Britons in Europe face Brexit deadlines with many yet to apply for residency

Britons living in countries across Europe are running out of time to either register or apply for residency as a new report reveals thousands are yet to secure their post-Brexit status in the EU.

Britons in Europe face Brexit deadlines with many yet to apply for residency
Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

Tens of thousands of Britons living in countries across the EU have not registered as residents or obtained the necessary residency permits to secure their post-Brexit status.

A recent EU report highlights the fact that Britons living in the 27 member states are still waiting to obtain the necessary permits and with only weeks before the deadlines in certain countries many are likely yet to have even applied.

Overall some 190,000 Britons out of an estimated 300,000 Britons living in those EU countries which have made applying for post-Brexit residency permits compulsory – known as a constitutive system – had applied for the cards by the end of April.

In France for example, where the deadline to apply for a compulsory residency permit is June 30th, some 73,700 have received their necessary carte de séjour residency permits but around 26,000 were yet to have even applied by mid-April.

In Denmark, by the end of March, only 3,400 out of 19,000 resident Britons have applied for a residency permit but they have until the end of the year to do so.

In Austria only 3,100 out of 11,500 Brits had applied by the end of February, but they too have until December 31st to do so.

In Sweden, some 7,200 Britons out of an estimated 17,000 Britons living in the country had applied for residency. The deadline for applications in Sweden is September 30th.

There are concerns for Britons living in smaller countries like Malta and Luxembourg, where deadlines are approaching and thousands are yet to receive the necessary post-Brexit permits.

Citizens’ rights group British in Europe is calling for deadlines to be extended across all member states until December 31st.

In a statement on its website British in Europe said: “The report makes for depressing reading.

“By mid-April, less than half of the estimated 148,000 UK citizens living in France had applied for and received a decision on their application.

“In Luxembourg, the figure stood at just over 50 percent and in Malta, a paltry 37 percent of UK citizens had applied and received a decision. Overall, nearly one in five UK citizens in the countries with a June 30th deadline (France, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta and the Netherlands) had not even applied.

“These figures are shocking and should be a wake-up call to the Member States in question, as well as the European Commission and the UK.

“It is clear that thousands of UK citizens who are currently legally resident in their host states face waking up on July 1st as undocumented migrants. They could be fired from their jobs, made homeless, and lose access to social security, student grants and loans, and non-emergency healthcare yet no-one has spelled out the consequences of missing the deadline.”

The Netherlands has since extended its deadline to October 1st. Other countries could follow its example.

British in Europe says both EU governments and the UK must do more to ensure all Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement are given legal residency.

“The communication plans and activities outlined in this report bear little or no relation to the reality we are seeing in host countries,” the group says.

“Although Member States have published website pages containing information about how to apply for a permit or request a card, only a handful have carried out any active outreach or awareness-raising campaigns via local, national or social media. The UK government too has an obligation here towards us which it is also not meeting.”

Netherlands has since extended its deadline to October 1st.

Other member states in the EU chose a declaratory system which meant the residency status of Britons living in the country before December 31st last year was guaranteed under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Residents in these countries have mainly had to register their presence as a British resident before a certain date and in some cases have had the choice whether to apply for a new post-Brexit permit.

As the table below shows relatively few British residents compared to the overall total have applied for new residency permits.

For example in Italy only 5,300 out of an estimated 38,500 British residents had applied whilst in Spain some 115,600 out of an estimated 380,000 have requested the new document.

READ ALSO: Why UK and Spain now strongly recommend exchanging old residency document for new TIE

There was no available data for Britons in Germany.

It is likely the estimated number of Britons living in the EU is lower than the real figure. 

Member comments

  1. I completely support an extension for anyone who has applied for permanent residency but not received a decision yet. But for those who have not even applied? There is no way anyone living here could NOT know they have to do this to remain.
    Reminds me of a conversation overheard between two fellow Brits while waiting for the B1 test. They were talking about a friend of theirs who was not bothering to do anything to attain either permanent residency or Dual Citizenship. The attitude was “What are they going to do, throw him out?” with a disbelieving laugh from both!

    1. As a pensioner who owns his own home, and has been employed, paid taxes, has a Swedish pension, and lived here “illegally” for 20 pus years, I wonder if they would turn up , and drag me in chains to put me on a plane back to the UK. I guess not but you can never be certain.

      1. If you have paid taxes, have a Swedish pension, then you are not considered as being there ‘illegally’ anyway…

  2. Completely agree with Richard’s comments that an extension should be granted for anyone who has applied for residency within the correct timeframe – but not received a decision yet.
    Also absolutely agree that those who haven’t applied yet shouldn’t get such an extension … because how could they NOT know?
    F’sure it was a hassle applying for it here in Italy, but we knew we had to … so just got on with it…

  3. My wife and I been here in Italy for 40 years working for an Italian Company. Paid all taxes, so have full Italian pension and health care. Have had the green residency card as “tempo indeterminato” or permanant resident for many years, (over 25years) but now find ourselves having to apply for the bio metric new residency card at the Questura which we will only give us 5 to 10 years before renewal again. However we understand that Italian citizens in UK signed up for the pre-settled status will have this for life, even if they return to their home country to live there up to 5 years, and then return to UK.

    Doesn’t seem fair to us. Can someone explain why the Italian Authorities have gone this route for us

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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.