The triggering of Article 50 on the 29th March is destined to be an historic day for both Britain and Europe. But what is it going to mean for Brits living in Portugal – or even for Brits wanting to travel and holiday here?
We attended an information evening held here in the Algarve hosted by the British Ambassador to Portugal, Kirsty Hayes, to try to find out some answers. The talk was one of a series hosted by the British Embassy in Portugal, ably assisted by their staff, including our own Vice Consul, Clive Jewell, who is based in the Consulate building here in Portimão:
In fairness to the Ambassador, there were obviously going to be a lot of areas of uncertainty, and questions which at this time she would not be able to answer fully; the triggering of Article 50 is going to be the starting point for a whole range of negotiations with both the EU as a whole, and countries in turn, including Portugal. It was however reassuring to meet the Ambassador and hear the current position of the British government in relation to their UK citizens abroad, and also to feel that our questions and concerns were both being heard and fed back to the UK.
What was also apparent, however, was just how many areas of negotiations and complications lie ahead for us all; the event allowed for questions to be raised in advance, and the sheer volume of different categories of interest to UK nationals living in Portugal became apparent as the talk began.
We have attempted to cover each area as best we can .. however please do not solely use this blog as your reference point .. there are several sites listed at the end of this article that will be of use to you as we progress forward – and much we are sure will change in the months ahead. We will of course try to keep you all updated.
The triggering of Article 50 is just the beginning … and the magic number of ‘2 years’ which has been given for negotiations is in itself interesting. Apparently the process could actually legally take longer than two years .. that is if all other member states of the EU agree to the UK having a longer negotiation period .. yes well let’s assume ‘not’ then, as that seems rather unlikely!
The Ambassador recommended reading Theresa May’s speech on Brexit which she delivered in January 2017 – you can read the full speech here via this link on the Telegraph’s website.
One thing is clear in her speech and her vision for the UK’s future relationship with Europe:
“We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can.”
The reciprocity of any agreement with another country cannot be stressed too highly however. It is unlikely that Brits living in Portugal will gain any extra ‘rights’ that Portuguese nationals living in Britain will have negotiated for them. We are in a more fortunate position than some others though, as the long-standing bi-lateral agreement – which is a strong – and old – alliance that Britain has with Portugal, is likely to stand us in good stead with any negotiations that take place. The Portuguese Foreign Minister, Augusto Santos Silva, has already made it clear that he wants to “ensure our Brits here are duly protected and looked after, and wants to attract even more British citizens to come to Portugal”. Which is good news for the 30,000 British that already live and work here in Portugal and call Portugal ‘home’.
Right to Remain – post Brexit
This was one of the major questions and areas of concern that was raised – and it was one that the Ambassador was keen to address quickly – her stance was clear, that the Portuguese government are not going to be ‘asking us to leave’ in 2 years’ time. The Portuguese recognise the valuable contribution that Brits make to their country, and we will continue to be made welcome -and it would seem that the Portuguese are keen for more of us to move here too!
This is an interesting area for British people living here in Portugal. The Ambassador estimated that of the 30,000 Brits living here, only about half have actually registered here officially. We hate to disappoint her, but if our experience is anything to go by, we think that a guesstimate of 50% is extremely over-generous; we have been castigated and ridiculed here by some for actually taking out Residency and being ‘legal’ here, having our business registered – and shock horror – actually paying tax here!
The Ambassador was at pains to point out the need to ‘register’ here in Portugal if you are living here – the law is actually really clear already:
EU citizens may remain in Portugal for a maximum of 3 months without registering. If you intend to remain in Portugal for more than 3 months, you must apply for a registration certificate from the Town Hall (Câmara Municipal) in your area of residence. This has to be done within 4 months of arrival in Portugal. This certificate will be valid for 5 years from the date of issue, or for the period of intended residence. Thereafter, you can apply for a permanent residence certificate from the Immigration authorities – SEF – Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras.
From a tax perspective the magic number is 183 days … If you spend more than 183 days in Portugal in a 12 month period, the Portuguese tax authorities will treat you as being resident for tax purposes. Prior to 2015 this was calculated over the tax year (1st Jan to 31st Dec) but it is now changed to be any 12 month period – and it is a cumulative rule, the 183 days do not have to be consecutive.
