This guide sets out essential information for British nationals wanting to buy property in Spain, including advice on legal advice, buying in certain areas, complaints and more. It should be read together with the ‘how to buy property abroad’ guide.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is unable to provide any guidance on individual property purchases apart from the information and links listed below.
See our information on what consulates can and cannot do for British nationals.
See the video on buying property in Spain.
We strongly recommended that you choose an independent lawyer who specialises in Spanish land law (urbanismo). Independent means that they work on your behalf only and are not also looking after the interests of the agent or developer.
The Spanish property conveyancing system is different to the UK system so you should ensure that those involved in the transaction are qualified and experienced in Spain.
Use extreme caution if an estate agent, promoter or lawyer urges you to cut corners to save money or time.
A Spanish notary public will prepare the contract of sale and issue the public deeds.
As the purchaser, you have the right to choose which notary you use.
The notary is a public servant who has a duty to provide you with free and impartial legal advice on all aspects of the contract before you sign. It is a good idea to seek advice from the notary early on. When a date is set for signing the contract, you have 3 days beforehand to visit the notary and ask any questions you may have about any aspect of the contract.
British estate agents, promoters and lawyers
If you choose to work with a British estate agent, promoter or lawyer, check that:
- they are qualified, reliable and have experience operating in Spain
- they are registered with the Law Society in the UK
- they specialise in international transactions
If your lawyer is based in Spain, ask for their registration number and check that they are registered and practising with the local bar association (Colegio de Abogados).
You should also check that your lawyer has professional indemnity insurance and do not sign any papers or hand over any money until you have taken independent legal advice.
Although the British Embassy cannot recommend a lawyer, we do have lists of local English-speaking lawyers and qualified translators available.
Many Spanish citizens use a ‘gestor’ to carry out bureaucracy on their behalf. Only a Gestor Administrativo with the GA kite mark is professionally qualified and certified to process paperwork directly with the Spanish administration. More information on gestor services can be found here.
Property disputes: legal aid
If you are involved in a property dispute and do not have enough money to pay the costs of a court case, you can apply for legal aid. Further information is available on the European E-Justice Portal.
If you are resident in Spain, you can apply to your local bar association for a legal aid solicitor.
You may need to find a new lawyer with specific expertise for example, specialist civil lawyers for compensation claims against private parties such as agents, developers or banks, and specialist public body litigants (contencioso administrativo) for claims against local, regional or state authorities.
If you do not have a good understanding of Spanish, make sure that you get all contracts and documents translated by an independent translator.
You can find a list of accredited translators and interpreters in Spain on the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs website.
Do your homework: you should analyse and compare different products and services offered by lending companies. If you have any doubts about the terms and conditions, ask the lender to explain.
You should also check with the Bank of Spain that the lender is authorised to operate in Spain
There are a range of mortgages on offer and you should pay special attention to the interest rate and repayment period, fees for setting up the mortgage as well as early repayment and cancellation fees.
If you cannot keep up the mortgage repayments, the Spanish bank could repossess your property in Spain. If the value of the property is less than the total debt outstanding (you are in negative equity), the bank may pursue your UK assets to recover the mortgage shortfall using a European Enforcement Order.
Make sure you fully understand the mortgage agreement you sign. If you have any doubts check with the branch during the 10 working-day period after the binding offer has been provided.
If for any reason you cannot keep up the mortgage repayments, you should speak to your bank immediately (before defaulting on repayments) to discuss the options available.
Further information on mortgages in Spain is available from the Spanish Mortgage Association.
NIE – foreigners identification number
A NIE (Numero de Identidad de Extranjero), is a personal identification number required in order to carry out any fiscal transaction in Spain such as opening a bank account or buying property.
Foreign nationals are assigned a NIE number on registering as a resident in Spain at the Oficina de Extranjeros (immigration office) or designated police station, however property buyers from outside Spain can apply for a NIE at the Spanish embassy or consulate in the UK or through a representative.
Taxation is a complex issue, and taxes associated with buying, selling and renting property in Spain can vary widely from one region to the next, therefore it is advisable to seek the advice of an accountant or professional tax advisor.
The Spanish tax authority, the Agencia Tributaria provides some information on property and tax on its website in English.
