As someone who has lived and worked in Spain for more than 14 years, and keen to stay here with my family for the foreseeable future (children moving to other climes accepted), I am very interested in the rights of British citizens in Spain post Brexit. A colleague of mine is part of a group in Italy set up to protect the rights of British citizens there. A member of this group has put together a very comprehensive list (non-exhaustive) of things that you may need to do to prepare for a No Deal Brexit scenario, which after the events last week, seems to be becoming an ever-closer reality. I have made the list more Spanish.
Whilst there may be some deal agreed anywhere up to teatime on the 29th March 2019, there are several items on the list which many people should already be applying.
At the same time we don´t want to get caught up in scaremongering, I have come across several reassuremongers who just choose to live in the “it won´t affect me” world. There are already changes being made to British statutes in readiness for leaving the EU, with or without a deal. Getting one´s house in order now is almost certainly going to be easier than from 30th March 2019 onwards.
Here is your almost definitive list of things to do to prepare for a NO Deal Brexit.
1. MAKE SURE YOU ARE LEGALLY RESIDENT IN SPAIN UNDER CURRENT RULES.
That means you should:
- Apply for residencia under the current rules. As an EU citizen you must register as a resident if you plan on living in Spain for more than 3 months.
- You should register in person at the Oficina de Extranjeros (immigration office) or designated police station in the province where you live.
- Before going to your local Oficina de Extranjeros or designated police station, you must make an appointment online, which can be done on the Spanish public administration website.
- Once on the online appointment booking system, you should select the province where you live and then the option “Certificados UE” and follow the instructions to select and confirm your appointment time.
- When you go to your appointment, you will be required to provide documents to support your application. You will need evidence of a specified minimum level of financial income which could be in the form of a letter from your Spanish bank manager and, if you are not working, private health insurance or an S1 (which you obtain from the UK if a pensioner). This will evidence your legal residence in Spain and give you proof that you were legally resident on 29 March 2019. This may be like gold dust in the case of a no deal exit, and if there is a Withdrawal Agreement it will help you benefit from a streamlined process to receive a new card if necessary under post-Brexit rules.
- Years of living in Spain do not necessarily count – only legal residence. So if you have been living ‘under the radar’ so-to-speak, try to rectify the situation in advance of 29th March 2019.
- Apply for a Residencia de carácter permanente (‘permanent residence’) under existing EU provisions if you have been legally resident for at least 5 years. It is the best evidence that most of us can have of our long-standing residence in Spain.
- Make sure that you’ve submitted tax returns in Spain. As a resident, (whether in the first 5 years or afterwards with Residencia de carácter permanente, you are required to submit tax returns and pay tax in Spain on your global assets, income and gains even if all of them originate from the UK).
Make sure that you either have private health insurance (obligatory for the first 5 years of residence unless you have an S1 from the UK or are working), or that you’re registered in the Spanish health system (e.g. you already have a Residencia de carácter permanente under existing EU provisions).
2. CREATE, AND KEEP UP TO DATE, A DOSSIER, AS IF YOU ARE APPLYING FOR RESIDENCIA OR RESIDENCIA DE CARÁCTER PERMANENTE OR CIUDADANÍA ESPAÑOLA, IN PARTICULAR:
- Collate copies of as many of your tax returns as you can get – tax returns, proofs of payment and receipt. These days there is online access to your tax files and records.
- Put together a file of utility bills for at least 10 years if you can. This will prove your continued residence.
- If your name is not on the bills for your household, or on any utility bills, get it added now.
- For women in particular: make sure that the name on bills, bank statements, pension statements, payslips etc. matches the name on your passport if possible.
- Put together a file of bank statements, wage slips and/or pension statements for the last 5 years if you’ve lived here that long. Longer is even better – 10 years is best. You may need these to prove the stability and sufficiency of your resources.
3. CHECK YOUR PASSPORT
Make sure your passport will be valid for several months after 29 March 2019. If not, consider renewing it early. Also, check your signature.
4. MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN SPAIN ON 29TH AND 30TH MARCH 2019
This is probably not the best time to make a family visit to the UK! Transport could be chaotic, with no agreements on air or other travel between the UK and EU.
5. TOP UP YOUR MEDICATION
If you currently rely on an S1 form for access to the Spanish health service and/or you need regular medication, think about making sure you have a good supply of it on 29 March 2019.
- If the worst happens and the reciprocal health care system stops on that date it might take several weeks to get an alternative system up and running and there may be short term chaos. Making sure that you have the permitted 3 months of long-term medication would mean that you’d avoid having to pay full whack for your meds or being without a family doctor while the situation was resolved.
