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.
“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.”
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.
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
“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.