Portugal takes steps to welcome Britons post-Brexit

Amidst ongoing uncertainty as the Brexit clock runs down, many EU countries have put forward their no-deal contingency plans. Portugal has taken particular care to reassure British expatriates living here, as well as other UK citizens who enjoy spending time in the country.

“The British are welcome in Portugal,” said Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita, “as residents, as tourists, as investors, as students”.

Portugal’s commitments
Announcing a series of no-deal contingency measures on January 17, the Portuguese government confirmed its intention to protect the rights of British citizens living in Portugal – as long as the UK extends the same rights to Portuguese nationals living there. It also pledged to extend access to public healthcare and social security to UK nationals post-Brexit.

Other commitments include:
■ No visas required for Britons to enter Portugal.
■ Separate ‘fast-track’ lanes at airports (Faro and Madeira confirmed) and other entry points for British citizens.
■ Extra consular offices (at least 35 across 16 localities) to support expatriate Britons.
■ Continued recognition of British driving licences and academic qualifications.

The government also released a leaflet (in both English and Portuguese) to clarify the situation on residency rights for UK nationals under all Brexit scenarios.

Residency rights
In the event of no-deal, a UK citizen’s automatic right to acquire residence in Portugal will run out on the original Brexit deadline of March 29, 2019 at 11pm. If you can prove you had settled status before this point – i.e. while you were still an EU citizen – you would be eligible to remain and apply for residency in the same way as today. You would have until December 31, 2020 to apply for a registration certificate (cartão de residência) with the local câmara municipal.

If a Brexit deal is agreed in time, the transition period would be in force, so you would have until the end of 2020 to demonstrate you were settled in Portugal.

However, if you are still thinking of moving to Portugal or have not yet settled, it is sensible to start the process of proving your residency as soon as possible.

Those who have successfully registered for residency receive a five-year permit. This allows you to live and work in Portugal and enjoy the same rights to benefits and healthcare as Portuguese citizens. Even if there is no-deal, anyone who has acquired this status before the March cut-off date (and continues meeting the conditions of residency) will be recognised as settled and can apply for permanent residency at the end of the five years.

If you already have a 10-year permanent residence card, you will have the right to stay, whatever happens with Brexit, but check the date – you must reapply if it has expired. If it is due to expire within six months, you can apply for renewal now to ensure you and your dependents can continue to qualify for today’s rights and benefits.

After six years, you have the option to apply for Portuguese nationality.

Establishing settled status
What steps can you take to help demonstrate you are settled in Portugal before the Brexit cut-off?

If you meet the criteria to be tax resident (it is not just about day counting), make sure you formally register with the Portuguese tax office, meet your obligations and submit annual tax returns. Other good indicators of residency in Portugal include registering for the national health card (cartão do utente), holding a local bank account and arranging a Portuguese will.

Once you are settled here, existing partners and close family members will be able to join you in Portugal, even after Brexit. Note, however, that there has been no agreement about onward freedom of movement. If you spend five or more consecutive years outside of Portugal as a UK national – even within another EU country – you would lose your residency status here.

Of course, after Brexit it will still be possible to acquire residency, visas and permits to remain in Portugal. While the government has reassured that British nationals will remain welcome here, we can expect the process to be much less straightforward than today. For peace of mind, make sure you secure your position now, under current rules.

Take personalised advice to establish what steps, if any, you still need to take to formalise your residency and secure your future in Portugal. A financial adviser with cross-border expertise can review your tax and estate planning, pensions, savings and investments to make sure they are set up in the best way for your life in Portugal, before and after Brexit.

Blevins Franks accepts no liability for any loss resulting from any action or inaction or omission as a result of reading this information, which is general in nature and not specific to your circumstances.

By Adrian Hook
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Adrian Hook is a Partner of Blevins Franks and has been providing holistic financial planning advice to UK nationals in the Algarve since 2007. Adrian is professionally qualified, holding the Diploma for Financial Advisers. | www.blevinsfranks.com