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Brexit: What does leaving the EU mean for expats in Spain?

The result of the British referendum to leave the EU last week sparked shock and surprise across the world. Won by the 'Leave' campaign by a small margin of 1.8%, the referendum has revealed a divided country and a fragmented larger international community that fear for the future of the European Union.

No decision over the last 30 years has granted a larger socio-economic impact than Brexit, and the far-reaching social effects of the UK's looming separation from the EU over the years to come are yet to be seen. In the short term, a fragmented trade bloc will have immediate effects on the GBP/EU rate, due largely to the market adapting from speculation to outcome.

For the 319k British expats currently living in Spain who may suddenly face bureaucratic obstacles to remain, it is important to note that under the Lisbon Treaty, a country leaving the European Union has a grace period of 2 years to agree on an appropriate withdrawal. This allows UK markets to adapt to its changing environment, as well as gives time for businesses to restructure and appropriate a new focus.

A possible and best-case outcome of the forthcoming negotiations for British expats is that the UK retains its membership in the European Economic Area (EEA), an existing economic treaty between the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This would mean that most existing rules on free movement in Europe would continue to apply.

The ability of the British to live and work in EU nations, as well as exercise their 'acquired EU rights' such as social healthcare post-Brexit will depend on the new agreements the UK are able to negotiate with the EU itself, or alternatively with the individual EU nations. The final outcomes of the forthcoming negotiations remain to be seen, but it is certainly in the best interests of Britain and the EU nations to enter a similar, albeit new, reciprocal relationship.

For now, some pundits and economists believe the implications Brexit will have on trade will be minor, given the new business opportunities Britain will have accessing other markets abroad. With the removal of the excessive bureaucracy headed by Brussels, the British government will also now be able to secure business abroad with much less difficulty. Furthermore, with the degree of uncertainty surrounding Britain's new future, a large portion of investors will seek to move capital outside of the UK, possibly allowing a resurgence for other markets throughout Europe.

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