Living in Spain After Brexit: What You Need to Know

On the 1st January 2021, the UK officially left the EU. We now know that this means that Britons hoping to buy property in Spain are only entitled to remain in the country for 90 days out of every 180-day period unless they secure a visa. Whilst this might make living in Spain trickier than it was in the pre-Brexit world, it doesn’t make it impossible. There remains a host of visa options available for Britons in Spain, including the golden visa, student visas, and the non-lucrative visa. Spain is still very much open, and ready to welcome Britons to the country.
But Brexit has left Brits with many questions: How will Brexit impact those Brits currently living in Spain, travelling to Spain regularly to stay in their holiday home, letting holiday homes, or planning to buy a property in Spain in the future? Here we will outline the latest information about how living in Spain after Brexit is different, and how the shift may (or may not) impact on your way of life:

A Note on: Taking Holidays to Spain

Regardless of how you feel about Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, as of 31st January 2021, Britain is no longer a part of the EU. And for the vast majority of British people this will have very little impact on their visits to wider Europe. If you are a British person who spends your holidays in Spain, or otherwise visits the country for short periods of time then very little will change about the way you enter or exit the EU: if you spend less than 90 days in Spain over the course of 6 months then you will not be impacted by entrance or exit visa requirements and you can continue to enjoy your holidays as you always have right now. Known informally as the 90-day rule, this allows you to spend a maximum of 90 days in any EU country (not just Spain) in any 12-month period: this means that if you have already spent 90 days in France, you would not be able to visit Spain for the weekend until the 6-month period is completed.

By the end of 2022, however, you may have to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver before you enter Spain: this is a simple online application that will allow you to enter the Schengen Area with minimal hassle and paperwork.

This same rule applies to individuals who own second homes in Spain, but only visit for relatively short periods of time. Provided you spend less than 90 days in Spain in each 180 day period, you will still be able to enter and leave the country as you always have, without any extra paperwork. When you are clearing immigration at your Spanish arrival airport you will need to enter the non-EU passengers queue rather than the passengers arriving from the EU line. Your status as a non-EU resident will not stop you owning property, or investing in a holiday home, in Spain.

Other good news to immerge from the most recent Brexit agreements is that British travellers will retain free healthcare across Europe, including in Spain. Your current EHIC card will remain valid until it expires, when you can apply for a GHIC card instead. This card is valid only in EU countries, rather than the wider Schengen area, and full details of what will be covered haven’t been released yet. But it does mean some health protection will be afforded, which is more than many travellers expected. It is also recommended that you ensure you have robust medical travel insurance (this has always been the recommendation, although many travellers chose to ignore this advice).

If you are living in Spain though, or spending longer than 90 days in each 6 month period in the country, then you are likely to experience some more dramatic changes to those outlined abouve, and these will be the focus of the rest of this piece.

Taking Business Trips

For Britons who need to or wish to conduct business in Spain, it is not yet clear whether you need a visa to take a business trip to the country. This will be decided by future bilateral agreements between Spain and the UK, but it is likely any requirements will depend on all visits taking place under the maximum of 90 days period.
There is currently a Schengen short-stay business visa system for those non-EU nationals who require it, and it is likely that the UK will become a part of this scheme. Individuals would have to have an interview at the Spanish consulate of their country, show proof of financial means, fill in an application form and then pay between €35 to €80 in fees for their visa. As part of this process, you would also require a  letter of invitation from the company that you will be visiting, and that they intend to be doing business with.

Prepare Your Passport

It’s worth noting that, whether you live in Spain or are just visiting for a short trip, you will need to have at least 6 months validity remaining on your passport in order to enter Spain. You should check the validity of your passport, and if necessary apply for a new one, before you book your trip: passport applications in the UK are delayed right now, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and you don’t want to be unable to travel because your passport didn’t arrive in time.

You can
apply for a new passport online, or request a paper form here.

Your Rights in Spain After Brexit

It has long been the case that UK citizens who lived in Spain before Brexit took place and who registered as residents in Spain would be issued with a TIE residence card. Formally known as the “Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero” card, this is an identity card that is currently issued to non-EU residents of Spain: the newest version of this card contains key biometric data about the card holder and can be used to make overseas travel more straightforward. It is worth noting, however, that the card that is issued to Britons will be slightly different to the one that is issued to other third country nationals.  Britons who were living in Spain before the end of the transition period had an easier route to residency than those residents of other third party countries, but if you are looking to move to Spain now, after Brexit has taken place, then you will be in the same position as any other third party national, and you will need to secure a visa.

