Brexit For Members

Jobs, study or retirement: Why Brits move to the EU and where they go

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street
Claudia Delpero, Europe Street - [email protected]
Jobs, study or retirement: Why Brits move to the EU and where they go
Maxime Tait, son of a British expat and founder of QK, a traditional British confectionery chain in Angers, France. Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

Brexit has made moving to the EU more complicated for Brits - but it's far from impossible and in fact more than 40,000 first-time residency permits were issued to Brits in 2022. Here's a look at why they moved and which countries they went to.


An indication of the latest trends comes from data on first-time residence permits collected from national authorities and published by Eurostat, the EU statistical office.

In 2022, it emerges, EU countries issued first-time residence permits to 43,497 British citizens, a number that increases to 46,977 when adding Switzerland. 

Eurostat considers a first residence permit an authorisation to stay in the territory of an EU country issued for the first time and valid for at least 3 months - so in most cases they are issued to new or recent arrivals who intend to live in the country, rather than just pay an extended visit.


The data shows how many people moved to these countries for work, study, family reunions or 'other reasons' (which includes retirement or any kind of residence without the right to work), international protection (Ukrainians excluded) or other special residence schemes.

In most countries the 'other' category is made up largely of retirees.

Spain was the EU country that issued the largest number of first residence permits to British citizens (10,158), followed by France (7,927), Germany (6,005), the Netherlands (3,640) Switzerland (3,480), Italy (3,251) and Denmark (2,081). Sweden came just after Portugal (1,760), and Austria issued 698 first residence permits to Brits. 

Moving for employment

The reasons why Britons moved to these countries, however, are quite different.

Overall, most residence permits were for employment and other reasons (some 14,000, or 30 per cent each), followed by family reunions (11,500) and education (7,300).

Top countries where Britons moved to for employment were France (3,182), Switzerland (2,073), Germany (1,800), the Netherlands (1,708), Denmark (1,443), Spain (955) and Sweden (557). Among the countries covered by The Local, Italy and Austria followed from a distance (308 and 182 respectively). 

As regards residence permits for other reasons, such as retirement, at the top of the list there was Spain (4,400 first residence permits to Brits), followed by Germany (2,868), Italy (2,141), France (1,760) and Portugal (783). Much lower in the list came Austria (241), Sweden (162) and Switzerland (100).

The countries that issued the largest number of first residence permits to British nationals for the purpose of education were France (1,901) and Spain (1,811). Fewer British students went to Germany (506), Switzerland (420), Sweden (295), Denmark (288) and Italy (193).


The biggest number of family reunifications were also recorded in Spain (2,992) and France (1,084), followed by the Netherlands (1,038), Switzerland (887), Germany (831), Sweden (746) and Italy (609). 

Staying 12 months or more

The vast majority of all permits (over 35,000) were issued for 12 months or more. 

Pre-Brexit, Brits did not need residency permits to live in the EU, so direct comparisons with pre-2000 movement cannot be made - data from 2020 and 2021 is likely to be impacted by Covid-19 restrictions and the post-Brexit transition. 

The figures do not include Brits who were already resident in the EU prior to December 31st 2020 - as they were dealt with under a different regime covered by the Withdrawal Agreement - but they might include some people are joining family members already resident in the EU.


More than 3.6 million first residence permits to non-EU citizens

To put things in perspective, EU countries issued more than 3.6 million first residence permits to non-EU citizens in 2022, a 26 per cent increase over 2021. In 2019, before the pandemic, the number was around 3 million. 

Germany granted the largest number (538,690 or 15 per cent of the total), followed by Spain (457,412), Italy (337,788) and France (324,200). Germany recorded the largest increase compared to 2021, +190 per cent, mainly due to family and other reasons. 

Employment reasons accounted for 42 per cent of all first residence permits issued in the EU in 2022, at around 1.6 million permits, while family reasons accounted for 24 per cent, other reasons 21 per cent, and education 13 per cent. 

Full data for countries covered by The Local

  • Denmark -  total 2,081 (family reunification 303, education 288, employment 1,443, other 47)
  • Germany - 6,005 (family 831, education 506, employment 1,800, other 2,868)
  • Spain - 10,158 (family 2,992, education 1,811, employment 955, other 4,400)
  • France - 7,927 (family 1,084, education 1,901, employment 3,182, other 1,760)
  • Italy - 3,251, family 609, education 193, employment 308, other 2,141
  • Austria - 698 (family 201, education 74, employment 182, other 241)
  • Sweden - 1,760 (family 746, education 295, employment 557, other 162)
  • Switzerland-  3,480 (family 887, education 420, employment 2,073, other 100)
  • Norway data not complete for 2022



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