How Will a Brexit Impact British Expats?

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How Will a Brexit Impact British Expats?

March 22, 2016

 If you are a British expat, it is understandable if you are very anxious about the referendum to be held on June 23, 2016 in the UK, which will decide whether Britain remains in the European Union or not. What impact would a Brexit have on you and your family, and should you consider selling your overseas property with this in mind? It’s hard to say for sure, but this article should give you a few pointers on what to expect.

What is Brexit?

Everybody knows what “Brexit” means – it is a shorthand way of describing a situation where “Britain” “exits” from the EU, just the way a possible Greek exit from the EU was dubbed as Grexit last year. Since Prime Minister David Cameron announced a referendum to be held soon on June 23, Brexit today looms large and is a real possibility. Not long ago, the very idea of Britain leaving the EU was considered unthinkable.

The referendum is a vote all UK nationals of voting age will get to decide whether to remain in the European Union or not. The question is quite simple: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" The options are, 'Remain a member of the European Union' and 'Leave the European Union'.

How will a Brexit impact the lives of the millions of British Expats living in EU member states?

There are two million Britons who are currently living in EU member states. There are 381,025 Britons living in Spain, 172,806 in France, 253,605 in Ireland, 86,938 Brits in Germany, 73,030 in the Channel Islands, 1.28 million in Australia, 305,660 in South Africa, 758,919 in the United States, 313,850 in New Zealand and 674,371 in Canada.

Could these Britons lose the special benefits that are granted to them if the UK were to leave the EU? What about their access to pensions, health care and public service in these countries – would that be affected? Would they continue to enjoy the same property rights as the locals in EU member states, as they do as of now?

 The report from the Cabinet Office indicated, “There would be no requirement under EU law for these rights to be maintained if the UK left the EU. Should an agreement be reached to maintain these rights, the expectation must be that this would have to be reciprocated for EU citizens in the UK.”  

So what could happen? The Worst Case Scenario...

In the worst case scenario, some British pensioners living in an EU member state that does not have a reciprocal agreement with Britain can have their pensions frozen, if Britain was to leave the EU. British expats could conceivably lose their right to set up a business, work, invite friends or bring family members to live with them or even buy property if there is no such bilateral agreement between Britain and the host country.

Healthcare is a major concern as well, and it is possible that British expats could lose their right to cheap or free healthcare in their host country. As of now British expats do not require a visa to enter EU member states, but that could change. They may have to deal with more paperwork and secure permits to travel to other countries in Europe.  The pound may take a real hit as well, which would reduce the buying power of British expats, especially if they are dependent on a British source of income or pension.

Should you worry?

The concerns stated here are for real and really do put a question mark on the financial future of British expats. But politicians such as London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is in favour of a Brexit claim that these concerns are just a part of the campaign by the Conservative Party to provoke fear in the public. The truth is we don’t know how a Brexit will play out, because nothing like this has ever been attempted before. There’s just too much uncertainty in the air for our liking.