Why are expats leaving Spain?

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Spain has long been a favourite destination for British expats, not just for holidays but for making it a new home. Its appeal lies in its sunny beaches, relaxed pace of life, and lively cultural scene, attracting many from the UK seeking a peaceful retirement or a fresh start.

However, in recent years, this appealing picture has shifted. More and more Brits are rethinking their life in Spain and considering a move back home.

The significant impact of Brexit essentially drives this change. The UK’s departure from the EU has brought about many challenges for British citizens living in Spain. The new residency rules, uncertainty around healthcare, tightening financial situations, and job market difficulties are just a few of the problems they face. These issues have transformed what was once an ideal expat experience into a situation filled with red tape and cultural hurdles.

In this article, we take a closer look at why this trend is emerging. We examine the different reasons leading British expats in Spain to reconsider their choice. From the direct consequences of Brexit to the changing social and cultural dynamics, we aim to give a complete picture of why an increasing number of Brits are saying goodbye to their life in Spain. As we navigate these issues, we’ll gain insights into the challenges and opportunities for those who still find Spain a desirable place to live.

1. Brexit’s impact on British expats in Spain

The effect of Brexit on British expats in Spain has been tremendous, turning what used to be an easy way of living into a time full of new problems and worries. This significant change in politics and economy between the UK and the EU has directly impacted the lives of many Britons living in Spain.

Immediate changes after Brexit

When Brexit first happened, it caused many worries and confusion among expats. Their rights and freedoms as part of the EU were suddenly unclear. This period of change was the start of many adjustments for British expats, including changes in their legal status and having to think again about their long-term plans in Spain.

New Visa rules and time
One of the most significant changes has been visa rules and how long Brits can stay. While part of the EU, British expats could move freely, living and working in Spain without strict regulations. After Brexit, these freedoms ended. Now, Brits are treated more like other non-EU people. They face limits on how long they can stay and more paperwork. This significant change means they must rethink their plans to live or retire in Spain, as it’s become more complicated and filled with red tape.

Money worries for expats

Brexit has also brought big money worries for British expats. The pound’s value against the euro keeps changing, which worries those getting pensions from the UK. This change in the currency affects everyday costs and how stable their money is in a country where their income now goes up and down with exchange rates. Plus, there are new worries about pensions, property ownership, and taxes, making expats face new financial challenges during uncertain economic times.

II. Immigration and residency challenges

For British expats, the post-Brexit era has unveiled a labyrinthine world of immigration and residency hurdles, fundamentally altering their experience and expectations. Significant changes in scope and impact, have become a key factor in the decision-making process for many considering their future in Spain.

New immigration rules post-Brexit

Brexit stripped British citizens of their automatic right to live and work in Spain, replacing it with a more regulated system. Navigating a complex array of immigration rules that apply to non-EU nationals has become the new norm. Gone are the days of seamless movement; now, stays exceeding three months require long-term visas, a stark contrast to the pre-Brexit era of unrestricted residency.

The financial barometer

Residency requirements have introduced a significant financial threshold that expats must meet. British citizens must demonstrate a stable and substantial income to legally reside in Spain. For those seeking retirement in Spain, this often involves applying for a non-lucrative visa, which demands proof of sufficient income or savings and prohibits employment in Spain. This financial criterion poses a significant challenge, particularly for retirees who previously relied on UK pensions and modest savings to fund their Spanish lifestyle.

Challenges in securing residency

Securing residency in post-Brexit Spain is not just about meeting financial requirements; it involves navigating a daunting and time-consuming bureaucratic process. Obtaining and renewing residency permits involves mountains of paperwork and administrative procedures, a stark contrast to the pre-Brexit breeze. The uncertainty and delays in these processes have added to the stress and anxiety of many expats.

The ripple effect

The impact of these changes is profound. For many British expats, the allure of Spain was tied to the ease and simplicity of moving and settling. Now, faced with stringent immigration rules, financial hurdles, and bureaucratic complexities, the prospect of living in Spain is less straightforward. These challenges have affected potential new expats and those who have long called Spain home. For some, the hurdles in securing residency have led to reconsidering their living arrangements, with many opting to return to the UK or explore other countries with less stringent immigration policies.

