ANALYSIS: Why Brexit and Covid-19 could finally force some Brits in Spain out of their ‘expat bubble’

While many if not most Britons in Spain already embrace their local culture, the combination of Brexit and Covid-19 could be just the push some foreigners need to burst out of their expat bubble and fully embrace the Spanish way of life, writes Graham Keeley.

ANALYSIS: Why Brexit and Covid-19 could finally force some Brits in Spain out of their 'expat bubble'
Photo by William Warby on Unsplash

Who remembers the song I think I'm turning Japanese? It was by the Vapors way back when and, well, who knows what it was really about.

But for a brief moment in time, everyone was singing it.

I was thinking of that song the other day because it kind of sums up what may be about to happen over here in Spain – some 10,642 kilometres away from Tokyo.

Possibly- just possibly – Brexit and Covid-19 might make more foreigners who live here embrace Spanish life and, well, turn a little bit more Spanish.

Bear with me, dear reader, I will explain.

For Britons, once the political tie with the old country is cut forever on December 31st, this might be the moment when there is no going back.

Perhaps some people, myself included, have maintained a foot in each country until now.

But once Brexit is a done deal, this is really it – until they have another referendum, of course.

So maybe once those of us who have made our lives over here have seen the UK drawbridge come down, we will see Spain as our home for good. Apart from wanting to see family and friends, gone will be some of the draw of Britain. Even if we have not taken Spanish citizenship, we will feel, psychologically at least, a little bit more español.

No, we will probably not be rolling our rs properly, dancing well or sending people somewhere even though we have no idea where the place is that they want to go to. (Hasn't that ever happened to you?).

Just going a little bit more native.      


Photo: AFP

But what has the Covid-19 got to do with this?

Well, the pandemic has few redeeming features but perhaps, just perhaps, one may be that it has forced us to look at the place where we live a little more.

Travelling abroad is not something you really want to do right now unless you have to for business or there is a pressing medical reason like seeing a loved who has fallen ill.

So many of us have taken to touring around Spain when we can, perhaps to places we would not have seen before.

Travel broadens the mind, so they say. In my case it was more Basque food – hardly a tough one – and enjoying the delights of bobbing around in a boat off the Costa Brava.

I heard an epidemiologist from Cambridge University saying on the television the other day that we are going to have to get used to living with coronavirus for most of next year at least.

He reasoned that a vaccine programme was unlikely to appear any time soon and mass lockdowns were not economically viable.

So, masks, washing your hands and being careful are the new normal for the foreseeable.

This could mean that we will do a lot more of exploring in our back yard and that may not be a bad thing.

But hold on, I hear you say, most of the readers of The Local already speak Spanish, love the outside life which this country offers and find everything from salmorejo or chipirones the definition of pure pleasure.

I know some people who despite living here for ages, still live inside a bit of an expat bubble.

I could name some people who have lived here for a decade or more and still can barely master a sentence of Spanish.

That is not to say they have not made Spain their home in many other ways and learning a new language in mid life is not the easiest thing.

(Full disclosure here: my Spanish speaking sons still laugh at my British accent and even do impressions).

Yet I always think those who do not speak the language could get that little bit more out of the country if they tried. Spanish is not like learning German, after all.

Spanish is, according to linguists, like a normal triangle – it starts off hard (subjunctives, eh? What is that about?) then gets easier.

German, in contrast, is like an inverted triangle which just gets more difficult the further you go.

Please understand, I am not trying to pillory those whose grasp of español is not as good as their neighbours – or in my case, their offspring.

I am just saying that perhaps now we have a unique opportunity to take something good out of a pretty bad situation.

Who knows, maybe I will even lose that acento inglés?



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley






Member comments

  1. I agree with you in almost every way. Put a bit of effort in and you´ll be repaid in spades. Thanks for your comments, entertaining to read and encouraging.
    Bill Canarias

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Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

UK nationals living in Spain have begun to receive letters from their bank telling them that their accounts will be closed, in an apparent post-Brexit change. Have you been affected?

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

Customers of Barclays Bank who are living in Spain and other EU countries have been receiving letters telling them that their UK accounts will be closed by the end of the year. 

A number of readers of The Local’s network of news websites have contacted us to report receiving either letters or messages in their online banking telling them that their accounts would be closed because of their residency in Spain or in other countries in the EU.

A Barclays spokesperson told The Local: “As a ring fenced bank, our Barclays UK products are designed for customers within the UK.

“We will no longer be offering services to personal current account or savings customers (excluding ISAs) within the European Economic Area. We are contacting impacted customers to give them advance notice of this decision and outline the next steps they need to take.”  

Customers are being given six months to make alternative arrangements. The changes affect all personal current accounts or savings accounts, but do not affect ISAs, loans or mortgages.

During the Brexit transition period Barclays closed Barclaycard accounts of customers in Spain, but did not indicate any changes to standard bank accounts.


Around the same time several other British high street banks began closing accounts of British customers who live in the EU, although with the exception of Barclaycard customers in Spain who were largely spared.

Many UK nationals who live in Spain maintain at least one UK bank account – in addition to a Spanish account – sometimes just for savings but others use their accounts regularly to receive income such as pensions or income from rental property or – for remote workers – to receive income for work done in the UK.

Not having a UK bank account can make financial transactions in the UK more complicated or incur extra banking fees.

READ MORE: What are the best UK banks for Brits in Spain?

Since Brexit, the UK banking sector no longer has access to the ‘passporting’ system which allows banks to operate in multiple EU countries without having to apply for a separate banking licence for each country.

And it seems that many UK high street banks are deciding that the extra paperwork is not worth the hassle and are withdrawing completely from certain EU markets. 

When British banks began withdrawing services from customers in the EU back in 2020, a UK government spokesman told British newspaper The Times that “the provision of banking services is a commercial decision for firms based on a number of factors” so Brits in Spain probably shouldn’t hold their breath for any help from that direction.

READ ALSO: Premium Bond holders in Spain may have to cash in if no UK bank account