I am British. Can I still get a Spanish passport?

I have connections with Spain. Can I apply for a Spanish Passport so I can keep my European status in the event of a potential hard-brexit?

Claudia Font
Claudia Font
Antonio Guillen
Antonio Guillen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that Brexit has been implemented, some British citizens with connections with other European countries are considering applying for dual citizenship (nationality) in those countries to which they have a close connection (whether is by blood or marriage), so they can keep a European passport.

We will briefly explain in this article how British citizens with connections with Spain can apply for a Spanish passport. You will note that not everyone with links in Spain qualifies automatically for a Spanish passport. However, there are numerous cases where a Spanish passport can be obtained.

See below a summary of the most common questions that our clients have been asking to us after Brexit in this regard:

I have a property in Spain, and I spend my holidays there with my family. Can I apply for Spanish Passport?

NO. Owning property and spending holidays in Spain, even if you have been doing so for a long time, will not allow you to apply for Spanish citizenship.

My partner is Spanish. Can I apply for a Spanish Passport?

NO/YES. Being married to a Spanish citizen, even if you have children together, does not entitle you to become a Spanish national. However, if you are resident in Spain, have been living in Spain, legally and continually, for the last twelve months, and you are married to a Spanish citizen, then you are entitled to apply for Spanish citizenship.

I am currently living in Spain. I am retired and moved to Spain some years ago.

NO/YES. The residence is one way to be able to apply for Spanish passport. However, there is a limitation period of 10 years. If you have been living in Spain, legally and continually, for the last ten years, then you are entitled to apply for Spanish citizenship.

There are some exceptions that may allow you to apply before the end of the 10 years period. A Spanish lawyer, or ourselves if you do not have one, should be able to advise whether some of the exceptions to the rule will apply to your case.

My parents are/were Spanish but I am British and I don’t have Spanish Passport. Can I apply for it?

YES. If your father or mother are/were Spanish but you do not have a Spanish passport because you were born in the UK and they did not register your birth in Spain, you can still apply for a Spanish passport.

You will be considered a Spanish national “by origin” as you are already considered Spanish by Spain. However, there are some formalities that you should follow to obtain a Spanish passport.

First of all, you will need to register your birth at the Spanish Civil Registry and once you have your Spanish Birth certificate, you will be able to apply for Spanish passport. Once again, a Spanish lawyer should be able to help with the paperwork if you prefer to get some assistance.

Can I be I sure that I will not lose my British nationality?

Although the United Kingdom and Spain have not signed any dual citizenship agreement, at present there is no reason to think that you cannot hold both passports.

At present, current laws in the UK allow British citizens to be British and to have a passport of certain countries. Dual citizenship is therefore allowed in the UK in certain cases, such as with Spain. You can therefore apply for a Spanish passport and keep your British citizenship. Â

Spanish law only accepts dual citizenship or nationality with some countries (the UK is not one of them). However, as the UK accepts dual citizenship, to avoid losing the Spanish citizenship, a formal statement needs to be made if you want to keep your Spanish citizenship, within three years from having obtained the Spanish citizenship. With that statement before the Spanish Authorities, you will not lose your Spanish citizenship.

How should I proceed if I am entitled to apply for Spanish citizenship?

You can see the legal requirements to apply for Spanish nationality on the Spanish Government website (www.mjusticia.gob.es) or contact the Spanish Embassy or Consulates in the UK (www.exteriores.gob.es). Doing the process yourself is free so you only will need to pay some taxes and stamp duty.

You can also contact a Spanish lawyer to assist you with the procedure. The Spanish desk of Gunnercooke www.gunnercooke.com provides a tailored service for this type of matters.

Claudia Font & Antonio Guillen

Spanish Desk

Gunnercooke LLP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spanish Powers of Attorney signed in the UK

image-for-poaA new Spanish case Decision by the Director General of Notaries and Registrars in Spain (DGRN) has been issued on the 14th of September 2016 affecting Spanish Powers of Attorney signed abroad and therefore also those signed in the United Kingdom.

