Home Guide to no-deal Brexit for expats: The British in Europe and Europeans in the UK
Last update on November 21, 2019
Written by Keith J. Fernandez

Is it going to be Broctober now? Regardless, here’s all you need to know about Brexit, in a deal or no-deal scenario, from what the laws are in the EU27 and the UK, what paperwork you need, as well as where and when to apply.

In the decades to come, historians will look back on the last two years and wonder what on earth Brexit really was about. They won’t be alone. The entire world has been looking on in wonder as British parliamentarians struggle to deliver the will of the people they represent, all the while trying to figure out what Brexit means and if referendum voters really intended what they said. We’ll leave that to future Brexologists and focus instead on the burning existential question at hand: how are nationals of European Union countries living in the United Kingdom, and the British in Europe, going to be affected and what will be the legacy of Brexit for expats?

Brupdate: No idea when the UK is leaving, but it could be #Broctober

With the extended deadline for the UK to leave the EU ticking ever closer, Brexit appears to have become something of a Sisyphean task. The fate of the British in Europe is still in limbo. We’re no closer to a deal, but it’s harder for the UK to leave without one. British Prime Minister Theresa May failed to get her current deal through parliament three times.

She now hopes to push the deal through after being offered a six-month extension to 31 October at an EU leadership summit on 10 April. EU leaders have repeatedly said the agreement will not be renegotiated, so May – or her successor – will need to get MPs to agree to the deal by the autumn at the latest. The UK could also leave by June if May can secure Commons support before then. Without that, no-deal Brexit remains a very real possibility, although MPs have voted to avoid it. Preventing the door from being slammed shut are issues of a customs union, the Irish backstop, expat rights, wild currency fluctuations, and free movement for both Brits and other EU citizens.

EU leaders are far from united on the issue. French President Emmanuel Macron wants the UK to accept a no-deal Brexit and leave immediately or face tough extension conditions, but German chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a softer view. What of the upcoming European parliamentary elections? May wants to capitalize on the current momentum and get her deal passed before 22 May, but as we’ve seen over the last three years, anything’s possible when it comes to Brexit.

What is the UK’s perspective?

If that’s enough to make you reach for the gin trolley, you’re not alone. Pour yourself a stiff one and watch May’s video outlining developments so far while you wait for developments.

As you can see, nobody has any idea whether there’ll be a deal at all, when this eternal back and forth could end, whether or not Brexit will actually happen, what its eventual financial impact might be, and what any of it means for anyone. You’d probably have better odds predicting how life began.

But if you’re a Brit thinking of booking a holiday, this year continental nations are happy to welcome post-Brexit tourists. The European parliament has confirmed that UK visitors won’t need to worry about a Schengen visa, and Portugal has even rolled out a cheeky new campaign offering a warm ‘Brelcome‘.

Brexit: what’s the current deal?

European and British officials have agreed a 585-page divorce deal to ensure a smooth transition. Besides laying out visiting rights and access to shared property (such as fishing rights), the agreement pledges to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa after Brexit over a transition period through December 2020. By then, both parties hope to have negotiated a new, permanent treaty.

However, on 14 March, a blustery winter’s day just two weeks short of the original 29 March deadline, Westminster voted against leaving the cosy shelter of the European Union without a deal. EU leaders have since agreed to proposals by European Council President Donald Tusk to push Brexit to Halloween, saving their final farewell for a later date (possibly on a balmy summer evening in June, perhaps Halloween – or maybe even next Christmas). If they don’t, the UK will be shown the door on 29 March (#Brupdate: they weren’t). However, there are no certainties when it comes to Brexit beyond its negative business impact. With everything up in the air – from an exit date to the exit itself, whether or not British Prime Minister Theresa May can get her deal through parliament, and what form such an exit will take – expats can only hunker down and prepare.

So, what should you do? The answer, as is so often the case during Brexit for expats, depends on where you live. Read on to find out how Brexit affects you and where you should be forming an orderly queue.

Brexit for expats: EU nationals in the UK

EU citizens in the UK don’t need to kick their expat job search into high gear just yet. In order to remain in the UK, the 3.7 million EU nationals and any non-EU citizen family members who have been living there for five years by the end of 2020 will need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. Applications are free and must be completed before 30 June 2021. Applicants will need to supply a photo and answer whether they have a criminal record.

