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How Brexit affects individuals

After the UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020, the UK went through a transition period to prepare for the consequences of Brexit. This transition period ended on 31 December 2020 (known as ‘IP completion day’). This guide explains how Brexit has changed laws and rules that might affect you, as a private individual.

As the UK is no longer part of the EU, there are new restrictions in place that might affect the way you travel and the rights you have within the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. It’s important that you have all of the correct travel documents and that you plan effectively before visiting an EU country. 

Visas 

If you are a UK citizen visiting an EU country for only a short period of time (eg for a two-week holiday), you will likely not be required to have a visa. 

UK citizens are allowed to enter and stay for up to 90 days in the EU within a 180-day period. This means that, from the date that travellers first enter any EU country, they are permitted to remain there or travel to other EU countries for a maximum of 90 days within any consecutive 180 days. For country-specific information, you should check the visa requirements of your destination on the UK Government’s foreign travel advice page. 

If you plan to stay in the EU for longer than 90 days within a 180-day period (eg to study or work in an EU country), you may need to apply for a visa or permit. Please note that individual EU countries may have their own additional requirements for individuals travelling on business. 

See the UK Government’s website for information on your specific destination. 

Passports 

Before entering an EU country you should, as a general rule, make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months on the date of travel and is less than 10 years old. The precise amount of time you must have left on your passport (ie before it expires) differs depending on which country you are visiting. Check the UK Government’s foreign travel advice for country-specific information. 

If you do not meet the new passport requirements, your passport may require renewal. This can be a lengthy process, so ensure you begin it with adequate time before your trip.

Entering the EU

When you arrive at your destination country in the EU, the border control authorities may require you to:

  • display a return or onward ticket

  • prove you have enough money for your stay

  • use separate lanes from EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss citizens when queueing for passport checks

In November 2023, a new system of electronic travel authorisation called ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) is expected to be introduced for security purposes. It will cover the Schengen Area as well as Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. It is similar to the US ESTA system in that it is a waiver rather than a visa. It is for individuals who do not need a visa to enter the designated countries. This new system will require British citizens entering the Schengen Area or another eligible country from November 2023 onwards to register their details on an online platform before travelling. 

Once registered under ETIAS, British citizens are allowed to enter the Schengen Area and other eligible countries as many times as they want within a 3-year period (or until the passport they registered with expires) before they need to re-register. This is subject to the 90-day limit set out above. For more information, read the ETIAS webpage.

Driving in the EU

For individuals intending to drive a vehicle in an EU country, there are new restrictions to be aware of.

If you plan on driving your own car and using your UK driving licence, you should check if you need:

  • a UK sticker

  • proof of vehicle insurance

  • an International Driving Permit (IDP) for some countries

  • headlight converter stickers

  • emission stickers (ie permits required to drive in some European cities)

  • a reflective jacket and warning triangle 

There may be different requirements if you’re renting a vehicle in an EU country, so be sure to check this with your rental car provider before your date of travel. For more information, read Driving abroad

Healthcare in Europe

European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) are no longer issued by the UK. If you have a UK EHIC, it will be valid until the expiry date on the card. Once your EHIC expires, you’ll need to apply for a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to replace it. A GHIC lets you get state healthcare in Europe at a reduced cost or sometimes for free.

The UK Government has strongly encouraged travellers to obtain appropriate travel insurance, which covers healthcare, before entering the EU. 

Mobile roaming in the EU

Free mobile roaming in Europe is no longer guaranteed for UK mobile users. You should check what roaming charges will apply to you in Europe with your network provider. 

The UK Government passed a law to limit roaming charges to £45 per monthly billing period. Once this cap is reached, users will have to opt in to spend more to continue using their mobile phones abroad. The Government has also legislated to ensure that consumers receive alerts when they are at 80% and 100% data usage.

