Brexit For Members

What Brits in Spain need to know if they move back to the UK post-Brexit

The Local Spain
The Local Spain - [email protected]
What Brits in Spain need to know if they move back to the UK post-Brexit
What do Britons in Spain need to do if they intend to return to UK? Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP

Most people accept that moving to Spain is tricky and involves a lot of paperwork, but for Brits deciding to go back to the UK it's easy, right? After all, you're just going home. Wrong.


Moving countries is a time-consuming process - but if you're British and living in Spain you might think that moving back to the UK would be simpler.

Well, there won't be a language barrier and as a UK citizen you won't need any immigration paperwork (although if you're bringing a Spanish partner with then that gets complicated) - but you will still face administrative hurdles around pensions, healthcare, driving and taxes. 

Some of these issues existed before Brexit, while others are a direct result of the UK leaving the EU. Here are the most common questions from Brits thinking of moving back to the UK: 

Do I still qualify for NHS treatment?

You are entitled to NHS treatment if you are 'ordinarily resident' in the UK - there is no minimum time limit so as soon as you are back in the UK on a permanent basis, you can use the NHS.

You will need to register for a GP in your local area in order to access non-emergency treatment and to get an NHS number if you do not already have one.

You may need to provide proof of a UK address in order to use NHS services - although in reality UK citizens are rarely asked for this, apart from when registering with a GP. 


If you have been an S1 holder while living in the EU you should cancel that, just so there is no confusion over where you are getting your healthcare.

If you go back to Spain for a visit, remember that you are now a tourist and will need a GHIC card to get European healthcare, while travel insurance is also advised in case of an accident or illness while visiting an EU country. 

Can I drive on my EU licence in UK?

Manual widget for ML (class="ml-manual-widget-container")

If you have been living in the EU you may have had to change your UK licence for a French or Spanish one for example.

Once you're back living in the UK you can continue to drive on you EU licence until the age 70 or if you move to the UK when you are 67 or over you can drive for three years. After this time you'll need to change your licence.

If your licence or photocard has an expiry date - once it's time to renew, you should swap it for a UK licence. You'll need a valid photocard licence to drive in the UK.

You can find details on the swap process for UK licences here, and if you're in Northern Ireland here

UK residents with an EU licence can if they want exchange their licence for a UK one, if they wish to do so, without the need for a re-test.


Can I bring my Spanish partner with me?

If you're returning alone you won't need to do any kind of immigration paperwork, your UK passport is enough. However, if you are bringing with you a partner who is not a UK citizen, it becomes complicated.

After the end of the Brexit transition process, there was an 'amnesty' period in which Brits with EU partners could move back to the UK under the old immigration rules. This is now ended and EU partners face the same immigration process as all other foreign spouses.

Essentially either your partner will need to have already secured a relatively high-paying job in the UK, or you will need to prove that you have a large amount of money to support them.

They will need to go through the process of getting a UK visa (which is expensive - between £1,000 and £1,500 just for the visa fee) and there is no guarantee that their application will be successful simply because they are married/in a civil partnership with a Brit. They will also need to take an English-language exam. 

Full details here. 


What about my pension contributions from the EU? 

If you have been working in Spain, you will probably have been contributing to the Spanish pension system. Pre-Brexit, UK and EU pension contributions could be blended into a single pension - but this is no longer the case.

Brits still living in the EU who are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement are theoretically covered by blended pensions if they had made pension contributions in the UK before moving to the EU, but the same does not apply if you move back to the UK. 

The good news is that EU countries still practice this - so if for example, you have worked in France, Italy and Spain your contributions will be totted up and paid out as a single pension - you apply in the last country you worked in.

Keep in mind, however, that different countries have different pension ages. So if for example, you worked in Spain (pension age 65) and Greece (pension age 67) - you will start to get the Spanish portion of your pension from the age of 65, but you won't get the Greek part until you turn 67.

