As the United Kingdom continues its way through the process of leaving the European Union, we don’t yet know what will be the result of the Brexit negotiations and any transition period. It could be that there are few implications and we can join the million British people already living in Europe. After all, we were living in France and Spain long before the European Union was even thought of.
There is uncertainty about the future though, so here we discuss some potential scenarios and answer a few questions.
For anyone spending less than about half the year in most countries of the EU, Brexit should make little or no difference. No visa will be required and your normal travel insurance should cover healthcare. For those planning to spend longer, while Brexit will probably add to the paperwork, there are many ways for non-EU citizens to enjoy living abroad permanently in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Holland, Malta, Cyprus and all the other countries of the EU.
Many Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and Norwegians live there today. Some are not working but live on investment or retirement income from abroad. Others are working for local companies, working freelance or running their own businesses.
Will the British have a special status, or will we have the same rules as the other non-EU nations? We don’t know, but we can see what happens with other countries. Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway are in the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and their people can live and work in the EU, because EU nationals can live and work there. So if we stay in EFTA nothing should change. The same rules apply to Switzerland even though it’s outside EFTA.
The difference is in those countries that do not allow EU citizens to live and work freely, such as the USA, Australia etc. If we end in a “hard Brexit” scenario, how would we work within those rules?
Currently UK citizens are also EU citizens, and under Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), we have the right of free movement and residence in Europe. It isn’t quite an open door. It is dependent on the UK citizen either having a job (employed or self-employed), or, if economically inactive, being able to prove that they have enough money for themselves and family members not to become a burden on these countries’ taxpayers for social assistance system or health services.
If the UK fails to negotiate a similar agreement during Brexit negotiations, or doesn’t allow residency to EU citizens in the UK, the European Union countries could be expected to treat UK citizens as any other non-EU citizen. The extra paperwork hasn’t deterred
Moroccans, Albanians, Chinese, Ukrainians, Indians, Americans and Australians from making their home in Italy.
How long can non-EU/EFTA citizens stay in Europe without a visa?
26 European countries form the Schengen Area, allowing free movement between each other. Non-EU passport holders from a list of around 60 countries (on a list called Annex II) can stay in the Schengen Area without getting a visa for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. It is for short-term stays not exceeding 90 days. The countries on Annex II include the USA, Australia, Japan, Monaco and Hong Kong, and it is likely that British people would have these rights too, as an absolute minimum. (In the even more unlikely event that the British did not get visa-free entry at all, the Schengen Area in any case offers a short-stay visa for visits under 90 days.)
The 90 visa-free days in each 180 that most non-EU citizens are allowed can be spread over as many visits as you like, allowing you to spend nearly half the year in Europe if divided up throughout the year. Each country within the Schengen Area imposes the broad set of rules but with important technical differences, for example in how the 90 days per 180 may be divided throughout the year, where you can spend the rest of your time, etc.
How do long-stay visas work for non-EU citizens?
Non-EU citizens need a long-stay visa if staying beyond 90 days, even if not working. It lets them stay for a year and allows free circulation within the Schengen Area. The visa is issued by the embassies and consular posts in your country of origin or permanent residence. You need to show you have sufficient funds to live on.
Hand in hand with the long-stay visa, which you get from outside the country before you arrive, is the residency permit which you must obtain at your local town council offices soon after you arrive. You are supposed to get this even as an EU citizen, but many don’t. You will normally need documents supporting your application such as a bank statement showing you have sufficient funds to support yourself, details of your address and a health insurance policy for a minimum of one year.
Can I work in Europe?
To get a work permit, the usual process will be via sponsorship from a local firm, which must submit an application to the immigration department including where you will live, how well you speak the local language, who will pay for your return fare if the job doesn’t work out, the contract and information about the job and the industrial sector.
How do I become a permanent resident
After five years temporary residence in most Schengen countries you can apply for permanent residency. In Italy it is called Soggiornante di lungo periodo. This requires evidence of an annual income equal to the amount of social security benefit at that time and the ability to speak Italian
How can I become an EU citizen?
The more romantic solution is to marry a local. You can also apply for citizenship if you have a European parent or an Irish grandparent. An EU national who has lived in Europe for perhaps four or five years can apply, but a non-EU national needs to have lived there for 10 years before they can apply for citizenship. No-one know yet which will apply to the British after Brexit, but many British people currently in Europe are considering citizenship now rather than later.