British business owners in Italy feel Brexit jitters

It’s been three days since Britain voted to leave the European Union, and the shock of the outcome, along with the calamity that’s followed, is yet to subside among Britons living in Italy.

British business owners in Italy feel Brexit jitters
Photos: AFP

Even more so among those who have established businesses here, many of which are dependent on the UK market.

Chris Myton owns two businesses – in property management and swimming pool construction and maintenance – in the southern Italian region of Puglia.

Some 70 percent of the 35 properties, owned by Italians, on his books are rented out by British holidaymakers.

His biggest concern, as the summer season gets underway, is the exchange rate and the impact its volatility will have on both his British customers and the Italian property owners.

The UK’s financial markets were still in turmoil on Monday, with the British pound plunging to a 31-year low against the US dollar. There is also pressure on the euro, with the bloc’s currency hitting a three-month low against the dollar.

“We advertise [our properties] in sterling; we did try to advertise in euros, and while it shouldn’t sound like a huge issue, a lot of people in the UK were uncomfortable with not having a fixed sterling figure on what they would pay,” Myton told The Local.

“Meanwhile, because we have advertised in sterling, the Italian owners will get less than they expected. It’s going to have an impact as clearly anyone doing business in sterling will be hit by the exchange rate.”

Ginny Bevan has lived in Italy for 20 years and owns a wedding planning business in the Lake Garda area.

“I’m feeling panicked,” she said.

“I thought the vote would be close, but I didn’t think this would be the outcome – I thought commonsense would prevail. There is also incredulity among Italians here, they’re thinking: ‘What have we done?’”

Her business is also largely dependent on the UK market.

“The exchange rate will put customers off. It will affect travel and how many guests will be able to come, which will mean smaller weddings.

“People are always more cautious anyway when planning a wedding abroad. A wedding needs to be booked in advance, and so this outcome adds to the uncertainty.”

Expats in the EU will retain their rights for at least two years as the UK and EU negotiate a “withdrawal agreement” before the real Brexit takes hold.

“Thankfully they’re not going to untie everything in one go, or maybe won't untie everything in the end,” Bevan added.

So for the most part, at least while there are more questions than answers, the outcome of the referendum has left British business owners not only feeling worried, but baffled as to why 52 percent of people voted to 'Leave'.

“Just generally, I’m massively disappointed and really concerned about the future and the economic implications,” said Emma Cuthbertson, who runs La Piccola Agency, a boutique marketing and PR agency, in Lombardy. 

“It’s creating an atmosphere of instability, the pound is crashing. From a business perspective, it’s very concerning. I don’t understand why we voted out. Something as complex and important as this should not have been left to a referendum.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but just doing trade with the UK will be more difficult. It’s a step backwards, not forwards.”

Cuthbertson, who has lived in Italy for eight years and was in Spain for a decade before that, was in the UK a few days before the referendum.

“There was a really unpleasant atmosphere, it was very divided, politicians are not leading the way. Many concerning things have come from this.”

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Your key questions answered about the Schengen area’s 90-day rule

The EU/Schengen area's '90-day' rule is a complicated one that causes much confusion for travellers - here we answer some of the most common questions from readers of The Local.

Your key questions answered about the Schengen area's 90-day rule

The Schengen ’90-day’ rule applies to non-EU/EEA citizens, including Britons, and limits access to the EU’s Schengen zone to 90 days in every 180 day period. Anyone who wants to stay longer than this will need to apply for a national visa of the country they are visiting. 

Not all citizens of non-EU/EEA countries benefit from the visa-free 90 days. Some nationalities must apply for a visa for any visit to an EU country, even just a one-week holiday. But non-EU citizens including the British, Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders do benefit from it.

The limit of 90 days in every 180 gives you a total of six months per year within the Schengen zone, so for tourists or people who want to visit family or friends its perfectly adequate – the people who tend to have problems with it are second-home owners and those who work on short-term contracts in the EU.

The Schengen area currently includes all EU states apart from Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus although the latter three states intend to join. It also includes the non-EU states Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland (EFTA). Croatia was allowed to join the Schengen area late last year.

You can find a full explanation of how the rule works HERE, and answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions from readers of The Local below.

Does the limit apply to the whole Schengen area?

This is one aspect that frequently catches people out – the 90-day limit refers to the entire Schengen area. So if, for example, you spend 88 days at your second home in Spain you won’t have enough time allocation left for a long-weekend in Paris.

