Life in PortugalBrexit: Some Advice From a UK Expat Living in Portugal

Alistair Williams3 weeks ago13 min

Alistair is a 30-year-old architect and illustrator from Southampton who’s been living in Lisbon for a year now. With the Brexit deadline looming we asked him to give us his opinion about the situation and how he thinks it will affect the British citizens living in Portugal at the moment.

This is what he had to say about the current situation. 

I was against Brexit

As a proud immigrant who was born and raised in the UK, who embraced the European Union’s freedom of movement to study, work, love and live between the UK, Germany, Hungary and now Portugal, it goes without saying, I am adamantly against the decision made in 2016 for the UK to leave the EU.

I have however with deep regret accepted this decision and hope I can share some advice for anyone affected by Brexit.

Deal or no-deal Brexit? What does this mean for English expats living in Portugal?

Brexit Supporters

The UK joined the European Community, a precursor to today’s EU, in 1973 and has since evolved in unison with its neighbours to set out common standards, treaties, trade arrangements and laws made by democratically elected MEPs from each member state of the EU working across sovereign borders.

This will continue after Brexit but the UK won’t participate as we will cease to be a member state.

In 2016 the advisory referendum result meant the UK parliament triggered “Article 50” officially meaning the UK will exit the EU on March 29th 2019 and begin negotiations for Brexit, to negotiate a future relationship between the UK and EU. This is what I’ll refer to as a “Deal” and this is currently planned to take place on such day with a 24 month “Transition Period” following.

However, over the last 6 month or so the UK’s Brexit extremists have swayed the overtone window for the UK to crash out on March 29th on a “No Deal” Brexit, disregarding any responsibility to leave in an ordered and less impactful manner not just to the UK but also the EU.

Tips for UK citizens living in Portugal

If you haven’t already I would advise you to get your paperwork in order before March 29th. This guide from the Portuguese government can help with that.

The welcomed news from the document above is the Portuguese government’s instance that regardless of “Deal” or “No Deal” they will allow you to get your residency sorted by Dec 2020. Which means, if you were here before the departure date of March 29th 2019, you won’t be kicked out of Portugal.

Brexit SEF

Updates from the Portuguese government regarding Brexit can be found in the Immigration and Borders Service ( SEF) website and also the government’s Diplomatic Portal.

The UK government also has useful information online here. I recommend signing up for mail updates as exactly what Brexit is from the UK perspective changes almost daily.

The UK embassy in Portugal Twitter account and Facebook account Brits in Portugal, will also give regular updates on the effects of Brexit on UK residents living in Portugal.

An option for residents that have been in Portugal for 5 years and have a basic grasp of the Portuguese Language (A2) is to get dual citizenship, meaning you can retain your UK citizenship. This isn’t the case with some EU countries like Spain or Austria.

Click in the Institute of Registries and Notaries (page in Portuguese) to obtain more information about getting Portuguese citizenship.

What are the unknowns surrounding Brexit for UK citizens in Portugal?

No Deal Brexit

Although mythical trade deals, invisible yet secure borders and predictions about 50-100 years into the future have become commonplace in Brexit speak, I personally haven’t been able to embrace the magical arts to foresee the unprecedented future unknowns, unlike some British politicians.

There are some known-unknowns that I have come into contact with, but remember there are many more changes to come that will affect people in different ways depending on how the UK exits.

Having the freedom to travel between countries in the EU applies to citizens who are member states without the need for visas, residents without citizenship may have a Schengen visa to do so. I am still unsure what will happen in a “No Deal” if I was to travel to say Germany and whether I can easily obtain a Schengen visa?

If you are looking to travel over March 29th you might just want to be aware of this to avoid being stuck anywhere.

If you live and work here in Portugal trading goods or services in some way to the UK it is worth being aware of changes in trade and any tariffs or customs impacts that are yet to be agreed.

No deal will mean such barriers will apply from March 29th.

Some qualifications are covered by EU directives, it’s worth checking if this could apply to you after Brexit. For example, my status as a qualified British architect allows me to become recognised by the Portuguese chamber of architects and practice as an architect in Portugal.

This is covered by such EU directive, after Brexit, I am unsure what will happen with this in a “No Deal” situation.

Access to Portuguese healthcare is still a big unknown for me as I have been relying on my ability to access state healthcare across the EU via my European Health Insurance Card. I am still unaware of what happens to this after Brexit, I assume it will become useless in a “No Deal” and possibly used in a transition period but I am yet to find definitive answers.

UK citizens looking to move to Portugal after Brexit

Well, you might want to hurry up and enjoy the freedoms the UK government are stripping from us whilst you still can. In the case of a “Deal” it is to my understanding you will still be able to enjoy these so obtaining residency should remain as easy as before during the transition period.

In a “No Deal” you’ll in a similar position as non-EU residents looking to move in Portugal.

There are also schemes in Portugal such as the Golden Visa and recently announced Green Visa from the Portuguese government to attract wealth and innovation from other countries meaning the visa process can be easier to settle in Portugal.

The good news, however, is unlike the UK government, the Portuguese government does value immigration to Portugal so don’t assume just because of the hostility the UK has shown towards immigration recently it is reciprocated by the Portuguese.

One reason for this is that Portugal has a slowly declining but ageing population and with many younger Portuguese citizens leaving in the past, they see immigration as a way to fill these gaps.

It’s actually quite heart-breaking in my experience since moving here how welcomed I have been made to feel. The locals have almost rolled out the red carpet for me, strangers have shaken my hand, patted me on the back in welcoming me here and proudly remind me of Portugal and Britain’s historical alliance, the longest in human history, whilst other locals apologise for not speaking English…

UK citizens looking to travel to Portugal after Brexit

British tourists coming to Portugal will still be very much welcomed and apparently prioritised. Details surrounding the needs for visas are still unclear and I am sure will be affected by the “Deal” or “No Deal” situation.

Some sources have mentioned an online visa scheme similar to a manner that British tourists will have to say going to the USA for a small fee.

There have even been stories that Portugal is planning airport express lanes just for UK passport holders in their tourist hotspots like Faro and Funchal, again reinforcing that Portugal is in no way retaliating to British hostility.

Issues regarding access to healthcare, driving, phone roaming charges, bringing pets, queuing in airports will be looked to be agreed through the transition period but in a “No Deal” this could end from March 29th. More information regarding this can be found on the BBC news website.

This all sounds so crazy, surely Brexit won’t actually happen?

Who knows? If you are in the UK do anything you can to help:

  • write your MP
  • sign petitions
  • attend peaceful protests
  • speak out and try to change peoples minds to do something and join you.

The Scottish and Welsh governments oppose Brexit and polls show the majority of the English citizens feel the same and remember the politicians work for you, just keep it peaceful, respectful and civilised.

And if you are lucky enough like me to be able to consider other options abroad, rest assured Portugal will be here with open arms!

bePortugal is a great source for more reasons why Portugal is an ideal place to come visit or live regardless of Brexit.

Are you a British citizen living in Portugal? Are you worried about how Brexit will affect you? Share your doubts below.

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Alistair Williams

I am a Lisbon based architect and illustrator, a proud immigrant who moved to Portugal from the Uk where I was born and raised. After becoming a chartered architect I chose to go self-employed to work on architectural projects and pursue my passion for illustration that saw me shortlisted for the AOI’s World Illustration Awards in 2018.