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BREXIT

Brexit: Six facts Brits in Spain have become acutely aware of in 2021

Year one of the Brexit era has made Britons in Spain more aware than ever of their new status as non-EU citizens and all the consequences that come with it. Here’s what we’ve learned over the course of 2021. 

Brexit: Six facts Brits in Spain have become acutely aware of in 2021
From Blighty to Benidorm, the dream is over for many Brits who this year have realised that a life in Spain will no longer be possible post-Brexit. Photo: Jose Jordán/AFP

Firstly, a disclaimer. This isn’t an article aimed at pointing the finger of blame towards Brexit voters based in Spain or listing a number of ‘told you so’ examples of real drawbacks that were crossed off as ‘Project Fear’ claims. 

Over the course of 2021, Britons residing in Spain who voted for or against Brexit, those who saw the writing on the wall and those who dreamt of having their cake and eating it, have all learnt something, perhaps unknowingly.

Questions remain unanswered and problems unsolved as we venture into 2022, but almost 365 days since Brexit became official on January 1st 2021, here’s what we know now more than ever.

Brexit reality bites

In the end, Brexit did mean Brexit and on March 31st 2021 thousands of Britons living or spending part of the year in Spain – but who were not residents – had to either finally register or leave the Schengen Area as their first 90-day limit as non-EU nationals came to a close. 

The Schengen rules aren’t new or specific to Britons and the loss of freedom was widely reported long before Brexit came into force, but the reality of having your time in Europe limited has still proven to be a hard pill to swallow for many Brits, even for those who saw it coming.

UK nationals who could prove they were living in Spain before December 31st 2020 have been able to become residents, but Spanish immigration officials have understandably not taken the rules lightly and have had to reject applications from those who couldn’t provide the right documentation.

Other not-so-obvious reality checks that have dawned on Britons in 2021 relate to dealing with customs. 

Sending parcels in the post between the UK and Spain has become more expensive, carrying certain products in your suitcase when travelling to Spain is no longer possible and even using a moving company to send your belongings over to Spain is a lot more complex now

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s more changes to get used to soon as the UK’s full customs controls start on January 1st 2022.

Spain wants to help

Even Britons who have been tangled up in Brexit-induced Spanish bureaucracy have to recognise that the country has treated them well and been far more welcoming and accommodating than the UK has towards its European population.

As Spain’s Secretary of State for Migration Hana Jalloul put it just days before Brexit came into force: “I know that many of you have built your homes here and we want you to stay. You are part of the Spanish family. You are part of us”.

Unlike in other EU countries, there is no official deadline for under-the-radar Britons to register and Spain has denied false reports that it would round up and deport overstayers without visas or permits, even though they may be subject to a penalty under Schengen rules.

Spanish authorities have also set up an easy process for residents with the old green certificate to exchange it for the TIE and just recently Spain has scrapped the costly and complex work visa process required from British artists who wish to perform in Spain.

And the Valencian regional government has even said it is in favour of non-resident UK nationals having more than 90 days in their territory, with president Ximo Puig calling for “Brexit to be as Brexit-less as possible”.  

The matter of Gibraltar’s future and its status within the EU remains to be decided in 2022, but overall Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has maintained a pragmatic stance vis-a-vis the UK’s exit from the bloc. (Photo by Christopher Furlong / POOL / AFP)
 

Expect the unexpected

Unforeseen problems have arisen with the paperwork involved in Britons’ changing status as non-EU citizens.

It started with airline staff not recognising the old green residency documents of a number of British passengers, denying them boarding or entry to Spain.

Airport officials had either not seen this sheet of paper before – which isn’t a photo ID but still an official residency document – or they assumed it should have been replaced with the new TIE card. 

Spanish authorities even created an official document for UK nationals to take with them to the airport stating that the green certificates are still valid. 

The lack of understanding by some officials regarding the ID rules has also seen Cajamar bank erroneously warning its British customers that it would close their accounts unless they provided a TIE card, and Spain’s traffic authority the DGT requiring a TIE card for the licence exchange when other documents were valid.

A clean break was never going to be possible, but it would be naive to think there won’t be more similar issues to deal with in 2022. 

