Why the padrón could cause problems for UK second-home owners in Spain post-Brexit

The case of a Briton in Spain who had his UK-plated car impounded and was fined €2,000 for being on the padrón causes doubts over whether non-residents and second-home owners should be encouraged to register at their town hall. Brexpats in Spain head Anne Hernández explores another unforeseen Brexit problem. 

Why the padrón could cause problems for UK second-home owners in Spain post-Brexit
Police officers patrol the border between Spain and Gibraltar at La Línea de la Concepción. The British man in question had his car impounded at the border between both territories by Spanish police. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

Until recently I thought I knew what being on the padrón meant.

I don’t want to teach any of your grandmothers how to suck eggs, as the saying goes, but for those of you who are still unsure – what exactly is the padrón?

The definition of padrón isn’t clear

The padrón is not something that exists in the UK and many Brits think it is equivalent to the electoral register (Censo Electoral) which it isn’t; that is a separate registration although to be entitled to vote, you must be on the padrón as well. 

The padrón is described by many local councils as a list of inhabitants and for every person registered on it, they receive funding from central government to spend on their infrastructure, parks and gardens, emergency services, policing, medical centres, education etc.

So it should be a win-win situation because for property owners, at the time of selling, it will mean that their property is located in a more attractive area and can be sold for more money than a property in a poorer, neglected area. 

Now, to call it a list of inhabitants is probably where the confusion lies. 

The dictionary definition of an inhabitant is ‘one that occupies a particular place regularly, routinely, or for a period of time’. 

That, in itself, clearly describes the ‘swallows’, those second-home owners here who are restricted to the 90 days in any 180 days Schengen rule. 

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

Some councils interpret the padrón to mean exactly that but others will interpret this as a list of residents and that is quite different. 

Even the legal dictionary definition is not clear as to what a resident is ‘a person who lives in a particular place.’ 

And it goes on to say ‘however, the term is vague depending on the permanence of the occupation; a person coming into a place with intention to establish his domicile or permanent residence, and who in  consequence actually remains there though it be abandoned in a longer, or shorter period.’ As clear as mud then!

READ ALSO: 16 things you should know about Spain’s padrón registration

The problem with the padrón confusion

The true meaning and consequences of being on the padrón have caused me to look further into it given a recent situation that has been brought to my attention. 

A British doctor who has a second home here but does not live here permanently registered on the padrón at the time of buying his property together with his wife, who does live here and has her residencia

He caught the ferry over and drove here at the end of January in his UK-plated car that is registered in his name. 

They decided to take a day trip to Gibraltar and, upon leaving, were pulled over by the Spanish authorities, who, after checking his passport, came back to him three hours later and said the car was going to be impounded at La Línea because he is on the padrón. 

He argued that he is not a resident and showed his outbound and return ferry tickets as proof of his time to be spent in Spain which is well within his permitted 90 days.

Regardless, the car was impounded and he was told to return the next day, Friday, at 2pm to retrieve the vehicle. 

Seeing as the only reason given to him was because he was on the padrón, the next morning he went to his local council and de-registered from the padrón.

He was worried that he might also be stopped on the 100-km drive back after collecting his vehicle.

Vehicles queue at La Línea de la Concepción at the border between Spain and Gibraltar. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

After a stressful three-hour journey by public transport, the next day he checked in at 2pm hoping to collect his car but no, they said they hadn’t time to deal with him and for him to return on Monday. 

On Monday he repeated the journey only to be told that they hadn’t had time to process the fine of which, until then, he knew nothing. 

The fine was for €2,000 plus the cost of daily storage at the pound because, according to them, by being on the padrón he was considered a resident and therefore not able to own a non-Spanish plated vehicle.

Some councils give discounts (IBI, admission to attractions, domestic travel, over 65s socials etc) to those on the padrón and we know that in order to do certain things in Spain you need a padrón (getting married, registering a child in school, registering a Spanish-plated vehicle, applying for residencia etc)

Most councils understandably encourage us to go on the padrón and, given the benefits to us, without question, we have been happy to oblige.

However, it would seem that we then become quasi-residents and should comply with the legal obligations as a resident. 

So, back to the previous example of the unfortunate British non-resident doctor and this is where it becomes a rather grey area.

It is illegal for a resident here to possess, for example, a UK-plated vehicle for more than 30 days from when they become a resident before re-registering the vehicle onto Spanish plates.

However, a non-resident is able to purchase and register a Spanish-plated vehicle but only if on the padrón. 

Incidentally, a foreign-plated car owned by a non-EU non-resident can be kept in Spain provided that it is only used for up to six months in a calendar year and that it remains road-legal in its country of registration with a valid MOT (ITV in Spain)

But it must be ‘sealed’ (precintado) by customs during periods of absence from Spain.

Until the Brexit transition period ended in January 2021, when the owner of a UK-registered car could demonstrate via a ferry or tunnel ticket that the vehicle arrived in Spain during 2020, no duties or IVA would be levied.

This also applied if the owner gained residency within the last 12 months or was in the process of doing so. 

Anyone wishing to import a vehicle into Spain must be a permanent resident, own property in Spain or have a rental agreement for a minimum period of one year and hold a Spanish driving licence.

Conclusions and lingering questions

Since the padrón certificate is needed to attach to an application for a residencia, are we allowed to drive our UK-plated vehicle until such a time as we get our residencia (in some areas it’s taking anything up to 12 months)?

Or does ‘from when becoming a resident’ refer to the date we registered on the padrón?

Is Spain therefore encouraging us to break the law? 

And, if by just being on the padrón we are deemed to need to follow the obligations of a resident, why are we having to go down the route of applying for residencias and expensive visas etc? 

Why are some residency applications being refused if they are not accompanied by a current and sometimes even historic padrón if until the time of becoming a resident we are not supposed to even register on the padrón?

I am still trying to get clarification on this and I hope to be able to update you all soon.

But as a cautionary word of warning, check out what your obligations might be before registering on the padrón if you are not yet a full-time resident here.

Or if you are a second home owner registered on the padrón check your rights before bringing your UK-plated vehicle into Spain.


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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?