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Sagrada Familia; Spanish residence and Brexit

To lock in residence and healthcare benefits in Spain before Brexit, UK expatriates must secure Spanish residence in 2020... or face tougher rules from 2021.

UK nationals living in Spain or owning Spanish property can feel reassured that little will change while the Brexit transition period is underway. But with no certainty beyond 2020, time is running out to secure your position and lock in guaranteed protections. 

What is at stake?

If you are lawfully settled in Spain before 31 December 2020, you can acquire guaranteed citizens’ rights under the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement.

This provides the right to remain indefinitely and access the same social security, education and employment opportunities as today, for as long as you remain resident in Spain. You would also be entitled to existing Spanish healthcare benefits and annual cost-of-living increases to the UK State Pension.

However, anyone arriving from 2021 may have restricted movement in Spain and be subject to a new residence regime to access similar rights. While the post-Brexit residence rules are yet to be confirmed, the requirements may be more stringent and the process more complicated than today. 

As such, there is everything to gain by taking steps now to become Spanish resident and come under the protection of the Withdrawal Agreement.

See what you need to know about the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

How to become lawfully resident in Spain

If you are already in Spain but have not yet secured settled status, register with the local authorities as soon as possible to get your residence recognised. 

All EU/EEA nationals staying in Spain more than three months should apply for the temporary (green) residence certificate.

If you spend more than 183 days here, you are also obliged to register with your local padrón municipal.

Of course, if you meet the criteria to be tax resident, you also should have formally registered with the Spanish tax office and submit annual income tax and wealth tax (if applicable) returns, as well as Modelo 720 (reporting of assets abroad). 

Temporary residents must continue meeting the conditions of residence and be prepared to demonstrate this. After five years, you can qualify for permanent residency. 

Spanish citizenship is available after ten years – however, under current rules, you would have to renounce your UK nationality as Spain does not allow dual nationality. 

Download our guide to Brexit and residence in Spain

Existing residents in Spain

If you already hold Spanish residence papers – whether just temporary or permanent – you are considered lawfully settled but may be expected to apply for the new ‘Foreigners Identity Card’ (TIE) when it becomes available.

What changes for non-residents in Spain in 2021?

From 1 January 2021, UK nationals without Spanish settled status lose automatic freedom of movement and may be treated as ‘third country’ (non-EU) citizens.

This means it is likely you would only legally be able to stay in Spain for up to 90 days in an 180-day period. 

UK citizens will, of course, still be able to acquire Spanish residency… but under unknown rules and requirements. Current rules for non-EU/EEA citizens wishing to settle in Spain with a 'non-lucrative' visa require each individual to demonstrate minimum financial requirements to prove sufficient economic means for the period of residency in Spain.

Note you cannot apply ‘in-country’, so would have to leave Spain to apply through the relevant UK consulate.

So if you are still thinking about moving permanently to Spain, it will never be easier than today – wherever possible, relocate and register before the end of 2020 to be protected by the Withdrawal Agreement. 

What else do you need to know?

The Withdrawal Agreement extends lifetime citizens’ rights to partners and dependent family members, allowing them to join you in Spain even after 2020, so long as the relationship was established before 31 December 2020. 

Beware, however, you would lose your guaranteed rights if you are absent from Spain for five consecutive years. Also, there is no onward freedom of movement, so if you want to move to another EU state from 2021, you would have to apply as a non-EU/EEA citizen. 

For the best results, take personalised advice to establish what you can do to secure your position in Spain and ensure your tax, estate planning, pensions and investments are set up in the best way for your life in Spain, before and after Brexit. 

Contact a Spain-based adviser


Blevins Franks accepts no liability for any loss resulting from any action or inaction or omission as a result of reading this article, which is general in nature and not specific to your circumstances. All advice received from any Blevins Franks firm is personalised and provided in writing. This document, however, should not be construed as providing any personalised taxation and/or investment advice. Summarised information is based upon our understanding of current laws and practices which may change. Individuals should seek personalised advice.