British expats and the Brexit

The 23rd of June – the date is fast approaching, but with ‘stay’ and ‘leave’ polling at 40% and 39% respectively, the British public don’t seem to be much closer to making a decision on the Brexit question.

With 5 million Brits living abroad however, of which 1.2 million are based in the EU, the potential exit would have effects of greater reach than just UK residents.

So what would happen to British expats?


Would Brits abroad become illegal immigrants overnight?

The simple answer is probably not. The European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the EU, is a ‘single market’. Simply put, this means that citizens of countries within the EEA can move and work freely within it, without the need for a visa.

If the UK leaves the EU, it is possible that the free movement agreement will not be maintained, meaning work/residence permits may be required. However, the ‘Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969’ preserves the rights acquired by EEA citizens prior to any further changes to agreements between countries, so current expats may maintain their current rights of residence.

There may be new forms and bureaucracies to deal with though…

Is healthcare at stake?


In Spain, for example, lives the largest British expat community in Europe. Brits living there are entitled to free GP care at Spain’s expense, with hospital bills covered by the NHS back home (the full burden falls on Spain on becoming a permanent resident).

This and similar agreements around the EU could be flung out the window or at the very least renegotiated, with the potential for drawn-out talks and negative outcomes.

However, the NHS could still be obliged to foot the medical bills of pensioners.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is also at stake. The EHIC entitles UK citizens to free or discounted healthcare within the EU, and is of particular use to British students doing a year abroad at university.


There are two potential issues that could affect Brits’ pensions. The first is the worst case scenario where access to them could be frozen altogether.

The second is that the value of expats’ pensions may no longer be tied to inflation, meaning pensions become worth less as inflation increases.


As already mentioned, British students abroad could lose out on the benefits of the EHIC, having instead to turn to private insurance.

They may also become subject to costly non-EU university fees and have to go through the bureaucratic procedure of getting a student visa.

Brits abroad can vote

As a British citizen, you are entitled to vote in the Brexit referendum, the only condition being that you have appeared on the electoral register at least once in the past 15 years.

Registering is easy and can be done online here before the 16th of May.

The importance of casting your vote and having your voice heard is immense, and the opportunity does not arise often – the last EU referendum was held in 1975. Whatever your opinion is, make it heard.

So what do you think: “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

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