Brits in Spain:  What Will Happen In A No-Deal Brexit?

Officially there are over 300,000 Brits in Spain, living there full-time. However, many do not register, and so it is estimated that the actual number is far higher – it is likely that between 800,000 and a million live in Spain.  Whatever the number a no-deal Brexit could cause major problems for Brits in Spain as well as a significant impact on Spain’s economy if there were to be a major exodus of British expats.

With Spain receiving over 18 million tourists from the UK each year and Britain being the main target for Spanish investment, a deal is vital for both sides whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.  The Express reports Britons spending less in recent months with small businesses and putting off more major investments.  They also report real estate agent’s saying that they have not seen the usual interest in property and, although British buyers are still the largest overseas buyers of Spanish property they have gone from 22% of all foreign buyers in the first quarter of 2016 to 16% in the third quarter of 2018.

In January Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, indicated that his government was preparing emergency measures to protect the rights of British expats in Spain if there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, saying “I want to send a message of calm to Spaniards who live in Britain and also to Britons who live in Spain: their rights will be maintained whatever the scenario.”

If the existing Brexit deal is agreed British expats in Spain who have legal settled status before 30th March will be eligible to remain in Spain and to benefit from healthcare and other benefits.  During the transition period through to 30th December 2020 any British expats would need to apply for a Tarjeta de Residencia (TIE) (See the article Applying for Residence in Spain).

In the event of a no-deal Brexit the Spanish government has indicated that it will “provide a solution that in any event guarantees the legal security of British citizens and the members of their families resident in Spain before the exit date.”


The government has not yet confirmed exactly what this means, but specialist expat financial advisory firm Blevins Franks say that this involves:

  • You would need to apply for legal residency to be able to remain, but would have to meet the conditions applicable to third-country nationals rather than EU citizens.
  • Periods of residency in Spain before the Brexit cut-off date would count towards acquiring permanent residence (available after five years).
  • Existing residency documents would remain valid until they are converted to the relevant new format for non-EU nationals.

Continuing access to healthcare in Spain is dependant on the UK reciprocating for Spanish citizens in the UK, but the Spanish government have indicated “Contingency measures are planned to guarantee healthcare provision for British citizens in Spain starting on the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union if there is no agreement.”

Another issue that will require clarification is the validity of UK driving licences.  The Guardian report that The Department for Transport has advised “In the event that there is no EU exit deal, you may have to pass a driving test in the EU country you live in to be able to carry on driving there.”  Short term visitors may also have to obtain an International Driving Permit from a UK Post Office.