Last Monday we made a second visit to Santander to retrieve digits of utmost importance: our números de identidad de extranjero (NIE). The NIE is crucial to our existence in Spain as it allows us to open a bank account and obtain a foreign ID card, tarjeta de identidad de extranjero (TIE). Even though it would seem we are outside U.S. jurisdiction in Spain, the IRS and the SEC unfortunately follow us wherever we go. For this reason, most foreign banks don’t make it easy for Americans to open accounts; there’s simply too much regulation that comes with American account holders. Therefore, the Spanish Ministry of Education requires us to take a NIE and open a Spanish bank account to receive our direct deposits.

Obtaining our NIEs was a fairly straightforward process that only took two trips to the giant government building in Santander. For both trips we showed up at the Soviet-inspired office about half an hour before it opened, along with a host of Peruvians and Paraguayans also eager to get residency documents. When the doors opened at 9:00 am we were herded through a metal detector/security checkpoint. I must compliment the security we encountered as they were much more civil than the blue-gloved TSA guards back home.

Once through security we entered the foreigner’s office where we took a number and waited our turn. During our first visit, we had the faint hope that we might get our NIE in a matter of minutes, given that we had come prepared with copies, photos, cash, visas and passports. That notion died quickly as the functionary behind the desk quickly told us our photos were no good. They had a light blue background he said; only a white background is acceptable evidently. After taking some of our copies, he handed us two forms that had to be filled out and taken to a bank where we would have to pay a tax of 15 euros each. With that in hand, he told us to get new photos, pay the taxes, and come back in a week.

A week later, last Monday, we arrived again hoping we had everything to get our NIEs. Within in minutes we were face to face with a functionary who collected a couple of papers and took a fingerprint of our right index fingers. And that was it. They handed us the NIEs, without even once examining our visas or looking at our contracts! They simply said you have 45 days to return to get your TIE. With our precious digits in hand, we hurried back to Laredo where we opened bank accounts with ease (It’s amazing how a little profit motive can improve service).

Now we just wait to go back one last time to pick up our foreign ID cards (TIEs). While not as urgent as the NIE, the TIE is still important as a form of identification. Unbelievably, police in Spain can demand to see government identification at any time, without any cause (as well as search your person and vehicle). We aren’t too worried though, and we of course will try to follow all laws. It’s just not worth spending our time in government buildings when we have such beautiful landscapes all around.