Green residency cards: UK travellers denied boarding on flights bound to Spain

Raymundo LarraĆ­n Nesbitt, January, 7. 2021

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By Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt
Lawyer – Abogado
7th of January 2021

As The Guardian reported early on this week, dozens of UK nationals were denied from boarding flights bound to Spain. Several other similar reports are emerging in other flights as well. Some were denied access on the back of showing NIE numbers and some were denied on showing the old green residency cards.

Due to the new mutant strain of Covid-19 originating in England, Spain - and most of Europe - has imposed restrictions on inbound UK travellers unless they are Spanish residents. In an attempt to board flights, some UK travellers have been showing several documents to justify their residency status; some of which are valid, and some are not.  

I find it necessary to clarify three concepts:

  • NIE number: this is a tax identification number for foreigners in Spain. It’s akin to our National insurance number and in no way does it allow its holder residency rights in Spain. It is only used to pay taxes in Spain, period.
  • Green residency card: these are old residency permits that grant residency rights in Spain. Despite being old, they are still accepted as valid and should prove the rights of the holder to reside in Spain. However, there are issues if they have been laminated. Currently, laminated cards are being refused. Photocopies are no accepted either, only originals.
  • TIE card: these are the new biometric residency permits that have superseded the above (old) green residency cards. They should grant the permit holder unfettered access to Spain.


Having clarified the above, any UK traveller that is in possession of either an old green residency card or a TIE card should be allowed unfettered access to Spain, despite the new EU-ban on UK flights. As explained above, a NIE number does not constitute a residency permit, and you will be rightfully denied bording any flight bound to Spain under the current Covid flight ban.

The confusion stems from the fact that old green residency permits, and the new TIE cards, both have NIE numbers etched in them. So some passengers are under the false impression they can enter Spain on showing only a 'NIE number', which is incorrect. Again, for the avoidance of doubt,  you only have resident status in Spain if you have attained either an old green residency card or the new TIE card.

Having clarified this, in all our articles on attaining a Spanish residency permit we strongly advocated UK nationals to change their old green residency cards over to the new TIE cards for a host of reasons:

  • TIE cards are sturdy and durable
  • TIE cards are used for identification purposes (they have photo ID, unlike green cards)
  • TIE cards are modern biometric cards that won’t have any issues on travelling abroad i.e. at customs & border controls


If I have a TIE card, do I need to apply for a green card?

No, your TIE card is the new green card, it supersedes it.

If I have an 'old' green card do I need to change it over for the new TIE card?

Legally no, you don't. However, in practice, we strongly recommend that you do for all the reasons highlighted above and in all our residency articles collated below.



At LNA offer a competitively-priced service to change your old green residency cards for the new TIE cards:

Spanish Residency permit for EU nationals (includes TIE card & NIE number)


LNA has a 100% track record attaining Spanish residency


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At LNA we assist UK nationals to apply for Spanish residency for the first time, or renewals, for a competitive fee. You will be assigned an in-house specialist to deal with your matter. Call or e-mail us free of compromise.

Please note we only deal with residency permits on the Costa del Sol (Malaga province).

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Larraín Nesbitt Abogados is a law firm specialized in residency, taxation, conveyancing, inheritance, and litigation. We will be very pleased to discuss your matter with you. You can contact us by e-mail at, by telephone on (+34) 952 19 22 88 or by completing our contact form.


Immigration & Residency services available from LNA


 Residency-related articles


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