I’m also one of them, having lived in Germany for many years now.
So what will happen to the rights of British expats if UK leaves the European Union?
What Does Brexit Mean For British Expats In Europe?
At present, UK nationals can travel freely within the EU using a UK passport, and live and work in EU countries, receive healthcare and social benefits, and retire and collect their pensions anywhere within the European Union.
But all this could theoretically change if and when the UK leaves the EU.
Basically, what happens will depend on the specific nature of the deal agreed between the UK and the EU.
So far, the UK government has refused to explicitly guarantee continued rights to present EU citizens living in Britain.
There are at present some 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and around 1.2 million British expats living in the other 27 EU countries.
This fact gives the UK Tory government a strong card to play in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, despicable though it might seem to want to use people as bargaining chips in this way.
It also means that, theoretically, there will be uncertainty, insecurity and worry for the expats affected – both in the UK as well as in other EU countries, until this issue is resolved.
What Are The Options For Brexit And British Expats In The EU?
There are three main possibilities for if and when the UK leaves the EU.
The first possibility is that the UK joins the European Economic Area (EEA), presently inhabited by Norway and Iceland, along with the member states of the EU.
The EEA is the “Single Market” which is often talked about, and it’s effectively the old remaining “Common Market” as it more or less existed prior to the present European Union.
The second possibility is that the UK joins the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), of which Switzerland is the sole current member.
Ironically, the EFTA was actually set up by Britain in the early 60s as an alternative to membership of the then EEC or European Economic Community.
The price for membership of either of these organizations is for the UK to accept and abide by current EU rules on the “Four Freedoms” – the free movement of capital, goods, services, and people.
The EU has said so far at least that these Four Freedoms, and in particular the free movement of people is non-negotiable.
Which brings us to the third possible outcome. The UK leaving the EU and not joining the Single Market – neither EEA nor EFTA.
In this case the UK would have to revert to trading under World Trade Organization rules.
This means tariffs being imposed on UK imports and exports. It also means a heavy overhead in terms of non-tariff barriers – which in some cases are far more of a burden to trade than the tariffs themselves.
Under this system there would be no inclusive deal by itself regarding free movement of people between the UK and EU. Any agreements would have to be specific and separate to the WTO arrangements.
This would probably be the worst possible option for UK and EU expats.
What’s Most Likely To Happen For British Expats After Brexit?
It’s difficult to say with any reliable degree of certainty what will happen because the whole situation is so volatile and so much is at stake economically and politically for both the UK and the remaining EU.
Both the EEA and EFTA arrangements would come with a hefty membership fee to be paid by the UK into the EU budget.
There are also consequences for controlling EU inward immigration to the UK which many people who voted for Brexit in the UK want to moderate.
The loss of the European Health Insurance Card or EHIC system for UK citizens is sometimes mentioned. This is a card which gives UK citizens access to healthcare within the EU on the same terms as native nationals.
There’s often a certain amount of misunderstanding about the EHIC. The EHIC is only valid for short trips and visits. The EHIC is not some free-treatment card for UK expats or other EU citizens residing in other EU countries. It’s not valid if you are residing or intending to reside in another EU country.
There is in fact no reason why the EHIC arrangements could not continue in future. As far as I know the EHIC is not even specifically related to EU membership, and the system already existed before the UK joined.
What About Your Acquired Rights As An EU Citizen?
There isn’t actually legally any such thing as an “EU citizen”. All we have is citizenship of specific countries which are EU member states. But people use the term as a convenient shorthand.
At the moment the rules in Germany are that once you have resided in the country for 5 years, then you automatically have permanent residency from that time onwards.
This means you enjoy what are described as “acquired rights”- to the right to residence, to employment, to start and run a business, to own real estate, right to access public services such as education, health and other social services and benefits, and the right to remain in the country for retirement.
So would these acquired rights definitely be continued by the host EU country for a permanent resident who is no longer effectively an EU citizen?
Looking at the hard legal situation on paper, the short answer is no. There is no guarantee on the maintenance of these rights. It would depend upon the arrangements negotiated by the UK and EU.
Basically nobody knows for sure exactly how things will develop in the future with Brexit.
No country has ever left the EU before in this way and there are no clear rules or structure in place for such an event. The Lisbon Treaty “Article 50” is extremely vague and open-ended on the issue.
