Making a home in Spain as an expat is often considered far from straightforward, with the complex and somewhat daunting tax rules just one of the obstacles you will have to negotiate to get on the Spanish property ladder. For many years, Britons have continued to flock to Spain regardless, making use of local advice and the knowledge of expat communities to help them battle through the buying process and invest in Spanish property.
Unfortunately, in certain parts of the country it looks as though knowledge and experience alone is no longer going to be enough to help expats achieve their property dreams. In fact, thanks to an old law introduced during the Franco dictatorship, it appears that British expats attempting to purchase Spanish property post-Brexit may have to seek permission from the Spanish military to do so.
According to the Provincial Association of Promoters (Provia), non-EU citizens who want to purchase properties in areas of military interest will now require a special permit to be issued by the Ministry of Defence before they are able to purchase such properties. This rule is part of a pre-constitutional law known as the Francoist law and some believe it could significantly delay the sale of around 800 homes per year.
In response to the news, the UK government updated its website to explain how the purchase of Spanish property has been impacted by this law now that the UK is no longer part of the EU. The website stated: “In some parts of Spain, the peripheral land surrounding a military base is considered ‘restricted’ under Spanish law, and specific rules may apply when buying, selling or carrying out construction work on properties located in these areas. Our current understanding is that, from 1 January 2021, UK nationals who wish to buy property in these areas will be required to meet third country national requirements and request a military permit from the Spanish Ministry of Defence prior to purchase. As with all property transactions, we strongly recommend you seek specialised legal advice from a lawyer who can advise and support you through the process and, if necessary, request the military authorization on your behalf.”
To help unravel this law further, the expat experts at ExpatRoute have answered some of the questions most commonly asked by expats hoping to purchase property in Spain who are concerned about how this law may affect the process.
What does the law say?
The law states that any non-EU person who is buying property in Spain, specifically in militarily sensitive areas, must apply for permission before the sale can progress. Similarly, non-EU expats purchasing property in these areas must also seek military permission to complete an activity linked to property, such as taking out a mortgage or construction of a new home. Following Britain’s exit from the EU, British expats are now considered non-EU foreigners and so fall under this category.
In addition, the law states that there is a maximum percentage of people outside of the EU who are allowed to buy property in these areas, although this ranges from zero to 15% depending on the location of the property.
When was the law introduced?
The Francoist law was introduced by Franco in March 1975 and in the corresponding Decree of February 1978, and originally applied to anyone who was not Spanish. However, when Spain joined the EU in 1986, the law was altered to state that it no longer applied to any members of the EU.
Why was the law introduced?
The law was originally put in place in an attempt to prevent foreign nationals from purchasing Spanish land that could then be used in a coordinated attempt to take control of an area. By purchasing multiple properties in a sensitive military area, expats could feasibly legally occupy a section of Spanish land. Although not commonly relevant in the world of real estate, the law itself is not unusual. In fact, there are many countries that have the same or a similar law in place for the same reasons. These include Turkey, Cyprus, Brazil and Croatia.
Where does the law apply?
While a daunting prospect, this military law does not apply to the whole of Spain. Thankfully, it is only relevant to parts of the country that are considered strategically important to the military, such as some of the border areas and islands. These areas include (although are not limited to):
- All the islands of Spain
- An area around Gibraltar
- An area around Cadiz
- The border with Portugal
- The border with France
- The Spanish territories in Northern Africa.
How do I apply for military permission?
If you have decided that you would like to purchase a property in a militarily sensitive part of Spain, you will need to begin the process of seeking permission as soon as possible. While this may feel like a daunting task, it is ordinarily quite straightforward. Not requiring an interview or face-to-face meeting, the permission process usually just involves an application that should be presented to the military along with other supporting documents. These are likely to include your passport and details of your criminal record that will aid the Spanish military as they attempt to complete all the background checks needed.
Once you have passed all the relevant checks, you will be issued with a Military Permission decision. Should this be in your favour, the permission is presented to the Notary when you sign your Title Deed and purchase your new property. Overall, the time it takes to successfully apply for permission is between two and six months.
Should this be a factor when I choose an investment property?
If you are buying a property as an investment then it is important to keep this process in mind as it is something that will need to be repeated if you choose to sell in the future. However, it is rare that permission is not granted and so the only way it should impact how appealing the property is to future buyers is if they are seeking a fast deal.
What if I am refused military permission?
It is very unlikely that you will be refused military permission unless you are a member of an organisation or group that is considered hostile to Spain. In general, the process is simply a formality. However, should you have your application rejected then it does mean that you will have to reconsider your property options and seek to purchase elsewhere in Spain where military permission is not required.
Where to begin
We hope the answers above have helped to shed some light on how the law may apply to you. However, we strongly encourage expats to follow government advice and seek specialised legal guidance from professionals with experience in this area. Experts will help you to negotiate the permission process, potentially reducing the amount of time it will take for you to receive your answer and thus reducing delays in the sales process so you can begin your new expat life as soon as possible.