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Can Brits still move to Spain after Brexit day?

For British people already living in Spain, the last three years have been a period of nightmarish uncertainty over their rights to stay - but what about those who want to make the move in the future?

Can Brits still move to Spain after Brexit day?
Thinking of selling up and moving to Spain? Here's what you need to know. Photo: AFP

Many British people have been nursing a long-term dream to move to Spain one day – either as a retirement plan or to move to the country and work. But if you haven't made the move by the time the UK leaves the EU on January 31st have you left it too late?

Let's have a look at the rules for moving countries without the benefit of EU freedom of movement.

READ ALSO Brexit: What do I need to do before January 31st?

Is it too late to take ship for Spain? Photo: Brittany Ferries

Transition period

Assuming that the UK leaves the EU with a deal on January 31st, which at present is looking the most likely scenario, there then begins a transition period.

This currently runs until December 31st, 2020, although it is possible it could be extended.

During these 11 months, the Withdrawal Agreement states that both British and EU citizens keep the rights that they currently have, including the freedom to move to another EU country.

So not only can you move to Spain during this period, you probably should if it's possible and if that's been your aim of course, because afterwards things are set to get a lot more complicated.

REMINDER What the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement means for British people in Spain

The Withdrawal Agreement provides that British people who are already lawfully resident in an EU country have the right to remain there, and that includes people who move between Brexit day and the end of the transition period.

Many rights will be guaranteed for people who are legally resident in a country before December 31st, 2020 (or later if the transition period is extended).

The phrase legally resident is important though and it's not the same as simply being in the country by New Year's Eve 2020.

This applies also to people already resident and means that certain criteria – including being financially self sufficient – must be met.

Find out more on legal status here.

Be careful to keep all paperwork relating to your arrival date in Spain – you may need it when you come to apply for residency.

Note that anyone who is resident in Spain before the end of the transition period will have an extra six months to apply for residency, so as things stand the deadline would be June 2021 – unless the transition period is extended.

After the transition period

Once the transition period ends things get more complicated.

Exactly what the rules will be for people who want to move to Spain after this date we don't yet know – it's one of the many issues that needs to be negotiated during the transition period.

This period was originally scheduled to last for two years, but repeated Brexit delays have whittled it down to just 11 months.

In that time a whole host of issues relating to citizens' rights need to be be agreed – as well as thrashing out a trade deal. It's an ambitious timetable by anyone's standards.

READ ALSO British ambassador tells Brits in Spain: 'Make sure you are registered!

What could happen after the transition period?

As far as the deal that will be agreed between the UK and the EU we're really moving into guesswork here, but given the UK wants to end freedom of movement it seems likely that the rules will be similar to those already in place for American or Australian people who want to move to Spain.

So it will be possible to move to Spain but it could be a lot more complicated – and expensive.

People who don't take up permanent residency are restricted to spending only 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen zone – something that will have a big impact on British second home owners.

People who want to make the move permanently need a visa. 

Most non-EU citizens have to apply for a long stay visa in their home country before making the move, and have it validated as a residency permit within three months of arriving.

Often visas are linked to work or study, so people who want to move to Spain, live off savings for a while or set up their own business could find themselves being rejected for residency.

Any exceptions?

Once the UK leaves the EU, British people will cease to be EU citizens, with all the rights that go with that.

However there are a couple of ways that British people could still benefit from EU rules.

One of these is to become the citizen of an EU country.

Thousands are considering applying for citizenship, while others have moved to safeguard their EU citizenship, by applying for Irish nationality. Both these routes come with conditions of course.


The other is to apply as a family member of an EU citizen, so if you are married or in a durable relationship with an EU national – or are a dependent child/parent – you can 'piggy back' on their rights. Although this too is more complicated than travelling under freedom of movement and you would still need to apply for residency within 90 days of arriving in the country.

Check out The Local's Preparing for 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.

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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.