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What can UK expatriates in Spain expect from Brexit? 

At last we have some clarity around Brexit. While we still don’t know what the UK’s new relationship with the EU will look like next year, the transition period provides some certainty until 31 December 2020.

What might change when it comes to residence, taxation and UK pensions, and what steps can you take to prepare?

Securing residence and existing benefits
UK nationals who are lawfully settled in Spain before the end of the transition period can lock in citizens’ rights under the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement. This protects access to healthcare, social security, education and employment opportunities for as long as you remain resident.
If you already hold residency papers you will need to convert these to the new documents. Although the Withdrawal Agreement allows up to June 2021, register as soon as possible to protect your position.
Beware that you forfeit these guaranteed rights if you are absent from Spain for five consecutive years. Also, there is no onward freedom of movement.
Anyone arriving in Spain after December 2020 will be subject to the new residence requirements. While yet to be defined, these may be much more stringent than today.
Taxation after the transition period
Each country sets their tax rules, not the EU, and tax treatment depends on residence, not nationality. The UK-Spain tax treaty is independent of the EU. As such, Brexit itself has no effect on how Britons are taxed in Spain. However, some non-EU/EEA assets are currently treated differently, which could affect you after Brexit.
For example, if you sell a home in Spain to buy a British property once the UK is outside the EU/EEA, you may not eligible for capital gains tax relief.
In any case, the way you structure your assets can make a significant difference to the way you are taxed. Residents in Spain can take advantage of tax-efficient investment opportunities that may also provide benefits such as currency and income flexibility, wealth tax mitigation and estate planning advantages.

UK pensions after the transition period
UK nationals settled in the EU before 31 December 2020 can continue to receive yearly cost-of-living increases to their State Pension payments.
As things stand, Brexit should not affect how you can withdraw or transfer other UK pensions. However, once the UK government no longer has to abide by EU rules in 2021, they gain more freedom to recoup taxes from expatriate pensions.
One target could be Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (QROPS). Currently, Spain residents can transfer to a QROPS tax-free if it is EU/EEA-based, otherwise a 25% ‘overseas transfer charge’ applies. Many expect the UK may extend this to within the EU once it sheds its current obligations.
Take personalised, UK-regulated pensions advice to establish the most suitable approach for you.

Currency considerations
During Brexit uncertainty, the value of sterling has experienced much volatility. While more settled now, like any currency, it is always variable.
It is often sensible for British expatriates to keep some savings in Euros and some in Sterling. Explore investment structures that offer flexibility to hold investments in more than one currency and convert when it suits you. A QROPS could also provide currency flexibility for retirement income.
Make sure your investments are well-diversified, tax-efficient and offer the right balance of risk and return for your peace of mind.
While the transition offers a welcome period of certainty for British expatriates, the clock is ticking to secure your position and take advantage of suitable opportunities. A locally-based adviser with cross-border experience is best placed to help you prepare for the post-Brexit world.
Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.