Brexit leaves Spain's Costa Brits facing dilemmas

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The BBC met people who made a late dash from the UK to Spain before Brexit

The new year has brought storms to Spain's Costa del Sol - the sunshine coast is being lashed by rain and wind.

It's not what thousands of British expats signed up for when they chose to come out here to live.

Those living here, or those planning to in the future, will have to adjust to new post-Brexit rules.

Travel to Spain is more complicated now that the new EU-UK trade agreement has come into force. Since 1 January, the UK has been considered as a "third country" to the EU - outside the club. Any newcomers will have to follow a new system.

Change of status

For any UK citizens arriving now, here are some of the differences.

For tourists, including people who have second homes in the country but haven't taken residency, you can no longer come and go as you please. You can spend up to three months out of every six here.

To be able to live in Spain now, you will need to show proof that you're earning, either through having a contract with a Spanish company, or by proving that you have at least £2,000 (€2,223; $2,705) a month coming into your account.

For a family, it will be much more. You will need to show that you have an extra £500 a month for each member of the family. For example, a family of four will need to prove they earn a yearly salary of at least £42,000.

British driving licences will also need to be changed to Spanish ones.

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Mijas: That Spanish holiday home now comes with post-Brexit complications

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The last few weeks have seen a frenetic period of adjustment, and change, with people leaving Spain for good, and others replacing them before the rules for residency changed.

"Our removal companies have never been busier. Every removal company across this coast has told our team they've never seen a situation like this," says Michel Euesden from Rochdale. She runs the Euro Weekly newspaper in Fuengirola, a paper that provides news for Brits living here.

"It's the first time in 25 years since we started the paper here that we've seen removal companies fully booked going out and coming back in.

"They are taking the elderly and people who haven't had jobs for a while, because of the Covid situation, back to the UK, and then they're bringing back younger generations with disposable income, and often with an online marketing presence, out here. So the dynamics have completely changed."

Dash by campervan

Lifelong friends Jan Miller and Sonia Martin were among those who made a late dash from the UK to register as residents in Spain before the new rules kicked in.

It was a three-day Christmas campervan odyssey from Warrington to Malaga for them. They're now living together in a small cottage in the mountains, along with their partners, three dogs and three cats.

"We'd talked about it for years and years," Jan tells me. "We were fed up of the same old, same old routine. The same journey to work, same things at work, we wanted something different. And the Brexit rule changes made us go in the end.

"I think it's going to be much harder now from what I've heard… you've got to have more in the bank income-wise, going forward."

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Fuengirola: for years Spanish resorts have tried to make the British feel at home

'Swallows' grounded

Meanwhile, Eric Anderson is stuck in the UK. The 71-year-old former shipyard worker from Newcastle is one of thousands of so called "swallows" - people with second homes in Spain who spend winter in the sun and return to Britain in the summer.

Spanish Covid rules preventing non-essential travel mean that Eric can't fly out at the moment. When he can, his time will be limited under the new post-Brexit system.

"I feel badly let down. We paid a mortgage for 20 years to have a holiday home and a retirement bolt-hole for the winter. We're limited to just 90 days now, and that's not just for Spain, but anywhere we go in Europe on holiday. Say we cross from Newcastle to the Netherlands, that's counted.

"So you're already being restricted by time to come back into the UK. There's a lot of average working guys that have done exactly what I've done and it's just not going to be possible now. I don't think anyone expected the rug to be pulled from under them so quickly."

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Marchena - among the charms of Andalusia that attract many Brits

UK immigration issues

Tracy Turnero Sheehan has made her home in the hillside town of Marchena, famous for Flamenco music and olive growing.

She left Hereford 16 years ago, and is now a Spanish resident, running an English language school by Marchena's town square. She tells me over a socially distanced coffee that her life has become much more complicated as a consequence of the new rules.

"My husband Enrique is Spanish, my son Santiago is Spanish and British. If we ever wanted to move back to the UK as a family, say in five years, then I could move back, I imagine Santi could get a British passport.

"But Enrique would need to fit in with the minimum income or the points-based system. Which makes it almost impossible to live in the UK again. Honestly, I feel kind of forgotten about."

There is help for those considered more vulnerable who are seeking residency.

Three charities - Age in Spain, Babelia and the International Organisation for Migration - are offering legal help, or assistance in arranging appointments, for people struggling with the Spanish language, those in remote areas, and people with disabilities.

Costa dream or nightmare?

In total, there are now more than 360,000 British residents registered in Spain, according to official Spanish figures. Back in the offices of Euro Weekly, Michel Euesden predicts there will be a dramatic change to the population dynamic.

"We have traditionally been a community here of expats who are on average 50-plus. Last year it changed, and the average age was 45. If you come over in 12 months, it'll be more like an average age of 35.

"If you're 70 or 80 years old and you don't understand this new system, the new paperwork, the driving licences needing to be switched over, say for example they get ill - what are they going to do? I think a lot of people will go back to the country where they speak the language. You no longer have the best of both worlds, and people can't rely on speaking only English to get by.

"They will be replaced by a younger set of people who can afford to be here."

The stormy weather has finally passed. So too the era of easy travel to Spain. Estate agents tell me that British people used to be the biggest buyers of property on this coast. Not any more.

The Brexit effect has already begun to change the population here, and reshape the future plans of many Brits who want to live abroad.