See the Living in Spain guide for brief information on taxation.
Complaints against the legal system
If you believe your lawyer has been negligent and has not met their obligations, you should first complain to the provincial bar association (Ilustre Colegio Provincial de Abogados). If their response is unsatisfactory, you can take your complaint to the regional and then national bar associations.
Complaints should be in writing and in Spanish.
See a list of the bar associations around Spain on the General Council of Spanish Lawyers website.
If you have a complaint about the way a court has handled your case, contact the General Council of the Judiciary.
If you have a complaint against a notary or gestor administrativo, contact the professional council of which they are a member.
Before you complete your property purchase you should make sure that:
- you have seen the land registry extract (nota simple), available from the Colegio de Registradores (translations into English for an additional fee), and checked the following details
- the property and land for sale match the details registered and the sellers are the registered owner(s)
- there are no debts or charges, such as a mortgage, on the property (see nota simple)
- there are no legal proceedings initiated against the property for contravention of land planning law
You should check that planning permissions are in order and the property is a legal build. This is particularly important when buying off-plan or direct from a developer. The town hall can tell you whether the building has all licences and permissions and what type of land it is.
If the property is built on rural land or land that is not classified for construction, you should ask the regional government to confirm construction is authorised.
If you are buying an off-plan property, confirm that the property has been certified as finished by a registered architect and registered as a new build in the property register. The registration should also provide details of the developer’s insurance against structural and other defects in the construction. In the case of a private build (the previous owner built their own house and decided to sell before 10 years had lapsed) you will need to request these details separately
You should check the latest town plan to see whether or not the plot you wish to buy has any building restrictions, is in a green zone or includes a public pathway or similar. You can do this at to the town planning (urbanismo) department of the local town hall.
You should have the property surveyed. This is not obligatory, but it is wise to get a chartered surveyor to check the property.
You should know the cadastral value of the property and how much purchase tax will be due. Tax is charged on the council’s valuation of the property as opposed to the amount of the sale. You can check this at the regional government’s online tax agency site using the cadastral reference number
Make sure you have seen the following documents:
- a paid-up receipt for the previous owner’s annual property tax (IBI). It is also wise to get a certificate from the town hall proving that there are no unpaid rates from previous years
- the cadastral certificate giving the exact boundaries and square metres of your land – this will be linked to the land register record by a cadastral reference number. You should ensure that the property and land description contained in both records matches
- the licence of first occupancy or habitation certificate issued by the town hall. You will need this document to connect to electricity and water companies. Developers cannot force you to complete without this licence
- receipt to prove all utility bills have been paid by the previous owner
- if applicable, a certificate signed by the President of the Community of Property Owners (see Comunidad de Vecinos) stating that there are no outstanding debts. You should be aware that if you later find that there are such debts outstanding, as the new owner, you assume the debts for the current and previous year (2 years in total)
- as from 1 June 2013, all homes for sale or to let in Spain are required by law to have an energy efficiency certificate. If you are considering buying a property, the seller is obliged to show you this certificate
On completion, the public deed should contain an accurate description of the property. You should register the property in your name with the Land Registry as soon as possible to ensure full protection of your rights. The notary can even send advance notification to the Land Registry electronically once the public deed is signed.
Buying property in certain areas
If you are considering purchasing a coastal property you should contact the Coastal Demarcation office in your region to get a certificate to certify that the property is not affected by the 1988 Coastal Law. Bear in mind that while it is possible to view the coastal boundaries of the public maritime areas online on the Environment Ministry’s website, this may not provide sufficiently accurate information on which to base a property purchase.
Be extremely careful if the Land Registry record shows that the property you wish to buy is built on rural land. In normal circumstances the government reserves this type of land for agricultural use and you need to check with the municipal and regional authorities to ensure that full planning permission has been obtained for residential use.
In some parts of Spain, the peripheral land surrounding a military base is considered ‘restricted’ under Spanish law, and specific rules may apply when buying, selling or carrying out construction work on properties located in these areas. Our current understanding is that, from 1 January 2021, UK nationals who wish to buy property in these areas will be required to meet third country national requirements and request a military permit from the Spanish Ministry of Defence prior to purchase. As with all property transactions, we strongly recommend you seek specialised legal advice from a lawyer who can advise and support you through the process and, if necessary, request the military authorization on your behalf. See list of English speaking lawyers in Spain. We are currently seeking further guidance from the Spanish authorities on this matter and will update the above guidance as necessary in due course.
