BREXIT: Valencia region pushes to give Brits more than 90 days in Spain

Valencian authorities are actively campaigning for UK nationals to not have their time on Spain’s Costa Blanca limited or determined by the Schengen rules that now apply to them, with the regional president calling for “Brexit to be as Brexit-less as possible”. 

BREXIT: Valencia region pushes to give Brits more than 90 days in Spain
British residents and tourists bask in the sun on the beach in Benidorm. Valencian authorities are now fighting for them to be able to stay as long as they want in the Spanish region. Photo: José Jordan/AFP

The adverse consequences of Brexit on freedom of movement are having a knock-on effect on one of the Valencian economy’s driving forces: UK nationals who spend extended periods of time in Spain.

Authorities in the region that’s popular with British tourists and residents alike recorded a “notable decrease” in visitor numbers in 2020 compared to 2019, dropping from 3 million down to 600,000. 

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic and international travel restrictions have clearly had an impact on this slump in numbers, for Valencia’s regional president Ximo Puig “recovering the British market is a priority for the Valencian Community”, and that means resolving the limitations that Schengen rules impose on UK nationals who don’t hold a Spanish or EU residency document following Brexit.

On November 1st, Puig told journalists at the World Travel Market in London that he had urged Spain’s Tourism Ministry to help make it easier for British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the region without having to apply for a visa. 

This would encompass “British residents in the Valencian region, future home buyers and people who come to visit their families”, which according to regional authorities represents about 100,000 people.

The aim is to avoid the bureaucracy that this extension entails and the difficulties that it poses for British people who want to remain in the region for longer. As the Valencian leader put it, they want to make “Brexit as Brexit-less as possible”.

Puig’s call for the Spanish government to “facilitate the visa situation” and “correct the restrictions” that have come about with Brexit has reportedly already been heard by Industry, Tourism and Commerce Minister Reyes Maroto, who has informed him of the creation of a “mobility” task force made up of Spanish and British embassy teams to work on a joint solution.

Valencian president Ximo Puig wants to remove visa complications and freedom of movement restrictions for UK nationals in the region. Photo: JOSE JORDAN/AFP
Valencian president Ximo Puig wants to remove visa complications and mobility restrictions for UK nationals in the region. Photo: JOSE JORDAN/AFP

Since the start of 2021, Britons who are not in possession of a residency document from Spain or another EU/EEA country can only stay 90 days in any 180-day period within the Schengen Area, including in Spain.

The date of entry is considered as the first day of stay in the Schengen territory and the date of exit is considered as the last day of stay in the Schengen territory. It is possible to leave and re-enter the Schengen Area over that six-month period.

“The 180-day reference period is not fixed,” as the EU explains, “it is a moving window, based on the approach of looking backwards”.

READ ALSO: How Brits can properly plan their 90 out of 180 days in Spain and Schengen Area

Logically, the Schengen calculation system is confusing many Britons who never had to deal with it before, as well as giving them less flexibility and time in Spain. 

2020 estimates based on Spanish government data suggest the number of Britons who own property in Spain is anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million.

Many of these are part of the 380,000 full-year British residents in Spain whose rights are protected under the Withdrawal Agreement, but there are potentially hundreds of thousands more who don’t hold a Spanish residency document for legitimate reasons as they don’t spend more than 183 days a year in Spain and therefore aren’t fiscal residents.

These include Britons who own homes in Spain, who rent out a property, who visit for part of the year to spend time with family and friends, who avoid the cold winter months in the UK, and other types of part-year residents. Some should have registered as residents already, plenty of others were and are within their rights to be tax residents in the UK or elsewhere while spending part of the year in Spain. 

READ ALSO: Can second-home owners get a residence permit in Spain?

Britons who fall into this grey area of residency play a crucial economic role in many communities in Spain, especially in Alicante province where the Costa Blanca is located.

It’s therefore no surprise that Carlos Mazón, president of Alicante’s Provincial Council and Tourism Board, met in London with the Spanish Ambassador to the United Kingdom José Pascual Marco on Tuesday to address the situation of British residents in the province after Brexit.

“British residents in Alicante province are a source of wealth for us and one of our best ambassadors for the arrival of British tourism to the Costa Blanca,” Mazón told journalists after the meeting.

“They are fundamental and we are working on reciprocity so that they can also be in our territory for six months in a row when they come to visit us, as these are the conditions that apply for people from Alicante and Spain when they visit the United Kingdom.”

“We’ve launched a common action plan with which to put pressure, work with and achieve this goal, with a view to raising the matter with the British Government.”

Asked how he felt the meeting had gone, Mazón said “it has been very satisfactory and the ambassador is perfectly aware of one of the priorities of Spain’s most British province, with more than 70,000 British residents.”

“This is an urgent need for the tourist and economic interests of Alicante province,” he concluded.


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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?