April Fools Day is not a feature of life in Spain1 but yesterday’s events certainly appeared like a huge practical joke but, sadly, they weren’t.
First I need to explain that all Spanish people are given an identity number, known as a DNI, and anyone from foreign countries planning to live in Spain for longer than three months needs to apply for an NIE. That’s the equivalent of the DNI but for citizens of other nations.
Knowing we needed one each, Lisa and I used the services of a gestoria to make our lives a bit simpler. A gestoria, or gestor, is a person who deals with administrative bureaucracy on behalf of a client.
Our appointments this morning were at the nearest office to our home – but that was in the city of Almería, more than 100 kilometres away.
We arrived in time, checked in and waited for our numbers to be called. So far so good, the agent looked through our papers and everything seemed in order, except one. Instead of being able to pay for our NIEs there and then, we were told to collect the necessary forms from the reception, complete them, take them to a bank, pay the money and then return to the office with the receipted form.
Simple, yes? Sadly, no – in fact far from it.
The first bank said we had to pay at an automatic machine but it kept coming up as ‘technical error’; attempts at other banks encountered the need to give our NIEs first. The mere fact that we wanted to pay the money to get an NIE seemed to get lost. No NIE, no payment accepted, no receipted form.
Just how anyone is supposed to enter their NIE on a form that they need to use to get their NIE is beyond me. Sounds like a script good enough for a top comedy show.
Then Barry, our Spanish-speaking friend who drove us to Almería, had a bright idea and went to the branch of the bank where we have an account. There the money was paid, without the need for a NIE, and the forms duly stamped as paid. To solve this muddle had taken visits to seven banks and taken nearly three hours since we left the office.
Great, now we could return and get our NIEs.
Well, that was our fond dream. It turned out that the NIE office, which stays open until 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays, closes at 2pm on Fridays.
After leaving Almería, we returned to the town nearest our home in an attempt to see the gestor to ask him to arrange new appointments for us. But, by then it was 4.40pm; his office will reopen on Monday.
1 Spain has its own equivalent of April Fools Day. It is December 28, ‘Day of the Holy Innocents’.