If you have a ‘permanent home’ here in Portugal, you may be deemed to be resident here for tax purposes even if you spend less than 183 days here per year .. needless to say – we recommend getting good legal and tax advice!
The Ambassador was quick to point out that the UK government does not give advice on gaining Citizenship or nationality of another country, stating that it was a personal matter for individuals – she did however helpfully confirm that both the UK and Portugal accept and recognise dual nationality .. which paves the way nicely for us to explore this option, allowing us to retain our British passport but also gain a Portuguese EU passport too – something we are personally keen to do.
We have found this article to be most helpful on this matter – thank you to the fabulous Algarve Daily News for this one:
Our timing is perfect – our 5 years Residency is due for renewal prior to the end of the 2 year Brexit period … so we can apply for our 10 years’ residency – and as you need to have completed 6 years residency before you can apply for citizenship … we are good to go and will make it within the 2 year Brexit period!
The bit we are chortling over?? … This small matter:
“EU citizens are not required to sit the language test for permanent residency but non-EU citizens are. This means that once the UK departs from the EU, Britons will become non-EU citizens and are likely to be treated as such – so if you are considering taking out Portuguese permanent residency do it ASAP and before Brexit.”
Now our Portuguese is quite basic – we get by ok and we are determined to learn more .. but not having to take a formal test .. is excellent news!
*Postscript (already!) perhaps it was too good to be true .. according to the IRN website – link here … Nationality may be acquired if ..
“… you have been legally resident in Portuguese territory for at least six years … provided that you have sufficient knowledge of the Portuguese language ..”. With thanks to my friend Julie Dawn Fox for this .. apparently the sufficient knowledge would be the equivalent of reaching A2 level Portuguese (Pre-Intermediate/basic everyday functions).
More information on what is required can be found via this link here
Better start those lessons then!
This was obviously a major issue for many – access to healthcare – and other rights – post Brexit. The current position on healthcare in Portugal is outlined on the gov.uk website as follows:
“The Portuguese health system is universal, based residence. For this reason, if you are formally resident in Portugal (ie you have registered with the Town Hall or Immigration authorities and have obtained a Residence Certificate), you are entitled to register with your local health centre and receive state healthcare.
However, EU regulations state that if you are in receipt of a State Pension from one EEA member state but resident in another, your healthcare should be covered by the state that pays your pension. For example, if you are resident in Portugal but in receipt of a UK State Pension, the UK should cover your healthcare by issuing you with an S1 (previously E121).
Before you go to Portugal on holiday you should make sure you that you have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you, and take out private travel insurance.”
So the two issues post Brexit are going to be – you are ok if you have Residency … non EU nationals with Residency currently have the same access rights as nationalised Portuguese Residents so that is unlikely to change once Britain is no longer an EU member …
However – the EHIC is a different matter … for those of you who will be travelling to Portugal on holiday and hoping that your EHIC will cover you … the Ambassador stated that “we can’t give a blanket reassurance, this will have to be an area that is negotiated. Some non-EU countries have an EHIC, but they have a different status in Europe to what the UK status will be.”
A theme is already emerging – we need to look at what the current rights – and responsibilities – and requirements – are currently for non-EU citizens living in Portugal, and start wondering if those issues are going to be applicable for Brits once the UK is no longer an EU member.
The right to receive a UK pension does not rely on the country you are in – EU or non-EU – you will still get your pension. All good? .. Well no, there is the small issue of the ‘triple lock provision’ and any future increases in general – and the current position that ensures that the UK is obligated to ensure that increases in the UK pension are included in the delivery of the pension to UK people living in the EEA, Switzerland and ‘other countries that have a social security agreement with the UK’ – i.e. you’ll get your pension increases as if you were living in the UK. However – ask someone with a UK pension who lives in Canada or New Zealand, or outside the EEA if they get these increases .. nope – the pension amount is frozen at the time you leave the UK.
The Ambassador didn’t foresee any issues with this area, there is an EU agreement re inheritance laws but the UK has already opted out of that, so the situation is unlikely to change from its current position – again consult a specialist lawyer if you need more advice here.
