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.