“Pareja de hecho: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”Every non-EU citizen ever.

Of all the immigration struggles I’ve had over the years as an expat, none were so absolutely draining as getting a pareja de hecho. A pareja de hecho, or civil union, is becoming a popular option for non-EU citizens to receive the right to live and work in Spain via their EU citizen significant others or partners. The siren song of residence and work rights that a pareja de hecho provides is hard to avoid. But don’t let it steer you into the rocks!

If you and your partner are thinking about doing a pareja de hecho, read this first.

1. Find a significant other who is an EU citizen.

Insert “a good man/woman is hard to find” joke here.

2. Make an appointment for the big day

The first step to getting your pareja de hecho is to go with your SO or partner to the Registro de Uniones de Hecho to make an appointment. In Madrid, this office is located at Gran Via 18, and is open Monday to Friday from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. You will need your passport or EU national identity card with you.

Once there, the office will provide you with a paper that explains the process and lists the required documentation. They will also give you a day for your ceremony appointment. In Madrid, the average wait for an appointment is around 6 months.

Yes, really.

What to keep in mind: This is a long process. Hold onto your butts.

3. Try not to cry

Right now, you’re probably thinking to yourself something like: 6 months? What do you mean I have to wait 6 months for this?!

I feel your pain. I’ve been there before. Take a deep breath, scream into a pillow, fix your makeup, and exhale.

What to keep in mind: The struggle is real, kids. But it will all be worth it.

4. Gather your documents

The good news? You now have plenty of time to get all of your documents in order.

In addition to verifying that you are over the age of 18, are not already pareja-ed with someone else, are not related to your partner, and are mentally stable, you are required to bring several documents to the office prior to your ceremony.

You will need:

  • Your passports.
  • A completed application form, or solicitud.
  • Proof of fee payment. The cost of the pareja de hecho is €82.12 as of 2016, and the office will provide you with the tax form to be paid. You can pay this fee at any bank.
  • A certified copy, from at least 1 of member of the couple, of their empadronamiento in Madrid (or the autonomous community in which the pareja de hecho is being requested). You can request a certified copy online at no cost here. The town hall will mail it to your address within 1 week.
  • Proof of marital status. Both members of the couple will need to provide proof that they are single, divorced, widowed, or otherwise legally free to marry. More on this in a minute!
  • For those non-EU citizens who have already been residing in Spain (as students, for example), they might ask for a copy of your NIE (don’t worry if it’s expired!).

All documents must be brought to the Registro 1 month before your ceremony date. If you’re missing a document, they are generally understanding about it and will allow you to bring it in within the week.

The tricky part? Legal documents in Spain are only valid for 3 months after the issuing date. So while you have a long time to wait before your appointment, don’t get the documents too early!

What to keep in mind: Plan, plan, plan! Don’t forget about the 3-month limit, and make sure you turn your documents in 1 month before your ceremony.

5. Getting proof of marital status

There’s always one annoying thing to do, isn’t there? When it comes to parejas de hecho, this is it. While most of the required documents are easy and cheap enough to obtain, getting proof that you’re single or free to join a civil union is a bit more complicated.

For non-Spaniards, including both non-EU citizens as well as EU citizens from other countries, you can request this document– referred to in Spain as a declaración jurada– from your home country’s embassy or consulate.

As an American, I had to make an appointment online at the U.S. Embassy to request this document. The wait for appointments is around 2 months. Fortunately, the American Embassy does this sort of document all the time, and they have one already pre-written in Spanishthat you just have to sign. The fee for this is around $50, and you can pay by cash or credit. Convenient!

My Italian boyfriend went through a similar process. He contacted the Italian Consulate, which mailed his declaración jurada to our home after we paid a similar fee. This document took around 3 weeks to receive by mail.

What to keep in mind: Did I mention planning ahead? Plan ahead! I was definitely NOT anticipating a 2-month wait for a document at the U.S. Embassy, and I’m just lucky I made the appointment early enough. But, keep in mind that this document is only valid for 3 months after you receive it, and you need to hand it in to the Registro 1 month before your ceremony. Are you still with me? Good.

6. Keep waiting.

Don’t look at the calendar. Don’t look at the calendar. I told you not to look at the calendar!

7. Find witnesses

For the ceremony, you will need 2 witnesses. These witnesses can be anybody you know, including family members, and they don’t need to be Spanish citizens. For our pareja de hecho, we had a good friend from France and my boyfriend’s sister from Italy serve as our witnesses. Our witnesses also affirmed that we had been together for more than 12 months, saving us from having to provide proof of our relationship.

8. Wait some more.

At this point, my face was legit melting off like in the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

9. Get your pareja de hecho

With the grueling 6-month wait finally over, you’re ready for your ceremony! The ceremony itself is sweet and practical, and it takes place in a gorgeous old hall at the Registro. There is no dress code, so wear what you’re comfortable in, whether it be a suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt.

Then treat yourself and your new pareja to a spa day. You two deserve it after all this!

What to keep in mind: After your pareja de hecho is over, you then need to apply for a tarjeta comunitaria to be able to stay in Spain and work. But that’s a story for another day…