Q&A: Everything you need to know about Spanish residency for Brits post-Brexit

Fiona Govan
Fiona Govan - [email protected]
Q&A: Everything you need to know about Spanish residency for Brits post-Brexit
Photo: Patrick Dobeson/Flickr

The British Embassy in Madrid held a Facebook live session with representatives from the three organisations that are helping Brits in Spain to tackle any difficult questions about their residency process post-Brexit.


Here’s a summary of some of the most pertinent questions and the answers provided during a session chaired by Sarah-Jane Morris, British Consul and Regional Operations Manager at the British Embassy in Madrid.

Should I swap by green residency card for a TIE?

The issues that come up again and again are whether it is necessary for those who already have a green residency certificate need to swap it for a new TIE biometric card.

The session began with the clarification that green residency certificates – whether A4 size or credit card sized remain perfectly legal in Spain for British residents. However there are advantages to carrying a biometric card that can be used as photo ID although there is currently no obligation to update from one to the other.

Those Britons who are applying for first time residency have since last July been issued with the new TIE card for Brits and many long term residents have chosen to make the swap. But there is no deadline to do so.

What if an official tells me the green residency certificate is no longer valid because of Brexit?

Laura Geddie from the citizens’ rights team at the British Embassy in Madrid tackled one of the most frequently asked questions.

"There still seems to be some confusion as to whether this green certificate remains valid now that the transition period is over and the answer is yes. But if you are having trouble in having your green certificate recognised by any Spanish authority or private authority here then the Spanish government have published a clarification note on their website, which is for you to use if you need to show an authority".

This clarification note can be downloaded HERE:

Why is it so hard to get an appointment?

Geddie acknowledged that a lot people have complained about how long it is taking to get an appointment, or that they can’t get an appointment at all or even once the application is made how long it is taking for documentation to come through.

“Just to reassure people in that position that while delays are frustrating, those who were legally residing here at the end of the transition period (December 31 2020) have their rights protected by the withdrawal agreement even though you haven’t yet done the administrative process to get your residence document," she explained. 

"If you are in that situation then make sure that you keep checking for appointments as we know there has been a huge demand on services towards the end of last year. The Spanish authorities have recognised this and are putting more staff in where possible to deal with applications from British nationals where possible."

She said that patience was required and make sure you are prepared with all your documents in order so you are ready to go as soon as you do get an appointment.

I’m stuck in the UK, what can I do about my residency application?

Photo: AFP

For those of you who were living in Spain but went to the UK for a visit at the end of last year but hadn’t yet either started or completed your residency process, keep in mind that Spain put in very strict restrictions on travel from UK due to Covid only allowing citizens and legal residents in Spain to return.

Spanish authorities confirmed publically that the green certificate and TIE can be used as proof of residence but the problem is they haven’t confirmed whether other documentation is acceptable.

“Our strong recommendation is that if you are in this position in the UK and are in the middle of the process of registering and perhaps have some documentation but haven’t yet got your TIE,  that you contact the airline and see whether they will accept the documentation you do have,” says Geddie.

“From the UK government’s perspective is that you should be able to use other documentation and we are in contact with Spain at a ministerial level so keep a look out for updates.”

How do I get a TIE?

The Spanish government have provided a detailed factsheet on how to do this, and what documentation is required. Download it HERE

Why is my application taking so long?

Lucy from Murcia said she has been waiting since September for her application to be processed and asks how long is the average waiting time?

Alicia Garate, from IOM which is helping UK nationals in Andalucia, Madrid, Murcia, Extremadura, Castilla Leon, Castilla La Mancha, Ceuta and Melilla answered:

“We are aware that there are delays and that Murcia has been a particularly challenging region in terms of residency, there is no average time because every case needs to be considered on an individual basis," said Garate.

"The important thing is to be patient and even if three months have passed make sure that your case is still “en tramite” which means “in progress”, therefore it is still being considered and an outcome is coming. So wait a little bit longer and you will get an answer, I’m sure.”

Can I start my application for Spanish residence from the UK?

Bronwyn explained that she moved to Valencia last September but returned to the UK for Christmas and has been unable to get back to Spain because of the current travel ban so it is impossible to attend an appointment.