6. CHECK YOUR DRIVING LICENCE
- If you’re still using a UK driving licence, apply for a Spanish licence now. It’s relatively straightforward and for most people, it can be exchanged (with some fees and a medical) without having to take a full Spanish driving test (theory and practical). It’s possible that UK licences will not be valid in the EU in the case of a no deal Brexit.
- Consider applying for an International Driving Permit if you regularly drive in the UK.
7. THINK ABOUT MOVING MONEY
If you have bank accounts, savings or investments in the UK, consider moving them to Spain or into Spanish compliant vehicles, or some other EU jurisdiction now. Sterling may drop suddenly in the case of a no deal exit; there may also be temporary problems moving money in and out of the EU.
8. TRY TO HAVE A FINANCIAL BACKSTOP
If at all possible, try and make sure you have access to enough cash to see you through two or three months, especially if your income comes from the UK and is transferred monthly.
9. CONSIDER YOUR PERSONAL PENSION
If you have a personal pension (not state or public service occupational) and have not yet retired, think seriously about cashing it in if you’re old enough (take financial advice on the tax implications of cashing it in before doing so), or transferring it. A detailed pension analysis would be required to look at the suitability of doing so but it might just be possible to remove your pension from future UK political and tax problems as a result of No Deal Brexit scenario. There may be issues with passporting rights after Brexit that could cause problems with insurers making payments to those living outside the UK.
10. LOOK AT WAYS YOU CAN MAXIMISE YOUR INCOME AND MINIMISE YOUR EXPENSES
- This applies particularly if the bulk of your income is in sterling, which may take a serious hit after a no deal exit. Can you survive if sterling hits parity? Goes below parity? What’s your bottom line? What can you do to turn your income into euro income?
- Create a personal financial contingency plan. Look at ways you can cut your spending temporarily, and at ways you could create additional income.
Get any potentially expensive dental or optical work done now.
11. IF YOU HAVE A BUSINESS THAT RELIES ON ATTRACTING PEOPLE FROM THE UK.
- Can you change your client demographic? Whatever the deal or no deal, British people may limit their travel to the EU next year and you may need to find new clients if you’re to survive financially. Make sure you have a website in the language of the nationality of people you may wish to attract, if you haven’t already, and that you begin to advertise NOW to attract other customers.
- But …
- If there is a no-deal Brexit, it is uncertain as to whether you will be able to continue to run a business at all.
- Even if there is a deal, you may not be able to provide services to customers in other Member States: that is still to be decided.
12. PUT SOME WORK INTO LEARNING SPANISH
- Whether there is a deal or not, we may be required to re-apply for residencia and/or Residencia de carácter permanente.
- We do not know whether a minimum level of Spanish language ability will be required (to date it has not been), but it is a good opportunity to work on the language skills. If nothing else, it opens other social doors and means you don´t have to stick to the same bar, club, or shop
13. THINK ABOUT, OR RE-THINK ABOUT, APPLYING FOR SPANISH CITIZENSHIP
- For many people, their British identity and nationality is important to them and the idea of taking out Spanish citizenship has been regarded as ‘only as a last resort’. For some of us, a no deal Brexit might be that ‘last resort’. Spanish citizenship won’t guarantee all the rights you currently hold as an EU citizen (mutual recognition of professional qualifications, for example) but it will guarantee you the right to reside and to work – and as an EU citizen you’d continue to benefit from full free movement rights.
- It you are thinking of applying for Spanish citizenship, try to ensure your application is lodged before 29 March 2019. The Spanish authorities do not say how long the process will take but assume at least months (las cosas de pálacio van despacio). In addition, language tests will be required (see point 13). If you’ve already made the application, there is more chance of everything passing through than if you wait till after 29 March when all the rules may change.
- Be aware that taking out Spanish citizenship may affect the taxation of certain pensions and you should take good financial advice before applying.
14. MARRY A SPANIARD
This may not be as easy as it once was, with changes to immigration laws, but it might be a solution for you, especially where children are involved.
15. GET YOUR PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS RECOGNISED NOW
- The European Commission has said that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, Brexit does not affect decisions made pre-Brexit by EU27 countries recognising UK qualifications under the general EU directive on the recognition of professional qualifications (Directive 2005/36/EC). For details of which qualifications are covered see
- So if you have a UK qualification covered by that Directive and you need to be able to use it, apply to get it recognised before March 30th 2019.
16. ABOVE ALL…DON’T PANIC.
- This is about hoping (and working) for the best, while preparing for the worst. Whatever happens, you won’t be alone.
And there you have it. There isn’t a better list anywhere about what to do in a NO Deal Scenario. I would like to say that I think that some kind of deal/arrangement will be agreed in the end because there is too much at stake on both sides of the Brexit divide, BUT I have to admit that I was wrong about Brexit happening in the first place and also about the election of Donald Trump as US president. I was convinced neither would happen. This time I am taking precautions and implementing most of the items on this list. I hope you do too.