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Brits in Spain

This guide offers advice for British expatriates in Barcelona.

Brits in Spain

Top tips for Brits in Spain

Get a NIE number

Applying for a NIE number is the first step for ensuring your residency in Spain is valid after Brexit. A NIE is a tax identification number for foreigners which identifies you before the Spanish Tax Office and allows you to file and pay taxes in Spain.

Join the Registry for Citizens of the Union

If you are going to spend over 3 consecutive months in Spain, it is mandatory that you join the Registry for Citizens, by doing this you will receive a Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión. Obtaining Spanish residency ensures your EU rights will be respected post-Brexit. If you do not register, you will be stripped of a series of rights and it may even lead to deportation to your country of origin.

Enrol in the Town Hall Census

By law, if you spend more than 183 days per year in Spain you must be registered on your local Town Hall’s Census (Padrón). The British Consulate is urging all British Residents to make sure they have registered prior to Brexit.

Exchange your UK driving licence for a Spanish one

If you are a Spanish resident, you must change your UK driving licence for a Spanish one. You only have 2 years to do this without a penalty.

Submit your resident tax returns

IRPF: Spanish residents are taxed on their worldwide income and assets. You will be required to file an income tax return once a year if you work in Spain, lease property or derive any income in Spain you need to submit IRPF.

Apply for an EU Social Security Card

It is strongly advised that you apply for an EU Social Security Card to have unlimited access to Spanish healthcare.

Attend a citizen outreach meeting

The British Embassy regularly holds events across Spain for UK nationals. Attend a citizen outreach meeting to keep up to date on the conditions for working and living in Spain.

Apply for permanent residency

If you are a legal resident in Spain for a period of 5 years, you may now apply for permanent residency.

How does Brexit affect expats living in Spain?

If you have been a legal resident of Spain since before 1 January 2021, you will need to change your ‘NIE’ (Número de Identificación de Extranjero) for a ‘TIE’ (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero), if you haven’t done so already. If you are registering for the first time, you will be directly issued with a TIE. This card shows that you have rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. Your NIE number will appear on your TIE. 


If you registered as a resident before 6 July 2020, you will have a green A4 certificate/credit card-sized piece of paper. This is still a valid residency document. You do not have to exchange this document for the new TIE. However, it is strongly advised that you do.

The Withdrawal Agreement

What is it?

The Withdrawal Agreement protects the rights of UK nationals and their family members who live in EU countries provided you meet one of the following residence conditions:

  • You are a worker or are self-employed in the country where you’re living.
  • You are a student and can prove you have enough money to live on and have comprehensive sickness insurance.
  • You are a self-sufficient person and can show you have enough money to live on, and have comprehensive sickness insurance.
  • You already have permanent residency.

Healthcare in Spain after Brexit

British expats and holidaymakers are all asking the same question “Will Brits living in the EU still have access to healthcare after Brexit?”. If you’re a British expat living in Spain, you are entitled to healthcare if you meet one of the following requirements:


  • you receive a UK State Pension or some types of long-term sickness benefit
  • you are a working or self-employed resident in Spain and paying Spanish social security contributions
  • you receive a Spanish state pension or benefit
  • you are a permanent resident in Spain
  • you are a child resident in Spain
  • you are a UK posted worker in Spain
  • you are under 26 and studying in Spain
  • you pay directly into the public health insurance scheme (Convenio Especial)

Remember that these current healthcare conditions are guaranteed until the Brexit transition period ends. If you’re living in Spain before the end of 2020, your rights to access healthcare in Spain after this period will stay the same as long as you remain a legal resident. 

UK-funded healthcare: S1 form

You may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK if you live in Spain and receive either: a UK State Pension some other ‘exportable benefits’. You are also entitled to an S1 form if you’re a posted/frontier worker who lives in Spain and commutes to work in the UK.


If you have a UK State Pension, you can request an S1 application form by phone from the ‘Overseas Healthcare Services’. When you get your S1 form, you must then register it with your local social security office (INSS) who will give you a Spanish social security number. The next step is to take this to your local healthcare centre to register. After you have registered, you’ll be given a medical card which you can use when visiting the GP. This will mean you and your dependants will be entitled to state healthcare on the same basis as a Spanish citizen.

British students in Spain

To get access to the Spanish healthcare system, you can use an EHIC or GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card) to get healthcare until the end of your study period. This isn’t however, a replacement for travel insurance and you should have both to cover the duration of your course.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

If you are not an S1 holder, but are registered for public healthcare in Spain in another way and are travelling outside of Spain, you must apply for a Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea (TSE – a Spanish-issued EHIC) online or via your nearest social security office.


You must also buy comprehensive travel insurance to cover anything not already covered by your TSE, EHIC or for travel to countries outside of the EU.


If you were living in Spain before 01 January 2021, you may be eligible for a new UK-issued EHIC if you’re: A UK student in Spain, a UK State Pensioner with a registered S1 or you’re a frontier worker with a registered S1.

Residency in Spain after Brexit

If you became a resident of Spain before 1 January 2021, you need to replace your NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero), with a definitive residence document, commonly referred to as a TIE (Tarjeta de Identificación de Extranjeros). If you arrived in Spain after this date, a TIE card will be issued to you directly. With this, you’ll officially be a certified resident in Spain.

How to apply for residency

To apply for residency, you will need to make an appointment online at your local foreign office (Oficina de Extranjeros). To this appointment, you’ll need to take your NIE, your passport, your padrón (this is the equivalent of a census certificate), two passport sized photos and a completed EX-18 application form.


Before your appointment, you also need to take your EX-18 form to any bank and pay the corresponding tax which in this case is 21.44 euros.


If you don’t already have a NIE, you will be issued with one at the same time as applying for residency in Spain.

Will UK driving licences still be valid in Spain?

One of the biggest doubts for expats living in Spain is what will happen regarding driving licences and if international driving permits will be needed. 


As of 16th March 2023, you can use your UK licence for up to 6 months after becoming a resident in Spain. To continue driving after this, you must apply for a Spanish driving licence.


If you have a UK licence, you can exchange your driving licence for a Spanish one without taking a practical or theory test. You can do this via the DGT (Spanish Traffic Authority) website. You should do this within 6 months from 16 March or within 6 months of the date you obtain your residence, whichever is later.


You will need to present the following at your appointment: ID, proof of residence, Redemption Application, a ‘check code’ from the DVLA and various other documentation.


They will then provide you with a temporary driving permit (autorización temporal para conducir) to use until your Spanish licence is processed. Your temporary licence is only valid for 3 months, and in Spain only. 

More information

If you have further questions regarding pensions, voting, pets, births/deaths/marriage, check out the GOV.UK website for more information. Or contact Age in Spain.

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