EU countries take action to reassure British expatriates


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While there is still no certainty of what will happen with Brexit as the due date approaches, many British expatriates can find some reassurances in no-deal contingency planning within the EU27.

We take a look at the latest developments for Britons living in France, Portugal, Spain and Malta.

France: No-deal legislation  

On 17 January, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed legislation that allowed his government to make quick decisions by decree in the event of a no deal Brexit. This was necessary, he said, “to respect our obligations, to make sure that the lives of our citizens and… British citizens living in France are impacted as little as possible.” 

Provided that the same rights are guaranteed for French people living in the UK from 29 March 2019, the new bill enables UK nationals living in France to have:

  • The right to remain without a permit and access existing rights for a 12-month period.
  • A one-year window in which to acquire formal residency.
  • More favourable treatment than other non-EU nationals.

Although the French government has allowed extra time for Britons to regularise their residency status, they still recommend that this is done as soon as possible, even if a Brexit deal is agreed. 

Once you have been living in France for five years or more as an EU citizen, you become eligible to apply for permanent residency. Britons who have been in France for under five years should apply for a temporary Carte de Séjour residency card, usually renewable each year.

Post-Brexit, you would have to apply as a ‘third country national’, but under the terms of the new bill, Britons would need to meet simpler conditions than other non-EU citizens.

The bill’s no-deal provisions would also preserve the social security rights of UK nationals living in France before Brexit. UK nationals would also to be able to stay in certain regulated professions not usually open to non-EU foreigners (notaires, avocats, accountants etc.) and to remain as fonctionnaires (civil servants, including teachers in state schools, and nurses in public hospitals).

The Prime Minister’s office says a separate order would “ensure the continuity of certain financial activities, in particular relating to insurance, after the loss of the UK’s financial passport”. This suggests that UK nationals living in France will continue receiving payments from British private pension and insurance companies, even in a no-deal situation.

The French government stated it is “empowered to take any other measure necessary to deal with the situation of British nationals residing in France”.

However, none of the no-deal provisions are automatic; they would still need to be passed into law by order of the French government – and this relies on the UK government reciprocating for French nationals in the UK.

The French authorities have set up a website with information on Brexit and the full text of these proposals together with other useful information (in French) at:

Download our guide to Brexit and residency in France



Portugal: Measures to make Britons welcome

The Portuguese government has confirmed its intention to protect the rights of British citizens living in Portugal – as long as the UK extends the same rights to Portuguese nationals living there.

“The British are welcome in Portugal” said Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita “as residents, as tourists, as investors, as students”.

Announcing a series of no-deal contingency measures on 17 January, the Portuguese government assured it would extend access to public healthcare and social security to UK nationals post-Brexit. Other commitments included:

  • No visas required for Britons to enter Portugal.
  • Separate ‘fast-track’ lanes at airports (Faro and Madeira confirmed) and other entry points for British citizens.
  • Extra consular offices (at least 35 across 16 localities) to support expatriate Britons.
  • Continued recognition of British driving licences and academic qualifications.

A new government leaflet issued in English confirms the residency rights for UK nationals. In the event of no-deal, a UK citizen’s automatic right to acquire residence only applies if they can prove settled status in Portugal before 29th March 2019.

While they then have until 31 December 2020 to apply for a registration certificate with the local câmara municipal, it is recommended to do this as soon as possible. 

If you have a ten-year permanent residence card, you have the right to stay, but you must reapply if it has expired. Those with a five-year residency card (acquired before the Brexit cut-off date) will be recognised as settled and can apply for permanent residency when the term expires.

Download our guide to Brexit and residency in Portugal



Spain: New Brexit resource and secured voting rights 

On 14 January, the Spanish government launched a new, dedicated Brexit section on its website. This outlines the various issues that UK and Spanish nationals and businesses will face after the UK leaves the EU. It is available in both English and Spanish.

It aims to provide information to citizens and entrepreneurs about the changes Brexit will have on their interests, as well as the contingency measures being adopted internally and at European level. This includes information about residency, voting rights, healthcare, education, travel, financial services and more.

One of the key messages for UK nationals living in Spain is to formalise residency status as soon as possible by acquiring a registration certificate from the extranjería.

Additionally, a new agreement between Spain and the UK on voting rights represents the first bilateral treaty since Brexit negotiations began. Signed on 21 January, the agreement allows Britons to vote and stand in local elections in Spain and also take part in European Parliament elections, whatever happens with Brexit.

Anyone registered to vote for the upcoming local elections in Spain in May will be able to vote. After this, UK nationals will need to be resident in Spain for three years to acquire voting rights. However, this does not apply for “British citizens who obtained their nationality in connection with Gibraltar”.

Download our guide to Brexit and residency in Spain



Malta: Special ten-year visa for Britons

Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, announced on 23 January that UK nationals living in Malta would be eligible for special ten-year residency permits, whatever happens with Brexit.

He explained that the new scheme “will reflect the fact that UK nationals are no longer EU nationals, but a new ‘special’ category of EU nationals who have moved to Malta. It intends to protect the life choices made by these UK nationals when the UK was still a member of the EU”.

While Britons could remain eligible to apply for the permit after 29 March 2019, it would incur a fee after this date and the conditions to qualify would be less straightforward. “But we still want to make it clear that we want to be open and hospitable to all UK citizens” he said.

Mr Muscat also confirmed that UK nationals would retain voting rights in local elections and access to reciprocal healthcare.

Read our article ‘How to get your finances Brexit-ready’


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