Travelling with pets 

Pet passports issued by the UK no longer allow pets to be brought into the EU.. Instead, individuals travelling with pets (including assistance dogs) must obtain an animal health certificate (AHC) to take their pet (a dog, cat, or ferret) to the EU with them. You should get your AHC from a vet no more than 10 days before your date of travel. However, the process of arranging health checks and getting any required vaccinations can be lengthy. You should begin organising this at least a month before you intend to travel. Your pet will also need a microchip, a rabies vaccination, and potentially more treatments (eg other vaccinations) to travel to the EU or Northern Ireland.

When returning to Great Britain (note that Northern Ireland has different rules), your pet must have one of the following documents (depending on which country you’re coming from):

  • a Great Britain pet health certificate

  • an EU pet passport or a pet passport from certain other countries, or 

  • an AHC issued in Great Britain used to travel to the EU (AHCs can be used to return to GB up to 4 months after they were  issued)

For more information, read the Government’s guidance.

The Withdrawal Agreement (the agreement between the EU and the UK that sets out the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU) provides certain rights to UK nationals living lawfully in EU member states beyond the transition period. These rights can allow individuals to continue living, working and/or studying in an EU country after the transition period. The rights and considerations that you should be aware of differ depending on when you moved to an EU country. UK nationals who were living in EU countries before 1 January 2021 have different rights to those who moved afterwards.

Residency documents 

UK nationals who have been living in an EU country legally since before 1 January 2021 should make sure that they have the correct residency documents to prove their valid residency status. Read the EU’s guidance for your country of residence to see what documents you require. Many countries required UK citizens to apply for new residency documents before or during (or sometimes after) the transition period. 

Family members

Close family members of UK nationals lawfully residing in an EU country are allowed to move to that country to join their relatives even after the transition period. The relationship must have begun before 31 December 2020. Close family members are defined as your:

  • spouses and registered partners

  • dependent parents and grandparents of you or your spouse/registered partner

  • dependent children and grandchildren of you or your spouse/registered partner

Any children that you have or legally adopt in the future will also have residency rights protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.

Property in the EU 

UK nationals who owned property in the EU before the end of the transition period will not face any issues relating to their property ownership. The laws on ownership, rent, taxation, and shared ownership will remain the same. 

Individuals who are buying property in the EU after 30 December 2020 have to follow new rules on the acquisition process. This is because some EU countries have separate property ownership laws for EU and non-EU citizens. It’s important to check with local authorities whether your status as a non-EU citizen will impact your acquisition plans. The UK Government’s guidance on living in the country you’re buying may also help. 

Wills and inheritance 

Inheritance tax laws in the UK are not impacted by Brexit. Your will is not invalid even if it includes property in the EU. 

If you live permanently in the EU, when you die, inheritance tax will only need to be paid on your UK property (eg land or bank accounts that you own in the UK). However, this will not apply if you have had your permanent home in the UK at any time in the last 3 years or if you lived in the UK for 15 of the last 20 years before your death. In such circumstances, HMRC will treat you as being ‘domiciled’ in (ie living permanently in) the UK for inheritance tax purposes. If you’re held to be domiciled in the UK, inheritance tax will need to be paid on your overseas assets (eg property you own in the EU) as well.

Ask a lawyer if you have any questions regarding inheritance abroad.  

Healthcare 

The healthcare rights of all UK nationals lawfully living in the EU before the end of the transition period will remain the same. You may also be able to make use of arrangements like the S1 scheme, which entitles people who receive a UK state pension to receive healthcare in the EU funded by the NHS.

If you move to an EU state now, receiving healthcare will require you to meet the requirements set by that state. Some countries, for example, require that you have health insurance and/or certain registrations. For more information, read the UK Government’s guidance for the relevant country. 

Remember that EHICs will no longer be valid after reaching their expiry date, even for UK nationals living in Europe. However, GHICs are replacing EHICs. 

Pensions and benefits

UK nationals can still receive their state pension whilst living in the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, provided all eligibility requirements are met. This applies even if individuals only start claiming their pensions after 31 December 2020. UK and other states’ benefits may also be available, depending on the state you’re living in, when you moved, and other eligibility requirements.

For more information, read the UK Government’s guidance on benefits and pensions in the EU.

