Guidance

Living in Spain

What UK and Spanish benefits are available to Britons living in Spain and information on driving regulations in Spain.

Overview

If you’re a British citizen or British subject with right of abode in the UK, you don’t need a visa to enter Spain. Other British nationals should confirm the current entry requirements with their nearest Spanish Embassy.

A valid British passport must be held for entry to and exit from Spain. There is no minimum passport validity requirement but you should ensure that your passport is valid for the duration of your visit.

This guide sets out essential information for British nationals residing in Spain, including British and Spanish pension and benefits entitlements, and vehicle and driving licence laws.

For further information, please look at the useful links for information on living in Spain here.

There has been no change to the rights and status of UK nationals in the EU as a result of the referendum.

Residency

For more information on applying for temporary and permanent residency in Spain, and registering with the town hall on the ‘padrón’, please see our dedicated page on residency.

Healthcare

For more information on accessing healthcare in Spain, whether on a temporary stay or as a resident, please see our dedicated page on healthcare.

State pensions

The UK State Pension is payable in Spain if you’ve paid enough UK National Insurance contributions to qualify and you meet other eligibility criteria.

If you reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016 you can claim the new State Pension.

If you reached State Pension age before 6 April 2016, you’ll get the State Pension under the old rules instead.

Find out more about your State Pension if you live or wish to retire abroad.

Where to apply for your UK State Pension

You must be within 4 months of your State Pension age to make a claim.

If you live in Spain but have only ever worked in the UK you will need to contact the International Pension Centre in the UK.

If you live in and last worked in Spain you should make your claim to the Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social (INSS) which is the Spanish pension authority.

If you’ve worked in the UK and any other EEA country you should make your claim for your UK State Pension to the pension authority in the country you’re living in or in the country you last worked. If you’ve never worked in the country where you’re living, your host country will forward your claim to the one you last worked in.

Pension Credit

You can’t get Pension Credit if you live permanently in Spain. If you decide to move to Spain permanently you must inform the office that pays your benefit before you leave.

If you live in the UK, Pension Credit can only be paid for up to four weeks whilst you are abroad.

Entitlement to a Spanish retirement pension

You may be entitled to a State Pension from any other countries you have worked in as well as from the UK if you meet the eligibility criteria for each country.

If you’ve worked in Spain you may be entitled to a Spanish State pension.

To qualify for a Spanish State Pension you normally need to have worked and paid National Insurance contributions in Spain for at least one year, provided you have worked in other EEA countries](https://www.gov.uk/eu-eea) such as the UK for a total of 15 years.

If you last worked in Spain you should make your claim for your Spanish and UK State pension from the Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social (INSS).

When applying you should complete and submit the relevant application form available from the INSS. Make sure you declare all periods of work in each EEA country on the application form.

Find out more about applying for your State Pension if you have worked in several EU countries.

Life certificates for UK state pensions

Thanks to a data matching agreement between Spain and the UK, Spain now automatically notifies the UK about the deaths of UK state pensioners who live in Spain. That means that if you live in Spain and are in receipt of a UK state pension you should not normally receive a life certificate.

If you do receive a life certificate from the Department for Work and Pensions, it is important that you reply as quickly as possible. If you don’t, your pension payments may be temporarily suspended.

You will need to get the form signed by a witness. The instructions are on the form. The people who can sign the form are the same as those who can ‘countersign’ a passport photo. Your witness doesn’t have to live in the UK or have a passport from any specific country.

Claiming UK benefits in Spain

You may still be able to claim some benefits if you travel or move abroad, or if you’re already living abroad. What you’re entitled to depends on where you’re going and how long for.

Find out which UK benefits you might be able to get while you’re abroad and how to claim them.

If you are in receipt of a UK benefit and are going abroad, even for a short time, you will need to tell the office that pays your benefit. Many income-related benefits such as Pension Credit and Housing Benefit cannot be paid to anyone who is abroad for more than 4 weeks.

You will also need to tell your benefit office about any other changes in your circumstances whilst abroad such as starting to work or moving in with a partner.

Benefit fraud

If you think someone is committing benefit fraud you can report it by phone or online to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

If you live in Spain you can call the free and confidential Benefit Fraud hotline in Spain on 900 55 44 40. Lines are open from 8am-4pm (Spain time).

Spanish benefits

Spanish contribution-based benefits

Working and paying contributions in Spain gives you entitlement to a number of Spanish benefits. These benefits include unemployment benefit, and permanent and temporary incapacity benefit. To apply for a Spanish benefit you should complete and submit the relevant application form. Applying in this way will ensure that your claim is considered correctly.

