TIE Card Hell, and a Lesson in Spanish Bureaucracy.

No one likes the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or the post office. Or anything government. You always think you’re going to go at some good time but turns out everyone thought the same thing so you’re 36th in line. So you leave and you think “it’s not pressing today, I’ll come back another day.” But it never gets better.

There’s a city that is just this. Just DMV. This city is Jaen. It’s spelled Jaén but I’m not going to type the accent every time. Also I hate Jaen so I’ll spell it how I want.

Tip: Jaen is pronounced High-en. But with a guttural H. Hghghighigh-en. Again, don’t like the place so call it Jane or Jean or whatever you want.

Jaen the city is the capital of Jaen the province, where we live. Every poor sap who lives in Jaen (province) has no choice but to go to Jaen (city) to do anything. Government offices, administrative offices, good shopping, and the only major forms of transportation are in Jaen (city).

The entire city is the DMV to us in that it is where all our administrative things are done. So it really is (to us) a whole city of hellish lines, early closures, and general bureaucracy. Cold. Unfeeling. Bureaucracy.

We have gone to Jaen many times, and never for fun. We keep giving it more tries but nothing ever comes of it.  Every time we go we figure we will make the most of it by exploring and shopping. Yet every time we’ve left as quickly as we could. I think it’s just one of those cities for us.

The thing that keeps bringing us back is our TIE card. This is the Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero. We were already given our official foreigner number with our visa, but to make it extra official, you have to get that same number stamped on a plastic card after you arrive in Spain. 

Following along? We don’t either.


Getting the plastic requires visiting the “local” office (45 minutes away). We made an appointment to go (you have to make an appointment) but don’t think that means you will go in during your slot.

We signed up for one of the first slots of the day. We woke up before the sun was even up and staggered, sleepy and hungry down to the bus station.

At the front desk of the office of the foreigner, the secretary explained what we needed. Yeah we have that. Yeah. We have that. We already have that. We have it!!!!! We came prepared and wanted to just get it over with. The one thing we couldn’t do ahead of time was pay the fee/tax.

At least at the DMV you can pay online or pay in the office. At the office of the foreigner they gave us a paper which we had to take to a bank. The first bank we went to said no. This is, of course, the bank right across the street. So we had to go 3 blocks away to a different bank where we waited for over 30 minutes. When we got to the front of the line they took our money and stamped the paper. It was very simple. We walked 3 blocks back to the office and got back in line. We waited in this line for another 20 minutes, with some families cut us off because maybe they were waiting in line earlier (or were just asses). Then, and only then had we officially paid our fee. Damn. We could think of a hundred ways to streamline this to be just a little faster. A credit card, pay pal, bit coin, ANYTHING.

We went through this whole ordeal and finally made it to the front of the line after being cut off by 5 other people. Okay, that was over with. Here’s your idiot paper.

“There is a problem” the secretary said. She didn’t speak any English because of course she didn’t. English is a universal language and this is a foreigners office, but okay. So she said in slow Spanish that There. is. a. problem. She mimicked a lot of things and said “come back tomorrow.”

We woke up before the sun was up and wasted our whole day (not to mention $11 in bus fare). We were not coming back tomorrow. We were not doing this again, what could POSSIBLY be the problem?

“Why. No. We have an appointment! We made the appointment 2 weeks ago!” We argued  “We’re next on the list.” We were truly next on the list. All the names above ours were crossed out. We had been 1.5 hours early for our own appointment and even after the bank fee shenanigans we were still on time.

“No. Do you understand me? Come back tomorrow or maybe wait an hour. Do you understand me? Come back tomorrow.”

“No. Why?”

“Because the person who does the fingerprints isn’t here. Do you understand me?”

“We don’t need the fingerprints.”

“Yes you do. Come back tomorrow. Do you understand me? I mean, maybe he’ll be here later. We don’t know.”

“We’ll come back in an hour.”

So we wasted our time in the fun fun city of Jaen pretending to window shop. When we came back the office was full. Like really full. Standing room only and you couldn’t tell where the line started or ended. Over 40 people were in a very small room. We went home.

So we scheduled the return appointment on a school day for two weeks later. If we had to do this we would at least play hooky.  This time the finger-printer guy wasn’t out sick so we made it further than last time – we actually got a number. We were number D56 or something arbitrary. E200 gets called, then E 198. Uhh, okay, so the numbers mean nothing. There’s a big sign on the TV where the numbers get called that says “Nothing Is Real, Numerical Order is a Lie, Make Peace with Your God” No. It didn’t say that but it basically said that. It actually warned you that the numbers meant nothing so just pay attention. Jeez, Spain, why even have numbers if they mean nothing?

D54 gets called, then D55. Okay those were in order, maybe we’re next. And…. D57. Okay. We wait 15 more minutes, D58, D59. “If it gets to 60 I’m going to complain” I tell Chris. We’re now 45 minutes after our scheduled time slot (and we had been very early so we were reaching over an hour of waiting). “D56.” That’s us finally.

We went into a large room with about 20 desks and only 5 people at those desks. Ugh this economy.  We both sat down with different people who looked at our papers and started new folders. We sat and watched as they pasted our photo and wrote our name on the folder. Then they put all of our papers into the folder. Done. That’s seriously what we came here to do – watch them make a folder and put our crap into the folder. Oh my god Spain, there are a thousand ways to do this. Why did I make an appointment to do this? Having successfully done what a dolphin, elephant or other intelligent animal could do they finally needed our persons there because we need to be fingerprinted.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m basically un-fingerprint-able. So staring down at the electronic finger-printer I snorted. This wasn’t going to work. Of course it didn’t work (because it never does). The man got some wet cloth and kept wiping my fingers as if they were too oily or too dry.  Deathly afraid they would reject my TIE card because I can’t be fingerprinted I kept my other fingers crossed. The machine kept letting out a loud, angry BEEEEP! To deny the print. Chris looked over pityingly. He of course had all his fingers scanned successfully and was getting the “come back in 27 days” speech.

