Brexit: What changes for Brits in Sweden now?

Brexit: What changes for Brits in Sweden now?
A member of protocol removes the UK's flag from the atrium of the Europa building in Brussels. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool Photo via AP
After more than three years of delays and limbo, the UK has left the EU. Here's a look at some of the questions that might be on your mind.

Why is January 31st important?

This is the date that the UK exited the European Union. While other Brexit deadline days have come and gone due to delay after delay, this one actually happened.

That's because there was both an agreement with the EU and a parliamentary majority for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the agreement was passed by the UK and European parliaments. So the UK left the EU at midnight (11pm GMT) on January 31st under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

So what changes after January 31st?

When the UK left the EU at midnight under the Withdrawal Agreement, in practical terms for British people living in Sweden, not a lot changed straight away.

At that time all UK citizens who do not have dual nationality lost their status as EU citizens, but a transition period has begun, during which they will largely continue their lives in the EU as they have done previously.

There was no paperwork or permit that needed to be completed before this in order to remain in Sweden during the transition period, but there may be things to do to prepare for the end of the transition, which we'll explain below.

What do Brits need to do now?

The transition period will give people time to sort out their status, and it's best to start preparing as soon as possible.

All Brits should try to get as much information as possible about their post-Brexit residency rights. The framework of the Withdrawal Agreement gives anyone who is legally resident in Sweden before the end of the transition period the right to stay.

But being legally resident is not the same as simply living in Sweden; for example, as EU citizens, Brits are currently able to move to Sweden as a job-seeker for up to six months in total. After those six months were up, they would no longer meet the requirements to be legally resident in Sweden (unless they had met residency requirements in another way, for example by moving in with a Swedish or EU partner).

Photo: Lars Pedersen/TT

So anyone who has not yet done so should make sure they are in Sweden's population register if possible, by applying for a personnummer. And for Brits who are employed in Sweden, it may be worth speaking to your company's HR department to clarify your position.

There is no way to apply for a residence permit as a Brit in Sweden (there are some exceptions if you are moving to join a partner in Sweden) until the UK actually leaves the EU, and it's not yet clear how this process will work in Sweden.

What we do know is that Brits who have spent five years legally resident in Sweden will earn the right to permanent residence, while those with less time accrued by the end of the transition period will be allowed to remain in Sweden under the same conditions as today until they are eligible for permanent residency.

The Swedish government hasn't announced a timeline or an explanation of the process, but it will be an application rather than a registration, and will either be free or cost no more than applications for similar documents (such as a passport or ID card).

It might well make sense to start getting paperwork in order so that the process will be as smooth as possible. That means collecting things like tax returns, employment certificates, tenancy or mortgage agreements, and other documents that can be used as proof of legal residence in Sweden. Brits can continue living in Sweden while their application is in process.

Brits resident in Sweden by the end of December 2020 will have six months from that date to submit their applications for permanent residency. In other words, the application deadline will be June 30th, 2021.

What about my driving licence?

Rules on driving licences will remain unchanged until December 2020, under the Withdrawal Agreement. That means people with valid UK licences can continue driving in Sweden and those with valid Swedish licences can drive in the UK.

The Swedish Transport Agency told The Local: “According to current rules the UK driving licence is valid in Sweden as long as it is valid in the UK, and both residents and non-residents of Sweden can use it for driving. There is no time limit when a Swedish resident must exchange it.”

It is not possible to register a non-UK address on a UK driving licence, but the DVLA has confirmed to The Local that licence holders are not required to update their address after moving overseas in order for it to retain validity. 

How long does the transition period last?

The transition period is currently set to end on December 31st, 2020. That's just 11 months, even though it was originally intended as a two-year period for the UK and the EU to negotiate their future trading agreement, due to repeated Brexit delays.

This is also the time for people living in Sweden, or hoping to, to get their future plans sorted. It is likely to become harder for Brits to move to Sweden once the UK is out of the EU, but those who move during the transition period can move under current EU freedom of movement rules. 

There is an option to extend the transition period up to a maximum of two years (so until December 31st, 2022, at the latest) but that would need to be agreed by June 2020. Trade experts say making a deal in just 11 months will be extremely difficult, but British PM Johnson is adamant that he will not ask for an extension.

Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

What happens at the end of the transition period?

At the end of the transition period, whether that does turn out to be December 31st or some future date, the UK will begin trading with the EU on new terms – either under a deal agreed during the transition period or under WTO rules if no deal has been reached by then.

For UK nationals, this will also be when their freedom of movement ends.

This would also be the time when changes will be made to the requirements for British people hoping to move to Sweden. It's not currently clear whether these would be the same as the existing requirements for third country citizens, but if so, that would require Brits to go through the process of applying for a residence permit before being able to move.

The current advice from the Swedish Migration Agency is: “The Swedish government has not yet made a decision about what will happen after the transitional period. If the government does not decide to make specific arrangements for Britons, then as a British citizen the general rule will be that you must obtain a residence and/or work permit in order to be allowed to reside and/or work in Sweden.”

For those Brits who are currently living in Sweden, or who move before the end of the transition period, there should not be many changes to their lives in Sweden once this period ends. Brits in Sweden will continue to enjoy reciprocal healthcare, pensions will be uprated, and cross-border workers will retain the right to live in one country and work in another, for example.

The big thing is that Brits will need a residence permit in order to stay in Sweden once the transition period ends.

Some key things to look out for are that Brits would lose their rights if they spend time away from Sweden in the future – even after gaining permanent residence. If you, as a British citizen, plan to leave Sweden for up to two years, you can do this and retain your permanent residence permit if you inform the Migration Agency of your plans before you leave. If you want to live abroad for longer than this – or if you fail to inform the Migration Agency of your move, even if it's two years or less – your right of residence may be withdrawn.

We hope you found this article useful. If you have further questions about life in Sweden after Brexit, let us know.

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