Whether or not you needed to apply for a TIE card depended on your current residential status. Not every Briton needed to have a TIE card in place by the end of the year. If you are already in possession of a green card (either an A4 green residency certificate or a small green residency card) then obtaining a TIE card will be optional, at least initially. However the Spanish government are strongly recommending that Britons who have a green card visit their local townhall and upgrade this for the new and more durable TIE card as soon as possible.

If you were living in Spain before Brexit, and have not yet secured residency, there’s no need to panic. Many residency appointments have been delayed, or are difficult to secure, as a result of both excess demand and the coronavirus crisis. But provided you can evidence your pre-Brexit residence in the country, and you have an upcoming appointment in place, you will still be eligible to stay in the country and to receive a residency permit.

Your Right to Buy Property

In more good news, your right to buy property in Spain is completely unaffected by the country’s decision to leave the EU: whether or not you can buy a property in Spain has nothing to do with your residency status, so there are no new barriers in this regard.

What will change, however, is your right to live permanently in the property you purchase: you can’t do this without residency. You can still purchase a holiday home to stay in for 90 days out of every 180 day period, or purchase property as an investment to either let out on a long-term basis or as a short-term holiday let (many Britons who own property in Spain let it out when they are not occupying it, so that the rental income covers the bills and other expenses of the property).

If you do choose to let out your home then you are obligated to register your property with the regional authorities. If you let out your property on a long term basis then you would come under the regulation of the LAU (Ley de Arrendamientos Urbanos) whilst the regional authorities regulate short term rentals. As a Briton after Brexit, you may also find that tax owed on your rented income will also increase.

Applying for a Spanish Visa

It has recently been announced that UK citizens registering as residents in Spain will now be issued with a TIE residence card. Formally known as the “Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero” card, this is an identity card that is currently issued to non-EU residents of Spain, and soon that list of non-EU residents will include residents from the UK. It is worth noting, however, that the card that is issued to Britons will be slightly different to the one that is issued to other third country nationals. 

Whether or not you needed to apply for a TIE card depended on your current residential status. Not every Briton needed to have a TIE card in place by the end of the year. If you are already in possession of a green card (either an A4 green residency certificate or a small green residency card) then obtaining a TIE card will be optional, at least initially. Hugh Elliot, the British Ambassador to Spain, confirmed this, saying “Whilst you may choose to change your current certificate for a TIE at some point in the future, there is no requirement to do so”.

If you are currently residing in Spain but don’t have a green card, or any kind of residency status, you will now be required to register for a TIE in order to secure residency and obtain any of the benefits offered by the Withdrawal Agreement. You can’t now apply for a green card instead, and will be expected to go down the TIE card route instead. 

This isn’t a negative! The TIE card is smaller and plastic rather than paper, making it easy to carry with you at all times, enabling it to serve as photo ID. It will be valid for either 5 years or 10 years.

However, there is currently a long wait to obtain an appointment to apply and register for your TIE card, due to a backlog of applicants. This means that many Britons who haven’t already started the application process may be concerned that they won’t secure their residency in time, but provided you have an appointment and have registered your intent to remain, you won’t have to leave the country.

If you have secured an appointment to complete your TIE card application, then here is a list of the documentation you will need to take along with you:

  • Form EX15.  Take this form with you alongside with the other documents for an Identity Card. Complete two copies of it; this is the form that will give you your identity number (ignore this if you already have a Spanish identity number)
  • Form EX-17. This is the application form for the TIE card. Complete this form with the required information. Print it twice and do not forget to sign it.
  • A recent color photograph.
  • Registration of Social Security, if applicable.
  • Proof of payment of the card fee.

If you have not yet moved to Spain then none of the information outline above applies to you. Instead, you will need to apply for a visa if you wish to spend longer than 90 days in each 180 period in Spain. There are several different visa options available, but almost all of these are very difficult to secure as a third party national. The best route is if you don’t intend to work during your time in Spain, in which case either the non-lucrative visa or the golden visa might be the best options for you. Whilst both require you to have significant financial means, they offer a clear and simple route to residency, and are very popular amongst retirees.

A non-lucrative visa is effectively issued to individuals who can demonstrate they have sufficient funds in place to support themselves in Spain, without working or studying (neither or which are permitted under the terms of this visa). Instead you show that, either through savings or monthly income from pensions or investments, that you can support yourself whilst living in Spain. (You should be able to demonstrate an income of approximately €27,115 (£23,436)  as an individual and €33,894 (£29,300) as a couple for this type of visa to be the right choice for you).