Kirsten Garry of Babelia which covers Alicante, Valencia and Castellon said it all depends on what documentation you had in place prior to leaving Spain and advised those who were unsure to get in touch with one of the organisations that are helping UK nationals with residence issues.

I am worried I will exceed the 90-day permitted limit while awaiting residency

Fiona in the Canary Islands said she had submitted her application for residency in December, ahead of the Withdrawal Agreement deadline, but is worried that as the process can take a while, she might exceed the permitted 90 day period that Brits are allowed to stay in the EU without being residents.

Marc Garcia Palma from Age in Spain, an organisation which is providing assistance to Brits in Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands and North of Spain, said: “While you are on waiting period to receive resolution of your application you are allowed to stay in Spain even if you surpass 90 days allowed period that third country nationals have, so while you are waiting for the resolution you have nothing to worry about.”

How do I get residency when I can’t get an appointment?

Geddie responds: “We are aware that in some regions in particular it is very difficult to secure an appointment. As a first time applicant there are two ways to submit your documentation. In person by getting an appointment in the province where you live or you can do it online and if you are not able then you can ask a third party to do it on your behalf.

This requires a digital certificate and not all UK nationals living in Spain have one or are in a position to get one but if you haven’t got one but a lot of third parties such as lawyers or gestors or other organisations do have a digital certificate and therefore may be able to submit your application on line and that may be an option.

We have held green residency certificate but will move to a different region, what do we need to do?

Mary in the Canary Islands asked what she would have to do if she wanted to move from the Canary Islands to mainland Spain.

Garcia Palma replied: "Since you are already a legitimate resident you can move around Spain as you like you just need to make sure to book an appointment with police to inform them of change your address otherwise when it comes to swapping for a TIE you would need to provide an extra document, a copy of your padron certificate that has been issued within prior three months."

I am a resident in Spain and my wife wants to join me from the UK. Can she do that?

Alicia Garate from IOM says: “She is entitled to register as a resident in Spain because not only are UK nationals who lived here entitled under The Withdrawal Agreement but also their family members, whether they are UK nationals or come from third countries. If she already has green certificate she can exchange it for TIE but it is not compulsory. Otherwise she would have to apply.”

Geddie added: “If you are a UK national who is already living in Spain and covered by Withdrawal Agreement then one of the rights you have is family reunification and this refers to close family members, a spouse or durable partner as long as relationship existed any dependent children or grandchildren or dependent parents or grandparents. This does not cover family members like sisters or cousins.”

Why is my residency application taking so long?

Susan moved to Valencia in July 2020 applied on August 25th last year and still waiting for resolution. Both she and her lawyer have chasedit

Garry explained: “We know there is an issue in Valencia and the good news is that they have recently started to employ more resources into British nationals applying for residency in that area. We've been assured that means applications will begin to move a bit faster. We raise this issue a lot."  

"The important thing to remember is that you did get your application in before deadline, so be patient," she said.

Garcia Palma of Age in Spain spoke of the situation in Mallorca. Standard waiting time is up to three months but there is an issue happening in several regions, firstly because of Covid limitations means institutions are not working at full steam and secondly big influx of residency applications has made their job even harder. So the result is extended periods of waiting time.

If your application is still “en tramite” then you don’t need to worry about it but if there is a delay then do get in touch as we are in touch with local consulates and can look at your case more closely.

“Let us know as we are in contact with Spanish authorities and will give them a poke,” added Sarah-Jane Morris.

How long do I need to be in Spain before I can apply for residency?

Garcia Palma responded to a question from Anna in Ibiza about how long she had to live in Spain before applying for residency: "There is no minimum period that you need to have lived in Spain before you can apply for residency," he said. "If you were here before December 31st then you should start as soon as possible with as much proof as you have, inscription into school, flights as well as the usual documents you need to apply for residency."  

Can students still use the EHIC to register as a resident?

In response to this question, the embassy's Geddie said:  “This differs a little bit across member states in EU and whether they will allow students to use their European health insurance card to register as a resident. I’m afraid I don’t have a clear answer from Spain on this. We have asked the question but don’t have a categorical answer from Spain.