Nationals of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland (the EEA EFTA countries) can follow the same process. Irish citizens will be grand – they do not need to apply and will have the same rights as before.

Anyone with settled status is expected to retain access to healthcare, pensions and other social benefits.

As of mid-April, more than 400,000 EU nationals have applied to stay in the UK, with 200,000 in the first 10 days of April alone. A number for the British in Europe is not yet available.

Brexit for expats: Britons in Europe

As with any family council, each person around the dinner table has their own opinion. When the table seats 28, though, it can be tricky to keep calm and carry on when you’ve no idea who’s saying what. Each of the other 27 member states has its own approach to Brexit and the 1.2 million British expats in the EU must look to the governments of their adopted countries for guidance – including the right to travel within the Schengen Area or the EEA.

For now, the UK advises to prepare for a no-deal Brexit for expats; expats should register as residents where they live. The British in Europe are also being advised to take out health insurance in line with local government rules, since coverage afforded by the European Health Card will cease. EU authorities advise those on holiday trips in the EU to take out travel insurance, “just as you would if visiting a non-EU country.”

In general, most EU nations guarantee British expats can count on a post-Brexit grace period; no need to remember how to drive on the other side of the road just yet. This extra time will allow them to obtain long-term residency status under EU Directive 2003/109 – subject to reciprocity from the UK. This extends to December 2020 in the majority of cases.

Only 11 of the 27 countries have guaranteed permanent residency for UK nationals. However, Westminster is currently in talks to safeguard the status of Brits abroad. Points under discussion include maintaining rights to social security and other benefits in any transition period, and ensuring that retirees continue to receive a UK state pension for at least the 2019–2020 financial year.

Brits moving to the EU after Brexit will likely have the same rights as citizens of third countries. UK citizens will require an international driving license to drive and may also need to renew their passports.

No deal, country by country for the British in Europe

What of the British in Europe? The uncertainty of the effects of Brexit for expats means there is not a great deal of concrete information of a post-Brexit Europe. Nonetheless, here’s additional information you need to know in a no-deal scenario, depending on the country you live in:

Austria

British nationals living in Austria will be able to remain in the country, even if there’s no deal. Britons must apply for a residence permit within six months of the UK’s actual exit, though. Those holding down jobs will also still have access to the labour market. The permit costs €160 and applicants will be able to stay beyond the six-month window while waiting for the document. Simplified rules mean you won’t have to be able to speak German to obtain residency. The Federal Chancellery provides more details.

Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl has also promised that the 25,000 Austrians living in the UK could be exempt from the country’s ban on dual citizenship.

Belgium

Belgium has also drafted special legislation (text in Dutch and French) set to come into force when the UK exits the EU, laying out a transition period to December 2020 with no changes for British citizens and their families already resident in the country at the time of the withdrawal. During that time or after, you’ll most likely need to apply and pay €57 for a long-term residence permit, also called a D-card, but your application will be assessed differently.

Bulgaria

Without a withdrawal agreement, Bulgaria aims to ensure that British expats have the same rights after Brexit as before but you will need to re-register with local authorities to keep those privileges. Bulgarian officials process applications within a month, the country’s Ministry of Interior says.

Croatia

The Ministry of Interior urges UK citizens to apply for a temporary residence which will be issued free of charge and can be upgraded to a resident ID card for residence for HRK 79.50. Anyone who has lived in Croatia for five years can apply for permanent residence. More information is available from the Croatian Ministry of Interior (in Croatian) and from Total Croatia News.

Cyprus

The Cypriot government has announced its intention to treat all British nationals fairly. Separately, Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides guaranteed that the 60,000 British expats in Cyprus will continue to enjoy the rights and provisions laid out in the withdrawal agreement.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also advised its citizens to register with local authorities in Cyprus.

Czechia

A law enacted in early March protects the rights of the 8,000 British nationals living and working in Czechia in the event that the Great Britain leaves the EU with no deal. The law covers their rights to Czech citizenship, permanent residence and pension insurance. The temporary residence permit is valid until the end of 2020. It’s available free of cost. The Czech Ministry of Interior offers additional information on these options.