Moving to Spain post-Brexit is a rich man’s game

No offence meant to those with a sizable bank account but let us elaborate. 

If a UK national wants to move to Spain to live and work post-Brexit, their prospective employer has to prove they can’t find an EU candidate that can do the job. The alternative is to find a job on Spain’s shortage occupation list, 95 percent of which are positions in the maritime and shipping industry).

Then there’s getting a self-employment work permit. For this, you’ll need a comprehensive business plan that gets checked by a panel of experts, you’ll have to get your qualifications recognised by Spain’s Ministry of Education and you’ll be expected to prove you’ll have sufficient earnings and run a successful business. 

How about English teaching, you may ask? Landing a teaching job was very easy for many Britons in Spain in pre-Brexit times but currently the same rules relating to having to first find an EU candidate apply and there’s no scheme yet that allows them to work as language assistants as for other non-EU anglophones such as Americans or Australians.

So with finding work proving extremely complex for Britons moving to Spain in 2021, what’s the best alternative to be able to become a resident? 

The non-lucrative visa, which involves having to prove yearly income or assets worth €27,800 in 2022 for one person without being allowed to work in Spain, or the so-called golden visa, for which you have to splash out €500,000 on a Spanish property.

That’s the reality that Britons who want to move to Spain from January 1st 2021 face. Either you have money, or your path to residency will be a very challenging one.

People dance at a British-owned pub during a Brexit celebration party in Jimera de Libar, Andalusia, on January 31st, 2020, as European officials removed the British flag from the ceremonial entrance of the European Council's Europa Building in Brussels on Friday ahead of Brexit. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)
Brits at a British-owned pub in Jimera de Libar (Andalusia) celebrate the UK’s confirmed exit from the EU on January 31st, 2020. Were they aware of the consequences their decision would have on their lives in Spain? (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP)
 

Becoming a non-EU national is a step back

If Brits viewed themselves as expats before – a term which has been controversial long before the Brexit vote – they should certainly consider themselves migrants now. 

Apart from the difficulties in finding work or getting residency as listed above, the days of coming and going as you please under freedom of movement are over, especially for those who aren’t residents. 

Even those who are registered now have to factor in how much time they can spend outside of Spain without losing their residency.

Living or spending long periods of time in Spain and Europe is no longer a universal right for Britons, it’s something they have to pamper and pay attention to.

UK nationals in Spain are now in the same boat as many other non-EU nationals: their driving licences aren’t officially recognised (yet), nor are their qualifications, owning a home in Spain doesn’t guarantee residency and they don’t enjoy the overall protection and flexibility that comes with being an EU citizen. 

The dream is over for many

The sad truth is that 2021 has taught us that current and future generations of Britons – potentially hundreds of thousands of people – will miss out on the chance of living in Spain post-Brexit. 

Young British university students can’t spend a year in Spain on Erasmus and are at the mercy of the decisions made by the British government regarding the UK’s new Turing Scheme. 

Britons of all ages can no longer pack their bags, move to Spain on the fly and settle in while finding a job in person. 

Even those who plan ahead face an uphill battle.

For those who used to split their time between Spain and the UK as they wished, many of them with second homes in the country, it’s now a case of keeping a close check that they’ve not overstayed their Schengen time limit as non-residents. 

And retirement to Spain on a budget is now just a pipe dream, with concerns over healthcare, pensions and finances dissuading many. 

Here’s to hoping for greener pastures in 2022.

Member comments

  1. Can someone advise, or provide a signpost to do my own research, on how long a Spanish Resident (with a Temporary TIE card) on a British passport is allowed to stay out of Spain for each year, and over the five year period (for which a temporary TIE card needs to be held before changing to a permanent TIE card)?

    Many thanks in advance.

  2. Hi Martin,
    During the first 5 years of residency (“temporary”), you cannot exceed 182 days (6 months) outside of Spain each year, and no more than 10 months total over the 5 years. This period may be increased to one period of 12 months for exceptional circumstances, e.g. serious illness, pregnancy and childbirth, study or vocational training.
    Kim

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BREXIT

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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