For members


Brexit: Six facts Brits in Spain have become acutely aware of in 2021

Year one of the Brexit era has made Britons in Spain more aware than ever of their new status as non-EU citizens and all the consequences that come with it. Here’s what we’ve learned over the course of 2021. 

Brexit: Six facts Brits in Spain have become acutely aware of in 2021
From Blighty to Benidorm, the dream is over for many Brits who this year have realised that a life in Spain will no longer be possible post-Brexit. Photo: Jose Jordán/AFP

Firstly, a disclaimer. This isn’t an article aimed at pointing the finger of blame towards Brexit voters based in Spain or listing a number of ‘told you so’ examples of real drawbacks that were crossed off as ‘Project Fear’ claims. 

Over the course of 2021, Britons residing in Spain who voted for or against Brexit, those who saw the writing on the wall and those who dreamt of having their cake and eating it, have all learnt something, perhaps unknowingly.

Questions remain unanswered and problems unsolved as we venture into 2022, but almost 365 days since Brexit became official on January 1st 2021, here’s what we know now more than ever.

Brexit reality bites

In the end, Brexit did mean Brexit and on March 31st 2021 thousands of Britons living or spending part of the year in Spain – but who were not residents – had to either finally register or leave the Schengen Area as their first 90-day limit as non-EU nationals came to a close. 

The Schengen rules aren’t new or specific to Britons and the loss of freedom was widely reported long before Brexit came into force, but the reality of having your time in Europe limited has still proven to be a hard pill to swallow for many Brits, even for those who saw it coming.

UK nationals who could prove they were living in Spain before December 31st 2020 have been able to become residents, but Spanish immigration officials have understandably not taken the rules lightly and have had to reject applications from those who couldn’t provide the right documentation.

Other not-so-obvious reality checks that have dawned on Britons in 2021 relate to dealing with customs. 

Sending parcels in the post between the UK and Spain has become more expensive, carrying certain products in your suitcase when travelling to Spain is no longer possible and even using a moving company to send your belongings over to Spain is a lot more complex now

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s more changes to get used to soon as the UK’s full customs controls start on January 1st 2022.

Spain wants to help

Even Britons who have been tangled up in Brexit-induced Spanish bureaucracy have to recognise that the country has treated them well and been far more welcoming and accommodating than the UK has towards its European population.

As Spain’s Secretary of State for Migration Hana Jalloul put it just days before Brexit came into force: “I know that many of you have built your homes here and we want you to stay. You are part of the Spanish family. You are part of us”.

Unlike in other EU countries, there is no official deadline for under-the-radar Britons to register and Spain has denied false reports that it would round up and deport overstayers without visas or permits, even though they may be subject to a penalty under Schengen rules.

Spanish authorities have also set up an easy process for residents with the old green certificate to exchange it for the TIE and just recently Spain has scrapped the costly and complex work visa process required from British artists who wish to perform in Spain.

And the Valencian regional government has even said it is in favour of non-resident UK nationals having more than 90 days in their territory, with president Ximo Puig calling for “Brexit to be as Brexit-less as possible”.  

The matter of Gibraltar’s future and its status within the EU remains to be decided in 2022, but overall Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has maintained a pragmatic stance vis-a-vis the UK’s exit from the bloc. (Photo by Christopher Furlong / POOL / AFP)

Expect the unexpected

Unforeseen problems have arisen with the paperwork involved in Britons’ changing status as non-EU citizens.

It started with airline staff not recognising the old green residency documents of a number of British passengers, denying them boarding or entry to Spain.

Airport officials had either not seen this sheet of paper before – which isn’t a photo ID but still an official residency document – or they assumed it should have been replaced with the new TIE card. 

Spanish authorities even created an official document for UK nationals to take with them to the airport stating that the green certificates are still valid. 

The lack of understanding by some officials regarding the ID rules has also seen Cajamar bank erroneously warning its British customers that it would close their accounts unless they provided a TIE card, and Spain’s traffic authority the DGT requiring a TIE card for the licence exchange when other documents were valid.

A clean break was never going to be possible, but it would be naive to think there won’t be more similar issues to deal with in 2022. 

Moving to Spain post-Brexit is a rich man’s game

No offence meant to those with a sizable bank account but let us elaborate. 

If a UK national wants to move to Spain to live and work post-Brexit, their prospective employer has to prove they can’t find an EU candidate that can do the job. The alternative is to find a job on Spain’s shortage occupation list, 95 percent of which are positions in the maritime and shipping industry).

Then there’s getting a self-employment work permit. For this, you’ll need a comprehensive business plan that gets checked by a panel of experts, you’ll have to get your qualifications recognised by Spain’s Ministry of Education and you’ll be expected to prove you’ll have sufficient earnings and run a successful business. 