She explained further "Here’s what we do know, there are two options: Those students who moved before the end of the transition period who see themselves staying here and want to register as a resident in which case need to prove they have sufficient funds to support themselves and any family members and will also need to show enrolled in educational institution and show that you have comprehensive healthcare insurance. The question is whether that EHIC can be used for that comprehensive healthcare. I haven’t come across that."

"But even if you don’t go through that process if you moved here before end of transition period you have a right to remain here and complete your studies."

My application was rejected? Can I legally stay in Spain while appeal is being processed?

Garete from the IOM sought to reassure Karen in Burgos who was worried that she might break the 90 day rule after her application was rejected.  "You can live in Spain while your application is being process but also while you appeal the rejection of that application and while that appeal is being processed."

What about those who were living in Spain but haven’t started or completed the residency process?

Lorna Geddie said: "I have a word of reassurance about the Withdrawal Agreement and how it is being implemented here in Spain. Spain is introducing a certain type of residence system called a “declaratory residence system” which means your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement come from you legally living in Spain before the end of the Transition Period.. They don’t come from holding the document, the residence document is evidence of those rights but is not what gives you the rights.

So for all those people who are still worried that they haven’t yet got their document in place it doesn’t mean that you don’t therefore have rights under the withdrawal agreement. In some cases you might need to be patient and it may well be that you need to go through an appeal process if you don’t have the right documents.

Today I realised the NIE has an expiry date how do I renew it?

“There is a whole confusion between the NIE which is on a white paper and the old residency document on the green paper (which also has your NIE on it). If you live here but only have a white paper then you need to regularize your situation by applying for residency,” explains Kirsten Garry from Babelia.

If your NIE paper dates from before the end of 2020 that should mean you can show you were here before end of transition period and should be able to apply on the terms under the withdrawal period.

Sarah-Jane Morris adds: “If you have a green certificate with an expiry date that doesn’t matter because you just need to get down to the extranjeria and apply for a TIE.

Do you need to prove income or autonomo when switching from green residence certificate to TIE?

"No, if you are switching from green residence certificate to new TIE you don’t need to go through all the rigmarole of proving income, health entitlement etc as you have already done that. You just need to fill in the relevant forms with relevant documents which may include updated padron and take it to appointment at extranjeria".

How long do I have to apply for residency under the withdrawal agreement if I can prove I was living in Spain before the end of the transition period on December 31st? Is there a time limit on first time applications?

Geddie explained: “There is no official deadline for applying for residency for first time applicants if you can prve you were here before the end of the year. But our recommendation is to do it as soon as possible because having the document will make your life a whole lot easier, not least making it possible to travel in and out of Spain given the current Covid restrictions.

"So if you are living here in Spain and haven’t yet started do start that process as soon as possible."

She explained that "although Spain hasn’t set a deadline when they can do is impose a sanction if they feel that you haven’t taken steps to register their residency within three months of living here.

"That doesn’t mean you have to get it done by end of March or that you will fined but if you were to apply quite significantly later, they can’t refuse your application if you can prove you were here before end of the transition period but they would be within their rights to impose a sanction.

My TIE shows “temporal” rather than “permanente” even though I registered as a resident more than five years ago.

Jim said he moved to Spain in Aug 2015 and initial temporary green residency certificate were issued in Sept that year so we were resident for more than five years when we applied for our TIE in October 2020.

However when it was issued in Nov 2020 it showed temporal rather than Permanente.

His question was "Is this correct and what are the implications?"

According to Geddie this doesn’t sound right: “That doesn’t sound correct, if you have been legally residing in Spain for five years or more then you are entitled to permanent residence, so perhaps you were just on the cusp and perhaps an error was made there.

"That is something you can challenge with the National Police. We have discovered that when a mistake has been made with the cards you don’t necessarily have to make a new appointment and pay all the taxes again but you will need to go back to the police station to explain the error and ask for a new card."

But she advised that because of Covid you should phone ahead and see if you need an appointment before just turning up.


As for whether it makes a difference to have a “temporal” or “permanente” status Geddie said:  “In essence in terms of Withdrawal Agreement, it doesn’t. Your rights, whether you have temporary or permanent card are the same, you still have the right to reside here, etc. But having a permanent status  means you no longer have to prove income or healthcare requirements and there are certain benefits such as discounts on flights if you are resident on one of the islands.”

