Passport of privilege

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A PASSPORT is more than just a piece of paper. It can be a doorway to a new life experience. Jane Plunkett looks at how owning a British one can help when living the sunny life in Spain.

These days, news headlines include stories about illegal immigrants who risk their lives being smuggled across raging seas, packed and transported in cargo, or trafficked in lorries or vans to enter Europe.

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Their desire is so strong they brush aside the death risk faced on such perilous journeys.

It really does make an EU citizen realise how lucky they are. Citizenship and the rights a nationality allows an individual are frequently taken for granted by Europeans, but globally the benefit of holding an EU passport is fully recogised and is something many from other continents can only dream of.

For 25-year-old Jenny Winters* (false name), having a Spanish boyfriend and living in Andalucía for the past two years has at times been troublesome, merely because she holds a US, rather than a British or European passport.

“When you enter the EU with an American passport you are on a tourist visa which lasts three months. After that you are supposed to leave, and technically remain out of the EU for another three months before re-entering,” says Jenny.

Working Illegally

There are ways to get around this system, but it’s not straightforward. Because of this she did not risk travelling home to the US for Christmas. Also, as a non-European passport holder it is nearly impossible for Jenny to get a work visa for Spain, so she works illegally and collects her pay in cash.

“The Spanish government wants jobs here to go to nationals. If I were to apply for a job in Spain, then my would-be employer would have to go through numerous interviews with people the Spanish government sends to fill the position. Only once all were denied for valid reasons could I apply for the position, but from the US, not Spain,” says Jenny.

In comparison to Jenny’s situation, for the average Brit – according to statistics there are nearly 400,000 currently living in Spain – setting up life here is relatively easy.

For starters, a British passport allows holders to travel Europe without restriction, allows the holder to work or study in other European countries with ease, buy property and receive emergency healthcare. As a US passport holder, Jenny is not entitled to any of these.

A British passport also allows a person to join the EU citizens’ line at airports, which means they avoid any grilling from border police. However, these benefits are available to all European passports holders.

So are there particular advantages to owning a British passport while living in Spain?

Paul  Allen,  founder  of www.expatliving101.com and author of  ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether It’s Right for You’, feels there are.

“A British passport holder has particular benefits through the extensive diplomatic presence the UK retains in Spain,” says Paul, who recently repatriated back to England after living for seven years with his wife and  family on the Costa del Sol.

“There are a number of consular offices staffed by knowledgeable people with long experience of  the country. And because of the number of Brits living permanently and semi-permanently in Spain, plus the millions of tourists each year, these officials have had to deal with most situations, and are in a good position to provide assistance,” Paul adds.

Property Scams

The UK government recently appointed a special overseas property advisory body to assist expatriate victims of property scams. According to a British newspaper article it is currently dealing with more than a dozen different action groups made up of disenchanted expats who have lost millions in property scams throughout Spain.

A British Embassy spokesman in Spain said the advisory group was set up to put pressure on the Spanish  authorities, and added: “The UK government has no authority to interfere in matters relating to Spanish domestic legislation.

“However, we continue to express concern at the impact these problems are having on some of our citizens and Spain’s reputation abroad, and we have raised property issues with local ministers and regional governments on numerous occasions.”

Also, if British passport holders fall ill while holidaying in Spain, they can show their European Health Insurance Card for medica attention, and if resident, they can use their health card (tarjeta sanitaria) to gain access to full healthcare at Social Security hospitals.

Should a British national suffer a serious accident or injury, and friends or relatives are unavailable, the British Embassy can ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London to contact next-of-kin and, if possible, even try to visit within two days.

Death in a foreign country can be a traumatic, especially for family unable to speak Spanish and unfamiliar with funeral proceedings and repatriation arrangements for a body from Spain, but British Embassy staff have a wealth of experience and are on hand to help.

 

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