Get the ‘official resident’ card and register on the ‘padrón’ now: think ahead to the future

As a British national living in Spain you could be at risk if you have not already officially registered as a resident and also on the town hall census (‘padrón’). Now Britain has left the EU you may also need to renew your town hall padrón entry more often. See more details below.

  1. Registering as an official resident with the Spanish authorities. 

If you are a British national  who was already living in Spain on 31st December 2020 and it is your main home, British Government advice is to make sure you are recorded as an official resident in Spain. This is the well-known credit-card-sized green EU-citizen residency certificate (or A4 sheet) issued by the Spanish government or the newer TIE card. Either is valid. (The document on this link from the Spanish government shows photos of the two types of possible documents and can be used to explain to the authorities or other people if needed).

If you have not already done this, doing so now will ensure your residency is officially recorded and you are in the best position to have your rights protected under old EU rules.

Even if things are going well now, any sudden change in your health, family position or financial circumstances in the future means you could be at risk of not being able to access important support in Spain if you have not done this.

You can read more about this process by clicking here, (which also explains what to do if you are moving to Spain after 1st January 2021, when you must apply to be a resident to the Spanish embassy BEFORE you leave the UK).

From 1st January 2021, UK nationals cannot be in the Schengen area of the EU (which includes Spain) more than 90 days in a rolling 180 day period, unless they are registered as resident or have an appropriate long-term visa.

Note: this is not the same as the town hall census record ‘padrón’. The ‘padrón’ (see below) is an internal town hall document that helps with access to some local services, especially social care, and is applied for separately at your local town hall.

2. Getting on the padrón (local census) is key to accessing social services in the future and an essential step towards voting in local elections

The padrón is the local municipal census register in each council area in Spain. It is a legal requirement if you are living in Spain to be registered on it and keep it renewed (see below).

Research shows that one of the most common reasons British nationals living in Spain become vulnerable in older age is because they have not registered on the ‘padrón’ soon enough or kept their entry renewed. There are many free or subsidised services that British residents are entitled to if they live in Spain but often the door is closed if they are not on this municipal census.

Being on the ‘padrón’ (local census register) is your key to accessing most publicly funded social care services in Spain and a variety of other services. In some cases you need to have been registered on this municipal register for a minimum period of time so it is essential to register as soon as you become resident in Spain, keep it updated if you move and above all do not wait to register for when things start to go wrong.

Registering on the ‘padrón’ at the local town hall is easy and free.

Two useful extra pieces of information on the padrón:

  1. You can still, by law, register on the padrón at the town hall but not already be registered with the green document or TIE (the documents mentioned in section 1 above). A UK passport number is sufficient as an ID number. While this does not make you a legal resident in Spain on its own, having a padrón registration (and renewing it) can help you access some council services if in sudden need and also helps you as proof of you living in Spain for a period of time for when you legalise your residency.
  2. Renewing: British passport holders (and non EU foreign residents in general) if they do not have permanent resident status on their green document or TIE, (normally if they have been here less than five years), should renew their entry on the town hall ‘padrón’ every two years from the date they last did so. If they do not, they are liable to be deleted from the ‘padrón’ which could affect access to council benefits or local support in the future. Normally the town hall will write to you a few months before the two year period is up to advise you to go in and renew, but processes may vary from place to place. If in doubt, it is a good idea to contact your local town hall to ask. (This is a subtly changed procedure now Britain has left the EU. EU citizens only need to reconfirm their data and not renew it). If you have permanente resident status on your green documentation or TIE, in theory you should not be asked to renew (although you could still be sent a letter every five years asking you to reconfirm your information, which you must reply to in order to stay on the padrón). Some people advise checking at the town hall if in doubt as some town halls may vary their interpretation of these rules and for many it is still a grey area after Brexit.

For more details on how to register for the ‘padrón’, see here

Being on the ‘padrón’ also helps your local community as it is this record of how many people live in a town that the national government uses to calculate how much money to give to local town halls for the services. Registering on the padrón (municipal census) means your local town or village gets more money. It also entitles you, as a British resident and once you have been living in Spain at least three years, to register to vote and stand in local municipal elections and help choose the council. The process to register to vote has changed since Brexit for British citizens. See more details on voting locally from the UK government by clicking here. Separate registration on the electoral roll (censo electoral) is required by those UK citizens who wish to vote ahead of each municipal election (voting scheduled for May 2023, May 2027 etc.). Note: the electoral roll is not the same thing as the padrón.

Note: If you do not live in Spain, you should not be on the ‘padrón’, even if you own a holiday property. The padrón is only for residents. If you only travel back and forth to Spain for a holiday home and spend fewer than six months a year in total in Spain but are on the padrón, you should take steps to cancel your registration as it can cause complications with the Spanish authorities and police etc. for non-residents. It is a common mistake for car dealers to say that you need a padrón certificate to buy a car as a non-resident – you do not: proof of residence by other means is sufficient.

Useful vocabulary when applying to be on the local council’s ‘padrón’

El padrón = The municipal census register  

Certificado de Empadronamiento = The document you receive to say you have registered

Empadronarse (verb) = To put  yourself on the register

Registro público or Departamento de Estadísticas or Atención Ciudadanía = names of three common departments in town halls where you go to ’empadronarse’