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I’m British and living in Spain – how can I prepare for Brexit?

Madrid-based lawyer Margaret Hauschild Rey, who specializes in citizenship and civil law, offers advice for Britons ahead of the UK’s exit from the European Union

A British hairdresser working in his salon in Benalmadena, Spain. rn
A British hairdresser working in his salon in Benalmadena, Spain. Getty Images

While the flood of confusing news stories about Brexit continues apace, Britons currently living in Spain are faced with a series of uncertainties and questions. What rights will I have after Brexit? Will I have access to healthcare in Spain? What will happen to my work contract? And my pension?

Coming from a law firm specializing in British citizenship, we are constantly receiving questions like these.

Given that the negotiations over the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union are ongoing, it is not possible either for us or the authorities to offer all the answers.

If you have not swapped your British license for a Spanish one, you may have to sit a driving test in Spain after Brexit

But based on our experience, we can offer British people advice on what you should do to be prepared in case you have to prove that you genuinely live in Spain. Bear in mind that this is just advice, and that we do not know how the Brexit process will conclude. But in order to play it safe, we recommend you do the following:

  • Ensure that on your green residency card, it says: “Residente comunitario con carácter permanente” (permanent EU resident). This will justify on an official basis that you have been living in Spain for more than five consecutive years, which currently gives you the right to have permanent residency as a European citizen. If the card does not say this and you have lived in Spain for more than five years, get an appointment to renew your residency card and make sure that the new version states that you are a permanent resident.
  • Register at your town hall. Make sure that you are on the padrón, or municipal roll, at your local town hall as a resident. Remember that a certificate of empadronamiento is valid for three months. As such, if you have an old certificate or you don’t know where yours is, ask for it in your local town hall. You need to request a “Certificado de Empadronamiento,” and the certificate needs to be signed. This will serve as proof to demonstrate your residency in Spain.
  • Register your property. If you have bought property in Spain, but you didn’t register it, we advise you to do so at the Property Registry. It will be another way to prove your link with Spain. If you registered the property or can’t remember whether you did or not, request a “Nota Simple” from the Property Registry, and they will send you a document that shows that the property is in your name.
  • If you have a Spanish spouse, and/or Spanish children, make sure you have your marriage certificate and/or the birth certificates of your offspring. You can request these at your local civil registry for free, and they will prove your links to Spain.
  • If you belong to a parish, a club or a Spanish association, ask them to give you a certificate that states when you joined and what your role is there. This may help you to prove your links to Spain, but bear in mind that the certificate will be unofficial and its value may be less for this purpose. That said, we still advise you to do so.
  • “Vida Laboral” from Social Security. If you have been working in Spain and paying Social Security, request your “Vida Laboral” from Social Security, which will detail your employers and the years you worked there. You can do this online.
  • Driving license. If you still have your British driving license and have not swapped it for a Spanish one, you should do so right away at the DGT traffic authority. It will be easier for you to do this now given that you are still currently from an EU country. If not, you may have to sit a driving test in Spain after Brexit.
  • Inheritances. As a European citizen, you can choose if your last will and testament is subject to the laws from your home country, or the country in which you live. If you are a British citizen and you want your will to be drawn up in accordance with Spanish law, tell your notary or lawyer this as soon as possible. Remember that, if your will is drawn up under Spanish law, two-thirds of your estate will automatically go to your children, and this cannot be changed. But remember, this will only be the case if you choose to draw up your will under Spanish law.

Other issues regarding family life

  • If you are British and you are married to someone who is from a non-EU country, currently your partner has the right to a residency card for a family member of a European Union citizen, something that gives them the same rights as EU citizens. Once British people are no longer citizens of the European Union, your spouse will not have the right to hold this card. That said, it is still not clear what will happen in this respect – whether there will be a transitory period of adaption or not.
  • Your children: Remember, if your children are under the age of 18, they were born in Spain and they are legal residents here – i.e. they have a NIE, and have had that NIE for more than a year – they can request Spanish nationality.
  • Another option open to you is to request Spanish nationality, as long as you are a legal resident in Spain, and you meet the conditions set out under Spanish law in order to apply.

Margaret J. Hauschild Rey is a lawyer specializing in citizenship and civil law, and a founding partner of Bennet&Rey Lawyers.

English version by Simon Hunter.

Official advice

The British embassy in Spain urges all UK nationals living in the country to ensure they are correctly registered and to stay up to date with the latest news, by signing up for email alerts, visiting the Living in Spain guide on gov.uk and following their Brits in Spain social media channels, including on Facebook.

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