How to Apply for the Digital Certificate in Spain

In the last decade, European nations have increased online security for citizens and residents. It’s no secret that unsecured websites pose certain risks when accessing the Internet these days. E-commerce, online shopping and different instant pay methods also dominate the web and we as consumers sometimes see more ads to purchase a product than we do our own friends’ photos or videos.

However, the real question is: how do you keep your identity and private information safe? Banks can provide special codes to confirm it’s you purchasing those tickets to see Rosalía or Pablo Alborán in concert. A virtual debit card can hide your regular card’s actual digits. But what about when it comes to verifying your identity virtually?

Read on to learn what the digital certificate (certificado digital) is, how it can help simplify bureaucracy in Spain for you and how to apply for your own following this step-by-step guide.

What is a digital certificate?

A digital certificate is a file or an electronic password that proves the authenticity of a server, device or user through cryptography and the public key infrastructure (PKI). In Spain, the digital certificate is a virtual, high-security authorization to confirm you as both the user and the physical person. Think of it this way: it’s a digital way of presenting your photo ID to website owners (or organizations whose websites you will be accessing) without having to go into an office and physically show them your ID card. No signatures or face and photo comparisons required.

Why do you need the digital certificate?

Going to a physical office to deal with bureaucratic processes and paperwork of all types is slowly becoming a thing of the past. What is more, I am from a generation that still prefers to submit paperwork and talk to a physical person as well as work on certain tasks via my laptop instead of on my phone.

Nevertheless, some things are just too time-consuming to complete when you factor in the distance from your home to a government or private office, the unknown waiting time involved, and not to mention the interaction with the employee itself, whomever you may get assigned to which is often left up to chance.

Having the digital certificate already installed onto your computer will not only help simplify these processes but, also your life in Spain. Plus, if you plan to stay in the country for 2-4 years, it will be valid for you to use throughout your time here without additional appointments or troubleshooting.

Your days of printing out double copies of everything at your local copísteria (copy shop) will soon be over!

I will go through all the steps you need to take in order to obtain in more detail but here are some of the following procedures you can carry out once you get the digital certificate:

  • Hacienda forms (register as a first-time freelancer in Spain, quarterly and annual tax return filings, access to previous years’ returns and other submissions)
  • Seguridad Social (register as a worker or a freelancer, access your base de cotización information, see how much of an SS quota discount you have or how long you will receive it, make a formal request to change your monthly quota, receive a copy of your work history report and see how long you’ve been working (down to the day!)
  • Court and justice system filings (pay for and request copies of speeding and parking tickets, request a copy of your census registry, file appeals and submit Spanish citizenship application)
  • Immigration procedures (student TIE and work permit renewals, permit modification applications, paying fees online and submitting missing documents if notified)
  • Electronic notifications (by checking this box on your residence or student stay permit application, you can receive digital copies of any approval or document request letters through DEHú and cut down on paper ones plus, the waiting time that often comes attached to these notifications)

Important note: the digital certificate is not to be confused with the DNI-E (electronic National ID) that Spanish citizens can request. Though, oftentimes to access online submission forms and processes on government websites, it may list the digital certificate and DNI-E in the same place or on the same button. If that is the case, it is perfectly fine to click on it to eventually select the option you need.

Initial steps for the installation

Open your Notes app or take notes on some cute stationery like you see above! Do what you can to soften the blow from this very complex and technical task you’re about to undertake.

Note pages and post-its courtesy of my Mr. Wonderful planner from July 2023.

Before I break down the steps of applying for the digital certificate, I want to comment on the language of these government websites. As a fluent Spanish speaker of course it is now easier for me to read and perform actions using only my second language, minus a few words here and there that I may not know. However, I must reiterate that the quality of the government’s translations is mediocre and they often use outdated terms so if you need some linguistic help, I strongly urge you to keep the website’s language in Spanish and look up the words and phrases you don’t know using translators and dictionaries like DeepL, Linguee or Wordreference. You will save valuable time (and ironically avoid confusion!) by not relying on the English language version of these websites. It’s just not worth the additional headache, to be honest.

1. Visit the Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre (FNMT)’s website

While this step might seem routine and something you could do on autopilot, it’s actually a crucial first step in the process. Choose either Internet Explorer (nowadays known as Microsoft Edge) or Mozilla Firefox.

I used Firefox because that was the one I was most familiar with and also I know Explorer can be glitchy at times so I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. As you may have encountered with other Spanish bureaucratic processes, their systems are still quite behind when it comes to the modern luxuries (like paying for a fee or fine at an office and not the bank itself) we take for granted in most English-speaking countries. You must install an older version of Firefox (version 69 to be exact) in order for your request and subsequent download to even go through.

Warning: do not update Firefox in any way before you finish the entire process, including downloading the certificate. A friend of mine did this and the browser couldn’t process the download request, thus, forcing her to start the whole thing all over again.

If you’re an avid user of Google Chrome or Safari, you may have to first install either of these browsers before you can go to the FNMT website.

2. Access the FNMT portal

Go to the FNMT website and direct your gaze to the black bar that lies underneath the cookie acceptance pop-up.