Denmark

The Danish government proposes to guarantee that the 2,000 British expats living in Denmark continue to enjoy the same rights as other EU citizens for a temporary transition period. Without free movement, however, the Danish ministry of foreign affairs says it cannot guarantee all rights right now. UK nationals without an EU registration certificate are being asked to register before the withdrawal date.

Estonia

According to a February act of parliament, Estonia’s Aliens Act will apply to the 1,335 British residents resident in the Baltic nation immediately upon the UK’s departure without a deal. You’ll be granted a temporary, five-year residence permit for settling permanently in Estonia, or a long-term residence permit, depending on your rights at the moment of Brexit. ID documents issued by the Estonian government remain valid until their expiry.

Finland

British citizens living in Finland have been advised to register their right of residence as soon as possible. A new act being drafted could safeguard the rights of those already registered by the departure date. Anyone who hasn’t registered will be treated as an illegal resident.

France

Under a February ordinance, the 150,000 Britons living in France automatically become third-country nationals and will need to obtain a non-EU residence permit, or carte de séjour, within a year of the withdrawal date. It’s still unclear what documents you may need and whether or not these include income statements.

During the transition, your rights to residence, work and social welfare will continue as normal. Expats working in France will also need to give their employer a copy of their new residence permit. The rights laid out in the decree rely on the condition of reciprocity. More information is on the French government’s website (in French).

Germany

All 107,000 UK expats in Germany will need to apply for a residence permit from their local Foreigners Authority (Ausländerbehörde). The German government is considering implementing a transition period of three months, during which time British expats can live and work in Germany without a permit. There are six different residence permits and local authorities differ in the way they grant them.

This FAQ from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI) has more details. There are specific conditions for passports and driving licenses, as one expat group has detailed.

Greece

In the case of no deal, British expats living in Greece before the UK’s withdrawal with a registration certificate or a temporary or permanent residence document will need to apply for new biometric cards at their local municipal authority after 1 January 2020. The Greek government has a pretty detailed Brexit website, although their rights are guaranteed in line with the UK reciprocity to Greek citizens. A new draft bill currently being prepared will further clarify the status of the 15,000 British expats in Greece. If you haven’t already registered, do so now.

Hungary

British ambassador to Hungary Iain Lindsay announced in a recent Facebook post that the Hungarian government has now put a draft law before the national assembly to protect the rights of the 4,200 UK expats in the case of a no-deal exit. He said he expected to see a preferential scheme for Britons already resident in Hungary to confirm their long-term status. The scheme is expected to be open for three years after exit day.

Iceland

British nationals in Iceland – numbering about 1,185 – will retain their residence rights. Prime ministers May and Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland agreed to this in October 2018. The UK has also advised its citizens to register with Registers Iceland.

Ireland

As signatories to the Common Travel Area (CTA), British and Irish citizens have the right to live, work, study and vote in each other’s countries. The British government has clarified that no action is needed to protect your status and rights, and even in the case of a disorderly exit, nationals of both countries continue to enjoy these rights. In addition, state pension and benefits are guaranteed and workers need only pay into one social security scheme at a time.

The Irish government maintains a detailed website on everything from medicines to bank accounts.

Italy

Italy was one of the first countries to promise that UK nationals’ rights would be secured over a transition period. The transition period is expected to last six to nine months, long enough for Britons to obtain long-term residency permits. A new law is expected soon, but the British government has advised that its 27,000 nationals resident in Italy register as a resident at their local town hall (comune).

Latvia

The Baltic nation has confirmed that it will protect by law the rights of the approximately 1,200 British nationals in the country. A transition period to 31 December 2020 will come into force in either case. Britons will need to request a new residence permit at the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs. Separate legislation will ensure Brits registered in Latvia by March 29 can continue to access healthcare after the UK’s departure.

Liechtenstein

British nationals in Liechtenstein continue to enjoy the same rights as before, thanks to the EEA EFTA agreements, reports Reuters.

Lithuania

The government of Lithuania has approved legal amendments allowing the 400 British expats in the country to continue living there for a transitional period of nine months. During that time, you’ll need to apply to the Migration Department to stay on.