What counts as a ‘day’?

Any time spent in EU/Schengen territory counts as a single day, technically even a couple of minutes. So if you take the Eurostar from London to Paris and then go straight to the airport for a flight to New York, that counts as one day from your allowance.

Do I have to spend 90 days outside the Schengen?

Exactly how to calculate the 90 days causes problems for many. The 90 days can be taken as either one long visit or multiple short ones, and are calculated as a rolling clock.

You can find a full explanation of how to calculate the allowance HERE – but the short version is that at any time of the year, you need to be able to count back 180 days, and within those 180 days not have spent more than 90 of them in the EU/Schengen area.

You may have heard that once you reach 90 you must leave the EU and cannot return for 90 days.

READ ALSO: How to calculate your Schengen 90-day allowance

This is in fact only the case if you actually reach your 90-day limit. So those that stay for a full 90 days consecutively would then have to leave the Schengen area for 90 days, before they can return.

Most people who make multiple short visits find it best not to go above 85 or so days, meaning that they have a couple of days ‘in hand’ for emergencies. They do not then have to spend 90 days outside the EU to “reset the clock”, but can return once they have enough days within the previous 180 period.

What if there’s a strike and I can’t leave in time?

Transport strikes are not unusual in Europe, especially France, but if your plane, train or ferry is cancelled it could lead to you overstaying your 90 days.

The best advice is to keep a couple of days in hand, just in case.

If you do end up accidentally overstaying, then the ‘force majeur‘ rule applies – essentially, you need to be able to prove that it was impossible for you to leave the country on time, which might be difficult as even during a strike period there is usually some transport running, even if it is complicated and expensive to change your travel plans.

What if I live in the EU?

If you are a non-EU/EEA national and your are resident in an EU country – with a visa or residency permit – then clearly the 90-day rule does not apply to your country of residence.

It does, however, apply once you travel to another EU country. So if you live in France and like to spend long holidays in Spain and Italy, then you need to keep track of your 90 days.

In practice, there is usually little in the way of border controls when you are travelling within the EU so it’s unlikely that your passport will be stamped or even checked. However, technically the rules does apply.

What are the penalties for over staying?

If you have over-stayed your 90 days you can be fined, deported and banned from re-entry to the EU.

In practice, enforcement varies between countries and most countries keep the toughest penalties for people who have overstayed for many months or even years, or who are working illegally.

READ ALSO What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit?

The most likely scenario for people who have over-stayed for a short time is a fine – French authorities have been issuing €198 fines to over-stayers – and a stamp in the passport flagging the person as an over-stayer. This stamp will likely lead to added complications on future trips, and can make getting a visa more difficult.

What if I get a visa?

People who want to spend more than 90 days in every 180 in the EU/Schengen area will need to get a visa.

However, there is no such thing as an ‘EU visa’ that allows you unlimited access to the bloc. You will need to get a national visa for the country where you spend the most time.

You can then continue to use your 90-day limit to visit other countries within the EU.

All countries have different rules on visas, but for most people who want to spend long periods in the EU without actually moving there, a short-stay visitor visa is the best option.

What if I’m married to an EU citizen? 

Citizens of EU and Schengen zone countries benefit from EU freedom of movement, so are not constrained by the 90-day rule. This, however, does not extend to non-EU spouses.

If you want to spend more than 90 days in the Schengen zone, you will still need a visa (or look to obtain EU citizenship through marriage).

What if I get a new passport?

People travelling under the 90-day rule usually have their passports stamped on entry and exit, in order to keep track of their 90 days.

However passports are also scanned on entry and exit, so a record exists beyond the passport page with its stamp. Therefore getting a new passport does not restart your 90 days, no matter that all the pages are lovely and blank.

What will EES and ETIAS change?

This brings us onto EES, the EU’s new system of border control which involves extra checks at the border – including fingerprints and facial scans – and automatic scanning of passports.

The implementation date has been postponed several times – it’s now due in 2024 – but this will make it harder for over-stayers to slip through the net.

Find a full explanation of the new system HERE.

Could this change for second-home owners?

Definitely the most-asked question at The Local is whether some kind of special deal may be forthcoming for second-home owners.

All we can say for certain is that there are no plans currently in place, and as the 90-day rule is an EU one it would have to be discussed at an EU level.

Individual countries could choose to introduce a special visa for second-home owners, but this still wouldn’t be the same as the paperwork free stays that EU citizens enjoy.