Half of UK nationals who are EU residents live in Spain

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Half of UK nationals who are EU residents live in Spain
A street full of British businesses in Benidorm. Photo: JOSE JORDAN/AFP.

Recent Eurostat residency permit data shows that Spain is still far and away the most popular destination for UK nationals settling in the EU.


Figures released by Eurostat in November 2023 have revealed that almost half of all UK nationals who legally reside in the European Union have Spain as their home.

Analysis of the stock of valid residency permits held by non-EU nationals at the end of 2022 showed a total of 858,000 Britons have the right to live in EU Member States, of which 412,000 (48 percent) reside in Spain.

Spain is by far the most desired population among British migrants, housing almost three times as many British residents as France (162,000 British residents) and more than four times that of the Netherlands (96,000).

READ ALSO: MAP: Where do Spain's British residents live in 2023?

At the end of 2022, there were 24.0 million EU residence permits held by non-EU citizens. Germany (5.4 million permits), France (3.9 million), Italy (3.8 million) and Spain (3.6 million) between them accounted for 69.9 percent of all EU permits held third-country nationals in that time.

Of course, the requirement for non-EU residency permits is still something relatively new for Britons. Eurostat noted in its findings that “the situation for the United Kingdom was unique, related to its withdrawal from the EU on 31 January 2020.”

"By definition, there were no valid [non-EU] residence permits for British citizens as of the end of 2019 and only a small number at the end of 2020 when the transition period related to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal ended. Consequently, the stock of residence permits increased substantially in 2021 and 2022."


The Spanish government has maintained for years that the green EU residency certificates Brits living in Spain obtained before Brexit continue to be valid as proof of residency to this day, and they do not have to be exchanged for official non-EU foreign residency cards called TIEs (although British and Spanish authorities do advise Brits to exchange). 

A study published last September by Spain's Immigration Observatory revealed that more than half of UK nationals living in Spain are yet to exchange their EU green residency documents for Withdrawal Agreement TIEs following Brexit.

READ ALSO: More than 200,000 Brits in Spain haven't exchanged residency documents

Within Spain, Britons now make up the second largest group of non-EU residents, according to data from Spain's Migration Agency. Moroccan nationals are the largest group (844,111 at the end of 2022), followed by the British (411,875), the Chinese (240,324), and finally Colombians (191,614) and Venezuelans (186,296).

Though there is so concrete data for 2022 on where exactly new Brits settle in Spain, according to figures from Spain's National Statistics Institute (INE) for 2021, Málaga was the province where the British immigrant community grew most (adding 5,804 residents), followed by Alicante (+5.385), the Balearic Islands (+3,419), Murcia (+2,505) and Santa Cruz de Tenerife (+2,043), which gives us some idea of where British nationals are settling in Spain post-Brexit.

READ ALSO: How many Britons live in Spain in 2023?


Alicante, Málaga and the Balearic Islands are also the provinces with the biggest British resident populations overall. Inland areas of Spain (often referred to as España vaciada or 'empty' Spain) have the smallest numbers of Brits. In Soria, for example, there are just 43 Britons compared to 74,500 in Alicante. In Cuenca there are 64, and in Zamora, 81.

According to immigration observatory data, as of December 31st 2022 (the latest data available) there were 412,040 Britons who are residents in Spain. The average age of the resident foreign population in Spain is almost 40 years old and there is, generally speaking, slightly more men than women.

The sociological profile of British residents in Spain, however, is slightly different and may be unsurprising to many. The average age of Brits in Spain is considerably older, at 55 years old, and much higher than other large non-European migrant groups such as Moroccans (median age of 34 years).

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How Brits in Spain can exchange a green residency document for a TIE


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