Why some Britons will have to leave EU countries by March 31st

Why some Britons will have to leave EU countries by March 31st
For some Brits in the EU, it's now time to head home. Photo: AFP
There have been a lot of Brexit deadlines over the last four years - many of them missed - but March 31st is an important one for some UK nationals if they don't want to end up in trouble with immigration authorities.

Who does this affect?

This is for UK nationals who don’t have permanent residence in an EU country and don’t intend to become residents. All Brits who live full time in the EU need to gain residency status via their country’s national system if they have not already done so.

If you are a permanent resident of an EU country and covered by the Withdrawal Agreement you can travel (Covid rules permitting) but will need to show your residency card at the border. Those resident in countries like France or Italy where many people have not yet been issued with cards can show an acknowledgement of their application for residency or, if they do not have that, proof of their residency such as utility bills or a work contract.

This also doesn’t apply to dual nationals who don’t live in the EU but do have an EU passport, so if you’ve been lucky enough to secure an Irish/French/Italian etc passport then you can stop reading.

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:

When is the deadline?

Wednesday, March 31st, marks 90 days since the end of the transition period, the date when the UK effectively left the EU and therefore the last day that UK nationals who were in the country before January 1st can stay in the EU without taking up residency or having a visa.

Why is this date significant?

It’s because of the 90-day rule.

This rule, already familiar to non-EU nationals like Americans or Australians, has applied to Brits since January 1st 2021 and limits stays in EU countries.

You can find a full explanation of the rule HERE, but in outline the rule says that non-EU citizens can only stay in the EU for 90 days out of every 180. If they want to stay longer they need to either apply for residency or get a visa.

The 90-day limit is a rolling one and the 90 days can encompass one long trip or multiple short ones, so long as the total number of days doesn’t exceed 90 in each 180-day period. To help work out your allocation, check out the Schengen calculator HERE.

It’s important to point out that this limit is for the whole EU and Schengen zone, so you need to calculate your total time spent in any EU/Schengen countries.

So for any Brits who have been in the EU since the New Year, it’s now time to head home if you don’t want to risk overstaying your 90-day allocation.

Anyone who has been here for less than 90 days since January 1st can stay until they reach their own 90-day limit.

Citizens’ right groups across the EU are concerned that some British nationals who have been living off the radar have still not caught on to the post-Brexit residency requirements and may be caught out by this date.

There may be others who want to stay longer in EU countries but not become official residents and intend to ignore the date, but are not aware of the implications this may have.

Kalba Meadows from citizens’ rights group France Rights and British in Europe said: “March 31st marks an important date for some of you.

“If you’ve been in France since January 1st but you’re not legally resident here – maybe you prefer to keep your country of residence as the UK, or you don’t meet the conditions to apply for a residence card under the Withdrawal Agreement – that date marks the end of the 90 day period that you’re allowed to stay in the Schengen area as a British citizen.

“You’ll need to make plans to leave France on or before that day, either returning to the UK or moving on to a country that isn’t part of Schengen. If you don’t do this, you will be clocked as an over-stayer when you do leave, which comes with penalties and may make it difficult for you to return or involves fines.

“This is a big change for many of you, especially those with second homes here who are used to spending longer than three months at a time in France – but thanks to Brexit, it’s the new reality for Brits, as we’re now third country nationals with no special treatment at borders.”

Her words were echoed by Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain, who said: “We have been advising visiting Brits of the fast-approaching deadline and reiterating advice given by the British Embassy.

“The clock is ticking, yet there are still Brits deliberately planning to overstay their welcome. They are burying their heads in the sand and assuming we’ll be treated differently from other third country nationals, simply because we are British.

“I fear many that have ignored the warnings of the consequences of exceeding a 90-day stay are in for a rude awakening. The time to act is now, before it’s too late.”

What if I’m resident of another EU country? 

Officially the 90 day rule also applies to Britons who are resident in one EU country but who have been living in another. So for example if you are a resident of France but have been living at your second home in Spain or with family in Italy since January 1st you are in theory supposed to return home before 90 days.

The big difference of course with those non-residents who have to leave the block is enforcement and the chances of ending up in hot water with immigration authorities given the lack of controls at Schengen borders.

