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What foreigners should be aware of before becoming residents in Spain

What foreigners should be aware of before becoming residents in Spain
What should you consider before applying for residency in Spain? Photo: Hyosun Rosy/Unsplash
Whether you’re a UK citizen who is considering becoming a resident in Spain after Brexit, or a foreigner from another country who wants to make Spain their home, there are several important matters to keep in mind before making the decision.

Spain is for many foreigners and proud Spaniards a country that oozes calidad de vida (quality of life).

In a 2019 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey the country ranked in fourth position globally as the best nation to move to for foreigners, only behind Switzerland, Canada and Singapore.

Respondents already living in Spain gave it sky-high scores for “quality of life”, “physical & mental wellbeing”, “cultural, open and welcoming communities”, “political stability” and “ease of settling in”.

If you’re reading this you may be well aware of all the things Spain has going for it, as well as the great weather, beautiful nature, delicious food and plenty more.

But you may not have considered all the implications that come with committing to Spain as a resident.

To offer some insight into these residency matters, we spoke to Margaret Hauschild Rey, an immigration lawyer whose English-speaking law firm Bennet&Rey in Madrid specialises in everything from civil to property law for its international clientele.

Tax obligations

“Many foreigners are unaware of the tax implications that come with spending long periods of time in Spain,” Hauschild Rey explains.

“Spanish authorities consider you to be a tax resident if you spend more than 180 days a year in the country.

“And it’s not just older people who are higher earners who have to be aware of this, young people who come to Spain to spend time with a partner don’t usually consider this.”

“Our advice is to speak to a fiscal adviser who is familiar with the tax systems of both Spain and the foreigner’s home country – whenever possible – if they want to get a full picture of how taxes and fiscal responsibilities compare.

“For example, there is a clause in Spain’s Civil Code which states that a third of someone’s inheritance must go to their family heirs (legítima) whereas in the UK this does not exist.”

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You can’t spend too much time outside of Spain 

“Foreigners who are thinking of becoming residents in Spain are sometimes unaware that they can’t spend more than 6 months outside of Spain in one year without losing their residency rights,” Hauschild Rey says.

Over the five-year validity period if the temporary residency card, the sum of these periods outside Spain can’t exceed one year.

When after five years of continuous residency in Spain you are issued a permanent residency card, the limit for the maximum continuous time spent outside of the EU (not just Spain) is 12 months.

For foreigners with a “family member of an EU citizen” card this absence period can be longer and there are also other extenuating circumstances such as pregnancy, study or serious family matters which can lead to more leniency for all residency cards.

Costly health insurance

“A lot of foreigners know that unless you have access to public healthcare through social security contributions, you’re going to have to get private medical insurance,” Hauschild Rey explains.

“What they haven’t always necessarily factored in before committing to residency in Spain is how difficult it can be to obtain private health cover that’s well-priced or even available, especially for seniors or those with pre-existing health conditions”.

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The town of Frigiliana near Málaga. Hyosun Rosy/Unsplash

Financial resources

“Foreigners from non-EU countries who haven’t come to Spain with a job and who don’t intend to work will have to prove they have sufficient income to take care of themselves and their dependants without being a burden to the state,” Hauschild Rey says.

“There isn’t an exact amount given by Spanish authorities but from my experience it’s upwards of €30,000, although the figure can vary. Obviously the more assets you can prove the better.

“After December 31st 2020, the financial requirements for British people choosing to become residents in Spain have become the same as they are for Americans, Russians, Chinese and any other non-EU national.

“Our advice to them back then was obviously to make the move to Spain and the residency application before the end of the transition period.”

IN DETAIL:

A long wait to gain Spanish citizenship

Foreigners who have legally resided in Spain for ten years can apply for Spanish citizenship, aside from nationals of South American countries and other nations such as Portugal and the Philippines which have historical ties to Spain who can apply after two years.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, the average processing time for citizenship applications was one and a half to two years, in some cases up to three years,” Hauschild Rey recalls.

That means that getting citizenship in Spain can take at least twice as long as it does for third-country nationals residing in other EU nations such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

“In the summer of 2019 we managed to process some citizenship applications much faster as there was extra staff employed by the government to help with the Sephardic Jews’ applications, but this is now coming to an end.

“Covid and Brexit are undoubtedly slowing things down.”

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The lack of dual nationality

Dual nationality in Spain is only available to the countries with historical ties mentioned above.

That means that an American, Australian or British person would have to technically renounce their own nationality for Spanish citizenship, “in the eyes of the Spanish law” as Hauschild Rey explains.

“Although the foreigner’s country of origin may not require them to have to notify authorities of the obtainment of Spanish nationality or to have to renounce their original passport, from Spain’s legal point of view you cannot have two citizenships.

“So if Spanish authorities detect that you’re using a passport other than your Spanish one, they might get in touch.” 

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Member comments

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  1. I would be interested in why Hauschild Rey states:

    “When after five years of continuous residency in Spain you are issued a permanent residency card, the maximum continuous time spent outside the country is 12 months and no more than 30 months of absence over a five-year period (no more than 6 months in each year).”

    when the Ley Orgánica 4/2000, de 11 de enero Artículo 32 / Residencia de larga duración / 5. La extinción de la residencia de larga duración se producirá en los casos siguientes/ c. mentions only the 12 consecutive months but makes no reference to an aggregated period over 5 years.

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