In essence, the post-Brexit immigration and residency landscape in Spain presents a series of challenges that are reshaping the British expat community. The financial requirements and the administrative burdens of securing residency are significant factors influencing the lives and choices of British expats in Spain, prompting many to reassess their commitment to a life once taken for granted.

Immigration and Spanish residency challenges

3. Health care and social security concerns

In the wake of Brexit, British expats in Spain face a double whammy: navigating the labyrinth of new residency rules and adapting to significant changes in healthcare and social security systems. Intricately linked to their legal status and financial stability, these shifts throw a heavy blanket of worry over their sunny Spanish dreams.

Changes in access to healthcare and related costs

For many expats, especially retirees, healthcare is a critical anchor. But post-Brexit, the tide has shifted.

The once-reliable reciprocal agreements granting access to Spanish healthcare are now shrouded in uncertainty. This ambiguity raises a major concern: the potential need for private health insurance for anything beyond a stubbed toe, significantly bloating monthly bills. To retirees who depend on regular healthcare, this shift from a secure system to an unclear minefield can make staying in Spain a tough decision.

The ongoing chaos surrounding EHIC and GHIC cards only adds to the anxiety, leaving expats adrift in a complex healthcare landscape.

According to a recent survey by the British Embassy in Madrid, 35% of British expats in Spain reported difficulties accessing healthcare due to confusion surrounding their EHIC or GHIC cards. This uncertainty has led to delays in treatment, increased out-of-pocket expenses, and heightened anxiety among those who rely on accessible healthcare.

Social security implications for non-residents and retirees

Pension access, another pillar of expat life, has also been rocked by the tremors of Brexit. Claiming pensions through the Spanish system has become a hurdle race, with stories of frustrations and denials swirling around. These challenges aren’t just paperwork headaches; they threaten the very livelihood of expats, especially those who built their retirement plans around a steady UK pension income.

Coupled with the new residency requirements demanding higher disposable incomes, the financial security once associated with expat life in Spain feels increasingly precarious. The worries around social security aren’t just about the numbers; they delve into the complex legal maze of fiscal residence and taxation for British residents in Spain.

A web of uncertainties

This tangled web of healthcare and social security anxieties, intricately woven with the broader challenges of residency and finances, paints a complex and unsettling picture for British expats in Spain.

The extra healthcare costs, coupled with the murky waters surrounding pensions and social security benefits, play a starring role in their lives. These factors, compounded by the residency hurdles we discussed earlier, significantly influence expats’ decisions about their continued stay in Spain. For many, these combined challenges are forcing a harsh reevaluation, with some choosing to return to the UK or seek sunnier shores where healthcare and social security concerns are less daunting.

As this new reality unfolds, the allure of Spain for British expats seems to be dimming, a bittersweet testament to the far-reaching impact of Brexit.

Spanish health and social security concerns

4. Lifestyle and integration challenges

As British expats adjust to the post-Brexit landscape in Spain, the sun-drenched facade reveals intricate cracks. Significant lifestyle and integration challenges lie beyond the legal and financial hurdles, deeply rooted in cultural shifts and social complexities. These hurdles impact their daily lives and well-being in profound ways.

The shifting sands of expat life

The once-laidback lifestyle that enticed British expats to Spain is experiencing a nuanced yet profound change. While the alluring weather remains a constant, navigating cultural differences, once eased by EU membership, now presents a steeper climb.

The loss of certain EU privileges, like flexible residency arrangements, forces those who once flitted between UK and Spain to make a tough choice: full-time commitment or bittersweet goodbyes. This shift disrupts the “best of both worlds” dream that drew many expats in the first place.

Lost in translation

Once a charming quirk, Spanish can now feel like an imposing wall. From deciphering healthcare forms to navigating everyday interactions, limited Spanish leaves some expats feeling adrift in a sea of unfamiliar words. This is particularly true when grappling with the complexities of new residency and healthcare regulations.

The language barrier isn’t just practical; it’s a social and emotional barrier, creating a sense of isolation and a feeling of being an outsider in a land they once felt part of.

