What is the impact of Brexit on expatriates?

What is the impact of Brexit on expatriates?

28 April 2022 Expat life

The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has had a significant impact on businesses but also on individuals, British and European, on both sides of the Channel. In addition to the  economic consequences on growth, investment and employment, what are the concrete repercussions on European expats in the UK and British nationals residing in Europe? Foyer Global Health offers you a brief overview of the situation.

What is Brexit?

On 23 June 2016, the UK held a referendum on its membership to the European Union (EU). 51.89% of British citizens voted in favour of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, commonly referred to as ‘Brexit’ (a combination of the words British and Exit). On 1 February 2020, the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement entered into force; the UK left the union and became a third country.

Nevertheless, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed separately sets preferential arrangements between the EU and UK in some trade areas (customs duties, competition, etc.) but also covers cooperation in other key areas (police, justice, etc.). On the other hand, Brexit put an end to the free movement of persons between EU member states, which has a concrete impact on expats’ life and expatriation projects in both the UK and EU.

Brexit’s impact on expats’ lives

Nearly 4 million Europeans live in the UK; over a million ‘Brexpats’ live in EU countries, mainly in Spain, France and the Netherlands. Others would like to start a new life on one side of the continent or the other.

So, what are the post-Brexit  consequences to consider when planning to move to or apply for permanent residence in Britain or the EU?

No more free movement on either side

Brexit ended the free movement of people between EU member states. Border controls have been reinstated for people travelling to and from the UK, and vice versa for the EU. In sum, the regulations of circulation (and immigration) for EU nationals on the one hand, and for UK citizens on the other, are broadly in line with those for third country nationals. A valid passport is required for travel; an identity card is no longer sufficient.

Residence and work rights

In the UK

EU nationals who wish to stay for more than 6 months must apply for a visa or residence permit, especially if they intend to work in the country.

Since 1 January 2021, the UK government has been implementing a selective immigration policy with a points-based system that favours applicants’ skills, particularly in the finance, technology, business and cyber-security sectors, regardless of their country of origin. In short: there is no longer any difference between EU and non-EU nationals. There are different types of visas (graduate visa, skilled worker visa, start-up and innovator visas, etc.). The applicant for immigration must pay a fee, and for a long-term visa they have to submit various documents including an employability certificate matching their skills’ level approved by the home office, evidence of income equal to or higher than £25,600 and, at least, a B1 level of English.

EU expatriates who were living in the UK before 31 December 2020 (the end of the transition period) maintain the same rights to reside and work as they had before Brexit, provided they applied under the EU Settlement Scheme.

In the EU

Each EU member state has its own policy when it comes to residence and work permits for British expatriates. Since Brexit, subjects of the Crown can no longer freely settle and work in the EU. British citizens wishing to stay for more than 3 months in an EU country must apply for a new residence status depending on the host country.

While in most European countries, British expatriates who lived in the EU before Brexit entered into force can retain their rights to stay and work with a new residence permit, prospective immigrants and British nationals who arrived after 31 December 2020 do not benefit from the same conditions.

There are two main scenarios: on one hand, British nationals who arrived before Brexit benefit from the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and therefore hold a special status and a specific residence permit for which they must/should apply. On the other hand, those who settled after 31 December 2020 will have to justify and produce a ‘standard’ residence permit.

It is recommended to check directly with the immigration services of the country of residence/destination.

Social rights : health and pension


The provisions of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement maintain a certain level of coordination between the EU and the UK with respect to healthcare. Hence, for a temporary stay, it is possible to access public health care services with a Global Health Insurance Card which is gradually replacing the European Health Insurance Card.

For EU residents who had been living in the UK before 31 December 2020, nothing changes: they will continue to have free access to the UK health system as before, provided they have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme.

For EU nationals who moved to the UK after 31 December 2020 or who are planning to move to the UK, they will, in most cases, have to pay a fee of £624 per year per person to get access to the NHS (IHS – Immigration Health Surcharge).

New and potential British expatriates will have to comply with their country of destination’s healthcare policy. In France, for example, they can continue to access public healthcare.

The best option as an expatriate, whether EU or non-EU national, is to subscribe to an international expatriate health insurance policy to ensure simple, optimal and effective health cover anywhere in the world.

Retirement Pension

All social security rights, including retirement pension, acquired before Brexit by EU nationals in the UK and by UK residents in France are maintained. This means that they will continue to receive their pensions, whether British or European, in the country where they live. However, EU expatriates who moved to the UK after 1 January 2021 do not benefit from the Withdrawal Agreement: the contributions they pay on UK soil while working will no longer count towards their EU pension. The same conditions apply to British nationals who live and work in EU countries.

Income taxes

Income tax arrangements will not change for expatriates, neither for Britons working in the EU nor for EU nationals working in the UK. Most of the 27 EU countries concluded bilateral agreements with the UK to avoid double taxation. In theory, one should only be taxed once in the country of his/her tax residence.

What about third country nationals?

For third country nationals (non-Europeans, non-British), Brexit has no direct impact on their plans to relocate either to the UK or Europe.

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