The Ambassador confirmed that this was an issue that had already been raised with the Government, with the current ruling for long-term British residents abroad (over 15 years) being unable to vote in the UK being an issue they intended to address by placing new legislation through Parliament to allow ‘voters for life’. Interestingly this would still only apply to a person who was over the age of 18 when they had registered to vote at some point in the UK prior to leaving the UK to reside elsewhere. Retrospective applications – or if you were a minor and unable to register due to your age before you left the UK – you would still be ineligible to vote in the UK.
Voting rights in Portugal in the future would depend upon what current rights residents from non-EU countries are afforded – the answer was not known at this stage.
Tourism and Travel
Movement for holiday-makers and travellers post-Brexit from the UK – the Ambassador appeared confident that some form of visa-free travel in the EU would be possible, Portugal is a member of the Schengen Agreement – already 6 of the 28 Schengen countries are outside of the EU and allow the same free movement between countries. As the UK and Republic of Ireland have already opted out of this as the UK wanted to maintain its own borders, little may change for those entering the UK – however whether you will need a visa to travel to Portugal and the EU remains to be seen.
The UK and Ireland does currently access some aspects of the Schengen agreement, such as the Schengen Information System (SIS), this enables police forces across Europe to share data on law enforcement. It includes data on stolen cars, court proceedings and missing persons. Hopefully such data-sharing will remain post-Brexit.
Right to Work
This is an area which is likely to see changes post-Brexit with right to work visas and lengths of stay to all be negotiated and agreed. As the UK is insistent that it wants more ‘control of its borders’ and influence over the numbers of people coming to the UK to seek work – we can expect reciprocal arrangements to be considered in the EU.
This brought up some interesting debate. The issue of ‘can we be deported’ was discussed again, and whether even if the EU make a stance on this, can Portugal ‘overrule’ the EU and make its own agreement with the UK. (unlikely!) The Ambassador reiterated her belief that this would be sorted out and that the Government wanted this ‘stand-alone’ issue resolved quickly .. watch this space! There certainly does not appear to be any will across the EU – and specifically Portugal – to use this issue as a ‘bargaining tool’ or to use our rights here as ‘a hostage to trade agreements’. However, migration and free movement is definitely an EU issue that will need a lot of negotiation.
The strong and historical links between Portugal and the UK were highlighted again – although it was agreed that the historical Treaty of Windsor which apparently allowed ‘free movement between England and Portugal’ has long since been superseded!
This is another ‘hot potato’ issue – although interestingly the question asked at the meeting was actually a ‘reverse’ issue – with an 80-year old reassuring the audience that he had successfully transferred his Portuguese driving licence back to a UK one in readiness for his departure and return to live back in the UK. The issue of holding an EU UK licence post-Brexit is another area for research, the advice is simply to surrender your UK licence for a Portuguese one if you intend to remain in Portugal.
The EU Model
It was asked whether the Norway model could become applicable for the UK, however the Ambassador was at pains to state that the UK were determined to create their own ‘model’ and that we will not have a model similar to any other country that sits ‘alongside’ the EU, using Norway as the example she explained that although Norway pay per capita roughly what the UK currently pays into the EU, they do not have a ‘seat at the table’ and this is not a position the UK wants to replicate.
It was noted that this is an emotive issue, with difficult negotiations ahead. The Ambassador was quick to remind us all though that the Portuguese are one of the most committed EU members; who strongly support and value the strong historical links and ties that Portugal and the UK have enjoyed for many centuries.
Her advice at this stage was simple – to check that your papers are all in order – ensure that you are registered here appropriately and that you are registered for the healthcare and other rights that you are then entitled to … and that circumstances will not change for Brits living in Portugal in the next two years.
Beyond Brexit – after the 2 year period triggered by Article 50 – well there is much that we will need to find out as the negotiations continue. The Ambassador pledged her support and willingness to return with information and updates when they became available, and she recommended linking in to both their FB page Brits in Portugal and a newly launched government website called ‘Plan for Britain’.
Our thanks go to the Her Majesty’s Ambassador, Kirsty Hayes; Vice Consul Clive Jewell and all their staff for the presentation and their ongoing support for all Brits in Portugal.
Whatever happens – the next two years are certainly going to be interesting. We hope that we will continue to be able to enjoy such a beautiful place that we are very happy to call ‘home’ for many more years to come.
Feel free to add your comments below – and we will continue to update this post and our blog with more information as it becomes available.