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BREXIT – How will it affect Brits living in Tenerife?

UPDATED 24th January 2020

CONTENTS OF THIS PAGE:

Brexit signpost

UPDATE – 24th JANUARY 2020

As we predicted, the European Union has today signed the UK Government’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement. This means that a Transitional Period now applies until 31st December 2020, during which time the UK and EU will continue negotiations with a view to reaching a permanent Deal on all aspects of Brexit (Immigration, Trade etc). Whilst there is a mechanism for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to request a further extension to the transitional period if required, he has stated he has no intentions of agreeing any further extension.

Meanwhile, UK nationals visiting Spain, currently living in Spain, or thinking of moving to Spain will continue to enjoy the exact same rights as before. This means there is no change to residency applications or the status of existing residencia cards.

Meanwhile, the English speaking press in Tenerife and further afield continue to run Brexit scare stories. Today’s nugget in a well-known English language Tenerife Newspaper carries the sensationalist headline “SWALLOWS GROUNDED BY BREXIT”. It quotes British Ambassador Hugh Elliott as allegedly saying:

““But we know that many of them like to stay for five or six months at a time. Currently, they can stay for six months, but not in the future, after 31st January.”

“That’s because their time in Tenerife will be cut to three-monthly periods when Brexit kicks in next Saturday (1st February).”

Contrary to this suggestion, Guru can confirm that between 31st January 2020 and 31st December 2020, there will be NO CHANGE WHATSOEVER to the rules for UK nationals wishing to visit Spain or reside in Spain and they can continue to visit or live in Spain for as long as they wish. 

What Mr Elliott and the newspaper neglect to mention is that the “3 month period” referred to has in fact been a legal requirement since 2012. In its infinite wisdom, Spain decided at that time to introduce a new law requiring anybody intending to reside in Spain for more than 3 months to apply for Spanish Residencia and register as Empadronamiento at the local Town Hall. This is of course rather at odds with the concept of ‘tax residency’, which states that a ‘Spanish Resident’ is one who resides in Spain for at least 6 months and 1 day in any given tax year.

So technically, all Swallows and part-time residents who have spent more than 3 continuous months in Spain at any time since 2012 have technically been required to apply for ‘residencia’ in any event, although the vast majority of them (including most Swallows) have never bothered to do so.

Fortunately for those who do choose to register, applying for ‘Residencia’ in Spain is entirely separate to being a tax resident (i.e. filing resident tax returns, declaring bank accounts as resident etc etc).

In conclusion: All UK nationals can continue to spend as much time in Spain as they like after 31st January 2020. The only question is whether they are required to ‘register’ in Spain during the stay of their choice. However, the implication that they are either “grounded” or “limited to a 3 month stay” after 31st January 2020 is both utter nonsense and irresponsible scaremongering.

DRIVING LICENCES:   UK Nationals can continue to use their UK driving licences in Spain until at least 31st October 2020, regardless of whether they are residents or tourists, and no International Drivers Permit or other documentation will be required.

MEDICAL CARE:  Reciprocal medical care rights for UK Nationals living in Spain will also continue unchanged for the entire Transitional Period (i.e. S1 Certificate holders (residents) or EHIC cards (tourists).

In the unlikely event of a No Deal, then there may be changes to the above rights from 31st December 2020 and we will publish further updates as soon as information is available. However, our continuing advice is that UK Nationals living in Spain DO NOT NEED to take any different or additional steps at this moment and should simply continue to monitor the situation. However, for anyone who absolutely needs to apply for Residencia at this point (e.g. for contractual reasons, or security clearance etc) may still do so, but the only police station currently accepting residency applications from UK residents is in Santa Cruz.

For more detailed information on Brexit generally, please continue reading below.

Overview of Brexit – Last updated 11th January 2020

Many British residents in Tenerife are concerned by the implications of Brexit and some have even expressed concerns that they might be kicked out of Spain when the U.K. leaves the European Union. Needless to say, such fears are almost certainly unfounded.

Many readers will be aware that the UK Parliament recently passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, which is commonly referred to as the Benn Act. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_(Withdrawal)_(No._2)_Act_2019

This act essentially removed the possibility of the UK leaving the EU with ‘No Deal’ and forced the UK Government to seek an extension to the official leave date. As a result, the new exit date has been set for 31st January 2020. During the intervening period, Boris Johnson is now using his 80 MP parliamentary majority to try and get his proposed Withdrawal Treaty through parliament prior to the said deadline.

So as things stand, there are only two possible outcomes as of 31st January 2020. Firstly, the UK will leave under the same (or similar) terms of the deal now proposed by Boris Johnson, or secondly, a further extension will be agreed. In either event, it is clear that all reciprocal rights between the UK and EU will continue to be enjoyed by UK and EU citizens respectively.