The country that is paying your pension may require you to have an EU bank account to pay into - and you should check with the country paying your pension whether there are any other conditions to observe.


When it comes to a pension from the UK, it depends on how long you worked there - the basic rule is that you need 10 years of National Insurance contributions in order to get a state pension.

However, the UK government states that periods of work done in the EU or EEA 'may' count towards your qualifying period. Even if they do, however, they don't count towards the total pension amount - so for example, if you worked for seven years in the UK and the remaining 35 years of your career in the EU, you can qualify for a UK state pension, but it will only be based on the seven years of work in the UK (in other words, the payment per month will be tiny).

Further details on UK pension entitlement.  

Do I need to hand back my residency card, health card etc before I leave the EU? 

Most countries require that you hand back residency cards before you leave, but this is not always enforced. If you're in Spain, however, this is a good idea so you don't face any further issues. It can also help prove to the Spanish tax authorities that you're no longer living and working there.

READ ALSO - Reader question: How do I officially give up my Spanish residency?

If you do end up keeping residency or healthcare cards - don't use them on trips back to the EU. Tempting as it might be to avoid border queues or healthcare fees, you will create a confusing official record if you are claiming to be a resident of two countries at once.

If you have taken up Spanish citizenship, that is a different matter of course. 

READ ALSO: What do dual-nationals need to know about post-Brexit border controls

Do I still have to pay Spanish taxes? 

It's highly likely that you were paying taxes in the country you lived in. Generally, tax declarations concern the previous year, so you will have to do at least one tax declaration and payment after moving back to the UK.

In Spain, the annual tax declaration takes place between April and June, and concerns the previous calendar year. So if for example, you move back to the UK in September 2023, you will have to complete a tax declaration before the end of June 2024, covering your 9 months of residency in Spain in 2023.

If you still own property in Spain you will pay non-resident property taxes there. 

When you left the UK, you will likely have informed HMRC that you were leaving the country, so you will now have to tell them that you're back. Whether you have to fill out a UK self-assessment form depends on whether you are a salaried employee or self-employed/retired. 


Can I keep my Spanish bank account? Do I need a new UK account? 

This one depends on the policy of your bank, but most banks in Spain require you to have a Spanish address.

It's likely that your UK bank may have closed your account if it was not operational while you were living outside the UK, in which case you will need to open a new one.

A practical option while you are moving and still have interests in both countries is to open an internet bank account with a company like Wise or Revolut - these offer accounts in both pounds and euros and give you a European IBAN and a UK Sort code, so you can use it in both countries.

Will my EU qualifications be recognised?

If you were studying or gaining professional qualifications while living in the EU, don't assume that these will be recognised in the UK. Brexit ended the mutual recognition of qualifications - check with the professional or academic body that issued them whether these are recognised in the UK, you may need to acquire a certificate of recognition.

It's a good idea to check this point before you start job-hunting in the UK. 

READ ALSO - 'Homologación': How Spain is ruining the careers of thousands of qualified foreigners



Be prepared for hassle

The advantage of moving back to the UK is that you're not starting from scratch and at least you know how things like council tax, electricity billing and healthcare work.

However, don't assume that it will all be plain sailing - your lack of a recent UK address will make you an anomaly in many companies' systems and you're likely to be forced to have several long and annoying conversations with call centres while you explain that while you are a UK citizen, you have not recently been living in the UK.

There are likely to be other niggles too - many UK car insurance companies won't recognise a no-claims bonus built up abroad, so you'll be back to paying full premiums on your car insurance, while banks might request extra money laundering checks due to your foreign associations.

Banner ad

And if you fondly imagined that switching from Orange Spain to Orange UK for example would be easy because they're the same company, forget it. They insist they have nothing to do with each other, so you cannot transfer an account. 

A lot of people in the UK also seem to be confused about the difference between citizenship and residency, so be prepared to have the following conversation a lot: "I've recently been living in Spain. No, I'm not Spanish, I'm British, I was just living in Spain. Yes, I am a UK citizen."



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also