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End of the Brexit transition period: what do Brits in Spain need to do now?

More UK nationals live in Spain than any other European Union country – at least 360,000 are officially registered. If you’re one of them, you’ll be glad to know you can continue your life in Spain after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

End of the Brexit transition period: what do Brits in Spain need to do now?
Photo: Getty Images

However, you may need to take some action this year to keep all your rights and access to services in four key areas: residency, healthcare, travel and driving. This guide, presented in partnership with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), tells you what you need to do.

Get the official UK government advice on living in Spain after the transition ends

1. Registering your residency

If you’re British and are legally living in Spain before 31 December 2020, there’s a simple and welcome message on residency: no need to say ‘adiós’. Your right to live in Spain will be protected. 

However, you may still need or want to take action. If you register as a resident between now and the year’s end, you’ll be issued with a biometric identity card called a TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero). If you're not yet registered, you should do so as soon as possible.

As a UK citizen, your TIE will confirm your status under the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. From 6 July this year, TIE cards have been issued instead of the green A4 residency certificates and green credit-card sized pieces of paper issued by Extranjería (the migration office) or the police as proof of residency.

So, what if you have one of these older documents? Don’t panic – your current document will remain valid after the transition period ends. You can choose to exchange it for a laminated TIE – which the Spanish government says is more durable and explicitly mentions your status as a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement.  

A TIE will make administrative formalities and border crossing easier. But the older documents provide equal proof of your residence, so it’s up to you whether or not to change!

Photos: Getty Images

2. Ensuring you're registered for healthcare

You need to have healthcare cover in order to register as a resident in Spain. If you’re living in the country before the end of 2020, your rights to Spanish healthcare will be protected as long as you remain legally resident. But access to healthcare in Spain works differently to in the UK – where the NHS is a residence-based system.

UK nationals access Spain’s national health system in various ways depending on personal circumstances. For example, you’re entitled to the same healthcare as a Spanish resident if:

  • you’re working or self-employed in Spain

  • you’re a permanent resident (after living in Spain for five years)

  • you get a UK State Pension (or certain other benefits) and you’ve registered a UK-issued S1 form with the social security office 

  • you register and pay a monthly fee to join the Convenio Especial scheme

Once you’re registered for healthcare, basic state services are free. You can expect to pay in part for prescriptions – or in full if you use the Convenio Especial.

Get the full official UK government advice on your rights to state healthcare in Spain

3. Checking you're ready for trouble-free travel

You live abroad – so crossing borders is no big deal, right? But you’ll face some new rules on travel within Europe next year – so doing your homework now could save you a lot of trouble later.

Photo: Getty Images

From 1 January 2021, you’ll need six months left on your passport to travel within Europe (be aware that any extra months you had added to your passport's validity when renewing it early last time won't count towards this).

You can check your passport’s validity here to know for sure if you need to renew it before booking a trip. This new rule applies to children’s passports, as well as adults, and applies for travel to most European countries. 

It doesn’t apply for Ireland or if you’re entering or transiting to Spain and have your rights protected by the Withdrawal Agreement. 

4. Exchanging your driving licence 

Living in Spain, you'll know it's a beautiful country to explore by car – whether you're on a coastal road or crossing the rugged interior, the scenery is often breathtaking. But if you still have a UK driving licence, you'd be wise to exchange it for a Spanish licence soon.

Do this before the end of 2020 to be guaranteed an exchange under the current rules – which don't require you to take a driving test. You’ll need a valid residence document to make the swap.

Book an appointment with the Spanish Traffic Authority (DGT) to set the wheels of your licence exchange in motion.  

Staying up-to-date 

You can sign up to get emails with the latest official UK government updates about these topics in Spain. It may also be worth signing up if you’re waiting for information to be announced on a topic not covered here – such as travelling with pets, for example.

British embassies and consulates in Europe have held over 775 Brexit-related outreach events with UK nationals since November 2017 to understand people’s concerns and explain actions they need to take. Initiatives during the coronavirus crisis have included Q&A events on facebook.com/britsinspain.

“The Spanish Government is here to support you in this new phase and we want to send you a very clear message: this is, and always will be your home,” said Hana Jalloul, the Spanish Government’s Minister with responsibility for immigration.

See the video below featuring Jalloul and Hugh Elliott, the British Ambassador to Spainfor more information on your rights.

Get all the latest official guidance for UK nationals in Spain on these four topics and more by visiting the UK government's Living in Spain web page

 

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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