Q&A: How will coronavirus crisis affect chances of Brits staying in Spain after Brexit transition period?

Before the coronavirus crisis disrupted everything, many Brits already in Spain or planning to move here were working hard to get their paperwork properly in order before the withdrawal agreement period ends on December 31st 2020.

Q&A: How will coronavirus crisis affect chances of Brits staying in Spain after Brexit transition period?
Photo: Patrick Dobeson/Flickr

But when covid-19 hit Spain, it not only scuppered travel plans but forced people who were planning on moving here to put the relocation on hold. The total lockdown in Spain also meant that government offices closed and that meant delays in registering and paperwork.

So this week the British Embassy in Madrid issued a reminder for Brits in Spain aimed at reassuring those who are nervous about the implications of coronavirus with the Brexit withdrawal agreement deadline looming.

“Please remember that citizens’ rights are already protected by the Withdrawal Agreement, which was ratified by the UK and the EU in January,” a statement from the Embassy said.

This means that as long as you are legally resident here by the end of 2020 your rights to continue to live and work here are guaranteed.

And for those who have retired here, the Withdrawal Agreement guarantees that  UK state pensioners will continue to have lifelong healthcare access as long as they remain living in Spain (this also applies to residents who claim a UK state pension in the future) and that UK state pension will continue to be uprated.

“Our key message remains to register as a resident as soon as you are able,” insists the Embassy although it accepts that this has been difficult with the closure of administrative offices during lockdown.

Their advice is to keep checking the Spanish Administration portal to see if appointments for “residencia” are available again in your area.

Once a province has moved into Phase 2 of the de-escalation plans some offices are again offering a limited number of appointments but bear in mind that restrictions are being lifted at different rates across Spain.

What do you mean by legal resident?

If you are British and have lived in Spain over 3 months then (until the end of the transition period) you can apply for legal residency as a citizen of an EU member state.

This looks like a green credit card size piece of paper with the words “certificado de registro de Ciudadano de la Unión”.

This replaced an A4 size green piece of paper which is still valid. (Both are pictured below):

If you have been a resident for over 5 years then the certificate can be replaced with one that states “caracter permanente”.

It will have your name, address and NIE (Número de Identidad Extranjero) and this is all you need to guarantee your future in Spain when the transition period ends on December 31st 2020.

Just to be clear, having a NIE – Número de Identificación de Extranjero – is not a guarantee that you are registered as a resident. This identification number in Spain for everyone who is not a Spanish citizen and can be issued to those who have bought property but don't necessarily live here.

It is also not the same as being registered on the Padron – which is when you register at your local town hall.

“Please make sure you are registered correctly and that means that you should have either an A4 size green piece of paper or a small credit card size piece of green paper,” explained Sarah-Jane Morris, the Consul General at the British Embassy in Madrid.

“Both of which will say that you are registered with the central register of citizens here in Spain,” she said during a recent Q and A session on the FCO's Brits in Spain Facebook page.

“If you don't have one of those then make an appointment ASAP with your local foreigners office (Extranjeria) or if there isn't one then your local National Police station.

READ ALSO Brexit: How to register as an EU resident in Spain


But what about the TIE?

The TIE (Foreigner Identity Card) is the residence document that will explicitly show you have rights under the Withdrawal Agreement once the transition period is over and it is likely at some point that Brits in Spain will have to replace their green certificate with a TIE.

But Spanish authorities have not yet announced when this will be introduced.

So until they do, those registering for the first time will be issued with the green residency certificate.

Don’t panic!

HMA Hugh Elliott issued a message of reassurance to Brits in Spain. Photo: British Embassy Madrid / FCO

The British Ambassador to MadridHugh Elliott issued a message to reassure Brits who may not yet have the correct documentation:

“I know that because of the suspension of residency appointments during the state of emergency, many UK nationals are concerned about their ability to obtain the correct documentation before December 31,” he said.

“I want to reassure people on two points. If you already have the green residency certificate, your core rights are protected and it remains a valid document, even after the end of the transition period.

“If you don’t yet have your green residency certificate there is, likewise, no need for alarm. We continue to advise people to get an appointment as soon as you can.

“However, as long as you are living in Spain and can prove that you satisfy the legal conditions of residence (ie. sufficient income and access to healthcare) by 31 December 2020, your rights are assured even if you are not able to get the physical document before the end of the year.”

More information: 

The Spanish government has a dedicated Brexit page in English HERE

The UK foreign office issues official guidance for Brits living in Spain HERE

READ ALSO ANALYSIS: What will Brits in Spain need to get 'settled status'?


Member comments

  1. This doesn’t answer the question for people stuck in UK who either have, or were going to buy properties and move over to Spain and get residencia before transition ends. They still don’t know when they will be allowed in. Will there be any extension for them?. So far these questions have been ignored

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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.