The said decision of the DGNR rejected the registration in Spain of a purchase transaction where a Spanish Power of Attorney signed before an English Notary Public had been granted. The reason for rejecting the registration of the document was that the Land Registrar considered the powers and faculties of the English Notary Public who notarised the Power of Attorney (POA) not sufficiently proved.

Under the aforementioned Decision, a foreign POA should have the same structure than the Spanish public documents. This means that the document should be signed by an authorized person with capacity to give faith and certify the identity of the donor/grantor and his/her capacity.

 

This Decision stated that the foreign POA should also mention that it will be legalized according to the relevant International rules. In the case of a POA signed in the UK, this means the legalisation of the document with the apostille of the Hague Convention.

 

The key point is to ensure on the document that the UK Notary public is giving sufficient warranties to the relevant Spanish authorities as to the capacity of the donor/grantor. From now on, a Spanish POA where the UK Notary Public is restricted to certifying the identity of a person will not be sufficient. A Judgment on capacity will also be required.

 

We are of the opinion, that the said decision cannot be extrapolated to all cases. The power of attorney that created this “storm” of doubts was a power of attorney solely drafted in Spanish and the Notary Public in question limited his involvement to adding a certificate to the power of attorney which lacked any mention to capacity. We therefore think, and hope, that Spanish Notaries and Land Registrars will reconsider their position with regards to the powers of attorney executed in the UK and will soon start to recognise these again. However, there could be the odd exception where a Spanish Notary or Land Registrar will turn down a perfectly valid power of attorney executed in the UK. To avoid these kind of situations, some carefully attention needs to be put into the drafting of the power of attorney to ensure that the document has a higher chance of being accepted in Spain.

Do not hesitate to contact gunnercooke’s Spanish desk if you require further information or help with the signing and execution of a Spanish Power of Attorney in the UK.

Returning the keys back to the bank

morguefile com1 (2)A REAL CASE OF A SUCCESFUL DACION EN PAGO

This is a real case that we saw in the office some months ago. For obvious reasons, no names will be mentioned. The important thing is what happened and how the matter was resolved. Let me explain what happened.

 

In year 2006 two friends bought a property in Spain in the peak of the market for the amount of 200.000 €. In that year, the housing prices were high due to the excessive demand and banks granted mortgages like bakers bake muffins: one after the other.

Spanish banks were happy to lend monies because property prices were continuously rising like there was no tomorrow. These two friends got a mortgage for 180.000 € and therefore only had to put 20,000 € from their own money plus another 20,000 for taxes and fees. Total investment into the property was 40,000 € and the rest was brought by the bank.

Not much later the real estate bubble bursted in Spain. Consequently, the housing market declined, housing demand plummeted drastically, the value of the properties decreased and people were not able to pay their mortgages. Banks repossessed the houses and they sold them out in auction; therefore, there were more properties in the market and prices decreased more and more.

In 2014 the two friends realised they could not face the payments of the mortgage and they stopped paying regularly. They also contacted our firm for advice. We informed them that there is an option for people like themselves who are prepared to surrender the keys to the bank and be freed of the mortgage. It is called “dación en pago” and it involves signing a deed whereby the property and title are handed to the bank in exchange of the redemption of the debt. It is not a great solution as it usually involves writing off any investment and money put on the property but at least allows the clients to clear their bad investment in Spain and start from scratch in the UK with no debts. These clients were prepared to take this route and therefore instructed us to talk to the bank and start negotiations.

We contacted the bank, explained our clients’ situation and pushed for a dación en pago. The bank came back to us saying that the value of the property was lower than the mortgage. There was a 30,000 € shortfall and this shortfall had to be paid somehow. In layman terms, the property was now worth 160,000 € and they still owed the bank 190,000 €. The bank wanted to recover the 30,000 € shortfall and the solution offered was that the dacion en pago would be accepted provided that the clients signed a personal loan for the remaining 30,000 €. This option was not entirely satisfactory to the clients but they were prepared to sign the loan if the conditions were affordable.

