‘Now comes the small print’: What will Brexit transition period mean for Brits in Spain

Brexit is happening but the next 11 months will be extremely important for Britons in Spain. Here's what you need to know and do during the transition period, with the help of campaign group Eurocitizens.

'Now comes the small print': What will Brexit transition period mean for Brits in Spain
Brexit day is here. Now what? Photo: F Govan
Britain's departure from the EU on Friday night won't have much of an immediate impact on the lives of Britons in Spain largely because of the Withdrawal Agreement that protects most of the rights they had but also because it allows for an 11 month transition period.
“Brexit day is January 31st but really the effective Brexit day is December 31st 2020 – at the end of the transition period,” says Madrid based John Carrivick from Eurocitizens.
“All our rights, with the exception of political rights, stay as they are until the end of the transition period.”
That transition or implementation period isn't just to give London and Brussels time to negotiate a future relationship, it's also to allow EU countries time to organise how they plan to put into practice measures that will protect the rights of Britons in the country.
Most of those rights, including residency, work, healthcare and pensions are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement but Spain still needs to act over the coming months.
“We know what's in the Withdrawal Agreement but we don't know how it's going to pan out until we read the small print,” says Carrivick from Eurocitizens.
“All EU governments have to transpose the Withdrawal Agreement into national legislation. That's where the fine print comes in. We will then have a better understanding of what it all means on the ground in Spain.
“It's up to European countries to put this into law, like a European directive and we know that in the past countries have often been late putting into law.
“We will continue speaking to the interior ministry in Spain. We have to make sure things are not just brushed under the carpet.”
The challenge for Spain after Brexit will not just be to enshrine the protections of the Withdrawal Agreement in law but also to get that legal information to regional authorities and officials around Spain so Brits receive the right info and treatment.
Brits in Spain are being urged to act over the next 11 months because if they don't then things may get a lot more complicated in the future.
When it comes to residency permits it's still not clear what will happen over the next few months. Spain like all EU countries will have to decide how to treat British citizens when it comes to residency.

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, countries can opt for either a declaratory system or a constitutive system. Under the declaratory system your rights are presumed, under the constitutive system you have to make an application.

The Withdrawal Agreement states that anyone who is legally resident – which is not quite the same thing as simply being in the country – at the end of the transition period is eligible to stay, but under a constitutive system you would still have to make the application for residency.

Spain has so far not formally declared which system it will go down, but there are indications that it is likely to choose the declarative system – so British residents in Spain who are already registered won't need to apply for residency permit.

However given that the residency document will prove you are protected under the Withdrawal Agreement, British citizens in Spain will be encouraged to apply for one.

Eurocitizens' website says: “In a recent meeting with the Spanish administration, EuroCitizens was informed that the process to register the British will follow the most benign option: the automatic change of status instead of the need to re-apply for a new status.
“We also still have to clarify the details of our special Foreigners Identification Card (TIE), registration procedures, deadlines etc.”
What can Brits in Spain do during the transition period?
The number one priority for Brits in Spain is to be officially registered before the end of December 2020.
“It's compulsory in Spain, but authorities have not been controlling people,” says Carrivick.
“While most people who come here to work or retire are registered, many have not seen the point. But officially you are meant to do it after being in the country for three months.”
He says those people who do not register before December 31st face only being able to visit the Schengen area for 90 days, “so if you have a house in Spain you'll only be able to be there for three months a year”.
“The first residency card you'll get is temporary but that will lead to a permanent one after five years,” he said. “The clock is running and if people don't register before the 31st then they won't be able to build up those five years.”
The ID document given to Brits in Spain will identify that they are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.
Professional qualifications
“There are short cuts to having a qualification registered under EU law so if anyone hasn't had this done already then get your application in before December 31st and that will get you in the system in time and you'll be treated as EU nationals.”
Driving licences
Another thing Brits in Spain must look to do is exchange their UK driving licence for a Spanish one before December 31st. For more details CLICK HERE. 
Move around?
Is it time to move to another EU country? Freedom of movement will end at the end of December so if you were planning to leave Spain for another EU country time might be running out.
“We know the WA protects most of our rights, but we'll lose freedom of movement and effectively become landlocked. But before December 31st we are free to move around and establish ourselves in another EU country,” says Carrivick.
“There may be people living in Spain who have grandchildren in France and may decide to move nearer their family while they still have the right to. They just need to become legally resident.”
Make your relationship formal
Under current EU rules “close family members will be able to join you in Spain after 31st December 2020” as the UK government website states.
“This applies to spouses or registered partners, dependent children and grandchildren, and dependent parents and grandparents,” the site says adding “the relationship must have begun before the transition period ends on 31st December 2020.”
That doesn't mean you'll have to get married before December to be sure, but it means you might have to gather proof that your relationship began before December 31st – perhaps by putting both names on a bill. Not romantic but could be crucial.



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Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.