How do expats in Spain feel about the referendum?

The debate over whether Britain should stay in or leave the EU continues over the Channel and amongst British expats, just as it does in Britain. With an estimated 800,000 Brits living in Spain, you will hear “Brexit” discussed in almost every bar in the country.

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As the EU in-out debate hots up in Britain, there is much similar discussion here in Spain – and indeed across Europe – amongst UK expats living and working there.
 
The UK staying in or leaving the Europe Union (EU) is certainly a bone of contention for many people, including the two million or so British citizens who are officially resident in various European countries, and is being discussed in bars and clubs everywhere.
 

Advantages for UK citizens

It is estimated that there are in the region of 800,000 British expats living in Spain – and a significant majority of these are certainly here for the relaxed lifestyle and sunshine synonymous with life in España. Others, though, are here because of work and family – maybe having been posted to Madrid, Barcelona or other cities by their employer, or because they have fallen in love and married a Spaniard. When the children come along, they are more inclined to stay on a very permanent basis.
 
Being British and part of the EU allows them the same advantages as any Spanish citizen for healthcare, social security, bank accounts and even taxes.
 
In the case of marriage, EU and British citizens can apply to have Spanish citizenship, but most prefer to hold on to their British passports. Being British and part of the EU allows them the same advantages as any Spanish citizen for healthcare, social security, bank accounts and even taxes.
 
Retired people from Britain are able to access free healthcare and social services, plus many other useful administrations, exactly as they would if they had stayed in the UK. This is due to an agreement within the EU that the British government pays for them as they would back in their home country. This agreement is reciprocal, by the way, so, for example, the Spanish or French government will pay for their pensioners in other European countries.
 
Apart from the obvious, there are other benefits of being an EU citizen in an EU country other than one’s own. No need to take a driving test, as all EU licences are accepted; no need to apply for a visa to work/study/live in another EU country and no need to “justify” your residence application.
 
Spanish people haven’t blamed EU immigrants for any cuts in services and longer waiting times in the health service, housing shortages or any other social problems.
 

The other point of view

Despite all these advantages for British (and other European citizens), there are voices among the expat community expressing doubt about a continued British membership. They cite the heavy overload of bureaucracy from Brussels, which undoubtedly needs reform, the fact that Britain is over populated and the fear the migrant crisis will exacerbate the problem, overload public services, in particular health and education, and that many of Britain’s current difficulties stem from the large number of eastern European immigrants who have rite of passage under EU rules.
 

Spanish concerns

It is interesting to note, though, that in Spain, despite a hugely damaging economic recession and job losses over the past eight years or so, the Spanish people haven’t in general blamed EU immigrants for the cuts in services and longer waiting times in the health service, housing shortages and other social problems. The largest foreign community registered in Spain is Romanian, with over 700,000 resident in the country compared to 144,000 living in the UK in 2015 (Source: official figures, Wikipedia). Many of the 800,000 British expats in Spain are not officially registered as resident, though of course, under European Law, they should be if they spend more than 183 days here a year.
 
The Spanish people I talk to don’t want Britain to leave Europe, and are puzzled over the strong feelings about the question. They also feel that Brussels is top heavy, and that the bureaucracy is overwhelming, advocating change in this area. However, they don’t feel that leaving is the answer, but rather staying in and with other countries together forcing reform and more openness for the benefit of all European citizens, including the British – if they decide to stay.
 
 

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