moving abroad to the EU

The Post-Brexit Moving Abroad Guide

Want to move abroad in 2021? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Maybe you’re a British passport holder who wants to beat Brexit and move to the EU in 2021. Yep, it’s still possible.

But why should you take my advice on moving abroad?

I moved to Portugal in the summer of 2020, with the goal of retaining my EU rights after the Brexit transition period. Eventually, I’m planning to obtain Portuguese citizenship and become an EU citizen once again.

I’m an expert in moving abroad, having lived and worked in seven countries before arriving in Portugal. What’s more, I’ve worked fully remote since 2014. I see this as my ticket to freedom. I started Digital Emigre to help others wishing to do the same.

Let’s dive in and take a look at what you should consider when planning a long-term move abroad.

Define your objectives for moving abroad

Moving abroad is a big step that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Brexit and its deadlines have caused many disillusioned Brits who see their future in the EU to move abroad in a hurry, before they get relegated to the status of third country nationals.

But apart from your wish to avoid Brexit, have you considered your key objectives for leaving the UK? And, more importantly, have you figured out which EU country is best suited to meeting those objectives? This decision is especially important if you’re a Brit planning to move abroad now, after the end of the Brexit transition period, as your rights to live in the EU will have changed.

For many Brits, the desire to regain their EU citizenship is a major driver for moving abroad. Each EU country has a different pathway to citizenship. This also depends on whether you’re fortunate enough to have a claim through ancestry or marriage.

In some EU countries, including Belgium, Portugal and Ireland, you can apply for citizenship after five years of continuous residency (which usually means you need to be physically present there for six months out of every year). Many countries allow dual citizenship, but some do not, including the Netherlands, Spain and Germany (with the exception of some special circumstances).

Apart from pathways to citizenship, you may have other concerns when moving abroad to the EU. For some, the weather is an important factor. If you’re escaping the UK, you might as well head for sunnier climes, right?

Perhaps your objective is to pay less tax. That’s not always easy to achieve in the EU, where taxes tend to be higher than in the UK. In fact, taxes were the final deciding factor for me in giving up my 2019 residency plan in Belgium and moving to Portugal instead.

Certain EU countries, most notably Portugal, offer special tax regimes to attract high-value and/or highly-skilled foreigners. Other countries, such as Sweden or Norway, have high taxes but offer their residents excellent value in return.

In short, be sure to define your objectives first and select your EU destination accordingly.

Plan your income streams

moving abroad money

Maintaining a decent income level is an essential consideration when moving abroad.

But finding a local job isn’t always easy, especially when you don’t speak the language. What’s more, due to Brexit, I’ve heard reports of Brits already being turned down on that basis when seeking jobs elsewhere in the EU.

Fortunately, we live in an age of borderless working – and the pandemic has brought that even further to the fore. First, consider whether your current UK job could be done remotely. If so, then it’s time to ask your employer if they’d be happy with you doing a permanent telecommute. COVID-19 has set a useful precedent by showing us how feasible remote working really is.

Alternatively, you could consider setting up an online business consulting in your field of expertise. Depending on your industry, you’ve probably already built relationships with people who could become your first clients.

It’s time to reach out and see if they’d be interested in working with you on a freelance or contractor basis. To get started on this route, you’ll need a domain name (preferably yourname.com), web hosting, a simple website (I recommend WordPress) and an updated, compelling LinkedIn profile.

If you own property in the UK, you could rent it out to provide an extra income stream to support your move to the EU. This is usually easier than going through the hassles of selling, while also leaving you a return option if your EU plans don’t work out.

Open a cross-border bank account

Using your UK bank account to pay in euros may not always be the most cost-effective way to handle your daily finances when moving abroad.

Some of the newer fintech banks, like Monzo or Starling, offer real-time exchange rates between the pound and the euro. Starling offers a EUR account as well as one in GBP.

Others, such as Wise Borderless or Revolut, allow you to hold a number of different currencies, each in their own account with its own local bank details. Having one of these is extremely useful for doing business within the EU.

