For members


How to get a ‘cita previa’ (appointment) in Spain when it seems impossible

Pretty much all in-person official processes in Spain require an appointment to be seen by a civil servant, but it's often impossible to get a ‘cita previa’ on the phone or online. Here are some potential solutions to this kafkaesque situation.

spain cita previa appointment
For some years now, internet cafés and gestores (jack-of-all-trades agents) have been offering the public a chance to book much-desired citas previas when all else has failed, at a cost of course. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Ah, Spain’s dreaded cita previa (prior appointment). Even its name is poorly thought-out and redundant (aren’t all appointments booked in advance?).

Nowadays if you want to visit Spain’s tax offices, the civil registry, the foreigners’ office, the traffic authority or any other public administration, whether it’s to ask a quick question or to complete an official process, you’re going to need proof of having a cita or you’ll be turned away at the door.

However, it truly becomes a catch-22 scenario when nobody answers the phone or the website crashes. You can’t be seen without an appointment, but you can’t get an appointment, and no amount of pleading your case is going to help. 

This bureaucratic nightmare is a sad reality millions of Spaniards and foreigners in Spain face, from desperate pensioners to undocumented migrants. 

Sure, a lot of paperwork can now theoretically be done online, but anyone who’s dealt with Spanish state websites will tell you that the user experience is poor and convoluted, and that the pages are prone to glitches.

READ MORE: ‘Four months for an appointment’ – Huge delays at Spain’s Social Security

Lingering Covid-19 restrictions were used as an excuse by civil servants to make the cita previa a mainstay, and although numerous law firms have pointed out that it is illegal for Spain’s public bodies to make appointments compulsory, little is being done to change a broken system. 

What this means for ordinary people is that they have to navigate a system of unwritten rules, sometimes getting opposing opinions from those in charge, and hope that some of these tried-and-tested ‘tricks’ work.

Go online very early

It’s often the case that the sheer volume of people on government websites during regular work hours results in the system not working or you getting a message along the lines of no hay citas disponibles (there are no appointments available). 

As surreal as it may sound, many people have found that by going online before the workday begins – and funcionarios (civil servants) start their digital gatekeeping – they have been able to find vacant appointment spaces. So if you can, try to book an appointment at 7am one morning.

As is always the case in Spain, there is no surefire solution that works across the board. It could be that a different regional department refreshes their appointment system at a different time or day. 

For example, there are several articles written by Spanish lawyers saying that to book a residency appointment to give your fingerprints at the extranjería office, the best time to go online is between 11am and 11.30am.

So ask around, look online and even consider asking the security guard at the door if there’s a particular time when appointments tend to become available online. 

READ ALSO: How to get a digital certificate in Spain to help with online processes

Consider booking at a less busy office

In some cases, you’ll need to carry out official processes at your closest public administration, for example if applying for your padrón registration at your local town hall. 

But that’s not always the case. If you live in a busy city, you may be able to find appointments more easily in a closeby town, where civil servants are more likely to pick up the phone or have spaces available.

It’s a move that could save you time, even if it involves more travel.

Play the emotional card

You may think that this is far-fetched but Spanish civil servants are Spanish after all, so although they’ve been indoctrinated to gatekeep to keep their workload low, you may be able to twist their arm with a sad and desperate story. 

Need to sort out a process for your elderly mother? Bring her along. Have to get a residency document for your newborn child? Carry him in your arms. Some funcionarios do have a heart so it’s worth a go. 

READ ALSO: How to save lots of time on official processes in Spain through the Cl@ve system

Hand them an official complaint

As mentioned earlier, numerous law firms have slammed the cita previa system as illegal. Diego Gómez, a lawyer who was awarded a prize for his blogpost on the subject, has created a document which the public can download and take to the government office where it’s impossible to be seen in order to scare them into action. 

You can download it here (keep in mind that you should read through it carefully and you’ll have to fill in some sections in brackets).

Paying someone to do it 

For some years now, internet cafés and gestores (jack-of-all-trades agents) have been offering people a chance to book much-desired citas previas when all else has failed, at a cost of course. 

This exemplifies just how broken Spanish bureaucracy is, when the public has to pay private entities, often dubious, for a service that should be completely free and available to all.

Some of these illicit middlemen use software that books out appointments the moment they become available, to then sell them for a profit, from €15 for an appointment at Spain’s social security to €50 to gain access to the foreigners’ office.

As infuriating as it may be, this is a last-ditch resort that some people with important official processes to complete are willing to pay for. In 2020, 65 percent of appointments booked at Barcelona’s extranjería (foreigners’ office) were completed by private ‘companies’ who were paid to do so.

Member comments

  1. Important to point out that some of the private companies using bots to reserve all the citas have been busted and the authorities are trying hard to crack down on them, fining them 200€ per instance of an inappropriately reserved cita previa. This only started last month after we revealed to the authorities in Madrid the existence of the cita previa racket.

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For members


Finding your tribe: A guide for Americans building a life in Spain

Finding your tribe can make the difference between feeling at home and being homesick, writes Barcelona-based writer Jennifer Lutz, who set out to discover how other Americans in Spain have made friends and developed hobbies.

Finding your tribe: A guide for Americans building a life in Spain

New life, new friends

Find a local bar, choose your coffee go-to, get on apps, become a club member, throw a dinner party, or just chat to the stranger at the table next to you.

