What rights will British citizens living in the EU have in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

17 January 2019

A number of EU countries have started to publish their plans for the treatment of British citizens in the event of a no-deal scenario after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.

British citizens will immediately lose their free movement rights across the EU if there is no deal (see our 2016 blog, Brexit and British Citizens living in other Member States), but these plans mean that British citizens already living in an EU member state will at least be allowed to continue living and working in that country.

In summary, the proposals are as follows:


On 7 January 2019 the Czech government adopted a draft law protecting the position of British citizens in the Czech Republic in the event of no deal. They will be given until 31 December 2020 to apply for a certificate of temporary stay in the Czech Republic, provided that the UK takes a similar approach towards Czech citizens living in the UK. (The British government has already indicated in a policy paper published on 6 December 2018 that it will take such an approach towards all EU citizens living in the UK.)



France is due to enact a project de loi (enabling legislation) which will allow the government to pass regulations allowing British citizens who are legally resident in France on or before 29 March 2019 to continue living and working in the country. In the meantime British citizens are strongly advised to apply for a carte de séjour as soon as possible, and by 29 March 2019 at the latest. 



According to the Berlin local government website, if there is a no-deal Brexit, British citizens will be given a three-month grace period to apply for a German residence permit. Their application will have to be submitted at their local Foreigners Registration Office by 30 June 2019. In the meantime – and while the application is being processed – they can continue to live and work in Germany.     

The main concern will be for those who wish to naturalise as a German citizen. If a British citizen acquires German citizenship on or before 29 March 2019, they will be able to keep their British citizenship. However if they become German after that date, they would be required to renounce their British citizenship as Germany does not allow dual citizenship with a non-EU country. More information on this topic can be found in our previous blog.



Italy was the first EU27 country to announce its plans, with the Italian government confirming on 21 December 2018 that it would introduce legislation allowing British citizens resident in Italy on 29 March 2019 to remain and maintain their existing rights to work in the event of no deal being reached. The intention is to create a path for all British citizens living in Italy to request long-term resident status under EU Directive 2003/109.

British citizens living in Italy are strongly advised to register with their town hall before 29 March 2019 to ensure they are legally resident. More information about the process to be followed can be found on the British in Italy website



The Dutch government announced on 7 January 2019 that British citizens legally residing in the Netherlands on 29 March 2019 can continue doing so after Brexit in a no-deal scenario.

There will be a national transition period from 29 March 2019 to 1 July 2020, during which British citizens will retain their right of residence, work and study in the Netherlands. This also applies to non-EU family members of British citizens. 

The Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service has sent letters to British citizens who are registered with their municipality inviting them to apply for a temporary residence permit before 29 March 2019. They will then receive a further letter inviting them to apply for a new national residence permit after the transitional period. This can be obtained if you meet the same residence conditions that apply to EU citizens, and will allow British citizens the right to work and study in the Netherlands. 



The Polish government has announced that if there is a no-deal Brexit it will introduce a 12-month grace period starting on 30 March 2019 for British citizens living in Poland on or before 29 March 2019.  British citizens who have lived in Poland for five years will be able to apply for a permanent residence permit. Those who have lived in Poland for less than five years will be able to apply for a temporary permit.



According to Reuters, the Swedish government is proposing a 12-month grace period for British citizens to give them time to apply for permission to stay in the country if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.



Switzerland is not in the EU, but Swiss nationals have free movement rights in the EU – including in the UK – and British citizens have similar rights in Switzerland. An agreement has been reached between the UK and Switzerland which protects the rights of Swiss nationals living in the UK and British citizens living in Switzerland. In a no-deal scenario, British citizens lawfully residing in Switzerland on 29 March 2019 will be able to continue exercising the same rights as they currently have, including rights of residence, access to healthcare, education, pensions, and social security coordination.


Other member states

We do not know yet how other member states intend to treat British citizens living in their territory if there is a no-deal Brexit. More British citizens live in Spain than anywhere else in the EU. Many have applied for Spanish citizenship but there is a big backlog, and so far there is no sign of a no-deal Brexit plan for them.


What should employers and their UK staff working in the EU be doing to prepare for a no-deal Brexit?

Employers should ensure that any British citizens living and working in the EU are aware of the relevant local immigration provisions and deadlines/grace periods so that they can prepare the necessary documents for them and their families in the event that an application for residence needs to be filed. 

British citizens who have lived in other EU countries for five years or more should consider applying for confirmation of their acquisition of Permanent Residence, which they are entitled to do under the Citizens Directive.  

While many EU countries already require British citizens to register their residence, where this is not a legal requirement, it is advisable that this is done before 29 March 2019.

About the author

Kim Vowden is a senior associate in the Immigration team. He covers all areas of business immigration and has a particular interest in European free movement law and in the implications of Brexit for EU citizens living in the UK, and for their employers. 

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