At the time of writing (August 2020) the exact nature of Brexit has yet to be decided, but clearly, given the disruption of this year thus far, this cannot be allowed to delay your plans when it comes to living abroad. Many Britons have already made the commitment to do so: a collaboration between the Oxford in Berlin Research Partnership and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center found a “seismic shift” in the number of Britons abroad who have decided to apply for citizenship in their host country since 2016. There has been a 500% rise in applications for member state passports, and the number of Britons either moving or intending to move to the EU has also gone up by 30%.Experts say that the movement of British citizens is comparable to the effects of a major social and political crisis: people do not normally leave their home country in these numbers except under exceptional circumstances. If you are one of these people, what does Brexit mean for you?
The impact of Brexit will depend on a number of factors:
• whether you are already living in the EU or are intending to move there before the end of the transition period in 2020
• whether you are not living in the EU, hope to do so, but will not be in a position to move before the end of the transition period
• the nature of the Brexit deal itself: what form the deal will take, or what will happen if there is no deal?
Currently, chief UK negotiator David Frost has expressed confidence that a deal will be forthcoming in the autumn, but both Westminster and Brussels are conscious that the clock is ticking and if a deal was placed on the table in, say, November, this would effectively be too late for ratification. So any deal really needs to manifest by October at the latest: the deadline is October 31st. How likely is this to happen?
The UK seems to think that a deal will go through, and although there has been grumbling from Brussels, a number of sticking points do appear to be in the process of being ironed out. These include factors such as police co-operation, pensions locks, and fishing rights (the last one is particularly thorny: although the fishing industry is economically tiny, it has been described as a political hot potato. It seems probable, however, that the EU may concede much of Britain’s demands in this area). But how does all this affect you, either as a current or as a prospective expat Briton in Europe?
If you are already resident in Europe, and have completed the necessary paperwork, you can relax somewhat, although not entirely: a certain amount of reassurance still depends on reciprocity. Countries such as Spain and France are keen to retain their British residents, and have taken considerable steps in order to do so, but their goodwill is dependent on their own citizens being allowed to remain in the UK.
Despite a certain amount of sabre-rattling on the part of anti-migrancy politicians, it is likely that this will in fact happen and a large number of EU expats in the UK have already started or indeed completed their residency process – however, ‘pre-settled’ status does not give an EU citizen or their children a permanent guaranteed right to remain.
With regard to residency, if you are currently living abroad, it is essential that you apply to your host country for residency if you have not done so already. The Covid pandemic and an influx of migrants trying to beat the Brexit deadline has caused some delays in this regard, for instance, in France, where the carte de sejour portal (via which you need to apply for your residency) will not go live now until October. A small UN team is currently on the ground on behalf of the IOM (the UN’s Migration Agency) to assist Britons with the process.
In Spain a number of agencies, such as Age in Spain, have been given UK government grants to help with applications. However, some commentators believe that the imposition of Covid-related quarantine in the UK for those British holiday-makers obliged to return home from Spain, thus damaging the Spanish summer tourist season, may not be forgotten by the Spanish authorities when it comes to dealing with residencies. Brexit is not the only factor impacting the lives of Britons living or moving abroad this year. However, concerns by expat advocacy groups apply particularly to Spain, which hosts one of the largest groups of British expats, and which has been described as a ‘Brexit flashpoint.’
It is advisable to contact the assisting group in your host country if you have not yet applied for residency permits and are not sure how to go about doing so. You should also check the relevant country page on the UK government website.
If you are intending to move to the EU, your rights abroad will be secured if you are able to do so before the end of December 2020. However, if you are not able to do so and will be moving after the end of the transition period, or even if you are intending to move before December, there are some factors to bear in mind:
• seek professional financial advice from advisers who specialise in expat finance and who are up to date with any Brexit ramifications
• alert HMRC to your move. This will allow them to assess any tax liability, and will also allow your pension, if you have one, to be paid gross to you and taxed in your country of residence (if it has a double taxation agreement with the UK)
• check what the reciprocal social security arrangements are between the UK and your host nation (for instance, whether your pension is triple locked and will thus increase, or whether it will be frozen
• check the situation with regard to healthcare in your host country and if necessary, consider taking out private health insurance
We cannot stress enough that it will be significantly easier for you to live as a British expat in the EU if you move before December 2020. Some advisers suggest that, if possible, you gain a foothold in your country of choice by renting, and setting in motion the residency process once you have an address.
At the time of writing, the EU is considering the granting of increased freedom of movement for Britons in EU states after Brexit: thus, for instance, if you started a new job in Spain and were then transferred to your company’s German branch a year or so later, you would not theoretically have to apply for residency. This has not yet been ratified by law, however.
If there is no deal, then it remains very unclear as to what will happen. Much will depend on reciprocity, as outlined above. Even if there is a deal, if EU nationals are obliged to return home – and suggested Westminster-imposed caps on income would mean that many in lower-paying jobs may have to – then a tit-for-tat attitude could well be set in motion among member states. What we really do not want to see are cases of ‘retaliatory deportations’ among Britons living in EU states.
HMRC’s site for guidance on living in/moving to France can be found here, to give an example; there will be a similar page relating to each individual EU nation. These guidance pages are comprehensive, covering such aspects as visas/residency, pensions, driving licenses, healthcare and many other factors that you will need to consider if you are either in the EU already or planning to move there.
We should further mention that your employment status will make a difference. Many financial companies have already relocated: there has been a drain from London to the Netherlands, for instance. If you are highly skilled and working in this sector, or others like it, your chances of finding employment in the EU will be greater than someone with more limited job prospects, who may essentially be having to compete with other third-party nationals. Some British expats who have already made the move, spurred on by Brexit, have reported difficulty in finding work, and since house prices in places like Amsterdam and Frankfurt have been bumped up by the corporate influx, this can be an expensive mistake to make unless you have already secured a job.
In short, if you are already living in a member state or are planning to move to one, keep yourself as informed as possible on at least a weekly basis. The Brexit situation is fast-moving and unstable, with negotiations capable of creating life-changing moves from day to day. Make sure that you are as up to date as you can be, check government information regularly, and communicate, too, with local expat groups and forums in your host nation.