What is a Digital Certificate?

A digital certificate or Digital ID is your passport for online transactions and gives you the ability to complete applications and handle administrative or legal procedures from wherever you are.


In the recent past, the only way to take care of certain kinds of legal paperwork such as filing tax returns, registering as an autónomo (freelance worker), applying for a grant or financial assistance, among other things, was to try to get an appointment with a government office, wait in a long line and pray that the civil worker is in a good mood today and doesn’t send you back.

Nowadays, many procedures are possible exclusively online, which is a great improvement, but people without a Digital ID are potentially left in the position of being unable to take care of fairly routine procedures. Moving forward into the “new normal,” having a digital ID for administrative procedures is as important as having a passport for travelling.

A Digital ID is a unique, specific digital signature issued by a certification authority and can take various forms like a token, a credit card with a chip or a software file. The latter one is increasingly eminent and physical supports tend to disappear. To public and government institutions, signing a document using your Digital ID carries the same legal weight as a document you sign by hand.

The Digital ID is not the same thing as a self-generated electronic signature such as the kind that can be created using software like Adobe, PandaDoc or SignatureIt for example. These type of signatures are fine for contract signatures, for example, but are not accepted as legally binding by Spanish public or government entities.

How to get a digital id?

The process of getting a Digital ID can be confusing. The different layers of government and autonomous regions have not been able to agree on one single system and now there are several partial solutions around. Besides, the websites are not always very clear, there are specific technical requirements to keep in mind and often a physical appointment is required to complete the process.

Before you can get a Digital ID, you’ll need a DNI or will first need to obtain a NIE (número de identidad de extranjero), which is a national identification number for non-Spanish residents. For more information on how to get a NIE, check out our guidelines or contact us to help you get their papers in order. Once you have your NIE, you can file your application for a digital certificate.

Spanish citizens can also get an electronic DNI, or DNIe. We can help you obtaining the Spanish nationality and once you become a Spanish citizen, you will be given a PIN number that corresponds to your DNIe when your official identity card is issued. In order to use the certificate associated with your DNI, you’ll need to download a specific application from the government’s website. The certificates have to be renewed every five years, which can be done at most Spanish National Police stations.

Both Spanish citizens without a DNIe and Non-Spanish legal residents can also choose from any one of the following digital options:

  • A digital certificate from the National Currency and Stamp Factory (FNMT), or Spanish Royal Mint. This type of certificate can be obtained by individuals as well as legal entities and their representatives, and is one of the most widely accepted types of digital ID. It is not just a digital signature or a password—it is a unique encrypted certificate with a serial number that must be stored in one place (more on that later) and is recognized by all Spanish government entities and public institutions. It expires after two years, and has to be renewed.
  • The Cl@ve system. This is a cloud-based electronic password system that issues permanent (Cl@ve Permanente) and temporary single-use (Cl@ve Pin) passwords via SMS and the Cl@ve mobile application. As the electronic certificates are stored by the public administration and accessed using the aforementioned passwords, they can be used anywhere that has an internet connection, without having to access a specific computer. This system is exclusively available to physical persons acting in their own name, not to legal entities or their representatives. It is recognized by nearly all Spanish government entities and public institutions.
  • The idCat is a digital certificate with the same concept as the FNMT certificate but is issued by the Consortium of Open Administration of Catalunya. It only works within the confines of Catalunya and only applied to legal processes involving the Catalan government.
  • The MobileID is another form of identification that, as its name implies, is tied to your mobile phone and functions via SMS validation. It is an application available on GooglePlay and the Apple AppStore, it is not an encrypted certificate that needs to be installed. This system only allows for the representation of legal persons and is valid only for procedures with the Barcelona City Council. It expires after five years.
  • Pros@ or Sistema JNLP is a system used by the Social Security services and is known to provoke compatibility issues depending on the system you use, the version of your operating system, Java or other applications running at the same time.

Besides, apart from different systems, there are different kinds of Digital ID’s to choose from to make it even more confusing, for example:

  • Certificates for individuals either for private use or as freelance professionals representing themselves in an administrative or legal context.
  • Certificates for individuals linked to an organization without the capacity to represent it. The identified person belongs to a professional group and/or business and can act in his or her own name but cannot take legal action in the name of the group or company.
  • Certificates for individuals linked to an organization with representation capacity. The identified person belongs to a professional group and/or business and can act on behalf of the group or company in legal matters.
  • Certificates for individuals belonging to a professional group and/or business and are identified as the group or company itself; for example, a sole proprietorship. In this case, the entity should have its own legal ID number (a NIF), separate from your NIE, DNI or passport number.

Which digital certificate should i apply for?

All the different certification solutions described have a number of problems in common:

  • The application process is lengthy, bothersome and involves a physical appointment
  • The ID’s do not cover all regions or are not recognized by all administrations
  • Some ID’s only work on computers while others only work on mobile phones
  • The only way to authorize a third party is to give them a copy of the file and the password
  • There is no way to see or to limit what somebody is doing with your certificate
  • There is no way you can check if your personal data are being respected

Since the state monopoly on digital certification was lifted some years ago, a number of technological solutions like the one we use have been created and officially recognized. These have the following advantages:

  • Fast online application and emission process
  • Safe hosting in a secure cloud server, available anywhere anytime
  • Works for all administrations, autonomous regions and municipalities
  • Explicit authorization of users that can be cancelled at any moment
  • Logging of usage of your certificate with identification of user, time and action
  • Personal data protection in line with the latest legislation and technology
  • Automatic renewal of expired certificates

In order to avoid security risks and liability issues for our clients, we now only work with this new generation of cloud based Digital ID’s and we are an authorized certification and emission center for these certificates.

Personal digital certificates can be requested for a validity period of minimum 2 and maximum 3 years, corporate digital certificates have a minimum validity period of minimum 2 and maximum 5 years.

Contact us for more details.


The information contained herein is of a general nature, and subject to changes. Applicability to your specific situation should be determined through consultation with our tax or legal advisors.