So Brexit means entering uncharted waters.
One point we can mention here is that the treatment of foreign nationals who have acquired rights in a country by means of residence are also covered by the terms of international treaty over and beyond the EU arrangements. I think in this case it’s the Treaty of Vienna, but I’m not certain of this.
Under the terms of this treaty, it simply isn’t legally possible to expel citizens. So we’re unlikely to see any mass expulsions of British expats from EU countries of the kind that happened to the Asians in Idi Amin’s Uganda.
Brexit Will Take Time
What we can say is that a Brexit is unlikely to be completed within just a couple of years. The UK and EU are now very closely intertwined with each another and a great deal of negotiation re-organization will have to take place.
One thing in the favor of UK expats in Germany is the fact that while there are some 100,000 British expats in Germany, there are three times as many Germans in the UK.
So we can say that this fact is likely to “assist” in helping to assure a positive outcome for Brits in Germany at least.
In my view, what will ultimately happen will depend upon the course of the negotiations between on the one hand the stance taken by the UK and the position of the EU on the other.
Economic developments in the UK will affect this as will the outcomes of the French and German elections in 2017.
Should I Get A German Passport?
People sometimes talk as if getting a German passport – or any other passport – was just some simple action like going into a bookstore to buy a paperback.
Perhaps this is because they think of the process as being the same as applying for or renewing a passport in their own home country. You just fill in a form, attach a couple of photos and pay a fee. Done.
Getting a German passport or any other European passport when you aren’t already a national of the country concerned involves much more than that. Passports only come with nationality – naturalization as it’s called, which in turn comes with certain rights and responsibilities you are required to meet and adhere to with the host country.
As a non-native, you do not get given a passport without being naturalized. In some cases this can mean being required to renounce your previous nationality.
So first you have to apply for German nationality. And then – provided you qualify for German nationality and provided it’s granted – and only then – can you then apply for your German passport.
Naturalization is a complex issue and I’ll be talking about it in another post.
For the meantime, we can say that nothing has really changed for British expats living in Germany.
Apart from the sudden appearance of a certain amount of uncertainty about the future, it’s business and life as usual.
One other thing. Brexit or no Brexit, if you want to live and work in Germany, and especially if you want to acquire German citizenship ,then you’re going to have to learn German.
And there’s one German course in particular that stands out way above the rest. It’s called GermanPod.
GermanPod is now one of the world’s most successful digitally based online language courses. It’s not hard to see why.
You can give yourself a head start in learning German by signing up for the self-study MP3 based course offered by GermanPod.
GermanPod – The Best Language Course For Expats in Berlin
GermanPod is THE ideal audio MP3-based German language course for expats in Berlin.
This is because with GermanPod you learn German quickly in your own time, as and when you want – and at your own pace.
What’s more, GermanPod is VERY low cost.
You can use GermanPod on your smartphone and tablet, as well on as your laptop or PC.
So you can be learning German wherever you are – and whenever you’re on the move.
With GermanPod you can make the most of those spare moments of time that you have which otherwise just get wasted. When you’re commuting on the S-Bahn or U-Bahn. When waiting in line, or sitting in a waiting room.
Learning German With GermanPod is Easy, Fast – And Fun
GermanPod teaches you modern, up-to-date German. The kind of German that people speak in everyday life in Berlin.
GermanPod comes with four different learning levels -Absolute Beginner, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. So you can choose the level which suits you best.
That makes learning German with GermanPod very easy, fast and fun.
I myself learned German using the self-study audio method before I came to Berlin and I found it the fastest and easiest way of learning to speak and understand German.
GermanPod is Affordable
GermanPod is available on a monthly subscription basis. It’s “pay as you go”. Unlike some German courses, you don’t have to part with a large sum of money.
For just $8 a month you can get started with GermanPod.
For longer term advance subscriptions there are discounts of between 11% and up to 60%.
And if you’re a student then you can benefit from an EXTRA 20% DISCOUNT on a 12-month subscription.
This makes it very inexpensive to get started learning German with GermanPod.
And it gives you the flexibility to use as little or as much of GermanPod as you wish, when you wish – and according to your own budget.
In short, GermanPod is probably the best investment you can make to ensure the success of your move to Berlin.
My advice: check out www.germanpod101.com and get a head start right now with learning German
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