Number of Britons registered in Spain jumps 10% amid Brexit uncertainty

As the deadline for the United Kingdom’s divorce from the European Union approaches, more British citizens are opting to make their residency status official

Lucía Abellán
Spanish workers drop off goods near Gibraltar airport.
Spanish workers drop off goods near Gibraltar airport.Marcos Moreno

The majority of Britons who decide to move countries head for Spain – indeed the British community has not stopped growing since registers were first established.

Some had probably not thought of doing it, but with Brexit it is important to get residency papers

British consul Sarah-Jane Morris

But now it’s not just the sun-soaked, relaxed lifestyle that is driving the trend. It is also uncertainty regarding the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, a process commonly referred to as “Brexit.” The number of British nationals who are now officially registered in Spain – most of them in Andalusia and the Valencia region – has risen by a record 10% since December 2018.

The lack of clarity over Brexit is prompting many British citizens to register with the Spanish authorities – either at an Immigration Office or at a designated local police station – something they perhaps would never have done were it not for the potential imminent divorce of the UK from Europe on October 31. There are now 365,967 Britons officially registered in Spain. Figures provided by the Interior Ministry in response to questions from EL PAÍS reveal that the numbers are rising at an accelerating rate, and it is likely that they will go up even more quickly immediately before and after the Brexit deadline.

The campaigns carried out by the British embassies abroad – particularly in Spain – are also responsible for the development. Although the data does not distinguish between new arrivals and Britons who were already residing unofficially in the country, sources consulted by EL PAÍS believe that a good many fall into the latter category.

“We are advising British nationals who have been in Spain longer than three months and want to remain here to legalize their [residency] status,” says Sarah-Jane Morris, one of the three British consuls in Spain. “And the data suggests they are taking this seriously.”


Besides those Britons who have been officially resident in Spain for years, there is also a floating population of UK nationals, some of whom only spend part of the year in the country. There are, of course, also those who reside in Spain on a permanent basis but have failed to make their residence official as they were already guaranteed enough rights thanks to their home country’s membership of the EU.

There are now 365,967 Britons officially registered in Spain

“Some had probably not thought of doing it, but with Brexit it is important to get residency papers,” says Morris, who is responsible for UK citizens in the center, north and southeast of Spain.

There are even more people flocking to register now than directly after the 2016 referendum, which saw 52% of the UK vote to leave the EU. During that period, the number of Brits registered rose by just 4.6%, according to data from Spain’s Labor Ministry.

The data of the Brits registered in Spain show that the British community is concentrated along the coast, predominantly in Alicante and Málaga, and more than a third of residents are over 65. “The typical British national on the coast is probably in retirement,” says Morris. “While in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona they tend to be people who are working.”

Post-Brexit bilateral agreement

The benefits Britons in Spain will be able to receive after Brexit will depend on a bilateral agreement that the two countries' governments have already signed, and which is focused on maintaining the status quo even if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

Spain has even drawn up a contingency plan to issue permits to residents who are left in limbo. To take advantage of the agreement, Brits in Spain must first register officially. The British Embassy has had 200 meetings with British residents since the 2016 referendum to encourage this idea.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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