Moving to Spain: What’s the difference if I move before or after December 31st?

As we get nearer to the end of the Brexit transition period, there's one question we've been asked repeatedly by our British readers: what are the advantages and disadvantages of moving to Spain before December 31st?

Moving to Spain: What's the difference if I move before or after December 31st?
Photo: AFP

Many British people who had cherished a long-term dream of moving to Spain are now considering whether they should accelerate their plans and move before the end of the year.

Moving to Spain is a big decision and everybody's individual circumstances are different, so while we can't definitively answer the question 'should I move before December or can I wait until next year?' here are some of the things to bear in mind from what we know so far.

Should you hop on the ferry and sail away now or wait until next year? 






Before: When asked what are the advantages of moving before the end of the year there is a two-word answer – Withdrawal Agreement.

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement covers everyone who is legally resident in Spain by December 31st 2020, which is when the transition period ends.

The agreement protects the rights of UK citizens in the EU (and vice versa) and broadly gives guarantees that people already resident can stay.

Brits in Spain who have never registered have been urged to to apply for a new residency document as soon as possible and before December 31st 2020 to help guarantee their rights, with the conditions under which you apply being the same as for EU citizens.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Spain's new Brexit-friendly residency card

The Agreement doesn't cover everything and there are some caveats, but it does give a lot of protections.

Click here for full details of what the Withdrawal Agreement says and who it covers.

Two important things about the agreement – if you are already here by December 31st it covers you for however long you choose to stay in Spain and it is a legally binding international agreement. So even if the UK and the EU fail to agree a trade deal, the protections of the Withdrawal Agreement remain in place.

After: Exactly what the deal will be for people who want to move to Spain in 2021 or after we don't know, it's one of the many things still to be agreed.

At this stage it seems most likely that British citizens will be treated in a similar way to non-Europeans like Americans or Australians. For them moving is considerably more complicated and expensive, involving visa, proof of financial means (for some categories), health cover and residency cards.

READ ALSO: Will it be possible to retire in Spain after Brexit?

Photo by Esther Ann/Unsplash


Before: If you are already resident in Spain or planning to become so by December 31st, you are entitled to register with the Spanish state healthcare system.

For pensioners a scheme known as S1 allows British pensioners to register with the Spanish system, while the British state continues to pick up the cost of their healthcare. As long as they are legally resident in Spain before the end of the year then pensioners will continue to be covered by the S1 scheme.

Those who aren't pensioners or aren't working and are therefore not entitled to Spain's social security system have to have private health insurance.

If you are planning to register before the end of 2020 you will have to prove to Spanish authorities that your health cover is equivalent to that offered by public healthcare services.

After a year of being legally registered in Spain you can apply for the “convenio especial”, special agreement), which allows under 65s to pay a monthly fee of €60 per month and over 65s €157 per month to have access to Spain's public healthcare system.

After: At present there is no agreement in place on reciprocal healthcare costs for those registering after Brexit, so for at least the first part of your stay you would need private health insurance.

The UK government has suggested it does not intend to continue the S1 scheme for pensioners who move to Spain after December 31st.

This could leave pensioners reliant on private health insurance, which can be difficult to obtain or extremely expensive for people with long-term health conditions. 

The EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) which many Brits have relied on for healthcare cannot be issued by the UK government after December 31st. Pensioners already resident here and covered by the S1 scheme can continue to use theirs for trips back to the UK, and people resident and registered under the Spanish healthcare system can obtain a card that will cover their trips to other EU countries.

You need to make sure your costs are covered for any healthcare that you need while you're here. Photo: AFP


Before: If you are a British pensioner resident in Spain before the end of the year you will continue to receive your pension and your pension will continue to be uprated – increased in line with inflation, wage growth or price increases – for the rest of your life.

If you have worked in more than one European country your pension contributions in all countries will be joined together and paid as a single amount from the country you are living in when you retire. This applies to anyone resident by December 31st, even if your retirement age is many years away.

After: neither of the two agreements above – uprating or joint pensions – are guaranteed to continue and at present there are no arrangements in place to allow them to continue.


Before: At present in employment terms EU citizens are treated the same as Spanish employees – and for people covered by the Withdrawal Agreement this should continue.

In practice we expect some confusion, particularly at smaller firms, around what procedures need to be followed for British employees, but in theory Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement should be able to take up new employment on the same basis they do now.

Job-hunting this year might be tricky however as Spain, like many other countries, is predicting a major recession due to the pandemic and months of lockdown.

After: Spanish companies who are hiring a non-EU national who is moving to Spain to work need to jump through extra administrative hoops to justify why they are hiring a non-European. It's not an impossible task, but it does put non-Europeans at a disadvantage in the job market as most firms prefer to avoid the extra paperwork if they can find a similarly-qualified European candidate.

There's also the question of the recognition of foreign qualifications especially regarding regulated professions (doctors, nurses, engineers, architects etc), who may need to apply for “homologación” like other third-country nationals before they are allowed to work, a lengthy application process which takes two years on average.

Again, we don't know exactly what residency requirements for Brits will be after 2021, but if they follow the current model for non-Europeans you will need a visa sponsored by an employer if you are coming here to work.

If you want to come and either set up your own business or work as a freelancer or contractor you could also need a visa and to provide proof of income or proof that your business plan is an economically viable idea.


If you still aren't sure whether to come now or later – couples do have the option of doing the move in stages.

If one partner makes the move before December 31st they will be covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and one of the rights it gives them is to be joined at a later date by a registered partner or spouse.

You will need to prove that your relationship began before December 31st but it is an option for couples where it is not possible for both partners to make the move in the next six months.

If you are a couple but are neither married nor in a civil partnership you will need to prove that you are in a 'durable relationship' and the Withdrawal Agreement states that countries must 'facilitate entry and residence' in accordance with their national legislation.

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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.