While it seems unlikely people would be caught they should be aware that while residents of EU countries won’t be subject to the same passport checks and stamping as people entering the Bloc, that doesn’t mean there are no passport checks.

Controls can still be carried out at Schengen borders if, for example, there is a security alert or border restrictions are tightened due to the pandemic.

READ MORE: Can Britons living in EU spend more than 90 days in another Schengen country?

Can I get an extension because of the Covid situation?

Each EU country has its own immigration rules, but in the countries covered by The Local most national authorities have said there will not be extensions given purely because of the overall health situation or travel restrictions – you may be able to appeal any penalties if you can show that you had Covid at the time your 90 days expired and so you were unable to travel.

The EU has issued some general advice on this, encouraging member states to grant visa extensions where necessary and to waive sanctions on people who have overstayed due to travel restrictions.

As ever, though, decisions on border issues remain with national governments within the EU.

No EU countries currently have completely closed borders so it is possible for UK nationals who have their main residence in the UK to return there (although you will need Covid tests and to quarantine on arrival).

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Spain added: “There is no hard deadline to register for residency, however UK nationals in Spain have always had to apply for residency in Spain if they intended to live here beyond three months. This applies equally to nationals of other countries, including EU countries.”

What if my spouse has an EU passport?

Having a spouse or registered partner with an EU passport can be handy, but unfortunately not in this situation.

If you are the spouse/registered partner of an EU national you can apply for a spouse visa, but all types of visa have to be applied for from your home country so you will still need to return to the UK and then make the visa application.

What happens if I stay longer?

If you spend more than 90 days in the EU or Schengen zone without a visa or residency permit then you are officially an over-stayer. And unlike the pre-EU days when passport control consisted of a man in a booth with a rubber stamp, scanning of all passports on entry/exit of the EU makes it pretty easy to spot over-stayers.

Exactly what happens if you are caught over-staying varies from country to country.

In theory, all countries have the same penalties at their disposal, but in practice some are more likely to issue fines while others prefer to issue bans on re-entry.

There is some anecdotal evidence that some countries, including France and Spain, take a slightly more relaxed view if the over-stay is only a couple of days while others, notably Germany, are stricter – but we would advise readers not to rely on this.

Anyone who over-stays can be subject to the following penalties;

Deportation – if you are found to have over-stayed, countries are within their rights to either imprison you and deport you, or give you a certain number of days to leave. In practice, deportation is rare for people who aren’t working or claiming benefits in an EU country

Fines – fines can be levied in addition to other penalties and vary according to country

Entry ban – countries can impose a complete ban on re-entry, usually for three years although it can be longer. A complete ban is usually only put in place for people who have over-stayed for a significant amount of time

Difficulties returning to the Schengen area – even if you avoid all of the above penalties, the over-stay alert on your passport will make it more difficult for you to return to the EU, and this applies to any EU or Schengen zone country, not just the one you over-stayed in. People who have this alert on their passport are likely to face extended checks at the border and may even be turned back. You will also likely encounter difficulties if you later apply for a visa or residency 

People who simply stay in an EU country without securing residency become undocumented immigrants and will not be able to access healthcare or social security provision. If caught, they face deportation.

This sucks, can’t we do anything to change it?

It really sucks, and unfortunately this is only one of the many ways that Brexit is negatively impacting the life of UK nationals. Indeed, the 90-day rule has long applied to citizens of other non-EU countries.

There are several campaigns running to relax these rules for UK nationals including a push to change the rules to 180 days in total in a year – which don’t have to be broken up into blocks of 90 – as is the case in the UK for EU citizens. However nothing has been agreed yet and with the many other post-Brexit problems – not to mention the little matter of a pandemic and looming recession – it may not be at the top of any government’s to-do list.