A few weeks later and while we were in the process of waiting for the bank’s proposal, a debt collection agency was appointed to deal with this matter. The property was valued again and we took the opportunity that a new person was dealing with the file to explore the possibility of a full dacion en pago. We are not sure if it was pure luck or persistency (I have got the feeling that their valuation came higher than they initially thought and probably saw the potential of the property) but the debt collectors accepted the offer of a full dacion and suggested a date for the signing of the dacion. This was excellent news for the client as a full dacion consisted in handing the keys and the title to the bank in exchange of the clearance of the debt. Exactly what they wanted. The only requirement placed by the bank was that the property was transferred up to date of taxes and management fees. These were paid by the clients and we proceeded to sign the necessary deed of dacion en pago which freed the clients from this burden.

It was not the best outcome as this meant losing any investment put into the property but clients got rid of a massive debt that was affecting their finances. Furthermore, clients were aware that if they defaulted in the mortgage, the bank would repossess the property and eventually come after them in the UK for any shortfall due (and believe me there is always a shortfall). A slightly happy ending to a bad story. Obviously not all stories are like this and not all property owners want to get rid of their properties in Spain. Most prefer to keep them and enjoy them during their holidays. Others prefer to let them and wait until the market recovers. However, for those where the mortgage is a burden, there is always this possibility. It is not the panacea but it could allow a person who is struggling financially to clear some debts and start from scratch as a new person with no debts.

 

 

 

DEATH, BANK STATEMENTS AND TAXES IN SPAIN

When the Spanish estate is not only made of properties 

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When inheriting assets in Spain, the first thing that comes to mind is property but the truth is that assets also involve bank accounts, shares and other type of properties such as a car or even a boat.

We have written various posts about the procedure of dealing with inheriting a residential property but not enough posts on a related matter like the money in the Spanish bank. These accounts are often used to pay utility bills and taxes related to the property. However, some people who have been living in Spain for long periods of time end up, understandably, gathering important amounts of money in the bank. 

Whether you are dealing with an estate with both property and bank accounts or just a simple estate with a bank account, it will be necessary to contact the Bank in order to obtain a certificate showing the balance at the time of death. In certain regions of Spain, like the Balearic Islands, the bank will also provide you with a statement showing the transactions that took place in the 12 months before the death.

Banks generally will want to see the original death certificate, the certificate of last will and the last will of the deceased. Don’t be surprised if the bank only accepts to release information to a beneficiary or to a person that holds power of attorney from a beneficiary. This is also applicable to lawyers. Contrarily to what happens in the UK, where the solicitor’s word indicating that he/she is acting for the beneficiary or the personal representative is sufficient for the bank, the Spanish Banks will want to see a letter of authority or a power of attorney from the beneficiary to the lawyer. In certain occasions, the bank will only accept to release the information if the documentation is presented at his branch in person by the beneficiary or his lawyer! Finally, some banks will charge a fee for opening a “testamentary file” and producing the certificate, something that is clearly unfair and abusive and that should be challenged if demanded.

All the UK documentation, such as the death certificate, Grant of Probate and UK Will (if applicable) needs to be   translated by an Official Translator and legalised with The Hague Apostille to be valid in Spain.

Once the bank is informed about the deceased’s demise, the account will be frozen until the Inheritance Deed is signed and the Taxes paid. Once all this happens, the beneficiaries or the lawyer holding power of attorney will appear in person at the bank supplying the Inheritance Deed, the certification of the payment of the inheritance tax and they will sign a document agreeing the destination of the money, either transferring this directly to a UK bank account or keeping it in a Spanish account.

