In the aftermath of Brexit, it was widely reported in the British tabloids that there would be a mass exodus of Britons from Spain.
Tens of thousands would sell their properties and leave, Brits were told. British pubs and snooker bars up and down the country would be forced to close down for lack of business, it was thought. A combination of Brexit red tape and notoriously difficult Spanish bureaucracy would, the story went, force Britons from the Costa Brava to the Costa Blanca out in droves.
But the reality hasn’t been that simple. In fact, according to recent data of foreign residents in Spain from the Spanish Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Immigration, the number of Britons resident in Spain increased by 7 percent in 2021 compared to 2020.
How many Britons reside in Spain in 2022?
By December 31st 2021, there were 407,628 UK nationals officially living in Spain. In the previous year’s report, the number was 381,448 Britons, and in 2019 the figure stood at 359,471.
This comes as part of a broader trend in Spain’s population. The number of foreign residents in Spain stands, officially, at a whopping 6 million, a figure which represents an increase of 3.6 percent (equivalent to 207,093 people) in the last year alone.
The latest data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) states that there were 282,124 Brits registered in Spain in 2021, more than 100,000 fewer than the Migration Ministry’s figures. This may be explained by the fact that INE primarily uses local census information from the town halls (padrón address registrations, birth, deaths etc) rather than migration documents. Either way, INE’s number of Brits in Spain by the end of 2021 is also 30,000 higher than the previous year (250,392).
The Local has analysed other data included in the ministry report relating to UK nationals in Spain to see what other conclusions can be drawn.
British growth leading the way
Of the new arrivals, Colombian nationals are the group that has grown the most, followed by Venezuelans, British and Italians. While a British exodus was expected, the group leaving Spain at the highest rate is Ecuadorians.
Even as a third-party, non-EU country, the number of Britons resident in Spain – for many of whom their residency is secured by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – have experienced a rate of growth on par with the Italians compared to 2020, up by 7 percent compared to 2020.
Britons in Spain are older than most
The average age of the resident foreign population is almost 40 years old and there is, generally speaking, slightly more men than women. The sociological profile of British residents in Spain may be unsurprising to many. The average age is 54 years old, considerably higher than other non-Europeans migrant groups, like Pakistanis and Moroccans (both with median ages of 33 years).
Around half have swapped their residency cards for TIEs
The figures show that of the Britons living in Spain prior to December 31st 2020 (and thus protected by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement), most still have the old green residency document, but not by a large margin.
According to the data, 44 percent of Britons resident in Spain have made the swap and now have TIE cards (approximately 179,000), while 55 percent (226,000) are still using their old green residency documents.
The UK Embassy in Madrid as well as Spanish authorities have for more than a year now strongly encouraged UK nationals protected by the WA to exchange their paper or cardboard Certificado de Registro documents for non-EU TIEs (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero). There is however no deadline for the exchange and the old residency papers remain valid.
Authorities praise the fact that TIEs are more durable, work as photo ID, are biometric and ensure easy travel across the EU, as in some cases border officials haven’t recognised the green certificates. By contrast, some green certificate holders prefer their original documents as they have no expiry date and don’t have to be renewed as in the case of TIEs.
Interestingly, the migration stats show that 2,467 Britons who haven’t been able to get WA protection either because they arrived in Spain after Brexit, or because they didn’t register previously and haven’t been able to prove they were living in the country before December 31st 2020. For this group, non-EU rules apply and access to Spanish residency can depend on work, marriage or financial means.
British residents cluster together
Spanish Migration Ministry figures show that they vast majority of Britons resident in Spain with the new TIE card protected by the Withdrawal Agreement live in the provinces of Alicante, Málaga, the Balearic Islands, Barcelona, Murcia, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Almería, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Madrid, Cádiz and Granada – classic British hotspots in major cities and coastal areas.
The Ministry has perhaps not factored in those with old green residency certificates as they are less likely to have updated their address details recently, as is required from TIE applicants.
Britons still rank high among both EU or non-EU countries
With the number of Britons resident in Spain increasing despite Brexit, Britain sits third in the league table of total of foreign residents overall: First are the Romanians, with 1.09 million residents, then Moroccans (830,000) and Brits in third with 407,000 nationals resident in Spain, followed by the Italians (377,000), Chinese (230,000), Bulgarians (202,000), French (185,000) and Germans (185,000).
The increase in Britons resident in Spain comes despite both Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic
Not only is the rise in Britons settling in Spain surprising when considered in the context of Brexit, but the increase has also bucked the trend and continued to grow despite the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to figures, the number of Brits who are holders of Spanish residency permits has jumped dramatically not only compared to 2020, but also 2019: from 286,753 recorded in 2019 to 300,640 in 2020 and 313,975 in 2020 – a 9.5 percent increase.