BREXIT: How many Brits have left Spain and how many are staying?

Choosing between Spain and the UK is a dilemma on the minds of thousands of Britons who up until now have been able to enjoy life between both countries without limitations. But what does the official data say about British arrivals and departures in Spain as the Brexit deadline fast approaches?

BREXIT: How many Brits have left Spain and how many are staying?
A busy Rambla (pre-Covid) in Barcelona, a province which in 2019 was home to 14,000 British residents. Photo: Nikolaus Bader/Pixabay

For some Brits in Spain, it’s a no-brainer: Spain has been their home for years and they will continue being residents here after Brexit. 

For others who hadn’t previously registered, the decision hasn’t proved as easy, now that they have health cover and income requirements to meet for residency and the need to commit to one country has forced them to think hard about the future during these uncertain times.

And then there are the Brits who have decided to move to Spain for the first time as a result of Brexit, hoping that a life here as EU residents will be better than what awaits them in the UK.


There are these scenarios and many more being played out currently, but is the balance tilting in favour of more residency registrations or cancellations?

How many are registering?

According to the website of Spain’s Secretary of State for Migration, the number of UK citizens with Spanish residence permits increased by 8.2 percent from June 2018 to June 2019.

The rate then increased a further 5.8 percent from June 2019 to June 2020, a rise of 19,977 British residents.

“More than 50,000 British citizens have applied for the new TIE card,” Hana Jalloul stated in a video message on December 23rd.

No official national body has published more figures since the summer, but regional and provincial authorities have.

Málaga’s government for example published data from their migration offices on November 11th 2020 which reported that 2,692 UK citizens had applied for residency there since July 6th, a marked upward trend.

Similarly, by mid- November, a further 3,000 Britons on the Balearic island of Mallorca had received their TIE card since July 7th, the day after the residency document’s launch. That’s out of a total of 5,000 applications, with 60 slots being made available daily over the five-month period.

In neighbouring Menorca, which only has a population of 96,000 (4,000 of whom are British residents), a further 300 UK citizens have applied for residency since the summer.

How many have left?

This information is harder to come by in official sources and would rely on the premise that all Britons leaving Spain for good before Brexit were cancelling their green residency documents, a document which doesn’t expire but will no doubt eventually be replaced by the TIE, which does.

That means that until then it may be hard to get an accurate idea of how many Britons have left over the course of the last year and since the Brexit vote, as it would depend on factors such as whether it’s residency documents or padrón registration at town halls which is used.

However, a recent article in Spain’s ABC newspaper titled “I’m going back: 50,000 Britons return to the UK due to Brexit” argued there has been a downward trend in UK residents in Spain in recent years.

Comparing National Statistics Institute (INE) data of Brits registered as residents in Spain from 2014 (two years before Brexit vote) and from 2019, the numbers did drop from 300,000 to around 250,000, although they had already gone down to 256,000 by 2016.

Did Brexit really spur thousands of Brits to stop being residents in Spain or could other measures such as the asset declaration law that was passed by the Spanish government in 2013 have had a bigger impact?

How many Brits are now registered as residents in Spain?

Spain’s Secretary of State for Migration reported that as of June 30th 2020, there were 366,498 UK citizens with a “certificado de registro” or “tarjeta de residencia” (both residency documents) in Spain, the third biggest foreign population group in the country after Romanians and Moroccans.

Their average age is far higher than for most other foreigners in Spain – 53.9 – and there’s an almost 50/50 split between men and women.

Alicante (86,407 UK residents), Málaga (63,571) and the Balearic Islands (29,532) hold the highest number of British residents in Spain.

However, the latest data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute states that there are 250,392 Brits registered in Spain, more than 100,000 fewer than the State for Migration’s figures.

Although INE are yet to publish any data from the whole of 2020, and the evidence suggests the numbers of Brits will be higher, it’s the fact that INE uses primarily local census information from the town halls (padrón address registrations, birth, deaths etc) rather than migration documents that could account for the stark difference.

READ ALSO: El Padrón: Your need-to-know guide about registering with the town hall

The drop in recent years of Brits registered as having their home address in towns and cities in Spain could have been also a result of their unwillingness to fill in asset declarations, or as a result of missing the deadline, or other fiscal and other matters, rather than solely because of Brexit.

Many took themselves off the padrón but carried on living in Spain.

Come January 1st 2021, Brits here will have to stay above the radar as third-country nationals in all circumstances, so only then will we get a true picture of how many have chosen to make or keep Spain as their main home.  

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INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

A group of lawyers is campaigning for a new visa which would allow non-resident British second-homeowners in Spain to freely enjoy their properties post-Brexit without having to show the high level of savings currently required.

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

As most Britons are now fully aware of, since Brexit came into force, UK nationals who aren’t EU residents can only spend 90 days out of 180 days in Spain and the Schengen Area.

This has proven very problematic for Britons who own a second home in Spain who, when purchasing their Spanish properties, were under the impression they would always be able to split their time freely and flexibly between the UK and Spain without having to become Spanish residents (as long as they respected Spain’s residency and fiscal rules).

