Becoming an expat is a brave choice. It takes courage to move to a country that isn’t your own and make a life there – but it also takes courage to move back home again. This isn’t an admission of defeat. It may simply be that circumstances have moved beyond your control. As an expat, you’re likely to be an adaptable and flexible individual, but how do you adapt to a return home – especially if you had made up your mind to live the rest of your life in your adopted country? We’ll take a look at some of the issues.
Why move back?
Over the past few years, there have been two big determining factors that have had an impact on expats: the pandemic and Brexit.
Covid-19 has seen enormous shifts in expat populations. British citizens who had moved to Australia for a fresh start, for example, suddenly found that they were unable to visit family and friends back home. Meanwhile, expats in Hong Kong were taken aback by the draconian crackdown on freedom of movement, and some remain uncertain as to when they will be allowed to resume their normal lives. The crisis has led to many people having second thoughts.
Secondly, Brexit has led to problems, both anticipated and unanticipated, for those Brits living in the EU. Different member states have changed their residency requirements, with new income caps brought in and 90-day rulings for non-residents. Expats who have bought a Spanish villa to visit for six months of the year, and who for whatever reason are unwilling or unable to apply for resident status, now find themselves squeezed out of the country. Those who have had residency applications refused have been given 15 days to leave the country or risk deportation, with stiff fines of up to €10K being threatened. According to the Office of National Statistics, around a third of Brits in Spain are over 65, and the new income cap is more than the UK pension. Healthcare is also a factor, with expats who are not residents or who are not working now being unable to access Spanish national healthcare.
So, if you are in a similar position and have made the difficult decision to come back to the UK, what do you need to bear in mind? This article is mostly aimed at people who have been living full-time abroad, rather than those who have been spending six months of the year out of the country and who have a base in the UK.
Age UK suggest that you bear the following factors in mind before your return:
- Will you still get the income you receive at present when you return to the UK?
- How do prices and costs compare between countries?
- How will exchange rates and inflation affect your pension and income?
- Can you transfer income and assets to the UK?
- Will your insurance policies remain valid, or will you need new ones?
You may need to seek advice from the International Pension Centre. You can find their contact details on the government website. They will be able to advise you if, for instance, you are in receipt of a pension from more than one country. If you have had a pension abroad, you may want to move it back to the UK. A foreign pension is likely to be in a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme. You might be entitled to a refund if your pension has already been taxed abroad.
You may also qualify for financial assistance through means-tested benefits, such as Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, and/or Council Tax Reduction, and if you are retired, you may also be entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment.
You can visit the Age UK website to access their benefits calculator.
It is important to note that you may not be able to access benefits immediately on your return, so make sure that you have sufficient funds to tide you over for a few months.
On returning to live in the UK, you will be subject to the same taxation rules as permanent residents. You will therefore be liable for taxes on UK income and gains and any foreign income and gains (unless your permanent home remains outside of the UK). You may need to register with HMRC for self-assessment. Speak to your international accountant or HMRC itself for advice.
The UK government says that family members with UK citizenship or settled status can live permanently in the UK and will not need to take further action to do so.
Family members without UK citizenship or settled status will be able to live permanently in the UK subject to immigration rules. Once in the UK, the British citizens’ family members can apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Other family members and future spouses of UK nationals who are returning to the UK will need to apply for a family visa. You can find all relevant information and links on the government website.
You may already have property in the UK to which you can return. If you do not, however, you will need to do some research into the housing market in your chosen area. Be aware that house prices may have risen steeply since you left.
You should be able to get a mortgage as an expat, but you may prefer to go via a specialist broker who is used to international sales. Expat mortgages are possible to obtain – but note that it might be more difficult for you than for a UK resident. This is because lenders like to see a solid financial history, and it can be harder to prove this if you’ve been living and working abroad. Lack of a fixed UK address and a credit file can limit your options with lenders, hence the preference of many expats to go via a specialist, and to also set up a UK address (for example, via a friend or relative). In addition, since credit files are not transferable, you may want to keep a UK bank account open and have an international credit card, perhaps a credit builder card, kept as clean as possible, so that credit checks such as Experian rank highly.
Lenders will usually expect a 25% deposit, and due to money laundering laws, they may be stricter about the source of this deposit. Acceptable sources are:
- Savings or investments
- Equity release from another property
- Sale of a property
- Gift from family or friends
Lenders may also prefer to see an employment history, so securing a job on your return to the UK might significantly improve your chances. It will be more difficult if you are self-employed.
Age UK say that if you return from abroad without a firm plan to settle anywhere, and if you are in need of local authority support, for example for housing, you may be classed as having ‘no settled residence’. In this case, you will have the same rights as someone ordinarily resident in the authority’s area, and that authority may have a duty to meet your needs following an assessment. This will depend to some extent on your assets.
If you are a UK national that has been living abroad, you should be able to pass the ordinarily resident test on resuming settled residence here. You will therefore be entitled to free NHS non-emergency hospital care. You may need to provide evidence that you are resident again.
If you have registered an S1 form in a member state of the EU, you will need to contact the local authorities in that country to tell them that you’re moving back. You’ll also need to inform the DWP Overseas Healthcare Team, who will then stop payments for the S1.
It is important to register with your local GP as soon as possible after your return. If you’re staying with friends or family, you can register as a temporary patient for up to three months. You can register for an NHS number if you do not have one already.
The websites above will also help you to find a dental practice. You may not be eligible for NHS dental treatment, but check this with your chosen practitioner.
If you haven’t been to the UK for a while, do be aware that Covid-19 has resulted in some changes, both to the culture and the economy. Britain is a nation in flux, with energy prices likely to rise significantly and a supply chain crisis. Make sure you talk to family and friends back in the UK, so that you can get a realistic picture of life in present-day Britain.