Driving in the EU

The UK Government has recommended that UK nationals living in the EU replace their UK driving licence with a local licence (ie a licence issued by the country they’re living in) as soon as possible. Exchanging a UK licence reduces the risk of having to retake tests and go through lengthy processes to obtain a local licence if you lose your UK licence. 

Most EU countries allow UK licence holders to exchange their licence without taking a new driving test. Some countries, such as Italy, require you to take a test to exchange your licence. Sometimes you must exchange your licence within a certain period of time after you move to the country.  For more information on licensing requirements for each EU country, read the UK Government’s guidance.

Studying in the EU

In 2021, the UK Government introduced the Turing programme to replace the Erasmus scheme for UK students studying abroad. The Turing programme provides similar opportunities for students to study and work abroad in the EU and beyond.

Voting rights in the UK

UK nationals living in the EU can still participate in UK elections as ‘overseas voters’ for up to 15 years after they were last registered to vote in the UK. To do so, you must register as an overseas voter

Returning to the UK 

UK nationals living lawfully in the EU retain the right to return, get a job, and access benefits and services in the UK.

Close family members who are citizens of EU countries could come to the UK with UK nationals, provided that they lived with them in the relevant EU country before 31 January 2020 and they applied to the EU Settlement Scheme by 29 March 2022. You may still apply for the EU Settlement Scheme on this ground or other grounds if there are ‘reasonable grounds’ for why you missed your application deadline (eg you had a medical condition that prevented you from applying). For more information, read the Government’s guidance.

On 1 January 2021, the UK launched a new points-based immigration system. This system represents what is now the main immigration route for EU citizens who want to live in the UK. It is available to EU nationals and non-EU nationals alike. For more information, read Work visas and employing overseas workers

EU nationals living in the UK 

Any EU, EEA or Swiss citizens and their family members living in the UK before 31 December 2020 were able to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK.

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens can use the UK Government’s online tool to view their immigration status and to prove their status to others.

For more information, read Settled status in the UK

Visas 

Since 1 January 2021, EU nationals have been allowed to enter the UK and to remain in the country for up to 6 months without a visa. A visa is usually required to remain in the UK longer than 6 months.

If you intend to stay longer than 6 months, visa options under the new points-based system include student visas and skilled worker visas

Skilled workers

Some workers will be able to enter the UK to carry out a skilled profession. They will need to:

  • have a job offer from an approved sponsor (ie an employer who has a sponsor licence), which meets the required skill level (eg it  requires at least A level (or equivalent) qualifications)

  • speak English to a specified standard, and

  • meet a sufficient number of the ‘tradeable’ requirements for the visa 

For more information, read Work visas and employing overseas workers and Sponsoring employees to work in the UK.

A Global Talent Scheme is also available to fast-track immigration for highly-skilled scientists and researchers, by allowing them to enter the UK without a job offer. This scheme is open to EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens.

Students 

Student visa routes are open to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. Students can apply for a visa to study in the UK if they:

  • have been offered a place on a course provided by a licensed student sponsor

  • can speak, read, write in, and understand English, and

  • have enough money to support themselves and pay for their course

A graduate visa immigration route is available to certain international students. Students can apply for a graduate visa if:

  • they are in the UK

  • their current visa is a Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa

  • they studied a UK bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree, or other eligible course for a specified minimum period of time with their Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa, and

  • they successfully completed their course

Qualifying international students will be able to apply for a visa to stay and work (or look for work) in the UK for up to 2 years after completing their studies. This period is extended to 3 years for PhD graduates.

Tourists 

Nationals of the EU, EEA and Switzerland will not be required to get a visa to enter the UK when visiting the UK for 6 months or less. Any EU citizen looking to enter the UK for other reasons (such as to work or study) will need to apply for entry clearance in advance.

Entering the UK

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will also be able to use eGates to go through passport control at UK airports, when they’re functioning.

Identity cards (ie national ID cards) may be used by some travellers until at least 31 December 2025. This applies if, for example, you’re an EU citizen who has settled or pre-settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme or you’re an S2 Healthcare Visitor.

For more information, read the Government’s guidance on visiting the UK as an EU, EEA, or Swiss citizen.