It used to be an ideal situation for these ‘part-year dwellers’, the best of both worlds some may argue, but the UK’s exit from the EU has complicated things enormously for them. 

Estimates based on Spanish government data suggest that in 2020 the number of Britons who owned property in Spain was anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million.

There are now 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022, and although there is no exact data on the number of Britons who own or rent property long-term in Spain without being residents, it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands. 

READ ALSO: Is it true Britons are leaving Spain ‘in droves’ after Brexit as UK tabloids claims?

They are undoubtedly of great economic importance to some parts of Spain, as evidenced by the Valencian government’s announcement last November that they would push the national Tourism Ministry to make it easier for non-resident British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the region without having to apply for a visa.

There hasn’t been a public update on this front since, but Spanish law firm Costaluz Lawyers has recently put the issue back on the table, proposing a new type of visa for British second-home owners. 

The Local Spain spoke to María Luisa Castro, the lawyer who’s been leading the campaign, to learn more about it.

“We propose a new visa that caters to British property buyers who want to live in Spain but don’t have the necessary funds for the current visa options,” Castro explained. 

“We’d like to make it very simple with just two main requirements. Firstly, applicants would have to show that they have owned a property in Spain for at least three years and secondly that they have proof of an income of at least €1,130 a month, roughly half the funds required for the non-lucrative visa”.

Castro also stressed that as part of this potential visa, applicants should have to fulfil conditions for health insurance and have a clean criminal record, a standard practice for most Spanish residence visas.

“But the main condition would be property ownership and sufficient funds,” Castro emphasized.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

The campaign calls on British second homeowners to sign a petition to get the Spanish government to listen to the proposal and meet demands.

“We need 500,000 signatures in order for the issue to be discussed by the Spanish government, but we are also gathering signatures to give these people a voice and create awareness. We hope to be able to lobby both the UK and the Spanish governments to start bilateral negotiations” she explained.

Castro believes that there is definitely a need for this type of visa, especially for Britons, who now have to deal with stricter rules and have fewer options since they became non-EU nationals after Brexit.

“There are thousands of British property owners in Spain who bought their properties many years ago as second homes, but also as a place for future retirement or for health reasons,” she said.  

Crucially, even though the petition states non-EU citizens, Castro believes that it should really only be made available to Britons.

“It is not simply the fact that they are homeowners that means they should be considered for a new type of visa, but the fact that they had full-time ownership rights in the past, which makes the current restriction a loss of acquired rights”.  

In other words, Castro argues that those from other non-EU countries bought properties in Spain knowing that they could only stay 90 days out of every 180, but those from the UK bought them on the basis that they would have greater flexibility in this regard.  

“We hope that a visa which requires proof of finances, plus the evidence of being a homeowner with a retirement plan in Spain will be sufficient,” she said.

Another lawyer, Fernando del Canto, from Del Canto Chambers law firm, has previously argued that ownership plus health and retirement associated rights are being infringed upon by the Schengen limitations as per the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC). “A bilateral or reciprocal agreement between the UK and Spain on this particular matter is needed,” he said. 

The EHRC states that “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. No one shall be deprived of their possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”.

Judging by the above, it is open to interpretation as to whether it means that Britons’ rights are being infringed upon or not.

Nonetheless, Castro believes that the 90-day rule has had a huge negative impact on British non-resident homeowners and on Spain itself.

“We are frequently contacted by clients desperate to keep staying here for longer periods, as part of an acquired lifestyle and for health reasons. Now they need to explore the possibilities of the non-lucrative visa, which on many occasions, they cannot afford”. 

She believes there is a risk that Britons could stop buying in Spain, “particularly those who bought a property for retirement”, and that many of her British clients have already felt forced to sell their Spanish properties because of Brexit limitations.

READ ALSO: What worries British second home owners in Spain most about Brexit

Britons have historically accounted for the largest group of foreign property buyers in Spain. In 2018, they represented 24.3 percent of the market share. The figure dropped to 20 percent in 2019 and by late 2021 Germans had surpassed Britons as the main foreign buyers in Spain.

This however may have had more to do with Spain’s coronavirus restrictions for non-EU travellers and the UK’s own complex traffic-light system than only as a consequence of Brexit, as in early 2022 UK nationals were back at the top of the property podium again.

So despite the new setbacks, it appears that Spain is still an attractive location for budding British second-home owners, but perhaps more so now for those who can afford the golden visa or non-lucrative visa. 

But how likely is it that such legislation will be approved?

READ ALSO: Can Spain legally offer more than 90 days to Britons?

Castro firmly believes that the Spanish government will listen to foreign homeowners’ demands. “If we get a good number of signatures and the UK government is also lobbied, it will create awareness. Retired people are an increasing source of economic strength for our country.

“Currently, only those buying properties over €500,000 can apply for residency based on property purchase (through the golden visa). Other EU countries have lower financial thresholds”, she explained.

READ ALSO: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Castro encourages second homeowners to do whatever they can to help this visa proposal become a reality, as well as signing the petition.

She advises them to make their voices heard through blog posts, newspaper articles and writing to local politicians.