From Ryanair boarding passes to TIE residency cards: the latest Brexit updates for Brits in Spain
The coronavirus pandemic has led to widespread travel restrictions between Spain and the United Kingdom, with foreign trips all but banned by the British government until recently and Spanish authorities setting strict limits for entry. The disruption has had a side effect, meanwhile, which is to mask the changes that have also been brought into force thanks to Brexit, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. In recent weeks, rumours have abounded on social media as to requirements for entry into Spain when traveling from the UK, as well as other aspects of the post-Brexit world. Below you will find a summary of recent advice from Spain, the British government, the UK embassy in Madrid, and support groups assisting citizens post-Brexit.
Entering Spain from the UK
Since May 24, Spain has been allowing travellers from the United Kingdom to enter the country without the need to supply a negative test for coronavirus. Also gone are the restrictions that had been in place since Christmas time – when a more contagious coronavirus variant was detected in England – that limited entry to Spanish nationals, those with residency, and a handful of other exceptions. Despite claims on social media to the contrary, there is currently no need to provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19 when traveling to Spain from the United Kingdom. According to the gov.uk official advice, “travellers from the UK should be prepared to present evidence of a negative test if they have traveled to a country on Spain’s list of ‘risk countries’ in the 14 days prior to travel.” The site adds that “in some parts of Spain, a negative test is required when checking into tourist accommodation or when traveling to the islands from mainland Spain.” You can find the full information from the gov.uk website about travel from the UK to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein here.
Form filling for travellers
One thing that visitors will still have to do before reaching Spain is complete a health form. Spain remains on the UK’s “amber list” of countries, for now, meaning that people making the opposite journey, from Spain to the UK, will have to take a number of pre-travel steps. These include filling out a passenger locator form, taking a coronavirus test to present at the UK border, as well as booking two home PCR tests, which must be taken during an obligatory 10-day quarantine period once back in the UK. Only when these 10 days have passed and both tests come back negative can quarantine end, although there is an option to shorten the period slightly by paying extra to use the government’s “test to release” scheme.
‘Carta de invitación’
There has been a lot of speculation recently both on social media and in the press about whether UK visitors to Spain who are coming to stay with friends and family and do not have tourist accommodation booked, have to complete and pay for a Carta de invitación, an official form that specifies who you will be staying with while in Spain. The form includes a range of information, including the personal details of the invitee and the invited, the relationship between both parties, and the planned length of stay. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau Spain, “many visitors from third countries such as the USA or Australia to name a few, have not been asked for an invitation letter on arrival in Spain.” And it would appear for now that it is not being requested of UK nationals arriving in the country either.
A British Embassy spokesperson told EL PAÍS: “British nationals visiting Spain should be prepared to show proof of return or onward journey, sufficient funds for their visit and proof of accommodation, such as a hotel booking confirmation, proof of address if visiting a second home or an invitation from a host, at the border. The Spanish government has clarified that the Carta de invitation is one of the options available to demonstrate proof of accommodation if staying with a host in a private home.
“British nationals should check FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] travel advice for details of entry requirements and travel restrictions that may be in place because of Covid-19.”
The full advice on entry at the gov.uk website is very similar:
“At Spanish border control, you may need to use separate lanes from EU, European Economic Area, and Swiss citizens when queueing. Your passport may be stamped on entry and exit. You may also need to:
*show a return or onward ticket
*show you have enough money for your stay
*show proof of accommodation for your stay, for example, a hotel booking confirmation, proof of address if visiting your own property (e.g. second home), or an invitation from your host or proof of their address if staying with a third party, friends or family. The Spanish Government has clarified that the Carta de invitation is one of the options available to prove that you have accommodation if staying with friends or family. More information is available from the Spanish Ministry of Interior.”
Conclusions? The Carta de invitación does not appear to be a requirement for UK nationals for now, but that could still change in the future. In the meantime, be prepared to supply the other aforementioned documents on arrival at the Spanish border.
TIE residency cards
One of the most persistent rumors that the Brexpats in Spain campaigning group has sought to address is that of a reported “deadline” for UK nationals resident in Spain to swap their green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión) for the new TIE plastic identity card. While there is still no official deadline to do this, the British Embassy has just changed its advice on the issue, and now recommends that the TIE be obtained “for ease of identity and sturdiness,” Anne Hernández from Brexpats in Spain reports in a Facebook post after meeting with the British Embassy in Madrid. Despite this advice, however, the green certificates will still remain valid.