Taking Spanish Citizenship

Many expats are talking very seriously about taking Spanish citizenship as a route to remain in the country. It’s easy to understand why, as citizenship will give you the most secure route to remain. But it is important to note that citizenship and residency are very different propositions with very different routes of access. As a Spanish resident, you remain a British citizen, and retain all of the benefits and sense of national identity that come with this. As a Spanish citizen you give up your British identity and instead declare your loyalty to Spain; this then gives you all of the same rights in the country as any citizen who have been resident in Spain since birth. It is important to note that you cannot be a resident or a citizen of two countries at the same time, so when you take Spanish residency or citizenship, you are giving up your rights to the same in the UK.

Becoming a Spanish citizen is an obvious route to ensuring that your rights to remain in the country after Brexit are secured, but the road to Spanish citizenship isn’t always a smooth one, and you must fulfill some very strict criteria before you are able to even begin submitting a citizenship application:

  • You must have been living in Spain, full time, for at least ten years, unless you have any familial ties to the country
  • You must be able to show that you are a good citizen that has integrated well into your Spanish community
  • You must have no criminal record, either in Spain or in the UK
  • You must show that you are financially stable and have the mean to support yourself in Spain (this can either be in the form of a contract of employment, savings, or a pension fund)

There are exceptions to the ten year wait before you can apply for citizenship, but these generally apply to individuals with familial ties to the country. Those exceptions are:

  • Refugees generally only have to wait for 5 years before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. Nationals from Spanish-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal, and those of Sephardic origin only have to wait two years.
  • If you are born in Spain but your parents are foreign nationals you have to wait just one year before you are eligible to apply for citizenship
  • If you are married to a Spaniard then you application for Spanish citizenship can also be fast tracked if you live in Spain for just one year. You can also claim Spanish citizenship under the same terms as the widower or widow of a Spaniard, provided you weren’t separated at the time of their death.

The Spanish citizenship application is a vigorous one, but its main benefit is that, as a Spanish citizen, you would not be impacted by any law or policy changes focusing on ex pats once the Brexit process is complete.

The Impact of Brexit on Healthcare

Spain is a country famed for its Mediterranean good health, with life expectancy in the country higher than many other EU countries (including the UK) and more people reporting that they are in good health (two out of three Spanish people believe they are in good health, compared to three out of four British people). It also has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and the hospital and healthcare facilities in the Costa del Sol are a blend of world class private and public facilities. There is already a huge number of multi-lingual medical professionals living and working in the region, and translators are available if needed in many of the local hospitals: this is unlikely to change as a result of Brexit.

What has changed as a result of Brexit is how you pay for your healthcare, or whether any access to free healthcare is available. As an EU member state, visitors from the UK to Spain were entitled to the same level of free healthcare as local citizens, thanks to reciprocal EU agreements. Using an EHIC card (which can be obtained for free from the British Government), access to public doctors visits, hospital stays and tests are all free. Prescriptions are charged for, depending on your income level, as is dentistry and eye care. We now know that the EHIC card will remain valid to British Travellers as part of the Brexit agreement (transitioning to a GHIC card when the EHIC is expired) and this should provide basic reciprocal healthcare provisions between the two countries. However, you are strongly advised to secure private health insurance when visiting Spain, particularly given the current coronavirus situation and the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are protected should the worse happen.

The UK government did confirm that they were "seeking agreements with countries on health care arrangements for UK nationals" and it looks like this is one agreement that were successful in securing. And on another positive note, these reciprocal agreements already exist with countries such as Australia and New Zealand, allowing UK visitors to receive urgent treatment at either a reduced cost or for free. The GHIC card combines both of these agreements, providing global healthcare provision for British citizens (GHIC stands for Global Health Insurance Card).

If you are staying in Spain in the long term and if you require a visa to enter Spain and become a resident, then a requirement of securing any visa in Spain is to have comprehensive health insurance cover: this is the case for all visa types currently issued by the Spanish government. Therefore, if you are looking to live in Spain in the long term, we recommend that you factor the cost of health insurance premiums into your financial planning, rather than plan for the unknown of reciprocal agreements that don’t yet exist. Many families in Spain have health insurance policies as standard, and this will provide you with the best level of peace of mind to protect your health in the long term. Wondering how much this will cost you? As a ballpark figure,  in Europe an insurance company will charge €200-300 for an individual in his 50s, €500 per month for a young family of four,  or 800 per month for a retired couple. If you have a chronic condition, however, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, you can expect to pay considerably more.

Protecting Your Pension

When you are living overseas, regardless of whether you choose to live in Spain or not, the strength of both your savings and your pensions in the UK are closely linked to the strength of the pound. This is because, in the vast majority of cases,  you will receive your pension payments in pounds and then rely on currency conversion to spend them in Spain.

