How will Brexit affect your freedom of movement in the EU?

Hourglass with UK & EU flags: Freedom of movement post-Brexit

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Brexit and freedom of movement – UK-resident visitors to EU countries such as Portugal, France or Malta may be limited to spending no more than 90 days in any 180-day period there after Brexit.

In just a few weeks, when the Brexit transition period officially ends at midnight (CET) on 31 December, UK nationals will lose the automatic right to come and go in the EU that has been in place for over 40 years. From 1 January, only those who have already established lawful residence or EU citizenship will have unlimited access to a particular member state.

If you spend a lot of time or have a holiday home in an EU country and enjoy being able to visit when you like – but intend to remain UK resident – things are about to become much more complicated. Similarly, if you are thinking about moving to the continent after 2020, you will need to jump through more hoops than if you moved today.

Spend time in Spain or have a Spanish holiday home? More about freedom of movement in Spain

Visiting the EU from 2021

As things stand, immigration rules have not been agreed for non-EU resident UK citizens who want to spend time in the EU post-Brexit. So while we remain confident that countries such as Portugal, France and Malta will continue to welcome British nationals, we need to wait and see what the new requirements will be.

At this stage, we can only speculate based on existing rules for non-EU/EEA (‘third country’) nationals, which are set to apply if the UK leaves without a deal. The UK may agree more favourable arrangements in negotiations with each EU member state, so this should be considered the worst-case scenario.

The 90-days in 180-days rule

Once automatic freedom of movement ends, non-resident UK nationals should still be able to enter the EU visa-free… but only for short stays.

The EU has agreed to add the UK to its list of visa-exempt countries (provided the UK reciprocates). So, unless there are alternative bilateral agreements, UK citizens will be limited to visiting countries in the ‘Schengen’ area (including Portugal, France, Spain and Malta) for up to 90 days within any 180-day period without a visa.

The 180-day clock would start when you first enter any Schengen state from 2021 as a non-EU citizen, with each subsequent departure and entry recorded and counted at border control. While being away for a full 90 days would allow a new stay of up to 90 days, once you have used up your allowance you will not be permitted to enter another Schengen country without a visa.

Those who maintain UK residency will therefore need to take extra care when planning trips anywhere in the EU to avoid illegally overstaying or potentially being denied entry. Also, be prepared to answer questions at the border about the duration and purpose of your visit.

For stays over 90 days or the right to work in an EU/Schengen country, you would need to apply in advance – under as-yet-unknown conditions and rules.

Securing uninterrupted access

If you arrive in your chosen EU country before the end of 2020, register for residency and commit to meeting the residence requirements, you will lock in the right to remain and receive citizens’ rights protections under the Withdrawal Agreement for as long as you live there.

You don’t need to be physically present when the Brexit transition ends to qualify, but you do need to prove that the EU country is your permanent home as at 31 December 2020. So if, for example, you return to the UK to finalise your relocation, take care not to invalidate your residence by spending too much time away. Note also that you will likely need to demonstrate you have “sufficient” annual income to support yourself and any dependents without relying on the state.

While you actually have until 30 June 2021 to apply for residence, delaying your application could be highly risky, especially if there is a processing backlog or questions about your paperwork. It is sensible to gather as much evidence as you can now that you have both the means and intention to stay in your chosen country and start the application process before the December deadline.

Tax residence

Once you become resident abroad it is highly likely you will be deemed tax resident too, so you must take care to meet your obligations there.

Foreign taxation may seem daunting – especially when you have to consider how it interacts with UK rules – but careful, early planning can make a significant difference to your tax bill. A locally-based adviser with cross-border expertise is best placed to help you take advantage of suitable opportunities in your new country of residence and guide you through the necessary steps to protect your position post-Brexit.

Discuss your options with a local adviser


All advice received from any Blevins Franks firm is personalised and provided in writing. This article should not be construed as providing any personalised taxation and/or investment advice. All information is based on Blevins Franks’ understanding of legislation and taxation practice, in the UK and overseas at the time of writing; this may change in the future. 

Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.