Preparing for Brexit and residency in Portugal


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Will British expatriates be able to stay in Portugal after Brexit? See more about the cut-off date and steps you can take to secure residency in time.

Will British expatriates have the right to remain in Portugal after Brexit? How much time do you have to acquire Portuguese residency under current rules and what steps can you take to secure your position?


The proposed Brexit transition period – delaying its full impact until the end of 2020 – potentially gives British expatriates living in Portugal and those wishing to move there more time to prepare. While this is welcome, this should not be a reason to delay taking action to secure your future here. The clock is still ticking to get ready in time, particularly where paperwork is involved.  

The key issue for many people is residence – if you are already living there, will there be any problems with you staying after Brexit? If you are still arranging moving to Portugal, how can you secure residency in time?

The cut-off date 

Last December, both sides committed to maintain existing residency rights and access to benefits for Britons and EU nationals who are “lawfully residing” within either area before the withdrawal date. Although the official Brexit date remains 29th March 2019, the transition period effectively pauses the full effects for 21 months until 31st December 2020. 

However, the transition deal is only guaranteed to go ahead if the full terms of the UK’s withdrawal are signed off in time. If the negotiators fail to agree this by the end of the year, the original Brexit cut-off date of 29th March 2019 could potentially still apply. It is therefore sensible to work towards the original Brexit deadline rather than 2020.

What the transition period means for Britons in the EU

The ticking clock

If you are settled in Portugal before the withdrawal date, you should keep the right to stay there for as long as you remain resident. But what does “lawful residency” mean in practice and how close can you get to demonstrating this in time?

Unless you are already a permanent resident or citizen of Portugal, you should take urgent action. In any event, do not underestimate how much bureaucracy could be involved and how this may delay the process, especially at a time when many others will be submitting similar paperwork as you. It is therefore advisable to start the residency process as soon as possible. 

Of course, after Brexit it will still be possible to acquire residency, visas and permits to remain in Portugal. However, we can expect this to be much less straightforward than today, so make sure you secure your position under current rules. 

Steps you can take 

If you are already living in Portugal, there are a number of things you should be doing as a matter of course, regardless of Brexit, to indicate you are settled there.  

All EU/EEA nationals staying in Portugal for more than three months should apply for the residence certificate, cartão de residéncia. Valid for five years, this allows you to live and work in Portugal and enjoy the same rights to benefits and healthcare as Portuguese citizens. 

If you meet any of the criteria to be tax resident (it is not just about day counting), you should also formally register with the Portuguese tax office and submit annual tax returns. Residents of Portugal are liable to Portuguese taxation on worldwide income and some capital gains, and to wealth tax on Portuguese real estate assets (depending on their value). While ‘non-habitual residents’ benefit from several tax exemptions, they should still register with the local câmara municipal and report income and gains each year.

Longer-term residents of Portugal can take further steps. If you can demonstrate continuous legal residence in Portugal for at least five years you can apply for permanent residency through the offices of the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF). After six years, Portuguese nationality is an option. 

Even if you have only been here a short while, there are other steps you can take to help demonstrate you are settled in Portugal before the Brexit cut-off date. Registering for the national health card (cartão do utente), holding a local bank account and arranging a Portuguese will, for example, are all good indicators of residency in Portugal.

Once you are settled here, existing partners and close family members will be able to join you in Portugal, even after Brexit. However, agreement has not yet been reached on onward freedom of movement – whether you have the automatic right to move to another EU country post-Brexit. See the latest Brexit news

Take personalised advice to establish what steps, if any, you still need to take to formalise your residency in Portugal, and in what order. A financial adviser with cross-border expertise can review your tax and estate planning, pensions, savings and investments to make sure they are set up in the best way for your life in Portugal, before and after Brexit. 

Blevins Franks has developed a PDF guide that outlines ten key steps towards securing the right to stay in Portugal after Brexit. 

Download our guide to Brexit and residency in Portugal


Blevins Franks accepts no liability for any loss resulting from any action or inaction or omission as a result of reading this article, which is general in nature and not specific to your circumstances. Summarised information is based upon our understanding of current laws and practices which may change. Individuals should seek personalised advice.

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.