It is therefore unclear why the UK and Spanish governments and media are scaring and/or pressuring UK residents living in Spain to take urgent steps in respect of Residency, Medical Care, Driving Licences etc, most of which will either never be required, or will not need to be completed for some time to come. Some might argue that it is better to be prepared than to risk losing your rights or to face a last minute panic. However, Guru’s view is that British expats are given enough bureaucratic hoops to jump through as it is, so there is little point in imposing unnecessary requirements and paperwork until it is certain that such steps will actually be required.

Meanwhile, the British Government has published a website with detailed information for expats living in Spain, covering all relevant aspects of how Brexit could affect them. However, please bear in mind that the recommended steps will only apply in the unlikely event that the UK leaves with No Deal:  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/living-in-spain

Politics aside, the practical reality is that U.K. citizens living or holding property in Spain make up such an important and lucrative part of Spain’s economy (particularly in the Canary Islands) that it would be political and economic suicide for Spain to place restrictions on their rights to live, work, retire, or drive a vehicle here. There is also the fact that the number of EU citizens living in the U.K. substantially outnumber Brits living in E.U. countries. Hence, the E.U. and U.K. will have little option but to grant reciprocal rights, at least to those who deserve to stay!

One irony of Brexit comes out of a principal concern of ‘leave’ voters that the U.K. should secure the right to place restrictions or criteria upon EU nationals and other foreigners wishing to reside in the U.K. The irony is that several other EU countries (including Spain) already impose such restrictions, despite being tied to E.U. rules, bureaucracy and human rights.

For instance, to obtain residence in Tenerife, applicants must demonstrate that they have €5,000 or more in a bank account, plus either a work contract, self employment registration, a pension income, or private medical insurance cover. That criteria alone would rule out the majority of those seeking to live in the U.K. Furthermore, most state benefits or free housing are not available to new arrivals in Spain until they have worked or paid into the system for a certain period of time.

Which leads many ‘remainers’ to ask, why does the U.K. have to leave the E.U. just to impose such reasonable restrictions of its own!

In Guru’s opinion, if the price of continuing to live in the relative paradise of Tenerife means that Brits are forced to fill in a couple of forms, or complete a landing card upon arrival, then that is a small price to pay to continue our fortunate lifestyles here. It would also be a minor inconvenience compared to the other bureaucratic hoops that are already imposed upon foreigners wishing to live or work in Spain.

We will now look at the specific aspects of Brexit that may affect UK nationals living in Tenerife.

Rights of Residency for UK Nationals living in Spain

As mentioned above, the new deadline for the UK to leave the EU is 31st January 2020.

On 11th March 2019 the Spanish government issued a ‘no deal’ contingency plan, under which UK nationals living legally in Spain will continue to enjoy their legal status as residents, provided that the UK honours its promise to grant reciprocal rights to the estimated 200,000 Spanish residents living in the UK. It went on to state that in such instance, UK nationals would have until at least 31st December 2020 to apply for a ‘Third Country Foreigner’s Identity Card’ (“TIE”). See HERE for more information.

At the time of writing, it is impossible for UK Nationals to apply for a TIE, nor has it been established if TIEs will ever be required. We will publish further information on the procedure for applying for a TIE card IF / WHEN the requirement is actually confirmed and after full procedural details have been announced by the Spanish government.

Meanwhile, some readers may have seen in the local English speaking press that Hugh Elliott, Britain’s Ambassador to Spain is urging all UK expats living in Spain to register as ‘Resident’ before 31st December 2020.  This ‘advice’ is rather confusing and illogical, given the two most likely outcomes are that:

a) the UK leaves with a Deal, under which reciprocal rights of residency for UK citizens will continue as before;

b) the UK leaves with No Deal, under which all current residencias held by UK nationals will be cancelled and will be replaced by the requirement to apply for an entirely new TIE residencia (which are not yet being issued).

Therefore, our advice is to avoid wasting time and money applying for the old/existing Spanish residencia until the outcome of Brexit is known. The Spanish police would appear to agree with our view, given that they are now refusing to accept new residencia applications from UK residents at all police stations in Tenerife except in Santa Cruz, until after the outcome of Brexit is known.

Those already living in Tenerife are however recommended to apply for their Certificado de Empadronamiento (Padron Register), which is broadly similar to being on the electoral roll in other countries. The more registrants each Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) receives, the more resources it will receive from central government, so it is in everyone’s interests to register. Holders of the Empadronamiento Certificate are also entitled to apply for a Residents Travel Discount Card. UK nationals who are waiting to apply for Residency in Tenerife once the Brexit details have been finalised would be wise to apply for their Empadronamiento now, given that it must be shown when applying for Residencia in any event.

For more info on EMPADRONAMIENTO, click HERE.

