We are learning a lot this week what it would feel like to be an illegal resident in a country, even though we already went through the visa process and are perfectly legal here in Spain. It gives one greater empathy for illegal immigrants... as certainly in California we have likely known (or taught) many people who may or may not have had their 'papers'.
In Barcelona, there is a rule that anyone who plans to live in Spain more than 6 months out of a year must register themselves at their local city hall to tell the government where you live. The city then creates a list of known residents, like a census.
This process is called 'empadronamiento', or "Padrón".
As new residents of the city, this places us in a bit of a catch-22. We don't yet have a lease, as we have been busy apartment hunting. Yet without a lease or a generous person willing to let you stay in their home (and sponsor you) you can not get an empadronamiento. You can open a non-resident bank account without these things, and even rent an apartment as long as you have funds... but in order to open a resident bank account you must have a NIE. It's tricky!
In Barcelona there are a lot of reasons why various clerks might ask to see your empadronamiento, and residents are strongly encouraged to keep their empadronamiento with them whenever they need to conduct official business.
So for example, when Señor Aventura went to try to buy us a used car the other day, the car dealerships informed him that he could not buy a car without an empadronamiento.
Another thing we can't do without one is apply for an NIE (número de identidad de extranjero) - the identity number for foreigners.
The NIE is a crucial card. Without one, you can't get a job, open a bank account, buy property, apply for a drivers license, get utilities for your apartment, etc. Without the NIE, you can't start a real life in Spain as a foreigner.
So to recap -
We tried twice in the last week to get empadronamientos for our family. Neither time were we completely successful, even though we have the backing of an amazing friend who is willing to let us live at either of his homes indefinitely and to sponsor us.
Last Friday, Señor Gran Corazón took us to City Hall in the beach town where he has his main home, to register our family.
The very warm and friendly Catalan City Hall representative in his town let him know that we could not get the empadronamiento for the full family because we did not have the passports or birth certificates of our children with us that day, and that it would be complicated (at that site) to give the children an empadronamiento later if we did not do it in the beginning.
Also, she let him know it would take a month and a half in the beach town for us to get the physical paper for the empadronamiento, during which time we could not use it to buy a car or get our NIE.
My husband was bummed out. Still, Señor Gran Corazón and Señor Aventura do not give up easily! Four days later, they brought our family to City Hall in the neighborhood of Barcelona where Señor Gran Corazón owns an apartment in which we are able to stay for as long as necessary... and again they attempted to register our family.
This time we had the passports and birth certificates with us... but the City Hall office would now not accept the official translations for our children's birth certificates - even though they were Apostilled by the US government and already accepted by the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles.
"It must have a stamp on the translation," said the clerk. "My manager is not here today, and I cannot accept this without approval. You should go to get a new translation and also a stamp from your consulate."
The two Señors quickly conferred and decided that the most important thing right now would be for my husband and I to have the empadronamiento... since without it, nothing else can happen for us in this city. No apartment, no car, no NIE. Nada!
So, we went ahead this time and - with our friend's kind sponsorship - got the official empadronamiento for just my husband and me.
Sometime in the next few days or weeks we will need to go to the U.S. Consulate to get a new official translation and stamp for each of our children's birth certificates. Then we will try again at City Hall to get them their own empadronamiento so that they too can receive NIE cards and be eligible for the rights that come with them.
(Fingers crossed that this goes smoothly!!!)
The silver lining of this complicated morning was that the clerk printed out our empadronamiento documents on the spot, so that we did not have to wait for 1.5 months to get our papers. As soon as we find the right used car, Señor Aventura can buy it immediately now...
...which makes him very happy! As thrilled as Señor Aventura truly is to be an official Barcelona resident - what my husband wants most this week is the freedom to hop into our future car and - like the rest of the locals - leave this big city (sweltering in humid 90+ degree weather) to find a nice mountain to hike or swimming hole to dive into!