While COVID-19 has drawn the attention of the media for the past year, Brexit has been somewhat swept under the carpet. For many British expats, however, the subject has been a constant source of stress and uncertainty since Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. Now the transition period has drawn to a close and the ramifications of the decision has become clearer, many fear their quality of life may suffer irreparably as a direct result of post-Brexit changes.
What has changed?
After many months of negotiations, Britain officially left the European Union on 31st January 2020. However, both sides agreed to a transition period that would allow citizens from both Britain and the bloc to prepare for the change while trade negotiations continued. Following almost a year of deliberations, a deal was agreed on 24th December, and the transition period officially came to an end on 1st January 2021.
Many changes came into effect once this period ended, but some of the most significant ones for British expats and travellers included:
Duty-free shopping will continue:
As members of the European Union, British citizens were previously allowed to bring unlimited amounts of alcohol and tobacco back from the bloc without having to pay duty at the border. This opportunity will continue to be available to Britons under new Brexit rules, but there will now be restrictions to the amount that can be brought into the country.
Rules have changed for UK citizens moving to the European Union:
While Brits already living in the European Union have a number of protections in place, these can differ from country to country and could require an application for residency. In addition, those planning to move in 2021 will no longer have an automatic right to live, work, study or retire in Europe, and will be required to apply for a visa. Each country will have its own rules, so you will need to obtain the correct permits, visas and permissions before moving.
Buying and selling with the European Union is more complicated:
While no taxes or limits will be applied to goods passing across the border, traders in Britain (with the exception of Northern Ireland) will now be required to make customs declarations. This has not only increased the amount of general paperwork, but it also requires traders to ensure they have the correct qualifications and licences as required by the country with which they are trading. For those trading between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the rules will remain largely the same as they were before Brexit. However, there will be some additional new checks for certain products, such as food.
What about Brexit travel rules?
While many of the changes outlined above are likely to cause concern for those who seek to travel between Britain and the European Union, perhaps the most significant change is the introduction of new Brexit travel rules.
For those seeking shorter visits, the changes are minimal. As a return to travel becomes a much-anticipated reality following the start of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, travellers can look forward to spending up to 90 days within the Schegen zone during any 180-day period without requiring a visa. This could mean one longer trip across any number of countries, or perhaps a series of shorter visits for those seeking to fill their spare weekends. Passport rules also remain largely unaffected from the point of view of infrequent travellers, with the only new stipulation being that a passport must have six months remaining validity and must have been renewed within the past ten years.
For the average holidaymaker, this news is likely to be a welcome result. However, for multi-national expats this positive announcement masks a significant problem. Under the new rules, if you own a holiday home or a second residence in the European Union, you no longer have the right to come and go as you please. In fact, those who reside within the zone for more than 90 days within a six-month period could face a fine or be banned from entering the Schengen travel zone entirely.
If you wish to travel more freely, you will be expected to apply for a visa from the country you wish to visit, many of which have their own particular rules following Britain’s exit from the bloc. Not only is this exercise costly and time consuming, but it can mean applying for full residency. Those required to do so face losing a number of rights in Britain, including no longer being allowed to pay your taxes in the UK which would lead to loss of NHS provision.
Further changes to Brexit travel rules
Multi-national expats who are able to work their lifestyle around the new rules are likely to see little change in terms of their visa requirements, for the time being. However, there are a number of additional changes that must be considered before expats venture across the border for a short or long-term visit.
One such change surrounds driving in the European Union. Under post-Brexit rules, the bloc has stipulated that those driving their own car will now require a green card to demonstrate adequate insurance for the country in question. In addition, cars will also require a GB sticker, even if your vehicle already has a GB symbol on its number plate.
Another rule that could impact on British expats is that of travelling with pets. Current European Union pet passports are no longer valid following the end of the transition period. Instead, you must contact your vet before your travel to ask for an animal health certificate to demonstrate their health and rabies vaccination status. While this may be a quick exercise for some, the government has suggested that certificates should be sought at least four months in advance of travel to ensure time to complete any additional paperwork, which could significantly impact on those seeking a last-minute trip overseas with their pet.
Planning for the future
It’s estimated that around 500,000 Britons own a holiday home in Europe, with many hoping to visit their overseas properties significantly more than the new post-Brexit travel rules allow. There are a number of expats that are already seeking reform, citing a need for parity between rules for British expats and those for European citizens with properties in the UK. Currently, the latter are able to travel in Britain for up to six months at a time without the need for a visa. However, as rules for British expats currently look set to remain the same for the foreseeable future, many are now taking the opportunity to reconsider their options, with many likely to choose a more permanent arrangement overseas or a return to the UK for good. If you are in this position, you should consider contacting the UK Foreign Office to gain clarity on your position before making your final decision.
Navigating new EU rules after Brexit can feel like a minefield, but luckily ExpatRoute is on hand to give you the information and guidance to make informed decisions about your future as an expat.