Click on the first category labeled, “CERES.” Once it loads the next site, you’ll see a turquoise-colored banner and click on Certificados. This will then take you to the different types of certificate options available.

Since this process changed just months after I got my certificate, I don’t have experience installing and using the Configurador FNMT, which is available for both PC and Macs. However, going back through my notes and old screen shots reminded me that some tweaks have been made since mid-2020. You need to visit the link above and do the key generator software setup (configuración previa) before you can continue to the next step.

If you need extra help with this particular step because it does involve downloading and configuring a new-to-you software (and this is Spain!), watch the beginning of EntreTrámites’ Digital Certificate Set-up video.

**Disable all proxies and anti-virus software before you download the configuration software and download the digital certificate or else none of it will work.**

3. Select the type of certificate

As I mentioned earlier, there are different types of digital certificates but the key thing to remember as you begin the actual process you need to do two things: 1) choose the correct certificate and 2) apply under the correct legal representation.

Persona física (most frequently used in English this simply translates to “individual” and is most commonly linked to the phrase “acting in sole interest”)

Certificado de representante (most commonly requested by corporations and administrators, this means a representative certificate, however, it is normally used for users who are acting on someone else’s behalf, thus, they need to first access an individual’s certificate)

You’ll select persona física since you are the individual requesting it. The page will load to another set of options or you can select the next tab you’ll need in a drop-down format on the left-hand side. Click on the link that says Obtener Certificado Software.

4. Request permission to download a digital certificate

Using ConfiguradorFNMT, you need to run the program and get it to open up in your browser. Once it does, another pop-up box will prompt you to input a password and then repeat it. It’s really important that you write that password down somewhere safe in case you need to export the certificate to another computer or device. To continue to the download request form, you can either click on the solicitar certificado tab to the left of the screen or by clicking on solicitud vía Internet de su certificado right in the middle of the page. Both of these options will take you to the same place but it’s just up to your preferences as to which one you choose.

5. Fill in your personal information

The next page will prompt you to fill out the digital certificate request form. You must put your NIE/DNI, full legal name and email address.

If you are a freelancer like me, I would suggest you use (or create) your business email so you can keep this process separate from all your personal affairs. Once you are finished, check the box, pulse aquí para consultar y aceptar las condiciones de expedición del certificado. This will prompt a drop-down box to open and show you the terms and conditions but just click on it again to hide them.

Remember to choose an email you can easily access because you will need it to receive and use the verification code the FNMT website will send you.

Click enviar petición (submit) once you check that everything is correct and you’ve accepted the terms and conditions, you’re ready to finish this series of steps.

Where to go to verify your identity (Green NIE/TIE card)

Social Security Office in Madrid, Spain
La Tesorería General de la Seguridad has offices in every region, but it is only one of the places you can go. I went to a familiar Hacienda office and you can also go to your local city hall (Ayuntamiento).

Next, you’ll receive a confirmation code in an email from the FNMT. You need to hold onto that code and you will actually have to verify your identity, image and signature from your photo ID at a physical government office.

Choose one of the following places and make your appointment there:

Agencia Tributaria
Oficina de Seguridad Social
-Oficina de Atención a la Ciudadanía (search for your corresponding website as they vary by province/region)

Keep the term personas físicas in mind while you’re booking your appointment. I chose to go to the Agencia Tributaria office near the last apartment where I last lived before I got married. I knew how to get there easily and was familiar with the staff. Choose the Personas físicas. Apoderamientos. Acreditación. Certificado digital FNMT.NEO which should be listed under gestiones de personas físicas when searching for the correct appointment type.

Search for an available slot that fits your schedule and book it. Plan to show up a few minutes early to sign in at the machine with your NIE and print off your ticket slip. This step does involve physically going to the office, though, maybe there is a virtual identity confirmation option post-2020 but this is what I had to do. Look for appointments first thing in the morning (around 8 am) or in the middle of the day (around 2:30-3:30 pm).

Once your day rolls around, bring your TIE and your passport which both need to be valid for the identification process to work as far as I understand. Once your name gets called and you walk over to your assigned desk and government worker, you should be done in about 5 minutes or less. Give yourself a pat on the back or indulge in a favorite snack. The first half of this process is over!

How to install the certificate

During the installation process, you may feel like you’re literally out to sea at times. Don’t fret, you’ll get through this!

Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, September 2019.

I’ll elaborate more on this soon because not too long after I installed my certificate, the process changed.

In the meantime, I recommend checking out Entretrámites’ step-by-step video on how to request and download the certificate (a Spanish language version is also available).

Tips for PC users

Check back later for tips, but the main piece of advice I can give you is to install the certificate onto a device you will use for at least 4 years. Write down the password you need to create and save it so that you can export the certificate and install it somewhere else.

Tips for Mac users

Honestly, I don’t recommend non-PC users request the digital certificate and install it on an Apple device. If you are a Mac user, see if there is any way you can access another laptop or buy something as simple as a Chromebook to install the certificate on it.

Validity and Renewal

I will renew my digital certificate for the first time this year (July 2024). It’s hard to believe that July 2020 was so long ago – definitely a different time!

I can’t offer my tips concerning this part or give a personal recount of what happened just yet until I do this. Check back for more info come July!

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