Retaining your EU rights before Brexit
UPDATE: 19th March 2018. Transition deal agreed.
The British and EU negotiating teams announced on 19th March 2018 that the UK’s transition period with the EU post-Brexit will continue to 31st December 2020. This extends by 21 months the period during which UK citizens can move to Spain and claim the same rights as before Brexit (see below). When you have become legally resident, which is a simple procedure (see below), you will retain your right to reside, work, study or open a business in Spain. You will also retain your rights to subsidised healthcare and a state pension.
The deal announced by the UK’s lead negotiator David Davis and the EU’s Michel Barnier means you should have longer than you first thought to move to Spain and receive the same EU rights as British expats who relocated pre-Brexit. We say “should” because as Mr Barnier said: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
The deal could still unravel, but this seems unlikely, and you can plan your new life in Spain with confidence. After the official Brexit day on 29th March 2019, the UK will enter an ‘implementation phase’. This will last until 31st December 2020.
As well as helping businesses to plan, the transition phase will help UK citizens in Spain to sort out their affairs, apply for residency and find somewhere to live, all without the panic that the March 2019 deadline had been creating for many of our readers. It will be of immense help both to those already in the final throes of moving to Spain, and those still in the planning stage.
It is especially good news for British people retiring in Spain, or with more complex and expensive health needs. The right to transfer your state healthcare benefits and receive an annual uprating in your UK pension is guaranteed at least until the end of 2020. That means that retirees will receive the “triple lock”, a pension that rises in line with inflation, average earnings or 2.5%, whichever is greater.
UPDATE: 1st February 2018. Transition deal won’t include right to move
The Prime Minister Theresa May refused to allow the transition period to include the right to free movement of EU citizens to the UK. If reciprocated, it means that you have until March 2019 to move to Spain.
Many people thinking of moving to Spain will be worried that they will face restrictions after Britain leaves the EU. In our recent survey four out of every ten of our readers were worried by Brexit.
The news in December 2017 that an initial agreement had been reached not only sent the pound shooting up in value, but was a very welcome Christmas present to the British people hoping for a long, affordable and relaxed life in Spain. It spelled out the rights of people moving to Spain until March 2019: “There will be no change to the rights and status of UK nationals living in the EU while the UK remains in the EU.”
It was also assumed that this would be extended until December 2020 as part of the “status quo” transition period. However, this week Theresa May said, “I’m clear there is a difference between those who came prior to us leaving and those who will come when they know the UK is leaving.”
This has caused immediate outrage. Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, told the Guardian newspaper: “Citizens’ rights during the transition are not negotiable. We will not accept that there are two sets of rights for EU citizens. For the transition to work, it must mean a continuation of the existing acquis with no exceptions.” The “acquis” include free movement – so any transition period must include the right to move to an EU country, says Mr Verhofstadt. British politicians have joined in, with prominent Conservative “Remainer” politician Anna Soubry tweeting that the Prime Minister was using EU citizens’ rights to satisfy hard-core Brexiteers.
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However, for British people wanting to move to Spain, the message is clear that only by living in Spain before 29th March 2019, when the UK leaves the European Union, will your right to live in Spain be guaranteed.
• UK nationals who are lawfully residing in Spain by 29th March 2019, will be able to continue to reside in Spain.
• That includes children born or adopted outside Spain after the 29 March 2019.
• Close family members (spouses, civil partners and unmarried partners, dependent children and grandchildren and dependent parents and grandparents) will be able to join you in Spain after exit under these rules, so long as the relationship existed on 29 March 2019 and continues to exist when they join you in Spain.
• Spain may require UK nationals and their family members covered by the agreement to apply to obtain a status conferring the right of residence and/or obtain a residency document. However, the paperwork for applications will be kept simple, free or low cost, and you will have at least two years to submit your application.
• You and your family members can leave Spain for up to 5 years without losing your right to return.
• You and your family will continue to have the same access as you currently do to healthcare, pensions and other benefits.
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Although this seems straightforward, the key phrase is “lawfully residing”. What do you need to do to be lawfully residing? We spoke to Raquel Perez of Perez Legal Group: “As soon as you arrive in Spain and buy or rent a property, you can declare your resident of Spain.” She explains that being a legal resident is more than simply signing the padrón at the town hall. You are required to declare yourself resident for tax purposes anyway after you have been in Spain continuously for six months, but you do not need to wait that long.
You apply at the Oficina de Extranjeros in your province or at a designated police station.
“When you go to the police station to register,” says Raquel Perez, “you have to show a Spanish address/domicile, and to buy or rent a property you have to get your NIE number.” So while an NIE number (which all foreigners have to obtain in Spain) is required to get residency, it does not in itself grant residency. Complicated? It’s actually very simple, says Raquel, for British people to become legally resident and protect their rights to live and work in Spain for ever: “Say you arrive in Spain on 1st February and complete on or rent a house on 2nd February. On 3rd February you can become a legal resident in Spain.”
That is not quite the end of the story, however. Being legally resident in Spain does not give you the right to become a burden on the Spanish state. According to the rules on the website of the Spanish Ministry of the Interior EU nationals, including those British people resident before March 2019, must either be working, self-employed, a student or able to support themselves financially. Employed workers will need to show contracts and an employer’s social security number. Self-employed people must show evidence such as a registration on the Mercantile Registry or via evidence of social security payments.
If you don’t work you must show evidence of health insurance, although in the case of British retirees this will be covered by an S1 form from the UK. You may also have to show a bank balance of €6,000 for an individual or €10,000 for a couple.
British families apply pressure
The right to bring family to Spain is extended to children and grandchildren of the legal resident. This opens up another angle for British people who wish to retain their EU rights but are not in a position to move to Spain yet. Previously the easiest option looked to be claiming an Irish passport, which you can do if a grandparent was Irish. With 779,000 Irish passports issued in 2017 being the highest number since records began, this has clearly been a popular option. Perhaps a less bureaucratic approach, and would provide greater fringe benefits, would be to encourage a family member to move to Spain.
That was the option of Katy Wheeler from Sussex: “My mother-in-law was proudly boasting of voting for Brexit. I think it is fair to say that she regrets telling her four children and 10 grandchildren, who are all keen remainers! Now we are suggesting that she might like to go and live in Spain for a while so we can all enjoy the right. We don’t know of the ins and outs of how it might all work, but it looks as though buying a home in Spain and living there for a year or two will be to everyone’s benefit. Frankly it’s the least she can do!”
Although only one person needs to become legally resident in Spain for the whole family to benefit, the cost of buying the home can be spread among many. Read our brand new guide, Buying Abroad with Family to see how to organise the legal and financial aspects.