Considerations regarding British citizens after formalization of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and the European Economic Area

1. British Residents in Spain

On December 31, 2020 the transitional period ends, after which the United Kingdom will no longer be part of the European Union, but will be considered to be a “third country” with the loss of rights and obligations derived from EU law which will entail, in particular, the right to freedom of movement and residence that so characterizes the EU countries.

Many British nationals live in Spain, so one of the problems is what will happen to those who have British nationality but live in Spain. In response, the Withdrawal Agreement, which came into force on February 1, 2020 and regulates the conditions for an orderly withdrawal, protects both United Kingdom nationals residing in Spain at the end of the transitional period and their family members who are nationals of a third country, provided that they are family members before the end of the transitional period, so that at the end of the transitional period they will continue to maintain their rights of residence, work, study and social security.

The Agreement establishes two types of procedures in order to benefit from it:

  • (i) a constituent procedure, by which a new status as a resident of the host State must be applied for;
  • (ii) a more tacit procedure, based on the issuance of a residence document by the host State at the request of the person concerned, expressly identifying them as beneficiaries of the Agreement.

Spain has chosen the second option, so that British nationals who reside in the country before December 31, 2020 will not need to apply for a new residence document. Registration certificates and family cards of EU citizens obtained before the end of the transitional period will be sufficient to subsequently prove their legal residence in Spain, although from July 6 on it will be possible to apply for the issuance of a residence document, in which the condition of beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement is expressly indicated and which will guarantee their rights as a resident in Spain.

Although obtaining this document is highly recommended, since it will facilitate both the completion of administrative procedures and the crossing of the external border, it will not be obligatory in order to continue residing in Spain after the transitional period has ended.

For residents who do not have a registration certificate, although they may continue to reside in Spain, it is advisable to apply for a residence document. It should be noted that from July 6 to December 31, 2020, all applications for registration certificates shall be understood and processed directly as a residence document that identifies them as beneficiaries of the Agreement in order to avoid double requests. This residence document can be obtained at the immigration office of the province where you reside or electronically, proving your residence in Spain before the end of the transitional period.

Finally, and for all British nationals who come to Spain once the separation process has been completed, i.e., after January 1, 2021, and who wish to apply for Spanish residence, they will have to abide by different rights, as they will be treated as nationals of a third country, although this will depend to a large extent on the future relations agreed with the EU.

2. British Non-residents in Spain

Until December 31, 2020, British citizens will be able to continue traveling to the countries in the Schengen area or anywhere else in the EU with their British passport without any limitation based on their nationality and residence.

As of January 1, 2021, their passports must have at least 6 months of validity to travel to most countries in Europe (not including Ireland). Likewise, taking into account that from that date onwards, British citizens will be regarded as citizens not belonging to the European Economic Area, various border controls will be applied to them when they travel to other EU or Schengen area countries. In addition, they may be required to show (i) a return or round-trip ticket and (ii) that they have sufficient financial resources for their stay.

Also, as of that date, unless a different agreement is reached, British citizens will be able to travel to other countries in the Schengen area, including Spain, for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without needing a visa for purposes such as tourism.

To stay longer (whether for work, study, or business travel), one must comply with the entry requirements established by the country to which one is traveling, which may mean the need to apply for a visa or work permit.

3. Other aspects of interest

a. Driver’s license

In the case of residing in Spain and driving with a British license, the license must be replaced by a Spanish one before December 31, 2020. Simply go to the Spanish Department of Motor Vehicles (DGT) to complete the procedure, presenting a valid residence document in Spain and a photocopy of the British driver’s license certified by a notary. The British driver’s license must be handed in at the time of the exchange for a Spanish driver’s license. If you want to do the procedure after January 1, 2021, you must take a new driving test.

For non-residents, there is no formal agreement yet, but some extra paperwork will probably be required in order to drive in Spain for an extended period.

b. Pets

As of January 1, 2021, you will not be able to use the current pet passport system. Instead, you will have to follow a different process, which could take up to 4 months (

c. Free Roaming

Unless otherwise agreed, starting on January 1, 2021, free cell phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end.

Please note that there are still long and complex negotiations, so this may change in the coming months.

By Roser Servera, trainee lawyer of the International Desk of Bufete Buades, and Gabriel Buades, firm partner.