Of course, the tabloids never miss an opportunity to try and raise the blood pressure, so it was with some amusement that I read the headline in one tabloid this week that “Brit Expats flock from Spain because of Brexit”. Seriously? I have yet to meet an established expat living in Spain, either in person or online, who is planning to return to the UK simply because of Brexit.
However, I do know many who have been widowed, have significant health issues or whose businesses or relationships have collapsed and are reluctantly being forced to return to the UK, but not simply because of Brexit.
Conversely, I know of several Brits who are so upset with Brexit, high cost of living, as well as the appalling weather, that they are ready to move to Spain and other European countries at the earliest opportunity. Let’s have a look at the assertion that Brits are leaving Spain by the plane load and put these headlines into some form of context.
It is true that the fall in the pound against the euro has been substantial and has had a significant impact upon the lifestyle of many British expats who are surviving on a state pension. Compared with the heady days some years ago when one pound could buy somewhere between 1.40 and 1.50 euros, there has been a considerable change in the fortunes of many expats.
It was clear to many that the pound was grossly overvalued at that time and would not last. There is also an assertion that Spain has become “incredibly expensive”. Again, just have a chat with a newly arrived expat, who will leave you in no doubt as to which is the most expensive country to live in – just start off with heating bills and the price of a decent cup of coffee…
There is an assertion that the number of expats leaving Spain outnumber those now arriving in the country. I suggest that this is a highly questionable statistic and should be challenged; as with all statistics, they can be manipulated in any direction to make a good story.
My own, admittedly limited contacts with removals companies, lawyers and other professionals, particularly in the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol, tell me that the balance between those expats arriving as well as leaving broadly evens out, and that there is no expat panic. The flood of expats returning to the UK appears to be merely a convenient tabloid illusion.
There is also a huge disparity in official numbers of those living in Spain, and there could be two main factors at play here. There has been a change in municipal enrolment rules with tens of thousands of Brits previously registered, but who have returned to the UK or died, and inconsiderately forgetting to notify the town hall.
Town halls benefit from having more residents, which means greater levels of funding and so there was previously no incentive for town halls to encourage people to deregister when they left the country. A change in the law in 2010 has since meant that municipalities must now confirm if a person is still in the area every two years, or every five years if the person is listed in the Central Registry of Foreigners, which has led to many being removed from the official registers.
This disparity in official numbers might also be explained by the number of foreign residents who live in Spain, but have not applied for residency.
It is uncertain issues, such as health and social care, that currently concern most British expats living in Spain, despite vague assurances from both Spanish and British Governments that all will be well. Many expats consider it unwise to move from a country where the health service is generally accepted to be under less pressure than the UK’s health service at a time in their lives when they may need it.
There is also the cost of renting or purchasing a home in the UK to consider, with many expats simply no longer having significant financial resources to draw upon. It is also worth remembering that many Brits moved to Spain when they were over 65 at the beginning of 2000. Many are now left widowed, resulting in an increasing desire to return to their families in the UK. Once again, this has very little to do with Brexit. Now, let’s have a look at the next tabloid scare story…
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© Barrie Mahoney