Stranger in the night . . .


SITTING on the roof gazing at stars. Eyes following the smoky path of the Milky Way to a dim glare on the southern horizon. Cool breeze and the occasional bark of a dog. It’s been a long day but it’s nearly over . . .

Spanish bureaucracy has a reputation for being a ponderous and perplexing beast. Today we tackled it head on when applying for our NIE numbers. You need an NIE before you can do anything vaguely official in Spain.

Want to buy a car or a house? You need an NIE. Or reregister your British campervan? You need an NIE. Or open a bank account, or receive your mail from England in a post office box, or get connected to the utilities? You need an NIE.

NIE stands for Número de Identidad de Extranjero – national identity number for foreigners. A more literal translation is national identity number for strangers, which sounds a little less harsh.

Internet websites and expat forums are full of conflicting advice for British people on how to tackle Spanish bureaucracy and apply for an NIE – which you must do in person at the nearest regional police headquarters.

As well as your passport, you are advised to produce two recent passport photographs; two completed application forms; official documents proving a valid reason for an NIE, such as for the purchase of property, employment or starting a business; and proof that you’re entitled to care in the Spanish health system or have private health insurance in place. You are also advised to take two photocopies of everything.

You can also expect – according to whom you approach for advice – to queue to get into the police headquarters (certainly during the holiday season) then queue again for a couple of hours once inside. It’s a daunting process and one we’ve been putting off for weeks.

So this morning we drive down to the coast and the regional police headquarters at Motril. To our surprise, there are no queues outside. And there are no queues inside, just a couple of families and two or three people sitting patiently on plastic chairs.

Two friendly and helpful administrative officers deal with our applications. All they require is our passports, photocopies of the main pages, and proof of address. They send us off to the nearest bank to pay a small charge; we return with our forms stamped by the bank; and our NIE certificates are there ready and waiting. Job done simply, efficiently, and in less than an hour. So much for internet advice.

Our lesson for today is that while Spanish bureaucracy might appear to be strange and bewildering compared with British bureaucracy, strange and bewildering doesn’t necessarily mean ponderous and inefficient. I’ve had more tedious experiences in Richmond jobcentre. And Darlington post office, when it comes to that.

So now I’m sitting on the roof beneath a Spanish sky, an official stranger with a number to prove it, and I’m looking at the stars and wondering how many millions of solar systems and planets up there might support intelligent life and, therefore, bureaucracy.

And how complicated it’s going to be in the future, when interstellar travel is commonplace, and you have to obtain an NIE or its equivalent in every country on every planet in every solar system in every galaxy you wish to visit.



16 thoughts on “Stranger in the night . . .

  1. Spain sounds like bliss compared to bureaucracy burdened britain. Here, If you want to rent a home you have to prove your right to live in the country. Many UK citizens who don’t have passports cannot rent property in their own country.


  2. What you need to do now is get a really fancy wallet – a sort of wallet equivalent of a really fancy cigarette case – so that you can flash your NIE every time you need it: hire car, loaf of bread etc. Let them know you’re ‘arrived.’

    I think a lot of this internet doomsaying comes from a slight contempt for Europeans; a wrongheaded assumption that the British always do things better than Johnny Foreigner. I’d like to see the equivalent process in Britain for foreign visitors.

    Great photos too. Imagine a Ryanair interstellar service. You book a ticket for Saturn, but the nearest Ryanair ‘regional’ space airport is on Mercury. Or a space taxi service to Alpha Centauri, but the taxi driver says ‘sorry, mate, I don’t go to the other side of the Oort Cloud this time o’ night.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, Chris. First, if you were a foreign visitor to Britain, you’d have to climb the fence at Calais then jump on a train before you filled in a form.
      Interstellar travel is always depicted as slick and fast on sci-fi films, except for the bits where aliens attack. But in reality the service would be suspended because the wrong kind of meteors were in the way or there was “planned maintenance work” in the asteroid belt. And the aliens wouldn’t attack, they’d just slow things down while they filtered out the economic migrants and those intent on claiming benefits.
      I know all this because I read the Halley Mail.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow – beautiful photos, Alen, especially the first one. A long time since I saw the Milky Way properly! Must get to a dark site again soon – there’s way too much light pollution here. Those guys sound refreshingly efficient down at the police HQ – glad you didn’t have to camp out there! Love your philosophy about interstellar travel. That doesn’t bear thinking about! But when we’ve found out how to teleport ourselves instantly, who’s gonna stop us then??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hiya Jo. I’m working on the teleporting thing at this very moment because it’s going to be the future. But I’ve heard there are already plans in place to issue people with licences before they can teleport themselves, and of course there will be public liability insurance issues and a whole heap of vaccinations. It won’t just be a case of saying “Beam me down, Scotty.”
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Superb couple of photos! Love your comment:

    “I’m looking at the stars and wondering how many millions of solar systems and planets up there might support intelligent life and, therefore, bureaucracy.”


  5. Hi Alen, great photography; NIE seems far simpler than getting through immigration at Heathrow, austerity starting to show. Best wishes, see you soon, Kim


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