Spanish unemployment benefit

To find out if you are entitled to unemployment benefit in Spain and how to claim, contact your nearest Servicio Público de Empleo Estatal (SEPE) office.

You may be asked to provide proof of time worked in the UK. You can request this proof from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Find out more about claiming unemployment benefit in an EU country.

Spanish incapacity benefit

You should contact the Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social in Spain if you wish to make a claim for temporary or permanent incapacity benefit. You will only be entitled to Spanish incapacity benefit if you have worked and paid social security contributions in Spain.

Spanish means-tested benefits

If you have never worked or paid social security contributions in Spain you may still be entitled to financial help from your local social services, providing you meet certain requirements.

You can find out more about what income-related benefits are available in Spain by speaking to a social worker (“trabajador social”) at your local town hall (“ayuntamiento”) or visit your nearest Instituto de Mayores y Servicios Sociales office (IMSERSO - Spanish Institute for the Elderly and Social Services).

Taxation

The tax system in Spain operates on the same basis as the tax system in the UK. In the UK, those who are resident for tax purposes are taxed on their worldwide income, regardless of the country in which it arises. Those who are not resident for tax purposes are taxed only on the income arising in the UK. A Double Taxation Convention between Spain and the UK operates to prevent income being taxed in both countries when a resident of one country has income arising from a source in the other country. The full text of the convention can be found on the HMRC website.

In the case of pensions for past Government service, double taxation is avoided by allocating an exclusive right to tax to the paying state. This means that in all cases where a UK Government Service pension is paid to a Spanish resident it will be taxable only in the UK, apart from where, exceptionally, it is paid to a Spanish national. HMRC maintain a list of the UK pensions that are classified as government pensions for the purposes of the Double Taxation Convention.

In a change from previous practice, all income received by a resident in Spain is now taken into account to calculate the applicable rate of income tax in Spain – regardless of whether the income itself is taxed in Spain. So an exempt UK Government pension will be taken into account for the purposes of determining the tax rate which applies to other income which is taxable in Spain. This is common practice in other states around the world.

If, as a resident of Spain, you have concerns over whether a UK Government service pension is going to be taxed in Spain in a manner not in accordance with the Double Taxation Convention, you should address these to the Spanish tax authorities.

In accordance with Spanish and international law, all residents in Spain (nationals and non-nationals alike) are required to declare assets or groups of assets held outside Spain. Assets may include bank accounts, securities, rights, insurance, annuities, property, etc and the declaration is a separate exercise to the annual tax return.

To reinforce this obligation, and as part of the Spanish Government’s anti-fraud law, the Government requires all residents in Spain to file an annual informative declaration of assets held overseas by 31 March each year. Severe penalties for incorrect, incomplete or late reporting can be incurred and the legislation also means that criminal charges can be brought in the case of non-compliance.

Taxation is a complex issue and it is strongly recommended that professional advice is sought. The English language page of the Spanish Tax Authority can be found on the Agencia Tributaria website. If you need help with your tax return, you can use a registered ‘gestor’ or choose a lawyer to complete the return for you.

Driving licences and vehicles

Importing your UK-registered vehicle from the UK to Spain

If you spend longer than six months of the year in Spain with your UK-registered car, Spanish law says you must register your vehicle with the Spanish authorities. For information on how to do this (including how to change your licence plate) consult the Dirección General de Trafico . The RACE (Real Automóvil Club de España) also provides useful guidance about all aspects of importing your vehicle.

Please note that it is unlikely that you will be able to register right- hand drive vehicles such as vans and commercial vehicles.

UK-registered vehicles being driven in Spain must comply with all UK requirements for road tax, M.O.T. and third party insurance covering the full time period the vehicle is used in Spain, up to the six- month limit.

Vehicle import taxes

Payment of the following taxes (or acquisition of the relevant exemption certificate[s]) is required by the Dirección General de Tráfico when importing and registering your UK vehicle.

  • a registration tax (or certificate of exemption) (impuesto de matriculación)
  • a road/traffic tax (or certifícate of exemption) (impuesto de circulación del ayuntamiento) - contact your local town hall for details
  • VAT.(or certificate of exemption) – IVA.

Please see the Agencia Tributaria website.

Depending on your circumstances you may be exempt from one or more of these taxes.

Driving licences in Spain

  • the minimum age required to drive is 18 years
  • information about how to convert your UK driving licence to a Spanish Driving Licence (Spanish version only) (you may need to produce a ‘Certificate of Entitlement’ for this process, which you can apply for from the DVLA
  • information about registering your UK driving licence with the Spanish authorities (Spanish version only)

For further information please visit Dirección General de Trafico.

