My partner, Alison, and I moved to Spain just under 2 years ago. We live halfway up a mountain in a typical Andalucian country area. I would like to think we have fitted well into our new life, making progress on our language skills and having established a number of local Spanish friends. The pace of life, openness of the local people, proximity to the UK for friends and family and, of course, the relative cost-of living, were all influencers upon our decision of where to finally settle. We seriously considered a number of non-EU countries also, but the final jusdgement came down to being able to get back to the UK in the event of any family issues and the climate
Over the last 20 years, my career in electronics engineering has taken me to live and work in several countries, including other countries in the EU, others further afield. Twice, I lived in countries that became member states whilst I was living there. During much of that time I was married to a South African passport holder, so I have probably seen and dealt with every variation of visa, residency permit, work permit, town hall registration and assorted beauracracy that various governments could think of to throw at a Brit abroad. We made sure we understood, and complied with all of the necessary paperwork for living in Spain as early as possible, and completed everything within about 7 months of arriving (Town Hall registration, exchanging driving licenses, residency permits etc.).
On the basis of my experience, the reality is that, EU or non-EU, the basic requirement is always the same—apply for a residency permit, get a work permit, register with the local authority and ensure suitable healthcare arrangements, a process I have been through numerous times. This being the case, Brexit makes no difference at all to any Brit living abroad.
Much of the talk about Brexit has been centered upon the potential restriction of free movement once we leave the EU. British passport holders currently enjoy visa free travel in around 156 countries, making our passport the 4th most useful in the world behind, surprisingly, Singapore and South Korea. Why would this change? Once my wife had received a Schengen visa in her South African passport she enjoyed unfettered travel within the entire Schengen block. Therefore, even if the EU decided to “punish” British Passport holders with an insistence on visas, it is unlikely to involve more than a one-off application. Given the volume of British tourists to EU countries though, it is almost un-imagineable that the EU would impose such a visa requirement.
This is especially true of Spain where some 17 million British visit each year, a massive contributor to the National economy. Similarly with 306,000 legally registered British resident in the country (and potentially as many again un-registered), the importance of Brits in Spain will ensure the Spanish government continues to act in a positive and considerate manner in relation to this group.
In truth, the one genuine impact of Brexit on all British people in Europe has been the fall in the exchange rate of sterling. But even here, this should be regarded as a short-term impact. Indeed many may remember the 2009 low point of sterling dropping to 1.03 versus the Euro, at that time Brexit was not any part of the equation it was more a result of the “normal” currency speculative trading. The potential of a Labour victory at the next general election is currently widely considered, by the major finance houses, to be more of a long-term risk to sterling than any ongoing Brexit effect. So, whilst exchange rates cause a short term pain, I console myself with the thought that I still get far more spending power in Spain for my Pounds than I would if I had that same income and lived back in Britain.
Ultimately the question we ask ourselves is “does Brexit fundamentally alter our lifestyle or choice of location”? The answer to both points is NO.
I have deliberately not indicated a “for” or “against” Brexit viewpoint, instead I am simply taking a pragmatic view of the situation we have to deal with following the referendum result. I believe the uninformed and speculative rhetoric and scaremongering will continue—as an example we see a few organised groups of British living in the EU, with memberships numbering only a few thousand, yet claiming to speak for a majority, if not all, of the 2 million having made this choice. I, for one, prefer to monitor developments for myself and ensure that I follow facts rather than hysteria.
Disclaimer: As with all of the information supplied through the citizens’ panel and presented in our Conversations with the #britishinEurope feature, the views, information, or opinions of individual study participants presented above are solely those of the individual author. They do not necessarily represent those of the project team, Goldsmiths or our funders.