Brexit forced British expats in Spain to choose ‘residency, UK return or hiding in hills

Boris Johnson 'needs to step up for British expats' says expert

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In the run-up to the UK’s departure from the EU, Britons living in Spain were urged to register as Spanish residents. Spain’s huge British expat numbers are more than 360,000 people, according to official figures. However, thousands more Britons are also believed to reside in the country unofficially, living “under the radar” of the authorities. Maura Hillen, a legal expert in Spain, has said that unregistered British expats “who wanted to keep their head down and not pay taxes anywhere” now have a choice to make.

The Irish expat, who has lived in Spain for 14 years, and has campaigned for the rights of British expats, is the spokesperson of the property association ‘Abusos Urbanísticos Andalucía No’.

She told that since Brexit, Britons in the country have faced a decision to “become properly registered or go home – or hide out in the hills.”

From January 31 last year when the UK left the EU, Britons were treated as third country citizens by the bloc.

The 11-month Brexit transition period agreed by London and Brussels came to an end on December 31 last year.

This period provided time for both parties to hammer out a post-Brexit trade deal.

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It also allowed British expats across Europe, including in Spain, to get their paperwork in order.

Britons who were already registered Spanish residents were able to switch to a new type of Spanish residency during this period.

Known as ‘withdrawal agreement residency’, this also allowed Britons who wanted to live in Spain the option of easily becoming resident.

The transition period allowed expats to switch their residence card for a new one, however now this period has come to an end, the residency process has become more difficult.

Ms Hillen explained that despite the difficulties, most Britons in Spain do have residency, although Brexit has “cleared out” some unregistered expats.

She said: “What you find is that the vast, vast majority of people already had residency.

“They just had the hassle of changing the green scrappy piece of paper for the proper plastic credit card-sized identity document for non-residents, or for residents who are not EU citizens.

“But what it has done is clear out a lot of people living under the radar, and they don’t get a lot of sympathy from anybody living here.

“The [EU’s] freedom of movement allowed a lot of people to live here, as I call it under the radar.”

The expert claimed that before Brexit some unregistered expats had benefited from not paying into the system in either the UK or Spain.

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She said: “They weren’t paying taxes in the UK, they weren’t paying taxes here.

“They were living on the gig economy, getting paid cash in hand for work.

“That sort of ‘residency arrangement’ if you like is gone.

“But there are a couple of unfortunate cases, such as elderly people who struggle to deal with the new rules and regulations. People are trying to help them sort it out.”

Despite the difficulties with paperwork , Ms Hillen said that Britons had adapted to the situation.

She added: “Generally speaking, the majority of people that I know, if they were already resident, they’ve complied with all of the new pieces of paper that they needed to get.

“There’s been a bit of moaning but generally they’ve got on with it.”

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has been approached for comment.

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