We are bombarded with an enormous amount of information on Brexit every day which changes from day to day, yet the negotiations seem to be going nowhere fast. Even so, those British citizens who live and own property in countries in the European Union, or are planning to do so in the future, always have one eye open for anything that might clarify their situation post-Brexit.
In the beginning, experts and commentators had predicted doom and gloom for the prospects of UK ex-pats in Europe after Brexit, but the most recent developments could give reason to be quietly confident.
Background to Brexit
On 23rd June 2016, British citizens voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. The negotiations for putting this unparalleled decision into practice started about a year afterwards, and a date was set for Britain’s exit on 29th March 2019, but that has since been delayed to 22nd May 2019 or another as yet unknown date prior to 31st October 2019, depending on whether there is a deal or not. It will happen at precisely 11pm GMT, which is midnight in most parts of Europe.
Then, there will be a transition or ‘implementation period’, lasting until 31st December 2020. The idea of such a period is to allow all the organisations and institutions to work out how they are going to put in place the changes agreed during the negotiation stage. In the meantime, the previous laws and agreements will continue to be in effect.
How does this affect ex-pats living in Portugal?
The latest deal to be struck during the Brexit negotiations in Brussels has stated that UK citizens will have their rights to work, live, study, retire and own property in the EU protected. People currently living in Portugal and those who move there before 30th June 2019 won’t experience any change in their status and will be legally treated the same. Students will still be allowed to study in Portuguese universities, paying the same fees that Portuguese people do, and retirees’ pensions will continue to rise at the same rate as before, i.e. either according to inflation or by 2.5% each year.
Nonetheless, there will be severe restrictions on freedom of movement, and while British citizens resident in Portugal can stay on just as before with no problems, they cannot move to another EU member state just like that. The rules for going on holiday to another European country after Brexit shouldn’t change much, but moving from Portugal to live in Spain, for instance, be subject to many more limitations after Brexit. Likewise, for those who move to Portugal from Britain after Brexit is officially put into practice, the process is going to be much harder, so if you wanted to buy property in Portugal, it’s best to do it sooner rather than later.
One way of getting around these new laws may be changing citizenship or getting dual citizenship, as many Brits abroad are discovering. In just the first six months after Brexit, there was an estimated 165% jump in the number of Britons seeking to get nationality of another European country.
There are approximately over 49,000 Brits living in Portugal, many of whom are already permanent residents or even full-blown citizens. Foreigners are eligible to become permanent residents after spending five years in the country, and citizens after six. It is still uncertain whether simply being a resident will sufficient after Brexit, or whether only being a citizen will confer the requisite rights. The good thing is that Portugal allows dual nationality with the UK, so there’s no need to renounce your British citizenship if you decide to take the plunge and become a Portuguese national.
Of course, these decisions should not be taken lightly and may even turn out not to be necessary depending on each person’s situation and what final terms are agreed upon for Brexit in the end. The negotiations are still in progress and nobody really knows what the end result will be, with the government even preparing itself for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. The reality is that this is an unprecedented event and while certain preliminary conditions have been set out for the status of UK ex-pats living abroad, nothing can be taken for granted as a done deal. While it’s true that most people can expect to have their rights protected and not be too affected by it, all Brits based in Europe would do well to keep themselves in the loop about all Brexit developments and act accordingly. We’ll keep you informed about all the latest Brexit news as it breaks.