It is unclear at this time how a No Deal Brexit might affect those in possession of a Permanent Residency Card (as opposed to a standard Residency Card). However, for UK nationals who have already obtained a basic Residency Card, the application procedure for a TIE should be no more onerous than their original Residency application and should arguably be nothing more than a ‘rubber-stamping’ exercise.

Registering for State Medical Care in Tenerife

Anybody who is already entitled to state medical care in Spain but who has not yet registered would be advised to do so before Brexit to avoid any possible interruption in those services. For more information, see HERE.

Driving Licences for UK Nationals living in Spain

Some media sources have engaged in scaremongering by suggesting or implying that UK licences will automatically be refused in Spain after Brexit. However, this is far from the true or complete picture.

It is correct that rules governing acceptance of driving licences between EU countries are primarily governed by Article 2 of European Directive 20067126/EC, under which driving licences issued by European Union Member States of the Union are mutually recognised. So technically, as of from the withdrawal date, in the unlikely event that the UK leaves the EU with “No Deal”, UK driving licences would theoretically not longer be recognized by the Member States according to Article 2. However, this is far from the whole story.

First and foremost, we have already explained in our Brexit article above (READ HERE) that the chances of the UK leaving the EU with ‘No Deal’ are slim to none. Meanwhile, any ‘Deal’ that is done will certainly include all reciprocal rights for such straightforward issues such as driving licences.

But what would happen in the extremely unlikely alternative of a ‘No Deal’, whereby the above mentioned EU reciprocal rights would technically no longer apply?

The starting point is that that Spain (and as of 2020, the UK) are Contracting Parties to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which both also grant reciprocal driving licence rights. The one inconvenience under this convention is that UK citizens would technically need to obtain a yearly IDP (International Drivers Permit) costing £5.50 from a major post office. This would enable UK driving licence holders to drive in Spain, regardless of the EU’s views on the matter.

However, what many sources fail to mention is that Spain and the UK have already essentially overriden the above provisions and reached their own provisional “No Deal Scenario” agreement on driving licences.

Most people are unaware that recognition by EU member states of driving licences issued by third countries (i.e. outside the EU) is not governed by European Union law, or indeed by any UN convention or treaty. It is more often regulated between the relevant countries directly, typically via little more than than informal agreement. For instance, many EU countries accept USA driving licences with no IDP requirement and many USA states similarly accept EU driving licences, despite the USA not being part of the EU.

In the case of Brexit, it appears that Spain and the UK have already reached this type of informal agreement. The following interim rules governing Brits driving in Spain in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit is quoted directly from the gov.uk official website:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/driving-in-the-eu-after-brexit-international-driving-permits

Spain

You will not need an IDP for visits up to 9 months after the date the UK leaves the EU. Thereafter, you will not need an IDP for visits up to 6 months, if you have either a UK photocard or UK paper driving licence.

You will need a 1949 IDP for longer visits.”

So British tourists, visitors or swallows that have not obtained Spanish residency can continue to use their UK licences to drive in Spain without needing an IDP, even in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.

However, for Brits who are permanently resident in Spain, there are different rules. Spain has stated that under a No-Deal Brexit, Brits who wish to drive in Spain will need to exchange a valid UK driving licence (without taking a driving test) for a Spanish licence, within 9 months of the date the UK leaves the EU.

So, given that the earliest possible date for leaving the EU is now 31st January 2020, Brits resident in Spain will have until 31st October 2020 to change their driving licences, and that is only on the unlikely event that the UK leaves the EU with ‘No Deal’.

Given the unlikelihood of the UK leaving with No Deal, any British residents who would rather keep their UK driving licences may therefore be better off waiting to see how Brexit plays out over the next few months, rather than jumping through bureaucratic hoops that may never actually be required. Then, once the exact legal position is decided following Brexit, even if they are definitely required to change their licences, they will still have plenty of time and notice to do so.

We will update readers further once definitive rules have been put in place following Brexit. However, any nervous UK nationals residing in Tenerife wishing to prepare for the worst and guarantee their rights to drive after Brexit can obviously now apply to change their UK driving licence for a Spanish licence prior to Brexit.

For the avoidance of doubt, readers should note that under the current rules in force today (which will most likely continue if the UK and EU do a deal), there is no legal requirement for UK nationals residing in Spain to replace their UK licence UNTIL it expires naturally on the date stated in the licence.

The Good Stuff – Duty Free Fags and Booze

If the UK leaves the EU with ‘no deal’, Brits holidaying in or visiting EU countries could once again find themselves limited on what they can bring back from Spain to standard ‘duty-free’ limits. However, given that Tenerife is outside of the EU for ‘tax purposes’ and duty-free limits already apply between the Canary Islands and the UK, there is likely to be no change whatsoever for bargain-seeker drinkers and smokers visiting Tenerife.

External Links / Further Reading

The Spanish government has also published the following page providing information and updates on the status and effects of Brexit for UK nationals living in Spain: HERE

The UK Government has also published a similar information page: HERE