Buying property off-plan
Buying off-plan property inevitably involves higher risk than buying re-sale property. If you are considering buying off-plan in Spain there are a number of points to consider.
Before you pay
Make sure you have a bank guarantee (aval bancario) to cover your stage payments. Developers of off-plan properties are legally obliged to secure all deposits with a bank guarantee. However, bear in mind that this obligation only comes into force once the developer has planning permission, so you should ask to see this before making any payments.
You can also check this at the Land Registry, because if the description of the future building is registered, the registrar will have seen evidence that the licence exists and work has begun following the approved design.
You should ensure that the bank guarantee is individual and not a collective guarantee covering the whole development, which does not give the same protection. You should also request proof that your payments are deposited in a special escrow account, which can only be used for the construction of the specified development.
Make sure the developer is registered with the Mercantile Registry and the person who is going to sign on the developer’s behalf has the legal power to do so. You can visit any Mercantile Registry office or use the Land Registry website.
Check with the Land Registry to make sure the land which is going to be built on is registered to the developer you are doing business with.
Make sure you obtain a copy of the cadastral certificate giving the exact boundaries and square metres of your land.
Ensure the developer has insurance covering damage caused by structural defects to the building. This insurance should be included in the property manual (libro del edificio) that the developer gives you.
You should also get a planning certificate for the plot you wish to buy from the town planning (Urbanismo) department of the town hall. This will include information such as whether the plot has any building restrictions, is in a green zone, includes a public footpath or if there are any current plans to build a motorway etc.
Before you sign the title deed
Once construction has finished, and before you sign the title deed, ask for proof from the seller that the construction has been finished in accordance with the description given in the plans. This is issued as a certificate (certificado final de obra). You can also check this at the Land Registry.
Make sure you have the licence of first occupancy (licencia de primera occupación) which is issued by the town hall for new buildings and certifies that the property is habitable. You will need this document to connect to electricity and water companies. Developers cannot force you to complete without this licence.
Consider asking a chartered surveyor to check the property. This is not obligatory but it is wise to obtain a professional opinion on the property before you complete. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) exists in Spain and there are residential chartered surveyors working across the peninsula and the islands. Members of the RICS are qualified and experienced professionals offering independent and impartial advice.
The Spanish College of Architects in each province also offers a list of independent specialist surveyors.
Cancelling the contract
If the developer does not build your property by the deadline in the contract, or services and utilities are not completed and connected to standard, or the habitation certificate cannot be issued, you are legally entitled to:
- cancel the contract and have the deposits returned plus interest
- extend the deadline, allowing the developer to complete the property
If you want to cancel the contract, you should get independent legal advice. Once you have consulted a lawyer, the first step is to write to the developer to explain that due to non-compliance with the contract, you want to cancel the contract and request that the deposits paid so far are returned, as well as the accrued interest.
You should include any relevant documents (for example. a copy of the contract, copies of payments made, copy of the bank guarantee) and give a date by which you want the amount to be paid back. You should write to the developer using Burofax, a service provided by the Spanish postal service ‘Correos’ and most couriers, that legally certifies the content has been received by the addressee.
If the developer does not respond to you within the specified timeframe, you should contact the claims department of the bank or savings bank responsible for the guarantee to request a refund of the payments made. Again, it is wise to make contact using Burofax and attach copies of all relevant documents, including a copy of the bank guarantee, a copy of the complaint submitted to the developer, a copy of the developer’s response (if any) and copies of any documents which indicate that the developer has not complied with the contract.
Should the bank not comply, the only remaining course of redress is to instruct a lawyer to take a civil case against the bank.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud and you have neither a bank guarantee nor an insurance policy from the developer, you should seek independent legal advice regarding taking criminal legal action through the courts and register a statement with the police.
A ‘Community of Owners’ (‘Comunidad de Propietarios’ or ‘Comunidad de Vecinos’) is a legal entity (as per the Ley de Propiedad Horizontal 49/1960) comprising all homeowners within the same development such as a block of flats or urbanisation. The purpose of this entity is to manage the maintenance and financial upkeep of the property, particularly communal facilities.