These accounts are free of charge and easy to open. We highly recommend setting up at least one of them before moving abroad.

Get familiar with your tax situation

Tax is a critical consideration when moving abroad. Every EU country has its own tax rules, with tax treaties between EU countries (including the UK) meaning that you’re unlikely to be double taxed.

The basic rule of thumb is that you pay taxes in the country where you’re a resident and where you spend more than six months of the tax year. Some countries have various schemes available, such as Portugal’s non-habitual resident (NHR) tax scheme, which many foreigners find useful.

You’ll want to let HMRC know that you’ll no longer be a UK resident. If you’ve got a student loan, you’ll also need to inform the Student Loans Company that you’re leaving the UK. You should tell them where you’re headed, and about any changes in your employment situation (e.g. becoming self-employed).

Important: Tax is complicated and I’m not a tax advisor. So I strongly recommend that you seek tax advice from an accountant familiar with cross-border taxation (if that’s relevant to your situation), or consult a local one in the country you’re moving to.

Seek support from those who’ve already moved abroad

moving abroad coffee

You’re bound to feel uncertain when you’re about to make a major life decision. Moving abroad is no different. In fact, it might very well be one of the biggest decisions of your life.

This feeling is made even worse by the current political environment in the UK. Four years of political uncertainty have caused significant stress and anxiety for many people. Add the pandemic to the existing mess and it’s no wonder people are feeling overwhelmed by it all.

But don’t let this deter you from moving abroad to the EU. There’s a wealth of information and support available online. Every EU country will have its own Facebook group (probably a whole selection of them for different cities and types of people) aimed at providing advice for foreigners who live there.

For example, a popular and friendly group in Lisbon is Lisbon Expats and Locals. There’s also a range of dedicated Facebook groups for Brits wishing to leave the UK, including our very own Digital Émigrés group.

Join a few of these groups, introduce yourself, look through past posts for topics of interest, and start conversations. You’ll generally find a lot of people who will understand exactly how you’re feeling. They can provide advice and moral support – and probably even meet you for coffee once you arrive.

Narrow down your target area before moving abroad

You’ve picked your target country and your moving abroad plan is taking shape. Your next step is to decide which region and/or city within that country will be the best fit for you. We recommend that you visit at least once, for at least a few weeks if possible, before deciding to move.

Things to consider before moving abroad:

  • Property prices: For example, Portugal can be very cheap, both for renting and buying. But only outside of the major cities (Lisbon/Porto) and touristic regions like the Algarve.
  • Environment and weather: Are you in search of sun or do you prefer a frostier climate? Are you happiest living near the sea or other large body of water?
  • Transport: Do you plan to own a car in your new country? If so, factors like congestion and availability of parking spaces will be important. If you can’t or don’t want to drive, then you’ll probably want to be in a place with a decent public transport infrastructure rather than in the middle of the countryside.
  • Culture and entertainment: Would you prefer to be surrounded by museums, cinemas, theatres and dining out? Or do you yearn for a quieter and more peaceful life in the countryside where you can grow your own vegetables and take long hikes in nature.
  • Building social connections: You’ll probably want to be within easy reach of a thriving community of internationals and locals, in which case a city or large town is probably your best bet. It’s worth doing some online research beforehand to discover what sort of events usually go on. Websites Meetup.com and InterNations are great for this, as is Facebook.

Rent before you buy

moving abroad house

Buying property abroad is a big step, and one which often brings extra stress. It’s a great idea in the long-term, but for the immediate term we recommend renting for six months to a year.

This is a great way to get used to your new country. At the same time, it’s sufficient for any requests for proof of residency. Some authorities will ask to see evidence of a lease or property deeds in order to grant you residency.

Most countries have their own rental portals, plus there are normally many Facebook groups where people post ads for available properties. You could ask a local contact where they recommend searching, as some websites aimed at foreigners have higher prices.

