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Reader question: Can I be a resident in Spain and the UK?

Several readers have contacted us to ask if they can apply to be residents in both the UK and Spain in order to be able to stay in Spain longer than 90 days in 180 and to avoid paying more taxes in one or the other. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: Can I be a resident in Spain and the UK?
A terrace bar in the Costal del Sol town of Benalmadena before the pandemic. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

Before December 31st 2020, many Brits decided to split their time between Spain and the UK and didn’t always register for residency in Spain even if they stayed for long periods, coming and going as they pleased. Brexit has changed all this, however. 

Can you be a resident in both Spain and the UK?

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to be resident in both the UK and Spain and it never has been. Even before Brexit, you still had to choose which country you were resident in. Pre-Brexit, technically you were supposed to register as a resident after three months in the country, however as the UK was still part of the EU, the amount of time spent in Spain wasn’t monitored. This meant that you were able to spend longer periods in Spain and still remain a resident of the UK. 

If you register for residency in Spain, then you are liable to pay tax in Spain and will lose certain rights back in the UK such as access to the NHS and residency status. Therefore it’s not possible to be a resident in both countries. 

Up until December 31st 2020, UK citizens could enjoy the EU’s freedom of movement act, which gave them greater flexibility and allowed them to easily move between Spain and the UK, even though they were only officially resident in one.

Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to do this.

Registering for residency in Spain

Brits who were living in Spain before December 31st 2020 and wish to continue living here, must apply for the biometric residence card called the Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE) if they are applying for residency for the first time. Those who previously held a green residency card, are encouraged by the British Embassy in Spain to exchange it for a TIE. Find out here how to exchange it. 

READ ALSO: Why UK and Spain now strongly recommend exchanging green residency document for TIE

The UK government living in Spain guide states that “If you were legally resident in Spain before January 1st 2021, your rights will be protected by the Withdrawal Agreement and you should check that you are correctly registered as a resident”. 

Spanish government website expands on this by stating: “Those UK citizens that arrive from January 1st 2021, and that are not included in the scope of application of the Withdrawal Agreement will fall under the general immigration regime, since the agreement reached between the UK and the EU does not include the free movement of people”.

If I register for residency in Spain, does that mean I am also a tax resident there? 

Remember that residency in terms of immigration is not necessarily the same as being a tax resident. Residency has to be applied for, while tax residency can be automatic when certain conditions are met.

According to the Agencia Tributaria Spanish tax authorities, an individual is a tax resident in Spain when any one of the following circumstances apply:

  • “They have stayed longer than 183 days in Spanish territory over the calendar year. In order to determine the permanence in the Spanish territory, occasional absences are included, except if the taxpayer accredits their residency in another country. In the case of countries or territories labelled as tax havens, the Tax Administration can demand proof of stay in that tax haven over a period of 183 days within the calendar year.
  • They have their main base or centre of their activities or economic activities, directly or indirectly, in Spain.
  • They have a dependent not legally separated spouse and/or underage children who are usually residents in Spain. This latter situation accepts evidence to the contrary.”

How long can I stay in Spain if I’m not a resident?

Brits who live in the UK and want to spend time in Spain or own a holiday home here, now need to limit their stays to 90 days in every 180 days. This is because of the EU’s 90-day rule, which allows non-EU citizens to only spend 90-days out of every 180 in an EU or Schengen zone country, without the need for a visa. If you want to spend longer than this you will have to apply for a visa.

Applying for a Spanish residency visa in 2021 and beyond

If you’re a British citizen who is not already a resident in Spain, but wants to be, you will be treated the same as third-country nationals, such as those from the US or Australia, and will need to apply for a visa.

According to Balcells Group legal firm in Spain, there are certain visas that make the process much faster, for example:

  • Non-lucrative residence, which only requires the possession of sufficient economic means and private health insurance. Find out more about the non-lucrative visa here and how much money you need for it. 
  • The investor’s visa, if you intend to make an investment in real estate to obtain residency.
    Find out all about Spain’s golden visa residency scheme here
  • The student visa, which will allow you to change it afterwards to a temporary work permit.

READ ALSO:

Q&A: What Brits in Spain need to know about tax and residence after Brexit

Member comments

  1. If you are a S1 holder and have an NIE I understand that you are still able to use the NHS when in the UK.
    I and my wife and dependent child applied for a UK EHIC card as advised by the UK government after Brexit. We received the cards in Spain in early January and they are valid for five years. They provide cover in the EU.
    I also understand that the cost of any non-private treatment in Spain (and I assume elsewhere in the EU) is charged back to the NHS.
    Am I right?
    David Walsh
    Asturias

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BREXIT

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?

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