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End of the Brexit transition period: what do Brits in Spain need to do now?

More UK nationals live in Spain than any other European Union country – at least 360,000 are officially registered. If you’re one of them, you’ll be glad to know you can continue your life in Spain after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

End of the Brexit transition period: what do Brits in Spain need to do now?
Photo: Getty Images

However, you may need to take some action this year to keep all your rights and access to services in four key areas: residency, healthcare, travel and driving. This guide, presented in partnership with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), tells you what you need to do.

Get the official UK government advice on living in Spain after the transition ends

1. Registering your residency

If you’re British and are legally living in Spain before 31 December 2020, there’s a simple and welcome message on residency: no need to say ‘adiós’. Your right to live in Spain will be protected. 

However, you may still need or want to take action. If you register as a resident between now and the year’s end, you’ll be issued with a biometric identity card called a TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero). If you're not yet registered, you should do so as soon as possible.

As a UK citizen, your TIE will confirm your status under the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. From 6 July this year, TIE cards have been issued instead of the green A4 residency certificates and green credit-card sized pieces of paper issued by Extranjería (the migration office) or the police as proof of residency.

So, what if you have one of these older documents? Don’t panic – your current document will remain valid after the transition period ends. You can choose to exchange it for a laminated TIE – which the Spanish government says is more durable and explicitly mentions your status as a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement.  

A TIE will make administrative formalities and border crossing easier. But the older documents provide equal proof of your residence, so it’s up to you whether or not to change!

Photos: Getty Images

2. Ensuring you're registered for healthcare

You need to have healthcare cover in order to register as a resident in Spain. If you’re living in the country before the end of 2020, your rights to Spanish healthcare will be protected as long as you remain legally resident. But access to healthcare in Spain works differently to in the UK – where the NHS is a residence-based system.

UK nationals access Spain’s national health system in various ways depending on personal circumstances. For example, you’re entitled to the same healthcare as a Spanish resident if:

  • you’re working or self-employed in Spain

  • you’re a permanent resident (after living in Spain for five years)

  • you get a UK State Pension (or certain other benefits) and you’ve registered a UK-issued S1 form with the social security office 

  • you register and pay a monthly fee to join the Convenio Especial scheme

Once you’re registered for healthcare, basic state services are free. You can expect to pay in part for prescriptions – or in full if you use the Convenio Especial.

Get the full official UK government advice on your rights to state healthcare in Spain

3. Checking you're ready for trouble-free travel

You live abroad – so crossing borders is no big deal, right? But you’ll face some new rules on travel within Europe next year – so doing your homework now could save you a lot of trouble later.

Photo: Getty Images

From 1 January 2021, you’ll need six months left on your passport to travel within Europe (be aware that any extra months you had added to your passport's validity when renewing it early last time won't count towards this).

You can check your passport’s validity here to know for sure if you need to renew it before booking a trip. This new rule applies to children’s passports, as well as adults, and applies for travel to most European countries. 

It doesn’t apply for Ireland or if you’re entering or transiting to Spain and have your rights protected by the Withdrawal Agreement. 

4. Exchanging your driving licence 

Living in Spain, you'll know it's a beautiful country to explore by car – whether you're on a coastal road or crossing the rugged interior, the scenery is often breathtaking. But if you still have a UK driving licence, you'd be wise to exchange it for a Spanish licence soon.

Do this before the end of 2020 to be guaranteed an exchange under the current rules – which don't require you to take a driving test. You’ll need a valid residence document to make the swap.

Book an appointment with the Spanish Traffic Authority (DGT) to set the wheels of your licence exchange in motion.  

Staying up-to-date 

You can sign up to get emails with the latest official UK government updates about these topics in Spain. It may also be worth signing up if you’re waiting for information to be announced on a topic not covered here – such as travelling with pets, for example.

British embassies and consulates in Europe have held over 775 Brexit-related outreach events with UK nationals since November 2017 to understand people’s concerns and explain actions they need to take. Initiatives during the coronavirus crisis have included Q&A events on facebook.com/britsinspain.

“The Spanish Government is here to support you in this new phase and we want to send you a very clear message: this is, and always will be your home,” said Hana Jalloul, the Spanish Government’s Minister with responsibility for immigration.

See the video below featuring Jalloul and Hugh Elliott, the British Ambassador to Spainfor more information on your rights.

Get all the latest official guidance for UK nationals in Spain on these four topics and more by visiting the UK government's Living in Spain web page

 

For members

BREXIT

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”

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