Each homeowner is assigned a monthly quota as set out in the Community’s governing statutes (Estatutos de la Comunidad de Propietarios) and is required to represent the Community on the governing board (Junta de Gobierno) on a rotational basis. ‘Communities of Owners’ can take legal action against any owner who fails to pay community fees.
Renting in Spain
Owners who let their properties on a short or long-term basis in Spain must comply with national rental regulations as set out by the national rental law (Ley 29/1994, de 24 de noviembre, de Arrendamientos Urbanos and Real Decreto-Ley 7/2019, de 1 de marzo).
Before entering into a tenancy agreement as a landlord (arrendador) or tenant (arrendatario) in Spain, make sure you know your rights and obligations as they can differ from those in the UK. Consider seeking professional advice to ensure you are complying with Spanish and local legislation.
Energy efficiency certificate
Since 2013, all homeowners in Spain are required by law to have an energy efficiency certificate (Certificado de Eficiencia Energetica) prior to selling or leasing their properties. The certificates provides potential buyers and tenants with an indication of the energy efficiency of the property and its typical energy outgoings.
Short-term (holiday) lets
If you want to let your property to tourists on a short-term basis, you must ensure that you are doing so in accordance with Spanish law. Most regions in Spain have put legislation in place to regulate holiday rentals in their area by making it compulsory for property owners to obtain a licence prior to letting, and by establishing a ceiling on the number of licences available. Some local authorities have placed a moratorium on the issuing of new licences as a means to control the number of holiday rentals in their city.
Properties can be subject to inspections by the local authorities, and owners who are caught marketing unlicensed, private residential property to tourists without complying with local legislation, can be liable for severe fines.
The classification of tourist apartments (apartamentos turisticos) and holiday homes (viviendas vacacionales) can vary from one region to the next. In some areas, it is subject to the length of stay or whether the property is being rented as a whole or individual rooms. In others, it is determined by the location of the property (i.e. proximity to city centre, beach).
You should seek independent legal advice and check the local laws and requirements (i.e. health & safety measures) at the town hall or the regional government’s tourist department before you buy if you are considering letting your property on a short-term basis.
If you are planning to buy an apartment which is part of a residential block, you should also check the Community of Owners statutes to see if there are any rules that prohibit or restrict holiday letting within the community. The set of legislative measures regarding Spanish rental laws (Real Decreto-ley 7/2019) that came into force in March 2019, provide Communities of Owners with greater powers to prohibit holiday home rentals within their development or block.
Once you have correctly registered your property with the local authorities and obtained the necessary licence, you may wish to consider hiring a Spanish letting agent to assist with finding tenants, drawing up rental contracts and managing the property on your behalf. In some regions, it is obligatory to use a specialist tourist apartment management company for short-term rentals to tourists.
Many people looking to buy a second home in Spain choose to rent before they buy. Private tenancy agreements are governed by national rental laws (Ley 29/1994, de 24 de noviembre, de Arrendamientos Urbanos and Real Decreto-Ley 7/2019, de 1 de marzo), which set out and protect the rights and obligations of both the landlord (arrendador) and the tenant (arrendatario).
Before signing a tenancy agreement
Tenants should undertake a thorough inspection of the property before signing a contract.
Its good practice to verify the identity of the person or agency renting out the accommodation to ensure they are the owner. This can be done at the National Property Registry by means of a ‘nota simple’. If someone is acting on behalf of the owner such as an agent, you should ensure they have power of attorney to do so.
Rental agreements must provide the tenant with the full terms and conditions of their tenancy and be formalised in writing. Ensure you fully understand all clauses before signing and if something is not clear, seek legal advice. The written agreement must state the full name and ID number (DNI for Spanish nationals, NIE or passport for foreign nationals) of the landlord and tenant, the property’s full address and the specific terms to which both parties have agreed such as rent amount, payment method etc.
If the property is furnished, this must be specified in the agreement, as should the tenant’s ability to use any other facility such as storage rooms, parking spaces, shared gardens and swimming pools etc.
The consumer watchdog UCO (Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios), offers an sample rental contract here.