Luxembourg

British citizens can remain living in Luxembourg as they have until 30 March 2020. You’ll need to apply for a residence permit by the end of this year. The government has a pretty detailed FAQ.

Malta

The most generous benefits benefits for British expats in the EU come from Malta, which has a treaty with the UK. Brits who arrive in Malta before 29 March 2019 can apply for a free 10-year work and residence permit at the Department of Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs.

brexit-expats-no-deal

The Netherlands

As always, the Dutch are way ahead of everyone else. The government announced in January that British expats granted residency before the withdrawal date could stay in a no-deal situation. A grace period follows, during which UK nationals can live, work, and study in the Netherlands. The grace period lasts until 1 July 2020. The government advises all residents to register at the local municipality and also apply for a DigiD number. This will be necessary so they can send you a temporary residence permit before the departure date. You’ll need to present this to your employer.

After the UK flounces out of the EU, the Dutch government will invite you to register for a residence permit. There are different rules on family reunification during the transition period and after.

Everything you need to know is on the exhaustive FAQ from the IND immigration and naturalization service and you can also call a Brexit information line (+31 8 80 43 04 10) in Holland during normal weekday working hours with any questions you may have.

Norway

As with other EEA EFTA countries, the 15,000 British nationals in Norway continue will enjoy the same rights as before and a proposal has been sent to the Storting. More information is available from the Norwegian government.

Until departure date, British residents can have Norwegian driving licenses issued on the strength of UK ones. Following this, the Norwegian government is considering legislation to extend the facility after Brexit.

Poland

The 6,000-odd Brits living in Poland are to be protected under a new law (Polish text only, but there’s an English translation on the Facebook page of the British Embassy in Warsaw). Expats who have lived in the country five years or more will be offered permanent residency. Others can obtain a three-year temporary residence permit. Both cards will have the word Brexit on them, distinguishing them from the normal residency permit. The law will also protect the rights of non-EU spouses of Britons.

Portugal

British expats registered as living in Portugal on departure date can be assured of their rights, according to a February statement (Portuguese only). Portuguese law requires anyone living in the country for more than 90 days to register; the UK government provides details on the procedure.

Romania

Romania is yet to clarify the fate of the 500 British expats living in the country. The British embassy is hosting a series of meetings in March to inform residents about negotiations.

Slovakia

Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini confirmed that UK nationals in Slovakia will enjoy the same rights as EU citizens. Details on residence permits are not available but you can read the official communiqué.

Slovenia

The Slovene government committed to preserving the rights of UK nationals, expecting that a law currently before parliament passes before the UK’s final departure. The UK embassy is hosting outreach meetings in the country and has recommended that the 600 resident UK expats register at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MZZ), as well as renewing driving licenses and applying for basic local healthcare.

Spain

The country with the largest number of British expats in the EU has promised that they can stay. They will, however, be subject to general third-country immigration laws. Unregistered expats have been asked to register in person at the Central Registry for Foreigners. More details are available from the Spanish government.

Sweden

The Swedish regering has put in place comprehensive rules governing the rights of the 20,000 British expats living there, exempting them for residence and work permits for a period of one year, starting 30 March, 2019 (or presumably, whichever date Britain leaves the EU), according to a Facebook post from the British Embassy in Stockholm. The exemption applies automatically, but UK nationals should apply for a residence permit in the meanwhile. The Swedish parliament expects to approve legislation enabling UK nationals to count the time they have lived in Sweden towards their residence permit. This should happen by 1 July. Children born after Brexit will have the same rights as their parents.

Should you want to travel outside the country, you will need your passport stamped – once only – by the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket). UK nationals also have a year’s grace period to swap their driving licenses.

Switzerland

Under one of five bilateral Brexit agreements, the 43,000 UK citizens living in Switzerland and 34,500 Swiss nationals resident in the UK would be able to broadly enjoy the same rights as they do now, according to a statement from the UK’s Department for Exiting the European Union, including arrangements on residency, healthcare access, pensions, education, social security coordination and mutual recognition of professional qualifications. The agreement is subject to ratification in both states, but should Brexit happen before then, it will be executed provisionally.

Switzerland established separate work permit quota for British nationals planning to work in Switzerland for the first time. These quotas, however, do not cover existing residents.