And watch out for scams. Never hand over any money before viewing the property in person and getting the key. Do your research to get a rough idea of the typical prices in that market. You’ll know that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Sort out healthcare options

Figuring out your new country’s healthcare system is important for everyone when moving abroad. But especially so if you’re an older émigré or have chronic health issues.

Once you become resident, you’ll need to register with the local healthcare system, just like the UK’s NHS. To get quicker appointments or enhanced service, you could consider taking out private medical insurance, either with a local or international provider.

If you plan to move to the EU in 2021, keep in mind that the healthcare situation is still being clarified. New announcements are likely to emerge in due course. You should keep an eye on the latest news from the government of your target country.

Get a head start on learning the language

Thanks to the prevalence of English, this step isn’t absolutely essential (depending on where you live). But if you’re going to be an émigré rather than just a tourist, aim to go beyond ‘hello’  and ‘thank you’ and build up some viable language skills.

There are tons of online resources to help you get there. Duolingo is an easy way to start, offering numerous languages in its smartphone app with gamified learning via quizzes and flashcards. It’s good to flick through some of these while waiting in queues, instead of scrolling Facebook.

But Duolingo probably won’t help you gain confidence in actual speaking. For that you need to speak. I like italki.com. It’s a website where you can arrange Skype lessons in the language of your choice, with qualified native speaking tutors. It’s not free, but it’s very much worth it.

Once you arrive in-country, try to be bold enough to start using what little you know right away. Join a language exchange group, listen to local radio or watch local TV, or strike up conversations with captive audiences like taxi drivers or customer service staff.

People may speak back to you in English. But just have a suitable phrase prepared to let them know that you’re learning the local language and would like to use it. Said with a smile, this tactic usually works.

Build up your social circle

Maybe you’re moving abroad alone, or maybe with your partner and/or kids. But no matter your situation, it’s important to integrate into the local community and build up a circle of friends.

Most cities will already have some type of international community. Here you will usually find a good mix of foreigners and cosmopolitan, English-speaking locals. Facebook is one of the best places to find these communities.

We are living in difficult times, facing a pandemic and the rise of populist politics. Having the ability to move abroad is more important than ever before, and growing numbers of people are doing it.

If your home country no longer fits your values, or if its government wants to deny you your rights, then it’s time to look elsewhere.


Are you planning a post-Brexit escape to the EU?

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6 thoughts on “The Post-Brexit Moving Abroad Guide”

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  3. I left Britain over 40 years ago, but never changed my passport because of moving around. This included 15 years in Northern Ireland, where I moved for an educational opportunity but stayed because my daughter liked her school there, and 13 years in Cuba.
    At the end of 2015, I moved to Spain. Two reasons; I can´t stand the cold, and already spoke Spanish. I came here legally as an EU citizen, and refuse to accept having this taken away. I´ve checked about other passports. My Irish family are not ancestors and my Dutch ancestors can´t help because Netherlands does not give citizenship for that reason.
    So I´m stuck with a passport from a country I never liked and do not identify with in any way, have not much money because my pension is in sterling, and would do anything except return to Britain. I make a small amount copywriting and have retrained as a Freelance Journalist.
    If Spain doesn´t let me stay, just because of the accident of being born in a country which later went mad, do any other EU countries plan to give asylum to those of us who could never go back to Britain?
    Ideas would be welcomed. My main concern is that if, for any reason, Spain would not let me stay here I have nowhere to go.

    1. Hi Elisa, thanks for your comment. I totally understand your concerns. Brexit is a total nightmare for so many people. Portugal might be worth looking at if Spain becomes untenable for you. The income requirement for the D7 ‘passive income’ visa is fairly modest, and it has a similar climate and culture to Spain. Many retirees move here. Here’s an article about the Portugal option: https://digitalemigre.com/relocation/the-d7-portugal-visa-how-to-beat-brexit/

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  5. Pingback: Best UK bank accounts for British expats and émigrés | Digital Émigré

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