Help for British nationals overseas – 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 are a British citizen or British subject with right of abode in the UK, you do not require 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.

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 basic state pension is payable in Spain.

The state pension changed in April 2010. More people now qualify for a full basic state pension. Find out about the most important changes and what they mean to you.

To find out when you reach State Pension age, use the State Pension Age Calculator.

Where to apply for your UK State Pension

If you currently live in but have never worked in Spain, you should claim your UK state pension by contacting the International Pension Centre in the UK.

If you currently live and have worked in Spain, even for just a short time, you must apply for your UK state pension via the Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social (INSS) in Spain. You can download the application form from the INSS website. This is a form specifically for people who have worked in more than one European country and is only available in Spanish. When filling in the form, remember to declare time worked in all EU countries, including the UK.

The INSS office is then responsible for processing your claim and bringing together records of your contributions from all the countries you worked in.

Please note, your claim for a UK State Pension may be rejected if you apply directly to the International Pension Centre (IPC) but have worked and made contributions in Spain.

Moving to Spain once in receipt of a UK state pension

If you are moving to Spain from the UK you should inform the IPC of the changes to your circumstances. This will prevent any problems with your pension payments.

UK pension credit is not payable in Spain. If you decide to move to Spain permanently you must inform the office that pays your benefits before you leave. You will need to declare income from your UK state pension to the Spanish tax agency.

Once you are resident in Spain, and depending on your personal circumstances, income from a UK state pension can be liable for tax in Spain.

Entitlement to a Spanish retirement pension

After working in more than one European Economic Area country, it is possible for your contributions from each one to be taken into account when calculating your pension or benefit.

If you have worked in Spain for at least one year you may be entitled to a Spanish retirement pension, provided you meet other entitlement conditions. For information on how and when to claim your Spanish retirement pension or how your contributions in the UK can contribute toward your entitlement to a Spanish retirement pension, contact your local office of the Instituto Nacional de Seguridad Social (INSS).

When applying you must give as much information as possible about your working life.

Voluntary contributions

You may also be thinking about paying voluntary contributions to top up your pension entitlement in either country. For further information on paying voluntary contributions in the UK, contact HMRC. For Spain, contact the Tesorería General de Seguridad Nacional (TGSS).

Life certificates for UK state pensions

If you have received a life certificate from the UK Pension Service it is important that you reply as quickly as possible otherwise your benefit may be stopped. You’ll need to either:

  • get it signed by a ‘witness’ and send it back, as instructed on the form

or

  • obtain a Certificado de Fe de Vida (Proof of Life Certificate) from your nearest Civil Registry in Spain and return it together with your form

To get a Certificado de Fe de Vida you need to take with you to the civil registry:

  • your town hall certificate (certificado de empadronamiento)
  • your passport
  • your residence certificate (certificado de residencia)

If you decide to get your life certificate signed by a witness, check the list of people who can witness a life certificate. This is now the same as the list of people who can ‘countersign’ a passport photo, although they don’t need to live in the UK, or have a British or Irish passport.

UK Benefits in Spain

If you receive a UK benefit and are going abroad, even for just a short time, you should notify the office that pays your benefit before you go. In fact any change in your circumstances, such as moving in with a partner, starting work, or even moving house, should be reported immediately to the relevant authority paying your benefit or pension.

Spending time out of the UK, whether for a holiday or to live, doesn’t necessarily mean your benefits will be affected. But failing to notify your local benefit office of time spent abroad is considered an offence and could lead to prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of your home and possessions.

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

For further information on what benefits you can and cannot claim if you live in Spain see the information on benefits if you are abroad.

Non-exportable UK benefits

The following benefits are for people who are ordinarily resident in the UK and under no circumstances are they available in Spain:

Remember – if you are in receipt of benefits, it’s an offence not to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if your circumstances change, for example:

  • you are going to live or are currently living in Spain
  • you get married, or if you separate, divorce or are widowed
  • you start work, increase your earnings or your savings

If you don’t tell the DWP it could mean prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of your home and possessions.

For further details on what benefits you can and cannot claim if you live in Spain see the information about benefits if you are abroad.

Benefit Fraud

If you suspect someone of fraudulently claiming UK benefits whilst living in Spain, you can report them by calling the Benefit Fraud Hotline in Spain on 900 554 440. Your call is free and confidential. Lines are open Monday to Friday 8.00am to 4.00pm.

You can also report a benefit thief online.

For further information on benefit fraud visit the benefit fraud in Spain website.

Spanish contribution-based benefits

Working and paying contributions in Spain gives you entitlement to a number of Spanish social security benefits. These benefits include unemployment benefit, and permanent and temporary incapacity benefit.

Note that paying contributions as a self-employed worker or ‘autónomo’ does not give you entitlement to unemployment benefit in Spain.

If you have worked in Spain but have been told that you do not have entitlement to Spanish social security benefits as you have not paid enough national insurance contributions, you must make sure you declare the contributions you have made in the UK. or any other EU country. This is because previous contributions paid in these countries can often be used to make up any entitlement as though they were paid in Spain. Also make sure that, as for any benefit application, you apply in writing.

Spanish unemployment benefit

If you have been working and paying contributions in Spain, even for just a short time, you may be entitled to claim unemployment benefit. Make your claim at your local employment office in Spain.

When applying, you should state any previous periods of work in the UK (or any other EU country). To certify periods of employment in other EU countries you will need to request a U1 form from each country you have worked in. HM Revenue & Customs is the UK department responsible for issuing U1 forms to certify time worked in the UK.

Further information on Spanish unemployment benefit.

Spanish sickness or incapacity benefit

You should apply for sickness or incapacity benefit in Spain if you have been working here and paying contributions. Make your claim at your local INSS office.

When applying, you should state any previous periods of work in the UK (or any other EU country). To certify periods of employment in other EU countries you will need to request a U1 form from each country you have worked in. HM Revenue & Customs is the UK department responsible for issuing U1 forms to certify time worked in the UK.

Spanish means-tested benefits

Even if you do not have entitlement to a contributions-based benefit, you may be entitled to financial help from your local social services, providing you meet certain requirements.

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

For more information on non-contributory benefits in Spain see the IMERSO website(please be aware that most information is only available in Spanish).

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 for more details.

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.

Caravans and trailers

The British Consulate no longer issues certificates concerning British law affecting registration plates on trailers and caravans. If you are asked by Spanish authorities to provide such a certificate, please contact your nearest consulate.

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.

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).

Criminal records certificate/Certificado de Antecedentes Penales

If you are asked to prove your criminal record for the period of time you have lived in Spain, it is best to request it before returning to the UK. Details of how to apply for a Criminal Records Certificate 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.

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.