There are nearly 1.3 million Brits living and working in different countries across Europe. Countries like Spain, France and Ireland have served as expat hotspots for many UK nationals. In countries that are member states of the European Union, British people enjoy the freedom of movement and employment. But this could all change on account of the historic referendum of June 23rd 2016, in which the people of Britain voted for an exit from the EU.UK law stipulates that those nationals who left the UK at least 15 years ago do not retain voting rights in any British elections. Therefore, they were also not permitted to vote in the Brexit referendum. A number of other countries, such as the US, give their citizens lifetime voting rights as long as they retain their nationality. The millions of Brits living overseas, many of whom wanted Britain to remain a part of the EU, were on the whole not happy with the rule, as well as with the outcome of the vote. Despite assurances from the previous and current prime ministers that there would be no immediate changes in their circumstances, British expats are worried that their future could change significantly. Many are even considering applying for citizenship to their host countries as a way to secure their rights.
What is Brexit?
The term Brexit originated in 2012, but emerged as a heated political debating point only last year. The British exit, or Brexit, from the European Union is the result of months of campaigning, and almost four decades of Euroscepticism. The campaign for an exit began in 1973, soon after the UK became part of the common market. Approximately 30 million people participated in the referendum, in which the ‘leave’ votes won by 52 percent.
How will Brexit impact British expats in the EU?
The right to free movement and employment of British expats in European countries may be affected due to the exit. Many Brits also own property in Europe. While this practice is likely to continue, there may be changes in taxation and inheritance regulations. Brexit led to the pound witnessing an all-time low. Even though it has recovered, if future currency swings continue, Brits may decide to return to the UK’s property market instead. Expats looking to work in the EU may find themselves entangled in a lot more paperwork, in case host countries call for more regulations with regard to permits.
This could also affect those who want to start their businesses in EU member states. The right to employment, which was an automatic right on account of Britain being an EU member, may be withdrawn, and instead expats may have to obtain Blue Cards, which accord them the right to live and work in the EU. British nationals may also be subjected to a rule that is already in place in 15 member states, which indicates that an overseas national can only be employed if there is no suitable local candidate from the EU region. Pensioners, who constitute the largest percentage of British expats living in Europe, may find that their pensions are influenced by the currency fluctuations.
It is important to note that although Britain has successfully voted to leave the European Union, there may be up to two years of negotiations and arrangements between the UK and the European Union on various issues, including those that affect British nationals living and working in the European region. The UK government has stated that the rights of Brits abroad, as well as those of EU nationals in the UK, must be protected. Until the discussions are complete, there are likely to be no immediate changes, and the UK will continue to have the status of a full member of the EU and will retain the benefits and obligations of membership.
Travelling within the EU
British nationals will continue to be able to travel freely in the European region using their UK passport. There will continue to be no visa requirement for expats who want to enter a EU member state.
Currently, non-EU nationals who wish to visit a EU country or travel within the EU region need a valid passport and a visa. Those with visas from Schengen countries are automatically allowed to travel to other Schengen nations. A residence permit from a Schengen country has the same validity as a visa. Non-EU nationals may need to provide other supporting documents, such as an invitation letter or proof of accommodation, to border officials in EU countries. Each EU country may have slightly different requirements.
There are reciprocal arrangements in place between the UK and most of the EU member states, which allow British nationals access to free or low-cost medical treatment. British nationals can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to avail themselves of healthcare during visits to EU member countries. This card enables the cardholder to access state-provided necessary medical care in a host country. EHIC provides coverage for temporary visits to the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. With the card, British nationals are treated as residents of the host country, and can access free or subsidized medical treatment from the country’s healthcare system. The charges are taken care of by the cardholder’s home country. Expats will have to pay for medical care outside the EEA. There are some exceptions; the NHS Choices website provides information on a country-by-country basis.
Since the EHIC is an initiative of the EEA, and not the European Union, whether or not British nationals will still be able to use it depends on ties between Britain and the EEA.
