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BREXIT

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.

second homes non resident visa spain british
The Local Spain spoke to María Luisa Castro, the lawyer who's been leading the campaign for British non-resident property owners in Spain to have access to a visa with easier conditions to meet. Source Costaluz Lawyers

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 emphasised.

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.

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For members

MOVING TO SPAIN

Six hard facts Americans should be aware of before moving to Spain 

There are 40,000 US nationals living in Spain but the road to residency and integration isn’t always straightforward for them. Here are six practical points Americans should factor in before embarking on a move to 'España', from work, to tax and healthcare.

Six hard facts Americans should be aware of before moving to Spain 

If you’re a US national who is considering making a move to Spain, you’ve no doubt already been captivated by all the country has to offer: the food, the people, the rhythm of life, the culture, the wine (of course), the scenery, the festivals, and so on. 

There’s a long list of quality-of-life positives that come with a move to Spain which could indeed make you happier than you are in the US. 

But before you start considering a permanent or long-term move to the country of your dreams, you should first think of the practicalities and potential downsides of such a big life change. 

MAP: Where in Spain do all the Americans live?

Above all is the fact that despite the United States’s reputation as a world leader in many regards, for the Spanish government you’re a third-country national with the same rights (or lack thereof) as any other non-EU national, from a Chinese person, to an Australian or an Indian citizen.

This is the crux of the matter, and a factor which will influence most of the important points to be aware of that we will now list.

Finding work or building a career isn’t easy

You’ll no doubt already know that Spain is renowned for its high unemployment rate, unstable work market and relatively low wages, but as a non-EU national there is an added set of obstacles to consider.

Firstly, applying for residency through a contract job is near impossible. Spanish employers would have to first demonstrate that they have been unable to find a suitable EU candidate for the position before being able to sponsor/hire you. 

Alternatively, you’d have to have the skills and experience which are included in Spain’s shortage occupation list, but this is made up almost entirely of jobs in the maritime and shipping industry.

It is true that Spain is set to make it easier to recruit non-EU foreigners to cover some of its most pressing labour shortages, but these are mainly in the tourism, hospitality and agricultural sectors.

Then there’s the nightmare non-EU foreigners in regulated professions are currently enduring – think doctors, dentists, engineers, lawyers and so on – as the validation of their qualifications (known as homologación) is a pricy and convoluted process which takes at least three years. Others who need to have their qualifications verified for non-regulated professions (known as equivalencia) will have to wait two years on average.

With that in mind, setting up your own business might be one of the best bets to make a living for yourself and gain Spanish residency. This self-employed work visa is also a bit arduous as you’ll need proof of financial means and a business plan among other requirements, but on the whole it’s probably one of the most feasible residency options.

The Spanish government did announce an upcoming Startups Law and digital nomad visa in 2021, legislation which could indeed make it easier for Americans to remote work from Spain, but it isn’t clear yet when this will be approved.

A final option is that of becoming an English-language assistant at a Spanish school. It’s an easy way to get into Spain, it offers decent pay for the few hours you’re required to work and it can be a stepping stone to other work goals from within Spain.  

You need a lot of money to ‘buy’ Spanish residency

If you’re retired or don’t plan to work in Spain, then you’ll need to show you have the financial means to cover your costs. 

This can best be done through Spain’s non-lucrative visa or the so-called golden visa. 

As the name suggests, the non-lucrative visa (NLV) is a residency permit which doesn’t allow you to work in Spain or technically carry out professional activities you have abroad from Spain.

A US national wanting to apply for the NLV for the first time in 2022 will need to prove they have €27,792 ($31,390) for one year, an amount which rises if you include other family members. You’ll have to show proof of financial means when you renew the NLV again.

You can find more in-detail information on the NLV’s financial requirements as well as a breakdown of the pros and cons in the articles linked directly below:

As for the other main option for those who won’t work in Spain – the golden visa – the main options are buying a property (or more) worth €500,000+ (the option most applicants choose) or investing €1 million in a Spanish company or having €1 million in a Spanish bank account.

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

So all in all, applying for Spanish residency as a US citizen who can’t or doesn’t want to work in Spain involves having a lot of money saved up.

Public healthcare is the standard in Spain, but access to it as an American is subject to conditions

As you hail from a country where healthcare is notoriously not available to all, you may have assumed that here in Spain, where the approach is starkly different, anyone can walk into a public hospital and receive treatment. 

And there would be nothing wrong in thinking that initially, but the truth is that access to Spain’s sanidad pública is based on social security contributions, which are paid through your taxes as a contract employee or self-employed worker.

What this means is that if you’re a US national residing in Spain you won’t automatically get access to Spain’s public healthcare system. 

In fact, if you’re applying for the NLV or golden visa, you will have to take out comprehensive private health insurance for your application to be accepted, something which can be difficult and costly if you have pre-existing conditions.

You should also keep in mind that there’s a scheme called the “convenio especial” (special agreement) which allows foreigners who have been registered as residents in Spain for a year to pay a monthly sum into the country’s public health system to have access to it.

Under 65s pay a fixed monthly fee of €60 per month and over 65s pay €157 per month to obtain full cover through Spain’s public health system.

You’ll have to resit your driving exam again

The US is for the most part a nation of drivers. In Spain, if you live in a town or city you will be able to move around easily on foot or by using the country’s efficient public transport network.

However, if your intention is to buy a car and continue driving in Spain, keep in mind that after six months of residency in the country you will need to resit your driving exam again in Spain and get a Spanish driving licence.

Unfortunately, Spain and the United States have no mutual licence exchange agreement or recognition scheme.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to get your driving licence in Spain?

It’s certainly frustrating to think that you will have to cough up a considerable amount of money for something that you already know how to do, but on the plus side you’ll get to understand Spanish roads and driving, and possibly learn how to use a stick (gearbox) as most cars are manual in Spain.

You have to commit to living in Spain

Keep in mind that when you obtain Spanish residency, it won’t necessarily entitle you to enter and leave the country for the rest of your life, especially if you spend extended periods of time outside of Spain. Permits have to be renewed and their conditions respected.

At first you will be given temporary residency (which lasts five years) and with this permit you risk losing residency when you leave Spain for more than six months in a period of one year.

In the case of sporadic absences from Spain, the sum of these periods outside of the country during those five years of temporary residence must not exceed ten months if you intend to apply for permanent residency. 

Permanent residency is valid for ten years (you can then renew it or apply for Spanish citizenship), but you can lose your residency if you’re outside of Spain for more than 12 months continuously, or for more than 30 months during the last five years.

Only the golden visa offers more lenient rules in terms of time spent outside of Spain. 

None of this means that you can’t spend several months at a time back home in the States – in fact extenuating circumstances such as caring for a sick family member, work or study allow for a bit more time outside Spain – just keep in mind that you have keep tabs on long absences outside of Spain as a non-EU citizen.

You have to pay taxes in Spain even if you’re not working here

As a Spanish resident (someone who spends more than 183 days in a calendar year in Spain), you have to pay taxes here.

Foreign residents in Spain pay tax on their worldwide income at personal tax rates which are progressive, from 19 percent to 45 percent.

Fortunately, there is a treaty between Spain and the US which helps determine which country to pay taxes to and the tax deadlines.

Equally, if you live in Spain and own assets abroad worth more than €50,000, you have to declare all this to the Spanish taxman, through the Modelo 720.

There are plenty more tax matters to keep in mind if you have assets and/or income sources on both sides of the Atlantic (it may be worth consulting a tax expert), so just keep in mind that if you move to Spain you will have to deal with all of this complex scenario.

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