As Sue Wilson points out in a Facebook post on the Bremain in Spain website, another benefit of the TIE card is that it carries a photo, and “your [Withdrawal Agreement] rights are visible, so hence easier for other EU countries to recognize/easier to travel in general.” Wilson also addresses the high volume of requests for the application process for TIE cards, explaining that “resources have been put in place in some areas – notably in the Alicante province – to deal with the backlog.” She continues: “It is not necessary, where you have the choice, to go to the nearest police station in your province, so if you are able to travel a bit further, you may find it easier to get an appointment. Your nearest office may have a backlog, but your second nearest may have nobody waiting at all.”
Since Brexit came into force on January 1, 2021, and freedom of movement ended for UK nationals, British visitors to EU countries can expect to have their passports stamped when arriving and leaving. However, under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, this should not be happening for UK nationals with valid residency in Spain. A spokesperson for the British embassy recently told EL PAÍS: “UK nationals who hold a valid residence document (TIE or green EU residence certificate) will not need a visa, should not have their passport stamped or be subject to routine intentions questioning, nor be required to prove sufficient means of subsistence at the Schengen border. If you have had a stamp placed on your passport, this will be null and void once you are in Spain/the EU as your residence permit negates its effect. If you are a resident of Spain, you should always travel with your valid passport and residence document. Showing your residence document should negate any stamp in your passport when entering or exiting the external Schengen Border in the future.”
When I traveled at Easter, however, my passport was stamped on my outgoing journey from Spain before I could ask the police officer not to do so. My personal recommendation, based on this experience, is that you present your residency card with your passport and request that your document not be stamped at the Spanish border. Whether the officer in question will comply is another story…
Another issue being faced by UK nationals resident in Spain post-Brexit is the issue of exchanging driving licenses. Here is the latest information on this issue direct from the British Embassy.
*Update for those who registered to exchange their driving license with DGT before 30 December 2020*
If you registered your details to exchange your UK driving license for a Spanish license before the end of last year, the deadline of 30 June 2021 has been extended until 31 December 2021, to allow you more time to complete your license exchange.
The DGT has also confirmed that both the green residence document and the TIE are valid proof of residence when completing the exchange. You can see the Spanish government’s bilingual ‘nota aclaratoria’ that states the ongoing validity of the green residency certificate: https://www.inclusion.gob.es/…/nota_aclaratoria_green_certi…
If you have attempted to complete the exchange of your license since 1 January but your application was rejected due to your TIE being dated to 2021, the DGT office will get in touch with you directly to arrange for the completion of the exchange. If this is your situation, and you do not hear anything after a few weeks, you should request an appointment with the DGT.
The current date for recognition of UK licenses for driving in Spain for those who are resident in Spain remains 30 June 2021, however. This applies whether you registered before 30 December 2020 or have not yet started the process to exchange your UK license for a Spanish license.
The UK continues to discuss arrangements for the future exchange of the UK driving licenses without the need for a practical test with the Spanish authorities
Ryanair boarding passes
A recent rumour that appeared both on social media and in some online newspapers claimed that UK nationals would no longer be permitted to use online boarding passes when flying into the European Union, as per screenshots that were widely circulated of the budget airline’s terms and conditions. I recently contacted Ryanair, however, who confirmed that this is not true and that mobile boarding passes are still available to British nationals. “Additional questions may need to be answered in the online check-in process but mobile passes will still be administered once this is complete,” the Ryanair press office stated.
Voting rights for UK nationals resident in the EU
One piece of good news for UK nationals living abroad arrived this week: British citizens will be given “votes for life” as the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scrapping the current 15-year limit on voting rights. The restriction has meant that until now anyone who has lived outside of the UK for more than that time period cannot vote in general elections or referendums – including the 2016 vote on Brexit. According to a statement from the British embassy in Spain, “decisions made in the UK Parliament on foreign policy, defense, immigration, pensions, and trade deals affect British citizens who live overseas. It is therefore right that they have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.
“The changes, which will form part of the Elections Bill, will also include measures to enable overseas electors to stay registered to vote for longer, with an absent voting arrangement in place.”
In a statement, UK ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott said: “In an increasingly connected world, most British citizens living in Spain retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family there, worked there for many years, and some have even fought for our country. They deserve to have their voices heard in Parliament, no matter where they live, and I am delighted that UK nationals living in Spain will now be able to participate in our democracy.”
Weeding out the disinformation
If you are affected by the issues that have been discussed above and want to avoid rumours and disinformation, my advice is to sign up for updates from the UK government about living in Spain here, and start to follow the following groups and accounts on Facebook: Citizens Advice Bureau Spain, British Embassy in Madrid, Brexpats in Spain, and Bremain in Spain. The official travel advice from the UK government is here. You can find all of the English Edition stories about Brexit here.
Published elpais.com 28 May 2021