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

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.

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

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.

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. So does this mean that an EU resident of one country (not necessarily a national citizen) can stay in another EU country for more than 90 days out of the 180? If so, does this mean that an EU resident will still need to apply for residency if staying in another EU country while a British citizen has no option for staying longer than 90 days and therefore has to leave the EU zone?

    1. 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!

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

      1. 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.

  2. Hi Mark, My understanding is that the 90 days covers the WHOLE EU and Schengen zone…so it’s 90 days total. You can’t hop around countries for 90 days each. It is also accumulative, so if you came for 60 days to anywhere in the zone and went away, you can only return for another 30 days to the zone in that 180 day period.

  3. This is just a requirement of residents of NON EU or Schengen member countries- Uk, USA, Australia , NZ and so on.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

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Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.