The above can seem complicated and the fact that each bank (and branch!) operates differently can make the whole procedure look far more complex than what it really is but in the end everything is down to providing the bank with the documentation requested and fulfilling its criteria so funds can be released as per the beneficiaries wishes.

Holiday apartments in Spain. Do I need a licence?

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A few days ago I wrote a post in connection to the property market in Barcelona and the increase of holiday apartments in the city.  The Catalan Government has recently regulated the holiday rentals market and now allows holiday rentals as long as the owners comply with certain obligations. Unfortunately, the situation is different in other touristic places such as the Balearic Islands or the Canary Islands where there are several restrictions to holiday rentals. Take the case of Mallorca, for example. In Mallorca it is only possible to let out for short periods of time dettach and semidettached houses. This leaves apartments and terrace houses outside of the regulation and therefore unable to be let out on a short term basis. There are some exceptions with some apartments but these usually involve the whole building counting with a touristic licence.

When it comes to deattached and semidettached houses in Mallorca, these can be let out for holidays as long as a touristic licence has been obtained and the owner has complied with the following requirements:

– File the necessary declaration of commencement of activity (DRIAT)

– The property is let out for short periods of time that can never exceed the period of 2 months

– The property is let out in its entirety and not on a “per room” basis

– Cleaning and maintenance services are provided

Having said that, what happens if the owner of an apartment in Mallorca or Menorca wants to let it out for short periods of time to different occupiers and he does not have a licence? Well, in that case it would be better to let it on a long term basis. The income might be lower but at least there will be no fines or penalties for breaching the law.

The above applies to the Balearic Islands but each region in Spain has different rules and therefore not all regions face the same restrictions. As always, it is advisable to do some research before embarking on buying a holiday apartment, specially if the ulitmate intention is to let it for holidays.

 

 

 

CHANGES TO THE SPANISH LEGISLATION REGARDING FORECLOSURE

 

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Given the increase of evictions and the drama that this carries to the Spanish society, a new Law (1-2013 14th May) has been launched in order to protect those who cannot pay the mortgage. The new law aims at helping those who, if provided with a longer time to improve their economic situation, will be able to recover financially and take control of their momentary financial distress.

The main novelty is the possibility to suspend the eviction procedure for a period of two years to give a breath of fresh air to these families.

Those who qualify for this specific measure are the vulnerable people who are in the parameters of special risk. These parameters are the following:

–          To be a family of three or more children.

–          To be a single parent family with two or more children

–          To have a family member that is less than 3 years old

–          To have a member of the family who is disabled

–          The mortgagor is unemployed and has no more estate benefits

–          The mortgagor is a victim of gender domestic violence

At the same time, the combined family income cannot be higher than 1,597.53 euro per month (which corresponds to three times the ´IPREM´, an economic indicator that is used in Spain as a guidance figure to grant benefits and aids).

Finally, the mortgagor needs to prove that the financial capability of the family has changed in the last 4 years and differs from the previous circumstances when the mortgage was signed. For instance, if the mortgage was signed when two members of the family were fully employed, an example of the qualifying criteria would be that one of them is jobless and that this situation has arisen in the last 4 years.

The above is the special measure to suspend evictions for a period of 2 years but there are other measures that are worth noting and that apply to all types of mortgagors. For instance, the lender, generally a bank, will not be able to foreclose the mortgage unless the debtor or mortgagor is 3 or more months in mortgage arrears. In the past, the bank was entitled to foreclose the mortgage as soon as the mortgagor was 1 month in arrears. Now, the bank needs to wait until the mortgagor is 3 or more months behind with his mortgage. This measure applies to all type of mortgagors, those who qualify under the special risk parameters and those who don’t. Other changes included in this law are the limitation of the default interest and the improvement of the conditions at the point of auctioning the property in order to avoid situations where the property is sold in auction or repossessed and the mortgagor still owes the bank a very substantial amount of money.

