.

When a man with a large nose and equally big smile beckoned me (Kahhfuree-nay May-ree Haaaaa was what came out as my name), Kike pushed past the small group waiting outside the glass-encased funcionario land at the Foreign Residents office and asked permission to sit down.

I had remarked that the newly-renovated space was friendly, with deep blue and green walls, new chairs and an appointment system. The man’s “So, you’re a student and now you’re married” was the only thing that seemed foreign to me. Married, um, no.

Ok, so technically I am married, according to the Spanish government at least. Kike and I opted to do a pareja de hecho, most similar to a civil union in the US, to start the process of me getting permanent resident status. While I can’t ever be fully Spanish or even have a Spanish passport without renouncing my American one, this seemed like the easiest way to eventually live here legally and without a student status. It would only take three years of leaving the EU every 90 days.

Well, times changed at the homosexuals this law was meant to protect wanted full marriage rights. Spain said no, but amplified pareja de hecho laws, taking me on the fast track to free livin’ in Iberia. So, my lawyer says, Oh yeah, you can do this.

And it’s done. My school let me take off the afternoon, smiley face man gave me no frills, and I may just be starting to get REALLL Spanish.

Applying for a Número de Identificación de Extranjeros (NIE)

So, I’ve been in Seville for a week now; Spain nearly a month/four weeks. It’s kind of just been one thing after another just being a pain in the ass, starting with the whole application process to be an auxiliar. From the visa requirements changing with no warning to receiving the wrong documents at orientation a week ago to apply for a DNI, I’ve run into problem after problem. So, on my shit list for now is: The Chicago Consulate of Spain, The Junta de Andalucía, and the Oficina de Extranjeros, as well as anyone who gives me bad directions and wastes an hour and a half of my time.

This morning, I got up at 6 am and was on a bus into town at 6:50. When I got to the Oficina de Extranjeros by 7:30, there was already a line forty people deep from around the world. Some people were from Romania, some from the Caribbean, some from the US like me. All over, really. It was still dark and I could barely keep my eyes open. The doors open at 8:45 so that you can get a number. Green is for renewal, Pink is for applying for a resident or student card, A’s are for requesting a resident or student card, B’s are for information, all other numbers are for all other inquiries. Or at least that’s what I think. Since I had gotten there early enough, I had a number in my hand by 9:15. I was A06. It was then I realized I was missing one of the photocopies, so I RAN into town (maybe five minutes) and found a copy shop where I could do this. Then I ran back. The number just called was A02. So I waited for about another 30 minutes. Inside the office, there’s a waiting room where people are just screaming about how slow the lines are and how inconvenient the Spanish democracy is. I have to say I agree. My brain wasn’t working, so I felt like I wasn’t even asking for the right things and was dreading being asked for the apostille the Chicago Consulate never told me to get.

After I got into the office where the delegates are, I had to wait for someone to get back to the station for five minutes. I asked a man and he said, Yes, student cards here. Wait for my colleague.” So I did, and she turned out to be very nice. Like the visa application process, I had forgotten the sheet from the Junta with my school’s name on it, but she looked it up online. After you’re given a temporary NIE card with your foreigner’s number on it, you have to ask for an appointment to turn in your pictures (the ones we get in the US are too big) and you have to pay like 6 euros, then you get fingerprinted and you sign some stuff and then you have to come back AGAIN to pick up the card.

The lady said, “I’ll have you come back today. So you need to go pay this, but not in any bank. You have to go to BBVA.” I figured this wouldn’t be a problem because BBVA is a very popular bank. And if Citibank has three locations, BBVA must have like 30. She told me the place wasn’t very far away and gave me directions. She told me the nearest hotel, but not the street. I ended up walking into every government building I could find to try and find this GD bank, and finally someone could give me a street. She was right – it was close – but I ended up walking FOREVER before finally finding it.

I also needed smaller photos taken. Because it was hot today and I didn’t bother to make myself look decent this morning, I knew they would look horrible. They weren’t bad, but no one seemed to know where a copistería was to have the pictures taken. I walked even further away from the office to this really seedy area, but the people were so nice and did it right away.

When I returned to the office about 40 minutes later, dripping in sweat and frustrated (also full from buying an enormous bag of chips to eat to make myself feel better), I saw this nice French boy who is working as an auxiliar. He is an EU citizen, so he didn’t have to wait in line like us Americans, but he was waiting to make sure a friend got his papers all in order. He stood in line to get a pink ticket for me while I used the bathroom, but once I got a pink ticket I was whisked right into the office with the delegates, gave the lady my documents, got my fingers all printed on the correct sheet and was on my way. This was about 1 p.m. I spent the better part of the day in some stupid office trying to understand what these people were telling me. It was hot and I was exhausted, so I skipped out on the beautiful sunshine to go home and sleep. I am so freaking lame.

Now, we just have to worry about how I get a package that my parents sent me FedEx without checking to see where there was, if any, a Fed Ex office. Anddddd I don’t think there is, so my stuff is floating around somewhere. Awesome.

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