The landlord should provide the tenant with an inventory that lists any furniture, electrical appliances or other equipment included in the rental agreement and a note of the condition they are in at the time of signing. You should check that all electrical appliances are in working order, and should ensure the inventory is correct. You may wish to take photographs to avoid any future disputes.
It is important to check the water, gas and electrical fittings.
The deposit (fianza or señal) must be paid on signing the contract and the landlord should provide a receipt. By law, a landlord in Spain can only request a one-month deposit on long-term lets. Additional assurances such as a bank guarantee (aval bancario) or other guarantees may be requested, however this is separate to the deposit and cannot by law, exceed the total of two months’ rent.
The landlord is obliged by law to place the deposit in the corresponding ‘Agencia Social de la Vivienda’ of the region. This is the equivalent to a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme (TDP) in the UK.
On termination of the contract, the landlord is obliged to return the deposit to the tenant one month from the date the contract is terminated.
Should you choose to rent through a letting agent, fees tend to be the equivalent of one month’s rent plus VAT.
The length of the tenancy agreement can be freely negotiated between the landlord and the tenant, however if the tenancy agreement does not specify a fixed term mutually agreed by both parties, national rental law conditions will apply (Real Decreto-Ley 7/2019, de 1 de marzo).
Rental contracts tend to be for one year, after which time they may be terminated or renewed. Should the agreement be open-ended or for less than 5 years, the tenant has the right to extend it each year until a maximum of 5 years has been reached (7 if the tenant is a legal entity ‘persona juridica’). After five years, if neither party notifies the other of their wish to terminate the contract, it will automatically be renewed annually for a maximum of three more years
Utilities and other outlays
Contracting utility service providers (i.e. electricity, gas, water etc.) is the responsibility of the tenant unless otherwise established in the terms of the contract.
Landlords must provide tenants with the property’s Certificate of Occupancy (Cédula de habitabilidad) issued by the regional council. This document serves as a guarantee that the property is fit for purpose, and is required when contracting water, gas and electricity services.
Before you finalise a rental agreement, make sure you are clear on the agreed amount and check if the terms of contract include any extra outlays such as community fees (see ‘Community of Owners’ section) or the Impuesto de Bienes Inmuebles (IBI), an annual tax which unless specified in the contract, falls to the property owner to bear.
Spanish law states that landlords can only apply annual rent increments if this is clearly stipulated in the terms of contract (e.g. fixed annual percentage increase). However, where the increment methodology is not specified, the amount cannot exceed the annual consumer price index rate (Índice de Precios al Consumo – IPC).
If rental increments are not addressed in the contract, no increment can be applied until the contract expires (5 or 7 years).
After this time, the landlord can increase the rent if they make improvements (other than regular maintenance works) to the property one month after completion of the work and only if the tenant has been informed in writing. Any increments due to property improvements are subject to a 20% cap, and the landlord must provide the tenant with details of the costs involved and how the new rent has been calculated.
The landlord is obliged to carry out any works necessary to ensure that the property is habitable and cannot apply rent increments as a result.
Tenants are liable to repair any damage caused to the property that is not naturally occurring (not wear and tear) such as purposeful damage, accidental or through neglect.
Both landlords and tenants should keep a record of any work they do or pay for during your tenancy.
Some safety aspects of Spanish tenancy law differ from those in the UK. The use of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors is highly recommended, however unlike in the UK, it is not a legal requirement in rented properties in Spain.
Unlike in the UK, landlords are not legally obliged to commission annual gas safety checks however service providers are required to undertake a full gas check every 5 years. Many offer maintenance schemes for rentals and some also provide cover in the event the tenant fails to meet payments.
While there is not a legal obligation on landlords to have professional checks carried out on the electrical appliances, there is, however, an obligation to ensure that all electrical equipment is safe to use.
Termination of contract
The tenancy contract can only be terminated after 6 months from the date of signing if the tenant notifies the landlord in writing with at least 30 days’ notice; or if after a year of tenancy, the landlord (persona fisica) needs to claim the property back as his or her main residence, in which case they must give the tenant at least two months’ notice.