The impact of Brexit on the strength of the pound cannot yet be established: we won’t know exactly how the markets will react to the split until it happens. But based on forecasting, it is good news for ex pats living in Spain: after initial fluctuations, experts believe that Brexit will actually have a negligible impact on the strength of the pound. This is because of the amount of time it has taken for the deal to take place, which has given the notoriously risk adverse market the time that it needed to stabalise.

So, what does this mean for retirees currently living in Spain, and how can they protect their pensions? In short, if you already lived in Spain  before the transition period was complete on 31st December 2020 then you are unlikely to experience any negative changes to your current status quo.

The withdrawal agreement clearly states that both current ex pats and ex pats moving to Spain during the transition period “won’t be disadvantaged in their access to pensions, benefits, and other forms of social security”. These ex pats, known by the British government as the “Protected cohort”, will also continue to receive the statutory annual increment on State Pensions that all UK pensioners receive, meaning that they will not be negatively financially penalised for choosing to move to Spain whilst the UK was part of the EU.

What still remains unknown is whether the same protection will be offered to potential retirees outside of this protected cohort: anyone who chooses to move to Span after December 2020. Whilst we can hope that reciprocal agreements will be put in place, this is still one of the great unknowns of Brexit for expats right now, as it is still on the negotiating table and no agreement has been reached.

Moving With Your Pets

Britain is a nation of animal lovers, so it’s likely that if you’re thinking of moving to Spain then you’d like to bring your four-legged friend with you. Unfortunately, it isn’t just your own passport requirements that will be impacted by Brexit: your four-legged friends will need to update their passports too! Before Brexit this was possible under the EU pet passport scheme, but this scheme will no longer apply to the UK once the UK leaves the EU.

This is expected to have a big impact on pet owners hoping to travel between the UK and Spain with their pets. Instead, it could take up to four months for pet owners to arrange travel to and from Spain for their pets, meaning that holidaying with your pets could well become a thing of the past, for now at least, but that you can still bring them with you if you move to Spain from the UK: it may just take a little longer for your beloved four-legged friends to arrive!

Driving in Spain

If you wish to drive in Spain after Brexit then the requirements you will need to adhere to will depend on your residency status. Tourists visiting Spain are able to drive in the country using their UK drivers license and, whilst for a short while Insurance Green Cards were required to drive in the country, this requirement has now been abolished. This means that driving in Spain as a tourist is just the same as it was before Brexit took effect.

An international driving license might not be required to drive in Spain, but if you’re living in Spain and plan to drive to a country that is outside of the EU common area then you may need to secure an international driving permit in Spain in order to complete your journey. The good news is that securing an international drivers license is surprisingly simple.

New guidelines that were introduced in September will change the number plate national identifiers that visitors from the UK will need to use when they drive in Europe: rather than having to display a ‘GB sticker’ the vehicle identifier will change to read UK instead. This UK identifier can either be placed on the number plate, alongside an image of the union flag, or it can be placed on your car separately in the form of a sticker or magnet.

If you have Spanish residency or citizenship, however, and did not transfer your British drivers license to a Spanish one before the end of the Brexit withdrawal agreement period, then unfortunately you will need to take both the written and practical elements of the Spanish driving test to secure a Spanish driving license in order to drive in the country. This can be an expensive and time-consuming process, but the good news is that Spain is a country will excellent public transport links, so driving in the country is not a requirement of relocating to Spain.

The Great Unknown

It is great news that the UK and the EU managed to achieve a complete withdrawal agreement before the deadline set for the UK to leave the EU. But, as many details of this agreement are being ironed out and have not been released to the public, much remains unknown. The good news is that we can all feel confident and relied that, if you can demonstrate that you were living and working in Spain before the end of the Withdrawl Agreement period, your residency in the country is assured. Unfortunately, for Brits that want to move to Spain in 2021 and beyond, the path is a little more complicated than it once was.

What is important is that if you are a British citizen and you do live in Spain right now then you should apply for a long-term residence permit sooner rather than later. Securing this essential document can take a while and has never been a requirement of living in Spain before. But unless you have one, it could be hard for you to re-enter Spain after you return to the United Kingdom for a visit. This will also enable you to secure your already established rights as a Spanish resident.

Finding Your Spanish Home

Are you thinking of moving to Spain, either before or after the Brexit transition period is complete? Looking for the perfect house for your whole family to call home, or a retirement bolt hole? We’re ready to help turn your dream home into a reality. We have extensive experience helping UK movers to find their perfect Spanish home, and we want to help you too. Why not get in touch with our local team of property experts today.