(Editor’s note: This two-part series on Spanish citizenship does constitute legal advice. This is drawn from the author’s personal experience and her research as an expat living in Spain. Always consult a Spanish immigration attorney on legal matters. You can see Pt. 2 here.)
Following the Brexit vote and certainly over the course of the past year many British expats in Spain have been sitting, taking stock and re-evaluating where it was that they want to spend their time – in the United Kingdom or in Spain. For some that meant applying for Spanish residency; others simply became resigned to packing up their belongings and returning to the UK (in future limiting their visits to 90 days in every 180).
Strictly speaking, taking residency or simply leaving were – or are – the only two options; however as always, there’s a group who have chosen to take their chances and remain regardless, hoping to keep under the radar and insistent that Spain needs them and therefore won’t remove them from the country.
Wishful thinking? Time will tell.
All of that is now history. Decisions have been made and most of us are just getting on with it as best we can. However one huge downside is that UK passport holders resident in Spain (despite being covered by the Withdrawal Agreement) no longer have that all important EU passport. Meaning a lot of what we took for granted – for example freedom of movement – is gone. And so there are many expats amongst us who – having lived in Spain for a good few years – are now beginning to think and enquire about applying for Spanish citizenship.
So how does citizenship differ from residency? what are the rules? How easy is it to gain citizenship? And what of dual nationality? Is that even possible?
Residency versus citizenship
Both offer permanency and both – as I understand it – can be revoked if you spend too long out of the country. So apart from being eligible to vote in Spanish elections, what can you do as a citizen that you can’t do as a permanent resident? Well, there isn’t really a great deal of difference compared to residency, especially for those individuals physically residing in Spain.
That said, amongst the benefits that citizenship brings, is the ability to get a Spanish passport and therefore have more options to work and to live in other parts of Europe (the same rights that we in the UK had pre-Brexit). You can also get the DNI or Documento Nacional de Identidad which can surprisingly reduce the paperwork Spain is so famous for, or apply for jobs that require you to be a Spanish national (for example the police and military), and you’ll be able obtain certain privileges in connection with social security, bus passes, etc.
Obtaining Spanish citizenship and applying for a Spanish passport – 10 Year Rule
For most of us applying for Spanish Citizenship means you’ll need to have been resident for 10 years or more and the clock starts ticking from the date when your first residency card was issued.
Of course there are circumstances when you can apply sooner; for instance one year if you:
• were either born in Spain, married to a Spanish citizen;
• a widow/widower of a Spanish citizen,
• or if you were born outside of Spain to a Spanish father/mother (also born outside of Spain), grandfather or grandmother provided that they were originally Spanish.
Refugees can apply after five years.
I personally have dual citizenship being both a UK and Russian passport holder. I’m guessing that I’m not alone in saying that I really would not want to give up my UK passport. Anyone who takes a quick look on social media will find conflicting advice when it comes to holding a UK and Spanish passport, let me say that despite rumours to the contrary it is possible for a UK citizen to remain a UK citizen AND apply for Spanish nationality.
Dual citizenship (also known as dual nationality) is permitted in the UK, so you can be a UK citizen and a citizen of other countries.
(Author’s note: As a side note, the United States also allows dual citizenship in very limited circumstances. However, if you’re born a U.S. citizen and apply for a second citizenship, you must forfeit you American passport.You can see those rules here.)
What has Spain got to say on the matter?
Spain has signed Doble Nacionalidad agreements with only a very few countries. Ibero-American countries include Andorra, Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and Portugal. Moreover it does not recognise dual nationality with any country that it does not have an agreement with because all treaties are reciprocal. So, Spain will not “officially” recognise someone as being a British-Spanish citizen or a US – Spanish citizen.
However, as long as you are “Spanish” whilst living in Spain and do not make a habit of using your “other citizenship” with the Spanish authorities, then you needn’t relinquish your other passport.
For reference, the following countries expressly do not allow dual citizenship.
In the EU those countries are Andorra, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands Poland and Slovakia. Non-EU countries include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Djibouti, El Salvador, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Montenegro, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tanzania, Thailand, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates.
About the author:
Irina Greensitt is from the far eastern town of Khabarovsk in Russia, but lived in the United Kingdom for seven years before moving to Spain in 2014 with her husband and two young children.
Irina now runs an internet business and lists walking, travel and sailing (passing her skippers exam in 2016) amongst her hobbies.