Brexit: What do Brits in Spain need to do before January 31st?

With the fourth - and likely final - Brexit date fast approaching, we look at what preparations people need to make for the UK's planned exit from the European Union.

Brexit: What do Brits in Spain need to do before January 31st?
Photo: inkdropcreative/Depositphotos

Why is January 31st important?

This is the date that is currently fixed as the exit day for the UK. Now there have been Brexit deadline days before – three of them in fact – but due to a combination of an agreement with the EU and a parliamentary majority for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this one looks likely to actually happen.

It's not a completely nailed-on certainty – both the UK and European parliaments still need to formally approve the exit – but it does look likely that UK will exit on this date under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson now has a strong majority. Photo: AFP

So what happens on January 31st?

Well in practical terms for British people who either live in Spain or visit frequently not a lot changes.

On that date all UK citizens who do not have dual nationality will lose their EU citizenship.

But if the UK goes out with a deal, a transition period begins and during that period British people will still be free to come to Spain to live and work, and even maintain the rights to stand and vote in municipal elections

In order to make sure that, whatever happens, you are in the best place to secure your rights, during the transition period Brits in Spain need to ensure that they are indeed a legal resident.

All EU/EEA nationals staying in Spain longer than three months should have the residence certificate called Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión (also known as Certificado de Registro Comunitario). 

This is NOT the same as a NIE identification number but is a green certificate either A4 sized or credit card sized depending on when it was issued. (See illustration below).

If you don't have either of the two documents above then you are NOT registered as a resident in Spain.

For full details of how to apply refer to the article HERE.

If you arrive in Spain before the end of the implementation (also known as transition) period, you will be able to register as resident in Spain under the current rules, and will have your right to residence in Spain protected for as long as you remain resident.

In some parts of Spain, UK nationals are currently unable to register as a resident as appointments are not available. If you don’t yet have a residence certificate, the residency advice on the Moncloa website is to make sure you have proof you were living here before Brexit (such as padrón registration or a rental contract), and to keep checking the online appointment system for new appointments.

How long does the transition period last?

At the moment the transition period ends on December 31st, 2020. It was originally intended as a two-year period during which the UK and the EU could negotiate their future trading agreement, but repeated Brexit delays from the original date of March 29th 2019 have whittled it down to just 11 months.

There is an option to extend it up to a maximum of two years (so until December 31st 2022 at the latest) but that would need to be agreed by June 2020. Trade experts say making a deal in just 11 months will be extremely difficult, but British PM Johnson is adamant that he will not ask for an extension (although it's worth pointing out that he also said that about the October 2019 Brexit date).

What happens at the end of the transition period?

At the end of the transition period, whenever it is, the UK then begins trading with the EU on new terms – either under the deal it has agreed during the transition period or under WTO rules if it has not managed to make a deal.

The end of the transition period also marks the end of freedom of movement rules for UK nationals.

So for people already living in Spain, this will be the time to convert residency to the new, yet to be outlined, special immigration status that will be offered to Brits by the Spanish government.

For people contemplating making the move to Spain, this might be the time to do it. It is still not entirely clear what the requirements will be for British people wanting to make the move after the end of the transition period, but it could be similar to the process that American and Australian citizens already have to go through.

They face much stricter requirements for residency than those offered to British people who are in the country by the end of the transition period, so if it is possible to make the move earlier that may well be the better option.

During the transition period the UK and the EU will attempt to make a deal on their future trading relationship, among other things. Photo: AFP

Are there any things I need to do now?

The transition period gives British people some breathing space to sort out their affairs but as Spanish bureaucracy is not exactly famed for its speed, it would be best not leave everything until the last minute.

The framework of the Withdrawal Agreement gives anyone who is legally resident in Spain before the end of the transition period the right to stay.

But being legally resident in Spain is not the same as simply being in the country and if you do not meet the criteria for legal residence it would be best to get your affairs in order as soon as possible.

There are several criteria for being legally resident – read in more detail here – but the key one if that you must either be working, self-employed, studying or – if none of those apply – prove that you are self sufficient.

This varies according to what category you are applying under, but some of the paperwork you may need includes a passport with at least six months validity, proof of your arrival date in Spain such as a work contract or rental agreement, utility bills to prove your address, payslips or tax returns to prove your income and proof of health cover if you are not working.

It is also worth checking that everything is in order with your health cover – through the S1 system if you are a pensioner or under the Spanish system if you are working – and your driving licence and car registration as well as your tax returns.

If there are outstanding things that need to be arranged it will almost certainly be easier to do them during the transition period than as a Third Country National afterwards.

What don't we know?

As ever with Brexit, there are still plenty of unanswered questions.

Eurocitizens, a group campaigning for citizens rights for Brits in Spain, explained that there are a series of questions about how the Spanish government will implement the Withdrawal Agreement.
“Of particular interest are registration procedures, minimum requirements and resourcing in provinces with large British populations like Alicante,” the group said. 
“What is clear is that UKinSP after the end of the transition period will have a special immigration status as a finite group protected by the Withdrawal Agreement but it is uncertain how this might overlap with other possible statuses like EU family member or EU long-term residence,” the group said adding that they are seeking clarification.
In a recent meeting with officials from the British Embassy in Madrid EuroCitizens pointed out “concerns relating to data protection and UK/EU coordination on reciprocal healthcare and social security as Britain will be leaving the General Data Protection Regulation”. 
They said they “also raised issues, such as EU-wide freedom of movement and cross-border service provision, to be discussed in next year's UK/EU negotiations and those within the unilateral grant of the UK government such as home fees for UKinEU and family reunification for Britons returning to the UK with EU family.”We also don't know exactly what the rules will be for people moving to France after the end of the transition period and whether British people will need to exchange their driving licences for French ones once the transition period ends.

For second home owners, there is still no certainty on how long they they will be able to stay at their property after the transition period ends. The 90-day rule is being used as a guide, but this is not certain.

Most of the existing French legislation was passed in relation to a no-deal Brexit, so if the UK exits with a deal, these will need to be revisited.

Check out The Local's Brexit section for more detail and updates as we get them. if you have questions, please send them to us here and we will do our best to answer them.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.