One of key differences is that a temporary resident is eligible to leave Spain up to six months in any 12 month period without it affecting your status while if you are a permanent resident the withdrawal agreement means you can be absent for up to five consecutive years without losing your rights to residency in Spain.

Can you get your TIE if you are self-employed?

“Yes,” says Garcia Palma from Age in Spain. “What immigration offices will look at is if you are self-sustainable as a residency applicant, when you have an employment contract this usually means that you have a contract with 40 hours per week, which means your salary will be minimum €900 a month.

“But you can apply as a self-employed which involves probably submitting invoices that state your income as well as bank statements of last three months because they will need some supporting documents on top of your affiliation with social security.”

“At the end of the day the immigration office wants to see a concrete amount of money, it depends on the region in Spain but it is around 5,600 euros as your balance in your account.”


How long can I stay outside Spain before I lose my residency right?

Vicky asked: “I have a TIE but am stuck in lockdown in UK and don’t want to travel at the moment, how long can I legally be out of Spain as resident?

Geddie answered: "If she was resident here for less than five years (therefore has temporal status) then absences of up to six months in a year don’t affect your status but in exceptional circumstances an absence of up to 12 months can be considered, such as illness, giving birth or an overseas posting. It’s not clear whether Covid will be considered an acceptable reason for absence.

"For more than five years and therefore permanent then you don’t have to worry about absences of up to five years."

She emphasized that the clock started ticking the date you left Spain rather than January 1st and advises those who are unclear about whether their circumstances would fall under the “exceptional” to contact the Spanish authorities such as Spain’s consulate in London for advice.

What about those people that have the wrong wording on their TIE?

We do know that some people have managed to get their card changed because an error was made in a batch of cards sent out in September last year. If that is the case that you discover yours has an error then go back to your police station point out the error and they should issue a new card at no extra cost.

There is no urgency to get it changed as although wording is wrong, the card remains valid.

There have been reports that people were unable to get it changed and we are aware of this and working with Spanish authorities on it so let us know.

Trouble getting an appointment?

Jill in Alicante complained that she can’t get an appointment to provide finger prints to finish her residency application and has been waiting for months

Garry responds that “Lots and lots of people are in this situation, which won’t make you feel any better but unfortunately it’s a fact that appointments in some places are very very hard to get.” But she insists: “The important thing to remember is that your rights are protected under the withdrawal agreement. Your residency application was successful so that’s the main thing.

“The only way to get those appointments is online and although there are people who go on every day several times a day and can’t get one, we have raised the issue. They are releasing appointments so you just have to keep trying. It’s about being patient.”


What does legally living in Spain really mean?

Shirley asks: “I’m registered on the padron, does this count?”

Geddie says: “For the purposes of the Withdrawal Agreement, being on the padron only is not sufficient.

You need to be registered with the central authorities as a resident in Spain so you need to take steps to get your TIE.”

When we talk about being legally resident we mean living physically in Spain and fulfilling conditions of residency according to EU rules. You need to be considered as a worker, student or self-sufficient. And if you can prove that then you should apply for TIE.

My residency has been approved but I am stuck in the UK and can’t attend an appointment to supply fingerprint how long I have to do so?

Geddie explains: “Your approval, known as a resolucion, will come with a validity date and Spanish authorities have said that as long as you are within that validity date and not within the last 30 days of that date then you can go along and get your fingerprints and get your TIE card. They say that you should do it within one month of getting the resolucion but as we know that hasn’t been possible, not least because of lack of appointments let alone for those stuck in the UK”.

She advises people to take screen shots of attempts to get appointments to prove the difficulty if challenged.

More information:



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Anonymous 2021/02/24 12:10
I came to Spain last Jan 2020 intending to stay for 6 months going home for two months then returning for a further 6 months. I rented my house out for a period of one year, due to the virus I had to extend this for 4 months, due to the virus and travel restrictions I have stayed in Spain since last January. I have a motorhome and with no address in the UK and no campsite open until mid April. can I extend my stay in Spain until mid April, which will take me over the 90 rules which started 1st January 2021.

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