How about English teaching, you may ask? Landing a teaching job was very easy for many Britons in Spain in pre-Brexit times but currently the same rules relating to having to first find an EU candidate apply and there’s no scheme yet that allows them to work as language assistants as for other non-EU anglophones such as Americans or Australians.

So with finding work proving extremely complex for Britons moving to Spain in 2021, what’s the best alternative to be able to become a resident? 

The non-lucrative visa, which involves having to prove yearly income or assets worth €27,800 in 2022 for one person without being allowed to work in Spain, or the so-called golden visa, for which you have to splash out €500,000 on a Spanish property.

That’s the reality that Britons who want to move to Spain from January 1st 2021 face. Either you have money, or your path to residency will be a very challenging one.

People dance at a British-owned pub during a Brexit celebration party in Jimera de Libar, Andalusia, on January 31st, 2020, as European officials removed the British flag from the ceremonial entrance of the European Council's Europa Building in Brussels on Friday ahead of Brexit. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)
Brits at a British-owned pub in Jimera de Libar (Andalusia) celebrate the UK’s confirmed exit from the EU on January 31st, 2020. Were they aware of the consequences their decision would have on their lives in Spain? (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP)

Becoming a non-EU national is a step back

If Brits viewed themselves as expats before – a term which has been controversial long before the Brexit vote – they should certainly consider themselves migrants now. 

Apart from the difficulties in finding work or getting residency as listed above, the days of coming and going as you please under freedom of movement are over, especially for those who aren’t residents. 

Even those who are registered now have to factor in how much time they can spend outside of Spain without losing their residency.

Living or spending long periods of time in Spain and Europe is no longer a universal right for Britons, it’s something they have to pamper and pay attention to.

UK nationals in Spain are now in the same boat as many other non-EU nationals: their driving licences aren’t officially recognised (yet), nor are their qualifications, owning a home in Spain doesn’t guarantee residency and they don’t enjoy the overall protection and flexibility that comes with being an EU citizen. 

The dream is over for many

The sad truth is that 2021 has taught us that current and future generations of Britons – potentially hundreds of thousands of people – will miss out on the chance of living in Spain post-Brexit. 

Young British university students can’t spend a year in Spain on Erasmus and are at the mercy of the decisions made by the British government regarding the UK’s new Turing Scheme. 

Britons of all ages can no longer pack their bags, move to Spain on the fly and settle in while finding a job in person. 

Even those who plan ahead face an uphill battle.

For those who used to split their time between Spain and the UK as they wished, many of them with second homes in the country, it’s now a case of keeping a close check that they’ve not overstayed their Schengen time limit as non-residents. 

And retirement to Spain on a budget is now just a pipe dream, with concerns over healthcare, pensions and finances dissuading many. 

Here’s to hoping for greener pastures in 2022.

Member comments

  1. Can someone advise, or provide a signpost to do my own research, on how long a Spanish Resident (with a Temporary TIE card) on a British passport is allowed to stay out of Spain for each year, and over the five year period (for which a temporary TIE card needs to be held before changing to a permanent TIE card)?

    Many thanks in advance.

  2. Hi Martin,
    During the first 5 years of residency (“temporary”), you cannot exceed 182 days (6 months) outside of Spain each year, and no more than 10 months total over the 5 years. This period may be increased to one period of 12 months for exceptional circumstances, e.g. serious illness, pregnancy and childbirth, study or vocational training.

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For members


Your key questions answered about the Schengen area’s 90-day rule

The EU/Schengen area's '90-day' rule is a complicated one that causes much confusion for travellers - here we answer some of the most common questions from readers of The Local.

Your key questions answered about the Schengen area's 90-day rule

The Schengen ’90-day’ rule applies to non-EU/EEA citizens, including Britons, and limits access to the EU’s Schengen zone to 90 days in every 180 day period. Anyone who wants to stay longer than this will need to apply for a national visa of the country they are visiting. 

Not all citizens of non-EU/EEA countries benefit from the visa-free 90 days. Some nationalities must apply for a visa for any visit to an EU country, even just a one-week holiday. But non-EU citizens including the British, Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders do benefit from it.

The limit of 90 days in every 180 gives you a total of six months per year within the Schengen zone, so for tourists or people who want to visit family or friends its perfectly adequate – the people who tend to have problems with it are second-home owners and those who work on short-term contracts in the EU.

The Schengen area currently includes all EU states apart from Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus although the latter three states intend to join. It also includes the non-EU states Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland (EFTA). Croatia was allowed to join the Schengen area late last year.

You can find a full explanation of how the rule works HERE, and answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions from readers of The Local below.