Chris finally explained it probably was not going to work. “Alright then. We’re done here. Come back in 27 days or so.” Boom. Done. I didn’t get fingerprinted because I can’t.

So at least we were successful applying  (read: watching them make a folder) for it.


We had to go back to Jaen to get the cards. We had to come back in the oddly specific 27-ish days. If you wait too long they will get mad.  So 27-ish days later we tried to go to Jaen. I use the word “tried” because the freaking bus was on strike so we couldn’t even go. There is no other way to get out of Martos except with the bus. So we were trapped at home.

We did end up making it to the office a week later. The week before Christmas and the week our paper visa expired – so we were getting the card by the skin of our teeth. We waited for maybe 30 minutes and finally went back to talk to a man who found our cards in an honest to god Rolodex. Then they shooed us out.

We were so happy to be finished, that we just stuffed the cards in our wallets, and ran for the door, assuming that all this bureaucracy exists to accurately allocate the time foreigners are allowed to stay in Spain based on their various work contracts … The word there was assuming.


A month later (it was a long Christmas break, okay) we were finally giving those cards a really close look and holy crap Chris’s card expires a full freaking 30 days before mine.

What the hell, Spain?

The last day of our contract (and the government knew this) is May 31st.  But his card expires a whole 30 days before he’s even done with work. They either typed it in wrong, or just didn’t care. (Hint: they don’t give a f*$& about anything so it was certainly the latter).

(Chris taking over here) I know how this will work, if I try to get it fixed, they will verbally trample me with a stream of bureaucracy laced  within hyper speed Spanish and refuse to help. But it’s important. We want to stay over the summer. Also going back to the USA and re-applying for a visa would cost almost 3 times more than just renewing the visa we already have. We can stay until August but if mine expires 30 days before K’s then we can’t stay until August.

So I go in all guns blazing….by getting my handler to help me. My handler is an English teacher at my school, and is tasked with making sure this stuff gets taken care of and he generally takes this job seriously. I explain what happened, he gets angry (YAY), and calls the office immediately. What does this office say? “No Pasa Nada”, the most frustrating phrase in any language anywhere, which is basically, “Meh, don’t worry about it”. They added that “it’s not a problem because you have a 30 day grace period.” Oh really, thirty days? Exactly? It just happens to be that? How convenient.

I ask, with him translating “So if this is true, I’ll wake up the day after I stop working, and be illegal in Spain? And customs and everyone will be cool with that?” They reply “Yeah, they will be, they probably won’t even check your card, no pasa nada.” This explanation satisfies my handler, and he hangs up. They absolutely will care, it’s half of their job to nab dumb-ass foreigners who overstay their visas.

After thinking on it, I had to go back to office and handle things in person. Is my Spanish level good enough to argue this? I wasn’t sure.

After scheduling a day, and riding the bus, I went up to the front desk lady, told her my name/appointment info, and why I was visiting. She tells me “no pasa nada, you have a 90 day grace period (hmm, what? not 30?).

Alright, so I’ll be able to wake up and not be illegal. That’s a good start. But this won’t help our summer plans.  I pressed the issue. She talked to supervisors, looked at her computer, shook her head, “no we can’t help you”. Just like phoning them about this problem – they just don’t want to do their jobs.  They’re too lazy. So I said “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” and repeated my problem. “Well, we can’t help you.” “I don’t understand…” This went on for a few rounds.

She must have gotten frustrated, because she finally gave me a number and an application form and told me to take a seat. The next guy who helped me barely spoke to me, he wasn’t annoyed with me, just annoyed that he had to do something so simple his job. The application form has a “Correction” box that you can tick to solve problems like this. All he had to do was tick that box, review my official profile in their database, and sign off on it. Then he just took my card, my application and a photo, and said “come back in 27-ish days.” Literally signing a paper was too much work for anyone to do over the phone. It took my physical presence to bully them into it.

I was floored. This whole time, the problem was SO SIMPLE, yet nobody would fix it because they didn’t want to. It wasn’t difficult to do, it didn’t take up anyone’s time, it was just something that nobody felt the need to do because “no pasa nada.” 30 or is it 90? days, whatever, just deal with it. Not my problem. It’s partly a Spain thing.  Spain seems to be more comfortable with ambiguity in general. This makes living pretty simple if you can learn to accept that. But us foreigners can’t really live with ambiguity when our legal statuses depend on having black and white answers. If we break rules we could be banned from the entirety of the EU (all 28 countries). So no pasa nada is unacceptable.

So long story short, it was hell getting the cards, then they made a mistake on one of them, then they refused to fix said mistake, but eventually they did once it was easier for them to fix the issue than it was for them to get me out of the office.

And my advice for for dealing with Spanish bureaucracy: know what you are entitled to, be firm when demanding it. And if all else fails just refuse to leave.

4 thoughts on “TIE Card Hell, and a Lesson in Spanish Bureaucracy.

  1. Geez, that had my heart racing and all in a huff reading this! 😅 Crazy world we live in! Glad you got it fixed… I hope😘


  2. Nada esta mal en la Twilight Zone. Hasta que sea.

    Sounds like you two are more likely to be struck by lightning than asked to show your TIE card…but you never know!


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