On Monday 12th February the British Consul, Sarah-Jane Morris, visited Torrevieja town hall to meet the public and answer questions about Brexit. In this article we share the advice she gave.
We are now approaching the second year of preparing for Brexit and those people who live abroad are understandably feeling a little uneasy. Although there are many people claiming to know what will happen, the reality is that nothing is decided yet.
So, those attending the Consul briefing on Brexit at Torrevieja town hall had many questions. Unfortunately the British Consul, Sarah-Jane Morris, was limited in the concrete information she could provide. Until the deal is done we cannot be 100% sure about most aspects of what to expect after March 2019. However, there are some guiding principles that she did share.
Make your mind up time
Many people still ‘float’ between Spain and the UK. This has been fine, by and large, because of the rules surrounding the free movement of people within the EU. However, this is likely to change after March 2019. UK nationals are unlikely to have the same opportunity to hop between countries as they have previously. And they should prepare for this.
Of course, there are also a substantial number of people who do live in Spain all year round but have not yet made themselves legal here. They are often described as living below the radar and evade their tax obligations to their own detriment. Once Britain has closed the door, then they may find it, not only difficult to establish themselves formally in Spain, but difficult to return to the UK too.
One of the interesting points made by the British Consul was about the number of people requesting embassy help who have lived in Spain for many years without applying for residency. Some of these people have discovered, when the time comes, that they have no footprint in the UK either. The challenge for the Consul is getting them settled somewhere – not an ideal position to find yourself in later in life.
Get the paper work
However inconvenient it might be to get your residencia and register on the padrón now, the message is that it’s only going to be worse post March 2019. It really is time that those people who haven’t put their house in order did something to make sure that they are registered correctly before Britain leaves the EU.
There are differences in what the application process is for residencia and different towns also have different procedures for registering on the padrón. The best way to make sure that you are legally allowed to reside in Spain and the records reflect this is to go down to the padrón office yourself and check on what you must do. If you are not fluent in Spanish then you will need to take a translator with you.
If you live in Spain but haven’t already got your residencia here then it is imperative that you do so as soon as possible. It is unclear what the arrangements will be for requesting a permit to stay following March 2019. If your intention is to live in Spain, then it is far better to do it now when we know what the requirements are.
The good news
The good news would seem to be that it is likely that those who are already officially registered in Spain, pay their taxes and are on the padrón are likely to enjoy most of the same benefits as they do now. It is likely that you will still have access to healthcare if you already qualify.
If you were worrying that your British passport will suddenly be out of date in March 2019, you needn’t. The British Consul pointed out that it would be a logistically impossibility to change everyone’s passport as the UK leaves the EU. Instead there is likely to be a phased transfer that could even mean that you just continue with your old passport until it runs out.
For those who own property here and are non-resident it is expected that you will still be able to travel and enjoy your property much as you do now. It is not in anyone’s best interests to put barriers up to those who enjoy Spain as a holiday destination. There might be some different requirements as you cross borders but you will still be able to do so.
Spain is already visited regularly by many people who live outside of the EU. Many UK nationals will also remember a time before Britain joined the EU and Spain was even then a popular country to relax in. The attractions of the Spanish way of life and climate and Spain’s reputation as a popular holiday destination are unlikely to change.
The bad news
Don’t bank on your pension going up with inflation. However, this isn’t necessarily tied to Brexit. The arrangement that currently means your pension increases more or less in line with price increases is a unilateral agreement between Spain and the UK. If the UK decides to drop this provision in Britain then pensioners living in Spain will lose it to.
It is very unlikely that there will be an option for those people who live in Spain and are UK nationals to move to another EU country if they wish after Brexit. It might be accepted that those people who have already chosen to live in a country in the EU can stay there. What is much less likely is that they could choose to move elsewhere without encountering a range of additional requirements.
Those people who have been hoping that they can apply for EU nationality are likely to be disappointed. It is your British citizenship and your British passport that take precedence. Neither is dual residency or nationality an option. You must be registered for tax purposes in one country and access your national health in one country too.
The Consul pointed out that you can be considered to be tax resident in Spain even if you are not living here for the required 183 days. Those people who work offshore, for example, might be shown to have most of their financial interests in Spain. For example, owning a property there, having family in Spain and spending most of their onshore time in the country. If this is you, it could be considered that your tax obligations are with Spain too.
A note of caution
We hope that this summary of some of the main points at the meeting is useful. However, there must be a cautionary note to most of the advice given. As the Consul mentioned, nothing is agreed until it is all finally agreed. Much still remains speculation, except for one piece of advice.
If you have wavered in making a decision about where you have laid your hat, now is the time to place it once and for all. Check that you have all the paperwork that you need and that you are well and truly a resident, both civil and fiscal, if you want to continue to live in Spain.