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Will a ‘green card’ be enough to guarantee your rights in Spain in 2021? See what UK nationals need to do now to continue enjoying residence, healthcare and other benefits in Spain after full Brexit.

By now, UK nationals who want to continue spending time in Spain should be aware of the ticking Brexit clock. To secure the right to live in Spain and access healthcare, pensions and other benefits from 2021, it is vital to obtain Spanish residence before the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. 

Becoming Spanish resident

If you successfully applied for Spanish residence before July 2020, you would have received the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión – widely known as the ‘green card’ in Spain. Since 6 July 2020, when Spain issued a new residency card system specifically for UK nationals, the biometric foreigners' ID card, Tarjeta de Identidad del Extranjero (TIE) is issued instead.

Either one of these documents – the green card or the TIE – serves as valid proof of legal residence in Spain. This entitles you and your direct family to live in Spain and enjoy uninterrupted citizens’ rights after the Brexit transition ends. 

If you hold a green card or other residence document, you can choose to exchange it for the new TIE – while this is not obligatory, the new format (ID card with photograph) could be more practical than the green certificate. The TIE will also explicitly state your access to citizens’ rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Maintaining your residence – and rights – in Spain

It is crucial to understand that obtaining a residence document in itself is not enough to guarantee ongoing freedom of movement and benefits in Spain from 2021.

For your green card or TIE to remain valid, you will need to continue meeting the conditions of Spanish residence. This includes spending at least 183 days a year in Spain (for each of the first five years) and registering as a tax resident where applicable. 

If you fail to meet these criteria – for example by spending more than six months outside Spain (or five consecutive years for permanent residents) – it is likely that you will forfeit Spanish residence and be treated as other non-EU/EEA (‘third country’) nationals. This means you may have to apply for a short-term visa to visit Spain and be limited to staying up to 90 days in any 180-day period. 

Spain has not yet established the immigration rules that will apply to non-resident UK citizens in the future, so we can’t say for sure how things will work. However, anyone arriving from 2021 can expect to have restricted movement in Spain and be subject to more strict requirements than today. It is likely, for example, that non-Spanish residents who have a holiday home in Spain would only be permitted to spend a limited time there each year without a visa or permit.

Next steps to lock in guaranteed rights for Spain

Essentially, if you want to secure uninterrupted freedom of movement and associated rights in Spain from 1 January 2021, you need to:

  • hold current proof of residence (green card, TIE or other residence document) before 31 December; and 

  • continue to meet the conditions of Spanish residence, such as spending 183 days a year in Spain. 

If you are not registered in Spain already and it is your intention to become Spanish resident, you should make an appointment to obtain the new TIE as soon as possible. Although the whole process can take some months, once your application is submitted, you will receive a receipt from the Spanish immigration authorities which will be valid to prove your residence and rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.  

Other considerations 

Once you are resident, it may also be worth exchanging your UK driving licence for a Spanish one. If you wait to do this after 31 December 2020, you may be required to take a driving test in Spain.

Note that in becoming legally resident in Spain, you will very likely also be deemed tax resident and liable for Spanish taxation on a worldwide basis, so it is important to get your tax planning in order.

For the best results, take specialist advice about the next steps, ideally before you change residence or transfer assets. A locally-based adviser with cross-border expertise can recommend how to minimise taxes – in Spain and the UK – and take advantage of the tax-efficient opportunities available to you as a Spanish resident. 

Arrange to speak to 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. This document 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.