Isolation and mental health

Once a distant spectre, loneliness now casts a long shadow over the expat community. The combination of bureaucratic burdens, language struggles, and cultural differences can leave some expats feeling like they’re stranded on isolated islands in a seemingly endless sea of sunshine. This is compounded by the loss of familiar support networks back home, making the struggle for connection even more challenging.

For elderly expats, who rely heavily on social interaction and accessible healthcare, these challenges can be particularly acute, potentially impacting their mental well-being.

Recalibrating expectations

Recent research and personal accounts paint a clear picture: for many British expats, the Spanish dream faces a reality check. The post-Brexit landscape isn’t just about legalities; it’s about feeling truly integrated, woven into the fabric of Spanish life.

And for some, the cost of integration seems too high. They’re weighing the golden beaches against the isolation, the vibrant culture against the language barrier, and making tough decisions about their future under the Spanish sun.

Adapting to a new reality

The challenges British expats face in Spain are multifaceted, a tangled web of visa limitations, language barriers, and cultural nuances. These, interwoven with the legal and financial hurdles discussed earlier, paint a complex picture of a new reality, one where the sun still shines.

Still, the shadows of integration challenges stretch longer. It’s a reality that forces some to adapt, recalibrate their expectations, and perhaps even contemplate a different horizon.

5. Financial and property challenges

The financial landscape for British expats in Spain, once as sunny as the beaches themselves, is now riddled with cracks. Brexit has triggered a financial earthquake, altering the economic landscape and posing formidable challenges that jeopardize the dreams of British expats in Spain.

According to a recent study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, the pound’s devaluation against the euro has resulted in a 15% decline in British expats’ purchasing power in Spain since 2016. This means their pounds now buy significantly less in Spain than before Brexit, making everyday goods and services more expensive. This erosion of purchasing power has exacerbated the financial strain for many British expats, especially those on fixed incomes such as pensions.

Adding to the financial burdens, a 2023 report by TransferWise shows that UK citizens living abroad, like those in Spain, are now 11% poorer in terms of spending power due to currency shifts.

Living costs bite: Euros slipping through sunburnt fingers

One of the most immediate concerns is the cost of living, inflated by the euro’s relentless ascent against a deflated pound. This currency tango leaves expats with less bang for their buck, transforming routine purchases into budgetary tightrope walks. Groceries, utilities, even a caña at the local bar – everything feels more expensive, squeezing wallets and forcing painful reevaluations of lifestyles, especially for retirees and those reliant on UK-based income.

In 2023, the cost of groceries in Spain has seen a substantial increase compared to previous years. According to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), food prices in Spain surged by 9.03% in November 2023 compared to the same month the previous year. The situation peaked in February 2023, with food inflation hitting an all-time high of 16.64%.

Several factors contribute to this spike in food prices, with one of the primary reasons being a significant decline in agricultural harvests. Eurostat data reveals that crop yields in Spain plummeted by approximately 18% in 2022, further exacerbating the increase in food prices.

To put this into perspective, a comparison of specific grocery items between the UK and Spain in March 2022 showed that items like bread, milk, butter, and sugar were generally more affordable in Spain. However, it’s crucial to note that these prices have likely risen in 2023 due to the overall increase in food costs.

Pensions pinched: Devaluation steals the golden years’ shine

For many retirees, Spain was envisioned as a sun-drenched haven, their dreams built on the solid bedrock of a UK pension. But with the pound’s devaluation, that bedrock feels precariously shaky. Stretching those euros further becomes a daily odyssey, casting a long shadow of worry over their golden years. Every doctor’s visit and every market splurge carries the weight of financial uncertainty.

Property perils: From investment havens to uncertain shores

The once-booming Spanish property market, a magnet for British investment, now reflects the broader economic tremors. Residency hurdles and a weaker pound dampen the allure of owning a Spanish slice of paradise. Those already invested face the squeeze of maintaining properties, leading to a rise in sales as expats seek financial stability elsewhere. Empty villas stand as stark reminders of the shifting sands, leaving a heavy sense of unease in the air.

