How I Became A Digital Nomad In Spain Without A Digital Nomad Visa

Mar 22, 2022

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How I Became A Digital Nomad In Spain, Without A Digital Nomad Visa

I’m a pretty easy-going guy, and as such there’s not much that really frustrates me. I believed that to be an immutable fact about myself, but I was so, so very wrong. I discovered a whole new self, one that shouts expletives at computer screens and goes about kicking unsuspecting pieces of furniture...

The source of my newly discovered self? Trying to become a digital nomad in Spain. Truly, if there has ever been a more life-sucking black hole of misinformation on the internet, I’ll proceed to eat my Spanish digital nomad visa with a side of sardines. And I feel comfortable saying this, because there’s no Spanish digital nomad visa, and I’m quite fond of sardines.

There’s No Such Thing A Spanish Digital Nomad Visa (not yet)

The biggest point of confusion seems to come from the Spanish government promising to create a nomad visa a while now, that combined with loads of people googling the query, and even more unscrupulous websites buying into this trend and creating pages about the Spanish digital nomad visa that’s based on proposal, conjecture, and in most cases hearsay. Now I might sound a little peeved about all of this, but I’m not without reason.

I gave up a perfectly good existence in Portugal where I worked as a digital nomad under Portugal’s D7 visa for a non-existent visa in a neighboring country. And why, you ask? All for “a change of scenery” and a hopelessly inadequate research process. If I had actually read those articles all proclaiming to provide information on the Spanish digital nomad visa I would have realized that they are all so contrary and conflicting that, if there indeed was such a visa, it would not be worth the trouble of getting one.

Instead, I left my 1 and a half year hometown just outside Coimbra and flew back Stateside. I was planning on following the same method that I used when I applied for my Portuguese D7 visa. This consisted of traveling to Spain on a Schengen Tourist Visa, figuring out where I wanted to stay, and then beginning the procedure of applying for, what I thought to be, a normal Digital Nomad Visa.

Keep An Eye On Those Travel Restrictions

I used Atlys for my Schengen Visa so I received it with no pain or hassle. Plus the couple of weeks in the US was a welcome opportunity to catch up with all my family and friends. So much for the light points. The days leading up to my flight were filled with me religiously checking the travel restrictions to Spain. I was fully vaccinated, but still, you never know what might happen in the pandemic travel world.

Eventually and much to my relief, my day of departure arrives and I touch down in Barcelona. I had identified Barcelona, Valencia, and Grenada as the areas I considered for my nomadic Spanish existence, and as such I’ve designed a travel plan to explore the three cities and their surroundings before settling down in one area.

I had 90 days available on my Spanish Schengen Visa, and I had allocated 21 of those days to my scouting mission, plus another 3 days for travel, bringing the total up to 24 days. I would spend a week in each city and surroundings investigating how effectively I can make a living as a digital nomad. I might want to point out that I’m a full-time employee who enjoys the luxury of working remotely.

As such, I can’t afford to have my daily grind disrupted by slow internet speeds or bad coverage. In the end, this led me to decide on Grenada as my chosen location. It's the smallest of the three locations, and as long as Covid19 keeps the tourists away it’s as close to heaven as I’ll find in Iberia… I made my decision with only 20 days gone, meaning that I now had 70 days to get down to business with that Spanish Digital Nomad Visa that I had “read” so much about…

It was on day 22 that the fear started to grip me. By day 23 it had loosened its grip, the same way that a python loosens its grip before consuming its prey. By day 24 the fear was everywhere inside of me, consuming me so utterly that I spent most of my existence in a catatonic state in my Airbnb.

When I finally did manage to stumble outside my Airbnb hostess motioned towards my room and mumbled something about my “dormir” (sleep) being “demasiado” (excessive). So I gathered the little willpower that I had left and headed for a dingy bar that I’d spotted during one of my earlier sojourns.

An Unassuming Night In An Unassuming Bar With An Unassuming Man Called Hank

Little did I know that a conversation in this underrated establishment was about to change my life. I met Hank, a local who’s been living, and working in Spain for the last 9 months. My jaw dropped and he proceeded to pick it back off the ground as he patiently explained how he’d managed it. He worked full-time for a UK-based company under a Spanish non-lucrative visa.

Spanish non-lucrative visa was a term that had popped up every now and again when I did that cursory research for my Spanish Digital Nomad Visa, but I wasn't looking for a non-lucrative visa, whatever that may mean, so I didn't pay it much mind.

Hank explained to me that while the application process was lengthy, and applicants needed a fair bit of money (€26000 to be precise) tucked away, he found that it was all worth it. I thanked him and went back home, intent on sleeping off the couple of cervejas and pursuing this new line of investigation the next day. My hostess again said something about siestas but I wasn’t listening, my mind filling up with ways to get the money required for the Spanish non-lucrative visa.

In my mind, this was my only stumbling block. €26000 is a lot of money. I had a little over a quarter of that squirreled away from my life in Portugal, and I had roundabout $25k in the US that I was saving towards a house deposit. Ideally, I didn’t really want to move my dollars so once again I needed help.