Changes to the use in Spain of UK driving licences as of 19th Jan 2013

These changes have come about as a consequence of the implementation in Spain of Directive 2006/126/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on driving licences which aims to harmonise the issue of driving licences across all member states of the European Union.

This legislation affects those British nationals resident in Spain who hold an old-style UK licence which doesn’t have the 10-year validity period and who have been resident in Spain for 2 years. In Spain, once the licence-holder has resided for two years, they are obliged to renew it or exchange it for a Spanish driving licence.

For further information please visit Dirección General de Trafico - Nota informativa sobre permisos de conducir comunitarios

Replace or renew your UK licence within Spain

You should bear in mind that once your UK photocard licence expires or if your UK licence is lost or stolen, you will not be able to renew this with the DVLA if you are residing in Spain. It may be easier to convert your UK licence to a Spanish licence before it expires.

In the case of a lost or stolen UK driving licence you can apply to the DVLA for a ´certificate of entitlement’ in Spanish that can be used to apply for a Spanish driving licence.

Spanish motor insurance regulations

Spanish insurance regulations differ from those in the UK. It is important to check carefully what cover your policy provides.

Traffic fines

If you receive a traffic fine while driving in Spain (eg for speeding/parking incorrectly) you can pay on the ‘pago de multas’ page of the Direccion General de Tráfico website.

If you dispute a fine you have incurred and wish to appeal, you should contact the Jefatura Provincial de Trafico (Provincial Traffic Office) where the fine was incurred. Contact details for all provincial traffic offices in Spain can be found on the Direccion General de Tráfico website.

Tow a car with a motorhome

Towing a car behind a motor home using an A-frame is illegal in Spain and you will be fined for using one.

Working in Spain

For certain job roles, you may be required to supply a criminal records check from the UK. More information on Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS) can be found here and information on how to apply for a DBS check irrespective of whether you live or have lived in the United Kingdom which can be found here.

If you are asked to provide a Criminal records certificate (Certificado de Andecedentes Penales) from the Spanish authorities, details of how to apply are available on the Ministerio de Justicia website.

Teachers and other professionals and volunteers who are in regular contact with minors through their work may be asked to obtain a certificate from the Spanish Sex Offenders Registry. Details of how to apply are available on the Ministerio de Justicia website.

Criminal Records check from the UK

For certain job roles, you may be required to supply a criminal records check from the UK. More information on Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS) can be found here.

Criminal Records Certificate from Spain

If you are asked to provide a Criminal records certificate (Certificado de Andecedentes Penales) from the Spanish authorities, details of how to apply are available on the Ministerio de Justicia website.

Teachers and other professionals and volunteers who are in regular contact with minors through their work may be asked to obtain a certificate from the Spanish Sex Offenders Registry. Details of how to apply are available on the Ministerio de Justicia website.

Vida Laboral

Seguridad Social in Spain can provide a record of your employment history in Spain. A Vida Laboral certificate can be obtained from the Seguridad Social website or in person at any main Seguridad Social office.

Returning to the UK

If you intend to return to the UK permanently, this page gives advice on what to do before you leave Spain. It should be as well planned as if you were moving abroad.

De-register from Spanish authorities

In order to help prove that you are living in the UK, it can be necessary to show that you have de-registered with the authorities in Spain. Typically you should consider de-registering with the local town hall (Padrón), with the Spanish National Police (Residencia) and your local Health Centre.

Notify the UK authorities

If you decide to move permanently to another country (including the UK) and are in receipt of a UK pension or benefit, make sure to update the International Pension Centre on +44 191 218 7777 about your move.

If you are registered for healthcare in Spain via an E121 or S1 form, the UK pays Spain money each month to cover your care. Make sure to notify either the INSS or the Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999 about your move. This will ensure your E121 or S1 is cancelled on the right date, avoiding taxpayers’ money being paid unnecessarily to Spain for care you do not need. (Note that your European Health Insurance Card – or EHIC – can be used in Spain for any holidays or temporary stays in future).

Disclaimer

Please note that this information is provided as a guide only. Definitive information should be obtained from the Spanish authorities. For any of these processes, you may find it helpful to employ a gestor (a representative who carries out administrative dealings on behalf of a private customer or company) to take care of the paperwork for you.

Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 11 February 2014 + show all updates
  1. Updated hyperlinks and corrected a grammar error.
  2. Taxation information updated.
  3. Updated the information on UK benefits abroad
  4. Information added on returning to the UK
  5. Updated Life Certificate information
  6. Updated to include details of the double taxation treaties between Spain and the UK
  7. updated arrangements for signing of life certificates in Spain
  8. guide and category changed.
  9. First published.