Updated: Mar 28, 2018
For the 1.2 million British expats living in the European Union (EU), the progress made in December concerning our rights after Brexit offered a small but welcome degree of reassurance.
On December 19, 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May published an open letter to UK nationals living in Europe. In it, the Prime Minister emphasised that her first priority is to “protect the rights of both EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU”, after our scheduled withdrawal from the EU on 29th March 2019.
Theresa May goes on to outline the conclusion of the first phase of the negotiations, intended to offer some reassurance to those of us concerned about our future rights as expats. So, what reassurances have been made?
Key points from Theresa May’s Brexit letter
It’s been agreed that UK citizens who currently live in the EU or move to another Member State before Brexit will retain the right to stay in that country
British expats will be able to continue receiving the same healthcare rights and pension and benefits provision as they do currently
We can also benefit from existing rules for past and future social security contributions
After Brexit, our family members will still be able to join us in the Member State that we live in. According to Theresa May’s letter: “This includes existing spouses and civil partners, unmarried partners, children, dependent parents and grandparents, as well as children born or adopted outside of the UK after 29th March 2019.”
Rights to free movement after Brexit
Whilst some reassurances can be taken from these initial Brexit agreements, some crucial concerns for British expats are yet to be discussed, let alone agreed. The issue of free movement, for example, is a worry for expats who may wish to move to a different country in the future. Further to this, will we retain certain rights if we do move within the EU?
Theresa May states in her letter that: “the EU was not ready to discuss [these issues] in this phase of the negotiations”. So, for now, some of our biggest concerns have been bumped back until the next round of negotiations.
Brexit commentators have stated that the only way to continue to enjoy freedom of movement would be to take citizenship and apply for a passport in the European country in which you currently reside.
Otherwise, after the withdrawal from the EU on 29th March 2019, expats could enjoy a holiday in another EU country, but we won’t be able to move to another EU country without restriction.
But could later life expats be put off by the potentially stressful process of achieving citizenship? British retirees in Spain, for example, will be expected to prepare for and sit two exams (language and sociocultural knowledge) and be subjected to background criminal checks. Just what we all want to endure in our retirement days!
The truth is, we won’t know anything for certain until all the Brexit negotiations are agreed in the coming year. What we do know, is that expats have much to consider during this period of uncertainty.
So, if you want to plan ahead then here’s our Top 5 Brexit Tips for Expats…
Top 5 Brexit Tips for Expats
1. Keep an eye on exchange rates: Perhaps you’re not an expat yet, but you want to be? There’s no reason you can’t still make the move before Brexit goes through. But, with the freedom of movement likely to be withdrawn from March 29th 2019, you’ll need to be sure of your choice when deciding which EU country to settle in. In addition to your rights as a UK national living abroad, developments impacting the exchange rate are likely to affect your finances, particularly when making your property purchase abroad as the value of the pound is historically low. Seeking the guidance of a financial advisor and a solicitor who specialise in property purchases abroad is highly recommended.
2. Learn the local language: Thinking about applying for citizenship for the country in which you reside? There are different criteria to meet depending on where you live, but a course to learn the local language (if you don’t speak it already) is an ideal starting point. Even if you decide not to go ahead with your application, or you don’t pass, you could really enjoy learning the language and will undoubtedly get some good use out of it!
3. Stay where you are? If you live abroad, do you intend to stay in the country you currently live in? Maybe you want/need to move to a different EU country in the next few years? It is yet to be decided if UK nationals who currently live in one EU country will retain their rights if they move to another EU country after Brexit. If you are reliant on your pension and healthcare provisions from the state, then it might be worth considering a relocation now, while you can, or at least having a think about your future plans.
4. Talk to your family: The announcement following the first phase of the Brexit negotiations confirmed that close family members will be able to join you after Brexit. It gives your family a privileged right to enjoy a life abroad when many other families will no longer be able to make that permanent move. If you think your family would like to live in the EU with you, then it’s never too soon to start making plans!
5. Plan ahead for your funeral: In this period of considerable uncertainty, some guarantees can still be made, like the peace of mind of a funeral plan. The issue of Brexit has led to many expats wondering how complicated it will be for loved ones to arrange their funeral one day, especially if they live in a different country. The language barrier and culture differences could make it very difficult for family members to make all the arrangements for your funeral in the time required. Don’t forget, in many European countries, funerals usually take place within 2 – 3 days, a short time for relatives to plan everything and make any necessary travel arrangements, let alone navigate unfamiliar funeral procedures abroad.