Member comments

  1. Actually English is the global language of business and trade and foreign politics so why don’t learn the language that the world speaks? Like millions of people worldwide, I started learning English despite my native language is also very important in the international context. I took English language courses to distinguish myself in the highly competitive legal market. Fluency in legal English gave me a distinct advantage. The company paid for the training, but I know not all companies pay tuition and half. But these courses are worthwhile, I would take them at my own expense https://www.cambridgelawstudio.co.uk/online-courses/

  2. The problem has obviously arisen due to Brexit, but even then, it would have been less harsh if the Government had opted for a softer Brexit, and negotiated an arrangement similar to the ones Norway or Switzerland have with the EU.
    At the same time, we would have avoided all the other hassles in going through border control, and the extra costs now involved in sending packages to and from the UK. But the Government decided it wanted a distant relationship with Europe, so these are all consequences.

  3. I applied last week for the right to reside in Sweden under the new Residency status for UK nationals. I held off initially because I was attempting to get a person number first and have an application for an S-1 currently being reviewed by HMRC. They just keep telling me “it is being reviewed by the tech team”. I’ve also been told by HMRC staff that they are still reading through the withdrawal agreement to understand how S-1s will be issued, they are understaffed due to the pandemic, and that the office dealing with my application can’t be reached. I am supposed to just keep waiting.

    Today I received the letter from Migrationsverket that states they are processing my application and in the meantime I can use the letter to re-enter Sweden should I go abroad ( I daren’t!). My partner who is a student here in Sweden also received this letter about a week after applying for the Residency Status in December and it was about 7 weeks until she received an appointment to visit Migrationsverket and have her photograph taken and fingerprints scanned for her New ID card. She already had a person number and Swedish residents ID card.

    I have been living in Sweden since September 2020 and my application for residency is as a family member of a student. Should my application be rejected for whatever reason I guess I’d be expected to leave Sweden immediately as I’d become an ‘over-stayer’.

    My partner and I hoped to stay living in Sweden after her studies finish but my situation feels so precarious I don’t feel confident it will be possible without going down the route of obtaining comprehensive Health insurance in order to get a person number. From what I understand this is somewhere in the region of £3000 per year. £15,000 later I can get permanent residency? What a mess.

  4. Hi, we are Australian citizens in France. Our visas expire today but we can’t get a flight home as yet. I’m trying for June flight as May was cancelled. Will we be penalised for overstaying our visa?

  5. I work in Italy as a teacher and have a work contract that expires on 31st May 2021, would I face any issues returning to UK post 31st May given that my contract is essentially ‘expired’? Thank you.

  6. Thank you for your comment. Yes, I do understand this. It was a sad and disappointing day when the UK narrowly voted to leave the EU. This was a decision that should have been made by informed and elected politicians and not by the general public, most of whom understandably lacked the necessary knowledge and understanding of such a complex in-depth issue.

    As a British national and a current resident in Germany since last year, I was simply trying to understand if I can stay in other EU country besides Germany for more than 90 out of 180 days.

  7. Mark, that is the essence of the European Union, where any citizen of any member state can live and work in any other country of the Union. The UK opted out to re-gain their sovereignty, doing so they have lost the aforementioned options.

  8. Hi Mark, yes an EU resident of one country CAN stay in another EU country for as long as she or he likes. I’m Italian with residency in Italy and stay with my partner in France for more than 90 days at a time if I so wish to.
    An EU resident CAN apply for residency if staying in another EU country. A person should apply for residency if they, for example, want to buy a property, open a bank account, or use a local Doctor, etc.
    Correct, a British citizen is no longer allowed to stay longer than 90 days in the whole of the EU. For example, 30 days in Spain, 30 days in Italy and 30 days in France, is exactly the same as spending 90 days in Germany.

  9. I live in New Zealand, as a British Citizen I used to be able to visit my parents in France for an unlimited time. Now, the limit is 90/180 days. HOWEVER, before I leave NZ ( and that’s important!) I can now apply for a visa-the ‘long’ visa is for up to a year. There’s a fee of course, an online and Embassy process, interview with paperwork. I’m going through that now. I just keep delaying the interview due to lockdowns. It looks reasonably straightforward. You need to leave enough time for that process before your leave date! The visa is then set with a start and finish date…hence why I’m delaying to ensure the full year. The problem may be distance to your country’s French embassy, I’m 1.5 hrs from the embassy here so not too bad. You will need to show sufficient funds to cover yourself for the duration of your stay and other requirements. Have a look at the French embassy website for your resident country under ‘ visas’. Hope my posts help!

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.