Rental agreements can also be dissolved when one party fails to meet their obligations such as meeting rental payments or withholding the deposit. For further information see the national rental law (Ley 29/1994, de 24 de noviembre, de Arrendamientos Urbanos.)
Rental dispute resolution
Should disputes between a landlord and tenant arise, there are a number of different mechanisms available where either party can seek resolution either through arbitration, mediation or legal action:
- if the tenancy contract is between an individual and a registered company (persona juridica), tenants can lodge a formal complaint with their local consumer rights administrative body. For further information see here
- if the contract is between two individuals (particulares) mediation or legal action can be sought.See a list of English speaking lawyers in Spain
- some regional authorities in Spain have created consumer arbitration and mediation bodies (i.e. Consejos arbitrales). You should check with your regional authority for further information
Letting and income taxes
You must ensure that you declare your rental income to the Spanish tax authorities (Agencia Tributaria) whether you are resident in Spain or not and regardless of the length of the let.
Be aware that non-resident property owners in Spain are required to complete a tax return each year even if they do not rent out their homes.
Taxation is a complex issue, and it is advisable to seek the advice of an accountant or professional tax adviser with comprehensive and up to date knowledge of both the UK and Spanish tax regulations.
Equity release schemes
Equity release schemes are schemes which are designed to allow homeowners to release equity from the value of their property as income, a lump sum or a mixture of both. A reverse mortgage (hipoteca inversa) is one form of equity release which allows homeowners to borrow money against the value of their home, which is used as collateral. Reverse mortgages are generally marketed at retired homeowners who are over 65 years old.
If you are considering an equity release scheme, such as a reverse mortgage or lifetime loan, it is advisable to check that the company offering the mortgage is registered with the financial regulator for the securities markets, the Comision Nacional de Mercado de Valores (CNMV) and that they do not have any warnings issued against them.
A list of financial companies which are not authorised to operate in Spain and those subject to an ongoing investigation is available on the CNMV website.
Seek independent legal advice prior to signing any contracts to make sure the information the company has given you is correct, there are no abusive clauses in the contract and you are fully aware of your rights.
Be suspicious of financial companies or agents who try to persuade you into signing a reverse mortgage agreement as a way of avoiding or reducing your tax obligations. If you have any concerns about your tax obligations (for example inheritance tax) you should seek the advice of an experienced professional tax advisor who can advise you independently. Alternatively you may wish to check with the Spanish Tax Office (Agencia Tributaria).
If you are not happy with the scheme you have been sold, the first step is to submit a complaint to the company responsible for your investment. If after 2 months, you are not satisfied with the response or do not receive a response, you are entitled to complain to the CNMV.
Although the CNMV final reports are not binding, they will comment on the conduct of the company or person against whom the complaint has been made. Where the report favours the customer, the company involved is required to notify the CNMV of any action taken to resolve the matter.
If you believe you have been a victim of a fraud involving an equity release scheme you can register a statement with the police and seek independent legal advice on taking action through the courts. Further information for victims of fraud is available on the fraud page.
Problems with timeshare property
Timeshare ownership is well established in Spain. However, there are also many unscrupulous companies, some of which claim to provide various incentives (including stock market investments and discounts on airfares and accommodation) when exchanging existing time-share ownership or taking out membership of holiday clubs.
You may find it useful to read the timeshare fraud advice from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, run by the National Fraud Authority.
Other sources of advice
The Spanish Land Registry publish a Guide to Buying Property in Spain. Spanish Property Insight provides information and advice on buying a property in Spain.
Expat forums, English-language newspapers and talking to local residents and other British nationals who have already made the move can really give you a feel for an area and give you insight on any local problems.
The Spanish Ombudsman is responsible for defending the fundamental rights and civil liberties of citizens by monitoring the activity of public authorities. If you have a complaint about any public authority, you can submit a complaint to either the regional or national ombudsman.
If you are facing problems with your property in Spain, there are many residents associations who may be able to provide support and advice as well as put you in touch with others who have had similar experiences.
This information is provided as a general guide and is based upon information provided to the embassy by the relevant local authorities and may be subject to change at any time with little or no notice. The FCDO and the British embassy will not be liable for any inaccuracies in this information. British nationals wishing to obtain any further information must contact the relevant local authority or seek legal, specialist advice.