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Residency in Spain for UK nationals: Can a lawyer fix application problems and speed up the process?

Several of our British readers have contacted us to say they're having problems getting their residency in Spain, and questioning why there are so many delays. We’ve spoken to several lawyers to find out what most the common residency issues are, how to correct them and why getting legal help might speed up the process.

How lawyers can help with residency issues in Spain

Gerard Martínez from Balcells Group in Barcelona explained to The Local that the vast majority of residency problems they are seeing now involve foreigners not knowing the best path to residency and not being sure about what their options are.

Most British people who weren’t able to settle in Spain before December 31st 2020 are unaware of how they can legally gain residency in Spain now, he told us.

Mark McMillan from Sun Lawyers in Alicante on the other hand said that most of his clients were those still trying to apply for their TIE residency cards. “If a British citizen obtained their padrón certificate before the end of 2020, the door is still open for them to submit a residency application under the Withdrawal Agreement,” he told The Local Spain.

“But problems arise when people do not provide enough evidence of legally residing in Spain before the end of 2020,” he explained. McMillan added that the padrón certificate is the most widely accepted form of evidence.

READ ALSO: Empadronamiento in Spain: What is it and how do I apply?

But what about those who did not get their padrón certificates for whatever reason before the December 2020 deadline?

Diego Echavarria from Fairway Lawyers in Marbella told The Local that the majority of their time is currently taken up with applying for appeals for those people who have had their residency applications rejected, specifically for not providing enough or the right kind of evidence. 

“The most common rejection reason I see is because people did not have medical health insurance in Spain issued before 2021,” he explained.

“Or maybe they were asked to send extra documentation as proof that they were living here before 2021 and they didn’t,” he said.

Echavarria went on to explain that many British people were trying to apply for residency whilst they were still in the UK and were not actually legally living in Spain at the time, so are therefore not covered under the Withdrawal Agreement.

“Many of these people don’t qualify and get rejected,” he told us.

READ ALSO: How much money do Britons who don’t fall under the Withdrawal Agreement need to move to Spain?

“Documents such as rental contracts do not work as evidence because of cases such as these. You must prove that you were physically in Spain by providing evidence such as transport tickets, mobile phone contracts, credit card receipts from petrol stations, and receipts from supermarkets and restaurants,” he explains.


“The first thing I do when I get a new client who is having issues with gaining residency under the Withdrawal Agreement, is ask them to provide me with their bank statements over the last six months, so we can get all this paperwork together”.

READ ALSO: Brexit Q&A: What happens if I didn’t register as a resident in Spain by December 31st?

Why are the residency applications taking so long to be processed?

“There are several reasons, but basically all are related to Covid,” explains Martínez.

“First of all, during the first months of lockdown in Spain, the Spanish administration had trouble reorganising itself and figuring out how to manage all the procedures that were carried out in person before. That generated the severe delays that we are still seeing now,” he tells us. 

“Furthermore, due to all existing restrictions, it is harder to get an appointment to get your residency card, hence the whole application process lasts longer”. 

As well as the pandemic – public servants falling ill or having to work from home – Echavarria believes that many of the delays were caused by the fact that everyone was trying to apply or exchange their residency cards at the last minute, all at the same time, and that authorities didn’t have the resources to keep up with the demand, creating a huge backlog in applications.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: What Britons need to know about visas for Spain

So how long are residency applications actually taking to be processed right now and what can you expect?

Martínez from Balcells Group says that on average, residency applications for his clients are taking between three to six months to be processed from start to finish.

Echavarría from Fairway Lawyers agrees, saying that his clients average around four to five months to get their residency cards. “It takes around two months to be approved, then you have to wait and arrange your appointment for fingerprinting, followed by waiting for another appointment to pick up your card when it’s ready,” he said.

Can getting legal help sort out these issues and speed up the residency process at all?

“Yes, we have a tried and tested system to be able to assist our clients to obtain their TIE cards,” says McMillan. “Our law firm has extensive knowledge to assist residency applications and we speak multiple languages, allowing for the process to go more smoothly,” he adds.

“At our office, we try to devote as much time as needed for the client to fully understand all the options they have, and then, after analysing their situation, we devise the best possible alternative to help,” explains Martínez.

“Yes it definitely speeds things up, not only because foreigners save a lot of time when it comes to knowing what documents to prepare and actually preparing them, but also because we submit all applications online through a platform enabled by the Spanish government, which is just for lawyers,” he adds. “We also know how to get appointments faster, even during these times”.

Echavarria tells us that hiring a lawyer can definitely help because they know all the correct paperwork to provide with each application and exactly what evidence to gather, from lots of experience. “Getting a lawyer can also help avoid rejections and having to go through an appeal,” he explains. “But most lawyers cannot help speed up the actual process once the application has been submitted,” he warns, saying that it will still take four to five months to get the residency card in your hand.


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Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?