Many expats have chosen various parts of Europe in which to spend their retirement years. The results of the Brexit referendum have placed the status of British pensioners in question. The healthcare of British pensioners may also be affected due to Brexit. They may have to buy private health coverage, the cost of which is likely to increase. Other EU countries may also conduct more stringent checks on pensioners before they are allowed to join the healthcare system, to ensure that they do not constitute a ‘burden’ to the system. Thus Brexit may impact the provision of healthcare, resulting in economic pressure, as well as a strain on the NHS.
However, the UK government has issued assurances that there will be no change in the rights of British pensioners. Those who have contributed adequately to UK national insurance qualify for state pension abroad. The amount of state pension for which one is eligible once they reach state pension age can be determined through a State Pension statement available on the UK government website. One can also obtain the statement by phone or post. Individuals that are over the state pension age or reach that age in less than a month can request the statement by phone.
To make a claim for state pension, an individual must be within four months of state pension age. The claim may be made by contacting the International Pension Centre, or by sending the international claim form to the center. Those who are living abroad for part of the year are required to select one country in which they wish to be paid their pension. The state pension may be paid to a bank in the country in which the pensioner lives or to a bank or building society within the UK. The pension may be paid into an account in the pensioner’s name, a joint account, or another individual’s account with their permission. For overseas accounts, the international bank account number (IBAN) and bank identification code (BIC) are required. The pension will be paid in local currency, which may vary depending on exchange rates.
Pensioners can choose to receive their pension every four or 13 weeks. Pensions lower than £5 per week will be paid yearly in December. Since a US company handles these payments, those who live overseas may receive their pension a day late if the due date coincides with a US bank holiday.
Living and working in the EU
In the interim, British citizens will continue to hold their legal status as citizens of the EU, and can retain their right to live and work in any of the EU countries. Individuals who are nationals of any EU country automatically also become EU citizens. This citizenship is in addition to the national citizenship. Each member state sets its own conditions for access to or loss of nationality. The treaty of the Functioning of the EU confers every EU citizen with official citizenship of the Union. As EU citizens, British expats will continue to enjoy certain rights such as the right to move and reside freely within the EU, to vote and participate in the European parliament and municipal elections, among others.
British nationals will also continue to enjoy the right to work in any country that is part of the EEA. This does not require a work permit. The EEA includes all EU member countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. They will also be accorded all the rights that nationals have, with regard to issues such as working conditions, pay and social security.
Following the referendum, there have been no changes in the rights and status of UK nationals in the EU, as well as EU nationals living and working in the UK.
UK citizens who wish to work in non-EU countries require a job offer from the country in question, after which a visa can be obtained. Countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, employ a points system that decides whether an individual is eligible for a visa. There is some speculation that following Brexit, EU countries may adopt such a system for UK nationals too.
Driving licenses issued within the UK are EU-branded, and like UK passports they will be phased out upon renewal. While the two-year negotiation period is on, UK driving licenses will continue to bear the EU symbol and the words ‘European Union’ on the cover. This is the standard format that replaced the different driving licenses of nearly 300 million drivers in the EEA. But in a few years, driving licenses are likely to change. Some questions remain post-Brexit, such as whether expats living in European countries will have to apply for a new license in the host country; what happens to those who already have licenses issued by the host country; and whether those licenses will be valid when they return to the UK.
On account of the EU pet passport scheme, individuals travelling back and forth between a European country and the UK did not have to subject their animal companions to a long quarantine period. This could all change due to Britain’s exit from the European Union. It could also affect those charities that seek homes in Britain for abandoned animals in EU countries.
As part of the EU program, the Erasmus + scheme, UK participants were eligible to study, volunteer, work, teach and train in any of the European Union countries. The scheme applied to education, training, sports, and youth organizations. The result of the Brexit vote will not affect those already studying in the EU or those part of the Erasmus + scheme. It will also not impact those who will be applying to the program in 2017. The current status and arrangements will apply to existing British students studying in the EU, and those who will be starting in the following academic year. The interim discussions will decide the UK’s future access to the scheme.
Mobile phone roaming
An EU regulation for the complete removal of roaming charges between EU countries will come into effect by June 2017. But since the regulation is not a part of UK law, unless the UK negotiates a separate arrangement with mobile phone operators, those travelling back and forth from EU states and the UK will have to pay more for roaming charges.