Spain’s no-deal Brexit plans safeguard rights of UK expatriates

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The Spanish government’s Brexit planning safeguards residency, healthcare and voting rights for UK expatriates in Spain, even if there is no deal.

While there is still much uncertainty as the Brexit clock runs down, Spain has taken care to reassure British expatriates that they can stay and access benefits like healthcare, whatever happens with Brexit.

In January, the Spanish government outlined its no-deal contingency plans in a new Brexit section of its website. This also summarises the issues UK and Spanish nationals and businesses will face after the UK leaves the EU, including residency, healthcare, voting rights, education, travel and financial services.

We explore what this means for expatriates in Spain in terms of residency rights, access to healthcare and voting rights.

Residency rights

One of the key messages for UK nationals living in Spain is to formalise residency status as soon as possible by acquiring a registration certificate from the Spanish authorities.

If there is a Brexit deal, anyone with legal settled status before 30 March will be eligible to remain in Spain and continue accessing existing benefits. After this date and up to the end of the transition period (30 December 2020), you would need to apply for a ‘Foreigner Identity Card’ (TIE) to benefit from the citizens’ rights agreement.

If there is no deal, the Spanish government has pledged to “provide a solution that in any event guarantees the legal security of British citizens and the members of their families resident in Spain before the exit date”

While it has yet to clarify what this means, it has indicated that:

  • You would still need to apply for legal residency to be able to remain, but would have to meet the conditions applicable for third-country nationals rather than EU citizens.
  • Periods of residency in Spain before the Brexit cut-off date would count towards acquiring permanent residence (available after five years).
  • Existing residency documents would remain valid until they are converted to the relevant new format for non-EU nationals.

Crucially, the government emphasised that, so long as they register with the authorities, “all British residents in Spain will be considered legal residents in Spain” even without a Brexit deal.

Download our guide to securing residency in Spain before Brexit

Access to healthcare

The UK government has stated that the EU ‘S1 form’, which provides free healthcare benefits to Britons at UK State Pension age, would only remain valid up to 29 March if there was no withdrawal agreement in place. “After this date, the certificate may not be valid, depending on decisions by member states.” It recommends that expatriates obtain private healthcare insurance to ensure uninterrupted cover.

Spain has offered reassurance by confirming its intention to continue healthcare provision for UK nationals settled in the country before Brexit.

“Contingency measures are planned to guarantee healthcare provision for British citizens in Spain starting on the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union if there is no agreement.”

However, this guarantee depends on the UK government reciprocating for Spanish nationals in the UK. With an estimated 70,000 British pensioners living in Spain – each costing an average of €3,500 in S1 healthcare costs compared to around €5,000 in the UK – it makes financial sense for the UK to do so. Both the UK and Spanish governments have expressed confidence that a bilateral agreement will be secured in time.

Voting rights

One thing Spain and UK have formally agreed is reciprocal voting rights, representing the first bilateral treaty since Brexit negotiations began. Signed on 21 January, the agreement allows Britons to vote and stand in local elections in Spain and also take part in European Parliament elections, whatever happens with Brexit.

Anyone registered to vote for the upcoming local elections in Spain in May will be able to vote. After this, UK nationals will need to be resident in Spain for three years to acquire voting rights. However, this does not apply for “British citizens who obtained their nationality in connection with Gibraltar”. 

Next steps

Other than the arrangements for voting rights, none of Spain’s no-deal safeguards are automatic; they would still need to be passed into law by the Spanish government. Some of their guarantees rely on the UK government reciprocating for Spanish nationals in the UK.

The British Embassy in Spain has been providing Brexit updates for UK expatriates and answering questions at a series of citizens outreach meetings across the country. Find out more and register for any upcoming meetings at the British Embassy in Spain website and the Brits in Spain Facebook page.

Browse the Spanish government’s Brexit website (in English):

With the Brexit due date just weeks away, it is sensible to take personalised advice as soon as possible to establish what steps, if any, you still need to take to formalise your residency and secure your future in Spain. A financial adviser with cross-border expertise can review your tax and estate planning, pensions, savings and investments to make sure they are set up in the best way for your life in Spain, before and after Brexit.

Contact us to arrange a consultation

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