AN EXPAT couple who spent months stuck in England unable to return to their villa in Spain and collect their beloved rescue dog from kennels have finally made it home to the Costa Blanca.

Spain lifted the restrictions on travellers arriving from Britain this week and that meant a return at long last for many of those who call Spain ‘home’.

The British media concentrated on the expected hordes of “amber gamblers” predicted to flock to Spain for a holiday defying official government advice to avoid non-essential travel to destinations on the amber list.

But for many of those flying into Spain this week, it was a different story.

Michelle and Derek Williams were finally able to return to their villa in Spain, the place they bought for their retirement after selling up in the UK three years ago.

They had planned to travel frequently back and forth between Quesada on Spain’s Costa Blanca and southern England where they based themselves in a mobile home on Hayling Island to be near Michelle’s ailing mother.

But COVID-19 happened and the pandemic, compounded by Brexit and a failure to get the proper paperwork in order meant that the couple had been stuck in the UK since before Christmas.

“We put our rescue dog in kennels and went over to spend what could possibly be the last Christmas for my 91-year-old mother,” Michelle told the Olive Press. “But when we attempted to return on December 30 in order to be back in Spain before the Brexit deadline, we were prevented from boarding our flight because we didn’t have residencia papers to prove we lived in Spain.”

At that time Spain amid fears of the so-called British variant, Spain had introduced a ban on all travellers from the UK who either weren’t Spanish citizens or didn’t have residency papers (either a green certificate or the new TIE card) to prove they lived here.

After being turned away from the plane at the boarding gate the couple returned to their mobile home only to be evicted days later as the complex shut down with coronavirus restrictions.

“We had nowhere to go but to stay on friends’ floors not knowing how long for,” said the 65-year-old.

When Spain eased restrictions slightly the couple tried again, this time reading on official UK travel guidelines that paperwork such as their padron and title deeds would be sufficient proof that they live here before January 1 and would be allowed in.

“This time we made it onto Spanish soil but were turned away by border guards at Alicante airport with a group of others because we didn’t have the TIE card,” she explained, referring to the sort of incident reported by the Olive Press back in March.

“We got someone from the British consulate in Alicante on the phone who said we should be allowed in and tried to get the guard to speak to them but it was simply ‘No residency, no entry’ and we were put back on a plane to Gatwick.”

“The whole thing cost a bomb because we had to do PCR tests on the way out and then the way back too because we had stepped foot in Spain plus the lost flights, taxis to the airport etc. Not to mention the huge kennel fees we racked up.”

Last Tuesday the couple boarded a flight to Alicante and finally made it home. “We were worried at what state the house would be in as we had been away for so long, but after a good clean it looks fine,” said Michelle.

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“The garden’s a bit overgrown but we’ll get that sorted in a few days. It’s just great to be back.”

The highlight of the return to Spain was collecting Lexi, a German Shepherd rescue dog they had adopted a year earlier. “I was worried that she wouldn’t recognise us or that she’d feel neglected at being left so long, but she practically jumped into our arms to hug us.

“Then she ran to the car, jumped in and looked at us to say: ‘Now take me home’,” Michelle said. “And I know exactly how she felt.”

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The couple now face the difficulty of submitting their residency paperwork and getting their TIE cards before they risk another trip abroad.

“The reason we didn’t apply for residency before the deadline was because my husband was convinced there would be a reciprocal arrangement so we wouldn’t have to give up our British drivers licences etc,” explains Michelle. “And as a consequence we got caught between a rock and a hard place.”

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