I arranged a consultation with a Spain-based company that helps foreigners settle in Spain. They informed me that because I’m a US citizen, the application can be supported by both my US savings and the money that I had saved in my Portuguese account. This was honestly the best news I had since I’ve arrived in Spain and I almost felt like calling Hank and having another couple of cervejas. Almost, but not entirely - I had work to do.

Let The Quest Begin

With the consultancy’s guidance, I started gathering all of the required documents for my application. I thanked my lucky stars because me physically being in Spain had some great perks. One of these was being able to sort out the travel and health insurance from a Spanish provider - something much easier accomplished when you walk into an office and ask if anyone can help you in English. (Editor’s Note: For more information on Spain’s Non-Lucrative Visa and how to apply you can consult this guide.)

I now had used up little more than half of my 90 days allotted, but in this time I’ve managed to gather all of my documents and my application was finished for all intents and purposes, except one - I still had to submit it...

Here’s an unforeseen snag, there’s no embassy of Spain in Spain… Duh! I felt like such an idiot. Then I thought, what if Gibraltar, a territory of the UK, had a Spanish embassy or consulate? No such luck - apparently the Brits don’t want to allow the Spanish onto their rock, not even for diplomatic reasons…

Morocco was a no-go because travel to Spain was still severely restricted. Turned out I had just one option, I had to flee to the home of the brave and the land of the free. But always the pragmatist, I decided to make this tactical retreat work for me. I still had plenty of time on my Schengen visa left so I scheduled an appointment at the Spanish Consulate for exactly three days after my visa expired.

The Plan Comes Together

The plan was simple: I was going to fly from Spain to NY, spend a night or two recovering from the jetlag and making sure everything is in order, and then saunter down to the Spanish in New York, attend my interview, hand in my application and wait.

But before all of that, I was intent on enjoying my last month in Spain. I spent it traveling throughout the country, sampling some of the best Roijos along the way and bumping into Hank again. When I told him how I had heroically solved my self-imposed visa quandary he gave me a pitying look. “It’s just a visa mate. It’s not as though it's the crisis in the middle east, now is it?” he said in an accent that I later discovered was Lancashire - a place name that I had previously believed was exclusively reserved for cheese…

I boarded my plane with the knowledge that I’m flying to my visa appointment, a fact that apparently has the ability to make trans-Atlantic flight even more tiresome. I thanked myself for allowing me an extra couple of days to acclimatize in New York - after Grenada, it was quite the shock.

On the day of my appointment, I made my way down to the embassy and started queuing for my appointment. The consulates' ability to deal with the applications have been affected by Covid19 and as such the time spent waiting was much longer than normal. I’ve read beforehand about people waiting 1 hour, maybe 2 on a busy day, but nothing prepared me for the 4-hour marathon of boredom that I was about to undergo. Luckily, I discovered a half-started audiobook about 1.5 hours in which helped me kill the time.

When the interview started I did my best to put all my frustrations out of mind, and be as polite and sincere as possible. I always try to be as truthful as possible during these interviews, with the emphasis on "as possible." I had read a couple of accounts where people got denied because they outright told the interviewer that they were planning on doing remote work in Spain. I decided that if I was not explicitly asked this, I would not divulge the information. When asked how I planned on supporting myself I pointed to my savings and said that this would be enough for me to live on. That answer sufficed, and the interviewer was happy to continue. The rest of the questions were pretty much your run-of-the-mill immigration questions and the interviewee seemed to appreciate that I had categorized all of my documentation in an accordion folder - a handy tip from Hank.

Just before I was asked to pay the fees, I enquired about how long the application process will take. She told me that under normal circumstances it would be 15 working days, but due to Covid19, it’s double that, even triple in some cases. So I paid, traveled onwards to my family, and patiently waited.

It took exactly 40 days in total, from the day of application to the day that my passport and Visa arrived by post. Honestly, thinking back on the depths of those days in Spain I never thought this day would come, but I’m extremely thankful that it has. It was as a token of my gratitude that I decided to write this account. And also share the lessons that I’ve learned along the way...

Finally, Some Lessons Learned

After what seems like forever, I’m now a couple of days away from boarding my flight to Barcelona, before catching the Train to Grenada. The feeling is unreal, and it’s with this in mind that I share my lessons learned.

Do Proper research!

Don’t make the mistake I made and simply assume that a country has a specific visa program, just because you get a couple of search results. I blame myself for trying to do this while also arranging a trip back to the US during covid for my failure. And during your interview, make sure not to mention the fact that you'll be doing remote work in Spain.

Scout ahead!

I know it sounds crazy extra, but if you’re going to move to a country to live and work there permanently you’re not paranoid if you want to go check it out before making the leap. You wouldn’t rent an apartment without first arranging a viewing, why should spending up to a year in another country be any different. To easily organize your tourist visa, I really recommend Atlys! They helped me loads and my Schengen Visa to Spain was done in a flash.

Don’t Lose Sight Of Your Goals

This is probably the most expensive lesson I’ve learned during this pandemic, both in time and money. If the world changes, you need to change with it. It’s as simple as that. I was ready to forsake my Iberian dream and was about to do so if not for the noisiness of my Airbnb hostess, a beer in a bar, and advice from an old man named Hank.

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