Facing the crossroads: Recalculating the route with heavy hearts

These intertwined financial and property challenges paint a stark picture of a new economic reality for British expats in Spain. Rising living costs, a devalued currency, and a volatile property market force them to make agonizing choices. Budgets need recalibration, lifestyles reconsidered, and the Spanish dream might require a painful reevaluation for some.

The sun may still shine, but the cracks in the facade grow wider, casting long shadows over the future of the British expat community in Spain.

Financial and propery challenges in Spain

6. The social and cultural shift

The social and cultural landscape for British expats in Spain is undergoing significant changes post-Brexit, marking a shift in the dynamics within expat communities and the broader societal fabric they inhabit.

Shifting dynamics within expat communities

Brexit has not only altered the legal and financial aspects of living in Spain for British expats but also the social and cultural milieu. There’s a growing sense of uncertainty and adaptation among these communities, as they navigate the new post-Brexit environment. The composition and social dynamics of once-tight-knit British expat enclaves are undergoing significant transformations.

Social networks that were largely built around shared experiences of living as EU citizens are being redefined, leading to a transformation in community dynamics. This shift is influencing how British expats interact, participate in local activities, and engage with Spanish culture and society​​.

Impact of dwindling British communities

The shrinking presence of British expats, as some return to the UK and fewer new arrivals settle in, is causing a decline in predominantly British communities. These changes have a ripple effect on local economies, especially in areas where British expats were a significant demographic, contributing to local businesses and services. The reduced presence is also impacting cultural exchange, as these communities were often platforms for cultural sharing and integration​​.

Rise of other European expat groups

Concurrently, there’s a noticeable increase in expats from other European countries. This shift is gradually altering the cultural fabric of regions traditionally popular with British expats.

New languages, customs, and social activities are becoming more prominent, reflecting the diversity of these new groups. This change brings about a new cultural dynamic and opportunities for cross-cultural interactions, although it also poses challenges for British expats who may feel more isolated or less represented in the evolving community landscape​​.

In summary, the social and cultural shift experienced by British expats in Spain is multifaceted, impacting their community life, social interactions, and cultural integration.

The changing dynamics within expat communities, coupled with the decreasing number of British residents and the rise of other European groups, are reshaping the social and cultural identity of these communities. As we continue to witness these transformations, they serve as a testament to the far-reaching impact of Brexit on the British expat experience in Spain.

British expats leaving Spain


Beneath the Spanish sun, the familiar landscape for British expats is undergoing a profound transformation. The once-smooth path to life in Spain has given way to a terrain dotted with legal hurdles, financial uncertainties, and shifting social dynamics. This new reality casts a long shadow over the carefree days of EU citizenship, prompting many to re-evaluate their Spanish dream.

The reasons for their exodus are as diverse as the expats themselves. Some grapple with the anxieties of navigating a labyrinthine bureaucracy, their hopes for a secure retirement in Spain clouded by concerns about residency, healthcare, and pensions. Others find themselves adrift in a changed social landscape, the comfortable familiarity of their expat communities slowly replaced by a tapestry woven with new languages and customs.

Yet, amidst this uncertainty, glimmers of resilience shine through. New communities bloom, fueled by the spirit of adaptation and the enduring warmth of Spanish hospitality. For those willing to embrace the changing currents, a different kind of Spanish magic awaits – one where diverse voices blend to create a richer harmony and cultural landscapes constantly evolve.

So, whether contemplating a return to the UK, venturing to new shores, or choosing to stay on and navigate the evolving Spain as your new home, navigating these changing tides requires both courage and support. Here at TMS, we understand the complexities of this new terrain. Whether you need a smooth transition back to the UK, expert guidance on unknotting the legal tangles, or reliable support in building your new life here, we stand beside you.

Let us handle the logistical hurdles, the paperwork maze, and the cultural nuances so you can focus on what truly matters: reclaiming your sense of belonging, forging new connections, and rediscovering the beauty of Spain, even as it changes.

Remember, while the sands may shift, the spirit of adventure remains within you. With the proper support and an open heart, you can chart a new course filled with unexpected joys and fulfilling experiences in Spain or beyond.