There’s something daunting about leaving your friends behind to move abroad; I moved to Spain on my own and strangers still ask if I’m lonely (with lots of emphasis on me being single). I’m not lonely; compared to the States, I found it easy to establish relationships in Spain and made most of my friends in bars, coffee shops, and terraces.

“Just talk to people,” says Reem, a Sudanese American who moved to Barcelona from Minnesota. I met my community here, she told me, gesturing around Xiloteca Coffee, where an international crowd lingers, despite the botiga not having tables.

If chatting up strangers in cafes isn’t your thing, you can find more organised ways to connect. Gerard, an Argentinian-American, moved to Madrid with two small daughters and had the best luck enrolling in Tennis classes. “It’s a pretty small club and you get to know the other members,” he told me. Tess, an American woman living in Valencia had the best luck with Internations, which helped her to meet other internationals.

Moving to a new country isn’t easy, but when you’re a foreigner you join this sort of club — you’re all away from home and it’s really possible to find a family here in Spain.

Spaniards are active and sporty, which means that taking part can be an easy way for Americans to break the ice and get to know people in Spain. Photo: J Schiemann/Unsplash

You want to meet locals, you say?

Learn the language, choose local spots over flashy touristy ones, be patient, extend an invitation.

While you’ll likely have an easier time meeting other foreigners than locals, a few things will help you meet Spanish friends. First, learn the language; a little goes a long way. I learned most of my Spanish by speaking with locals at Bar Petit, a small neighbourhood spot, that I chose over splashier cafés with a touristic crowd.

When she moved to Granada after a year of struggling to meet locals in Córdoba, Kathryn Kuypers was determined to integrate. “I used the apps Meetup, Bumble, and Tandem to meet locals. I met up with a lot of Spaniards via these apps, but only became friends with a couple of them,” she explained. One of the friends she met on Tandem became her current partner.

Another great way to meet locals is to throw a dinner party for your neighbours and if you’re invited to someone’s home, be aware of cultural differences. I spent months bringing fancy desserts to my neighbour’s home; the day I offered to dress the salad is the day I became one of them.


‘Little America’

Join a club, attend events, choose a school.

I’ll be honest, the first year I lived in Spain, I had no interest in anything American (including my fellow nationals). With time, that changed and the handful of American friends I have are an important piece of my life here; sometimes you just want to speak with someone who has a similar background.

If you’re looking to keep a network of Americans around you (and to do some networking), you can check out any of the many international clubs active in cities throughout Spain. The American Society of Barcelona, the American Club of Madrid, or the American Club of Costa del Sol, to name a few.

With the expansion of remote work, American entrepreneurs have been settling in different areas of Spain.

Randall Purcell, Director of the carbon sequestration company Seafields, found his scene on the north shore of Ibiza. “The American community in Ibiza is really tuned in. I’m impressed by the small community of fellow entrepreneurs I’ve met here and attracted by communities built around environment and sustainability. It’s a lifestyle led by the belief that we can really do something; you can feel the excitement,” he says.

Another way to meet other Americans is through international language exchanges. If you’re moving to Spain with children and want them to have a community from “back home”, you might consider enrolling them in an American School.

Spaniards are very social and tend to meet outdoors with friends, so when in Rome (or Madrid)… (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

Keeping hobbies and finding new ones

Follow your passions, join a club, search your crew on Meetup, get outside your comfort zone.

Finding a community isn’t just about friends; it’s also about those activities that make you feel like you.

James Coleman is an American musician and has lived all over Spain; where he played at jam sessions and let the different styles of music influence him. “Andalusia is mostly flamenco, and it’s harder to find rock or jazz, whereas in Barcelona, it’s a more jazz, neo-soul, and international music scene, and Madrid has both international and local influences,” he told me. Traveling around Spain and playing music, he absorbed some of those acoustic jazz, soul, and flamenco influences.

Kai was already a dedicated cyclist and triathlete when he moved from Chicago to Cantabria, so he joined a local cycling club. “Northern Spain has some of the best routes in Europe. It would be very hard to leave this and go back to Chicago,” he told me.

If you’re not quite sure what your thing is, you can use apps like Meetup to find activities, expand your interests, and try new things. In the past few months, I’ve attended a nude drawing class, fallen off a paddle board (numerous times), and sparred with a German girl twice my size in a misbegotten attempt to learn kickboxing. Whatever you’re looking for, you can likely find it.


Making the most of your free time

Slow down, share moments, take it step by step, have fun.

The best advice I received when moving to Spain was to enjoy my new life. When I asked other Americans why they moved to Spain, their answers were remarkably similar; more balance, better quality of life, greater social support, the weather, and that European lifestyle so many of us grew up dreaming about.

In their free time, Americans are doing all sorts of things; but the key is, they have time to do them. George walks his two daughters to the beach every day after school. Anna plays volleyball after work, and Simon has culture Saturdays (30 minutes at a gallery and then hours drinking on a terrace). I mostly write in bars, meander around Barcelona’s nooks and corners, and share meals with friends.

Sentados a la mesa; sat around the table, is a very typical way to spend free time in Spain and enjoy the moment.

Jennifer Lutz is a writer and journalist. She’s written for the Guardian, The Independent, New York Daily News, BuzzFeed, Thrive Global, and more. You can contact her on or @Jennifer_E_Lutz on Twitter.