Does the limit apply to the whole Schengen area?

This is one aspect that frequently catches people out – the 90-day limit refers to the entire Schengen area. So if, for example, you spend 88 days at your second home in Spain you won’t have enough time allocation left for a long-weekend in Paris.

What counts as a ‘day’?

Any time spent in EU/Schengen territory counts as a single day, technically even a couple of minutes. So if you take the Eurostar from London to Paris and then go straight to the airport for a flight to New York, that counts as one day from your allowance.

Do I have to spend 90 days outside the Schengen?

Exactly how to calculate the 90 days causes problems for many. The 90 days can be taken as either one long visit or multiple short ones, and are calculated as a rolling clock.

You can find a full explanation of how to calculate the allowance HERE – but the short version is that at any time of the year, you need to be able to count back 180 days, and within those 180 days not have spent more than 90 of them in the EU/Schengen area.

You may have heard that once you reach 90 you must leave the EU and cannot return for 90 days.

READ ALSO: How to calculate your Schengen 90-day allowance

This is in fact only the case if you actually reach your 90-day limit. So those that stay for a full 90 days consecutively would then have to leave the Schengen area for 90 days, before they can return.

Most people who make multiple short visits find it best not to go above 85 or so days, meaning that they have a couple of days ‘in hand’ for emergencies. They do not then have to spend 90 days outside the EU to “reset the clock”, but can return once they have enough days within the previous 180 period.

What if there’s a strike and I can’t leave in time?

Transport strikes are not unusual in Europe, especially France, but if your plane, train or ferry is cancelled it could lead to you overstaying your 90 days.

The best advice is to keep a couple of days in hand, just in case.

If you do end up accidentally overstaying, then the ‘force majeur‘ rule applies – essentially, you need to be able to prove that it was impossible for you to leave the country on time, which might be difficult as even during a strike period there is usually some transport running, even if it is complicated and expensive to change your travel plans.

What if I live in the EU?

If you are a non-EU/EEA national and your are resident in an EU country – with a visa or residency permit – then clearly the 90-day rule does not apply to your country of residence.

It does, however, apply once you travel to another EU country. So if you live in France and like to spend long holidays in Spain and Italy, then you need to keep track of your 90 days.

In practice, there is usually little in the way of border controls when you are travelling within the EU so it’s unlikely that your passport will be stamped or even checked. However, technically the rules does apply.

What are the penalties for over staying?

If you have over-stayed your 90 days you can be fined, deported and banned from re-entry to the EU.

In practice, enforcement varies between countries and most countries keep the toughest penalties for people who have overstayed for many months or even years, or who are working illegally.

READ ALSO What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit?

The most likely scenario for people who have over-stayed for a short time is a fine – French authorities have been issuing €198 fines to over-stayers – and a stamp in the passport flagging the person as an over-stayer. This stamp will likely lead to added complications on future trips, and can make getting a visa more difficult.

What if I get a visa?

People who want to spend more than 90 days in every 180 in the EU/Schengen area will need to get a visa.

However, there is no such thing as an ‘EU visa’ that allows you unlimited access to the bloc. You will need to get a national visa for the country where you spend the most time.

You can then continue to use your 90-day limit to visit other countries within the EU.

All countries have different rules on visas, but for most people who want to spend long periods in the EU without actually moving there, a short-stay visitor visa is the best option.

What if I’m married to an EU citizen? 

Citizens of EU and Schengen zone countries benefit from EU freedom of movement, so are not constrained by the 90-day rule. This, however, does not extend to non-EU spouses.

If you want to spend more than 90 days in the Schengen zone, you will still need a visa (or look to obtain EU citizenship through marriage).

What if I get a new passport?

People travelling under the 90-day rule usually have their passports stamped on entry and exit, in order to keep track of their 90 days.

However passports are also scanned on entry and exit, so a record exists beyond the passport page with its stamp. Therefore getting a new passport does not restart your 90 days, no matter that all the pages are lovely and blank.

What will EES and ETIAS change?

This brings us onto EES, the EU’s new system of border control which involves extra checks at the border – including fingerprints and facial scans – and automatic scanning of passports.

The implementation date has been postponed several times – it’s now due in 2024 – but this will make it harder for over-stayers to slip through the net.

Find a full explanation of the new system HERE.

Could this change for second-home owners?

Definitely the most-asked question at The Local is whether some kind of special deal may be forthcoming for second-home owners.

All we can say for certain is that there are no plans currently in place, and as the 90-day rule is an EU one it would have to be discussed at an EU level.

Individual countries could choose to introduce a special visa for second-home owners, but this still wouldn’t be the same as the paperwork free stays that EU citizens enjoy.