BREXIT: Spain scraps work visa requirement for UK touring artists 

UK artists looking to perform in Spain will no longer need to complete the costly and complex work visa process required post-Brexit after Spain’s Cabinet agreed to waive the previous rules. 

BREXIT: Spain scraps work visa requirement for UK touring artists 
UK singer songwriter Dua Lipa along with all other British artists and their crews will be able to tour and perform in Spain without requiring work visas. Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images/AFP

One of the downsides of Brexit for UK music lovers in Spain has been that British artists and bands can no longer go on tour in the country without having to first arrange third-country audiovisual work visas for their whole crews.

Most EU nations have signed bilateral agreements with the British government to alleviate the fallout of the UK leaving the bloc but unfortunately Spain, together with Croatia and Bulgaria, were until now the only three countries with no alternative arrangement in place.

As of November 14th that changes, as the Spanish Cabinet has followed the advice of Spain’s Association of Music promoters (APM) as well as their British counterparts LIVE and the Association for British Orchestras (ABO) to find a solution to the visa obstacle. 

As explained in the official state bulletin (BOE) dealing with the decree, British musicians, actors and other artists as well as other people who form part of the audiovisual sector will be able to carry out their work activities in Spain for 90 out of 180 days without requiring a work visa. 

“We are delighted that our hard work has paid off and the Spanish Government has agreed to lift the restrictive visa process for touring artists, ending the complicated and painful process of expensive visa applications,” Craig Stanley, Chair of the LIVE Touring Group said.

A whole host of people came together both here and in Spain to fix this situation and this shows what we can achieve as an industry when we work together.

The ruling is in fact good news for artists and production teams from all non-EU countries, not just the United Kingdom, as the waiving of the work visa requirement applies to all third-country nationals who work in the audiovisual sector.

The bureaucratic nightmare involved in performing in Spain post-Brexit recently became evident when two indie groups – Squid and Black Country – cancelled their performances in late October in Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastián. 

According to the groups and organisers Primera Sound Tours, “bureaucratic problems derived from Brexit” were the reason for the cancellations, as each work visa for band members, road crew, technicians and other sound personnel would have cost €400, making their concerts financially unfeasible. 

Add to this the slow and complex bureaucracy that accompanies this visa process (Spain has famously lost several big Hollywood deals as a result) and it became fairly unappealing, especially for smaller bands that don’t have the manpower or resources.

“Until now, artists and their promoters have had to make applications for short-term visas entirely in Spanish, provide a host of itinerary details before having even been given the green light for the tour to go ahead – including accommodation and flight allocations – and give proof of applicant earnings of up to nearly £1,000 before ever having left the country,” UK live music trade body LIVE stated. 

“Costs were also prohibitive, amounting to over £10,000 for an orchestra to visit Spain for up to five days.

“Touring artists and their production teams were also required to wait for over a month for a decision, making long term scheduling – vital for successful international touring – impossible.”

The Spanish Cabinet’s ruling represents a boost for Spain and the UK’s live music industry, as the Iberian nation is the fifth largest live music market in the world.

For months, the music industry has been warning of visa problems that awaited UK bands performing in Europe. On the other hand, EU performers don’t generally require a visa to perform in the UK.

READ ALSO: Can Spain really become ‘Europe’s Hollywood’ as PM suggests?

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Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

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

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?