At the same time, pursuant to the ruling from the European Union Court of Justice of the 14th March 2013 regarding abusive clauses in Spanish mortgage deeds, the Spanish Notaries are now entitled to warn and advise the mortgagors prior to the signing of a mortgage deed that contains abusive clauses. The judges are entitled as well to appreciate by themselves these abusive conditions in a foreclosure proceeding and declare them as abusive, suspending the eviction.

But how can this affect to non-residents such as the readers of this blog who are generally residents in the UK but have property in Spain? The special rights, such as those that allow stopping eviction proceedings, will not apply to non-residents as one of the main conditions is that the property affected constitutes the main residence of the mortgagor. However, some of the other improvements can benefit non-residents. This is the case of the abusive clauses detected by the Judge or the fact that the bank will not be able to foreclose on the mortgage until the mortgagor is 3 or more months in arrears.

Many people have criticized the new regulation stating that it is not sufficient to cover the needs of those who are in financial distress and in the verge of losing their houses. However, the success or failure of this new law will be determined in a few months’ time when checking the eviction ratios. If these go down, then the law will have been successful. If these continue at the same level or grow then clearly new measures will be required. My personal impression is that these measures are probably too shy and could have been more ambitious. There are many families that are in the verge of losing their main homes and for a pure matter of arithmetic or statistics will not fit in the criteria but there will be others who will benefit from this law and will get the necessary break to try to improve their circumstances and, hopefully, avoid eviction. This is better than nothing and any proposal in that respect should be welcomed with an optimistic mind. At the end of the day, this shows an intention to address a social and important problem in Spain’s society.

Buying property in Spain from a bank- Initial tips

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These days, as a result of the economic situation and the increase of people who do not pay their mortgagees, the banks have gathered a huge housing stock and, sometimes, these kinds of properties, which have been acquired by way of foreclosing procedures, are offered for sale at very low prices.

Some people can think that these are good opportunities to acquire a property without spending a lot of money but…sometimes the `opportunities´ can be costly. To make sure there will not be any surprises later on, precautions should be taken to be protected and to ensure that we are carrying out a sound transaction.

These precautions are referred basically to the property situation and to the possibility of the existence of debts linked to the same because if an indebted property is sold, the new owner will become responsible for some of these debts.

Firstly, we need to ensure that the property complies with the construction regulations. ¿How can we do that? There are some documents which can bring important information with regards to the planning situation of the property. For example, the first occupation licence or the certificate of occupancy. Asking for these documents could be a good first step towards a safe conclusion.

Another relevant document is the 10 year building insurance guarantee. This is an insurance policy that covers constructive defects during ten years. If you are going to buy a property which is less than 10 years old, check the existence of this policy.

Once we have this information, we can go to the next step: the debts. Most times these kinds of properties sold by banks come from owners who have several debts such as debts with the supplies companies or the community of owners. Some of these debts are real liabilities, like the debt with the Community of owners, and they are attached to the property and the seller/bank needs to pay them before completion. In some occasions, the bank is going to cover some of these debts, but, in other occasions they are not going to pay anything and the buyer will be liable for them. As the price in these sales is attractive, you may accept taking over some reasonable debts BUT first you need to know exactly the nature of the debt and the amount involved, otherwise you could end up being liable for thousands of euros.

After bearing in mind all this information, the six-million-dollar question is: How can I obtain all the documents and information before completing the purchase? The seller, in our case, the bank (or a company connected to the bank) must provide you with this information, as they are the current owners. They have all the documents and you are entitled to analyse them in order to avoid risks. Sometimes, gathering all the information can be more complicated than initially expected because the bank will put pressure on the buyer to sign promptly. Instructing your own lawyer will certainly help as he will be able to check the documentation and provide you with his professional opinion as to how safe is to proceed with the purchase.

This article has been written in collaboration with Laura Perez Gil de Gómez from DWF LLP.

Photograph by www.istockphoto.com