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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INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

A group of lawyers is campaigning for a new visa which would allow non-resident British second-homeowners in Spain to freely enjoy their properties post-Brexit without having to show the high level of savings currently required.

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

As most Britons are now fully aware of, since Brexit came into force, UK nationals who aren’t EU residents can only spend 90 days out of 180 days in Spain and the Schengen Area.

This has proven very problematic for Britons who own a second home in Spain who, when purchasing their Spanish properties, were under the impression they would always be able to split their time freely and flexibly between the UK and Spain without having to become Spanish residents (as long as they respected Spain’s residency and fiscal rules).

It used to be an ideal situation for these ‘part-year dwellers’, the best of both worlds some may argue, but the UK’s exit from the EU has complicated things enormously for them. 

Estimates based on Spanish government data suggest that in 2020 the number of Britons who owned property in Spain was anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million.

There are now 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022, and although there is no exact data on the number of Britons who own or rent property long-term in Spain without being residents, it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands. 

READ ALSO: Is it true Britons are leaving Spain ‘in droves’ after Brexit as UK tabloids claims?

They are undoubtedly of great economic importance to some parts of Spain, as evidenced by the Valencian government’s announcement last November that they would push the national Tourism Ministry to make it easier for non-resident British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the region without having to apply for a visa.

There hasn’t been a public update on this front since, but Spanish law firm Costaluz Lawyers has recently put the issue back on the table, proposing a new type of visa for British second-home owners. 

The Local Spain spoke to María Luisa Castro, the lawyer who’s been leading the campaign, to learn more about it.

“We propose a new visa that caters to British property buyers who want to live in Spain but don’t have the necessary funds for the current visa options,” Castro explained. 

“We’d like to make it very simple with just two main requirements. Firstly, applicants would have to show that they have owned a property in Spain for at least three years and secondly that they have proof of an income of at least €1,130 a month, roughly half the funds required for the non-lucrative visa”.

Castro also stressed that as part of this potential visa, applicants should have to fulfil conditions for health insurance and have a clean criminal record, a standard practice for most Spanish residence visas.

“But the main condition would be property ownership and sufficient funds,” Castro emphasized.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

The campaign calls on British second homeowners to sign a petition to get the Spanish government to listen to the proposal and meet demands.

“We need 500,000 signatures in order for the issue to be discussed by the Spanish government, but we are also gathering signatures to give these people a voice and create awareness. We hope to be able to lobby both the UK and the Spanish governments to start bilateral negotiations” she explained.

Castro believes that there is definitely a need for this type of visa, especially for Britons, who now have to deal with stricter rules and have fewer options since they became non-EU nationals after Brexit.

“There are thousands of British property owners in Spain who bought their properties many years ago as second homes, but also as a place for future retirement or for health reasons,” she said.  

Crucially, even though the petition states non-EU citizens, Castro believes that it should really only be made available to Britons.

“It is not simply the fact that they are homeowners that means they should be considered for a new type of visa, but the fact that they had full-time ownership rights in the past, which makes the current restriction a loss of acquired rights”.  

In other words, Castro argues that those from other non-EU countries bought properties in Spain knowing that they could only stay 90 days out of every 180, but those from the UK bought them on the basis that they would have greater flexibility in this regard.  

“We hope that a visa which requires proof of finances, plus the evidence of being a homeowner with a retirement plan in Spain will be sufficient,” she said.

Another lawyer, Fernando del Canto, from Del Canto Chambers law firm, has previously argued that ownership plus health and retirement associated rights are being infringed upon by the Schengen limitations as per the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC). “A bilateral or reciprocal agreement between the UK and Spain on this particular matter is needed,” he said. 

The EHRC states that “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. No one shall be deprived of their possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”.

Judging by the above, it is open to interpretation as to whether it means that Britons’ rights are being infringed upon or not.

Nonetheless, Castro believes that the 90-day rule has had a huge negative impact on British non-resident homeowners and on Spain itself.

“We are frequently contacted by clients desperate to keep staying here for longer periods, as part of an acquired lifestyle and for health reasons. Now they need to explore the possibilities of the non-lucrative visa, which on many occasions, they cannot afford”. 

She believes there is a risk that Britons could stop buying in Spain, “particularly those who bought a property for retirement”, and that many of her British clients have already felt forced to sell their Spanish properties because of Brexit limitations.

READ ALSO: What worries British second home owners in Spain most about Brexit

Britons have historically accounted for the largest group of foreign property buyers in Spain. In 2018, they represented 24.3 percent of the market share. The figure dropped to 20 percent in 2019 and by late 2021 Germans had surpassed Britons as the main foreign buyers in Spain.

This however may have had more to do with Spain’s coronavirus restrictions for non-EU travellers and the UK’s own complex traffic-light system than only as a consequence of Brexit, as in early 2022 UK nationals were back at the top of the property podium again.

So despite the new setbacks, it appears that Spain is still an attractive location for budding British second-home owners, but perhaps more so now for those who can afford the golden visa or non-lucrative visa. 

But how likely is it that such legislation will be approved?

READ ALSO: Can Spain legally offer more than 90 days to Britons?

Castro firmly believes that the Spanish government will listen to foreign homeowners’ demands. “If we get a good number of signatures and the UK government is also lobbied, it will create awareness. Retired people are an increasing source of economic strength for our country.

“Currently, only those buying properties over €500,000 can apply for residency based on property purchase (through the golden visa). Other EU countries have lower financial thresholds”, she explained.

READ ALSO: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Castro encourages second homeowners to do whatever they can to help this visa proposal become a reality, as well as signing the petition.

She advises them to make their voices heard through blog posts, newspaper articles and writing to local politicians.