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The end of British citizens’ free movement rights

British citizens’ EU citizenship and free movement rights ended when the Brexit transition period expired on 31 December 2020. Those rights had enabled them to travel to, live, work or study in an EU Member State without needing a visa. They (and their family members) had been able to claim a right to reside in the host Member State as a jobseeker, worker, student, self-employed or self-sufficient person or a family member, under the terms set by EU free movement laws.

From 1 January 2021:

  • British citizens still do not need to apply for a visa in advance of travel to the EU as a short-term visitor. The rules for short-term visits to most EU Member States are set out in the Schengen Borders Code. This allows stays within the Schengen Area of up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
  • British citizens’ eligibility to live, work or study in an EU Member State depends on the host country’s national immigration laws and visa requirements.

As an exception to the above, Brexit has not changed the visa and immigration requirements applicable to British citizens travelling to Ireland (and vice versa). These continue to be based on the Common Travel Area arrangements.

Mobility arrangements in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement

The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) includes some commitments to facilitate travel for certain specified purposes. It provides arrangements for short-term business visitors; business visitors for establishment purposes; intra-corporate transferees; contractual service suppliers; and independent professionals.

But various reservations and exemptions apply. National immigration regulations, rules on work permits and employment regulations of the respective EU Member State must be observed. As a result, from 1 January 2021, UK business travellers are subject to the different regulatory regimes of each Member State. Likewise, EU business travellers are subject to the visa requirements specified in the UK’s immigration rules.

The TCA also provides for a continuation of necessary heath care cover for British visitors to the EU, similar to previous EHIC arrangements.

UK drivers can continue to use UK driving licenses in the EU, under separate agreements.

British citizens living in the EU before 1 January 2021

British citizens who had been exercising free movement rights in an EU country before the end of the transition period have certain residence-related rights protected by the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement (WA). The WA protections only apply in the person’s country of residence. The WA does not give free movement rights throughout the rest of the EU.

Each EU country sets its own procedures for confirming that a person has rights protected by the WA, within the parameters set by the WA.


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