Pets, pensions and Irish passports: readers' questions about post-Brexit rights

There is continuing confusion about citizens’ rights after Brexit. We asked you about your concerns, and many wrote in with questions about pension and healthcare rights.

You raised other issues too: can I still sail around Europe? Will I pay home fees if I start university in the Netherlands this year? What will happen about my pet’s passport? There is much unfinished Brexit business, as you will see from our answers below, composed with the help of experts and government departments.

EU citizens travelling to the UK

Hampstead, London

Hampstead, London. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy Stock Photo

My children are fortunate enough to have UK and EU passports as their mother is an EU citizen. When booking flights and travelling to visit family in the EU, which passport should we use? I’m concerned if they travel to the UK on their EU passport, they’ll be penalised as not having settled status, and be penalised flying into the EU on a UK passport.
Social care worker, Warwickshire

You can use either passport as immigration rules remain exactly the same for the next 11 months. There is no requirement for any EU citizen to present evidence of settled status to anyone as free movement applies until 31 December under the legally binding withdrawal agreement. What happens after that remains to be determined.

I am a medical doctor from Madrid, Spain, doing a short clinical fellowship in oncology at the Royal Marsden hospital. I am in London for three months but have to make a trip to Madrid before I complete my last month. Will I have any problems? Do I need my passport or any additional documentation?
Spanish citizen, London

No extra documents are needed but passports and ID cards will be required as usual on entering the country. The UK remains in the single market until 31 December and EU rules on free movement will continue to apply until next year. So EU citizens are free to study, work or retire in the UK for the next 11 months.

As a dual national, will I get into enormous trouble if I return to the UK on my Polish passport after 31 January without having my British one? It’s obviously a fairly avoidable situation but I’d kind of like to know how much trouble it could cause, or whether I would in fact be fine travelling on my EU passport still.
Andrzej Lukowski, journalist

No. Your Polish passport will suffice until 31 December as freedom of movement still applies (see previous answers). If anyone asks you for any extra evidence, you’ll have yourself a news story.

Pet passports

Pet passports

Pet passports. Photograph: Bogdan Cristel/Reuters

My transatlantic lifestyle means travel via Dublin or Heathrow, and Belfast. Fair enough, I have to cope, as a UK citizen. But my pet dog follows separately, on a EU-wide pet passport. My fear is that her travel (flights usually Washington-Frankfurt-Dublin, thence by car to Northern Ireland, or vice-versa) will be utterly imperilled. I cannot find advice from our pet couriers. This may not be important to you, but my heart could soon be broken by post-Brexit regulations.
Nick Brannon, retired archaeologist

Nothing will change for your pet before the end of the transition period on 31 December, but what happens afterwards depends on what is negotiated in the next 11 months. At present, dogs, cats and ferrets can travel freely across the EU on an EU pet passport, under the EU pet travel scheme.

From next year, what they will need in the way of extra certificates and vaccinations will depend on whether the EU declares the UK a “part 1 listed third country” for pet travel purposes, a “part 2 listed third country” or an “unlisted third country”.

Vets are hopeful the UK will gain part 1 status, which would require your pet to be microchipped and vaccinated against rabies 21 days before travel, and to hold a UK pet passport. A dozen non-EU European countries have this status.

Many more, including the US, are part 2 listed, meaning pets need extra treatments (against tapeworm, for example) plus a vet’s certificate every time they travel. They must also enter the EU at a designated entry point.

The conditions for pets from unlisted countries are even stricter. A worst-case scenario could result in owners having to pay considerable sums for extra vaccinations, treatments and certification every time their pets travel, and having to start the process up to four months beforehand. Full details can be found here.

Cross-border services after Brexit

Offering digital services after Brexit.

Offering digital services after Brexit. Photograph: Igor Stevanovic/Alamy Stock Photo

What does Brexit mean for UK companies providing services (digital services in this case) to European clients? What changes can we expect? While I see warnings about customs changes for companies that import or export goods, not even the staff at the government’s business Brexit helpline know what implications there are for businesses providing services to European clients. Our European clients ask me what will happen to the services we provide after Brexit and I have to tell them I have no idea.
David, south-east England

Services have barely had a look-in in the Brexit debate despite the fact that they represent almost 50% of the UK’s economic output – partly because they are not subject to tariffs and quotas. One of the big questions facing services outside the financial sector, where specific regulations apply to protect consumers and investors, is the future of data transfer. General data protection regulation (GDPR) will cease to apply after 31 December and what happens after that remains to be determined. The House of Commons library has a comprehensive research briefing on services, which is just a month old.


Retirement and pensions.

Retirement and pensions. Photograph: Wavebreak Media/Alamy Stock Photo

I am a UK citizen living in England and currently receive a German state pension. I worked in West Germany in the 1970s. Will Brexit change this pension and the way I receive it?
C, Dorset

Your pension from Germany will continue to be paid as it is now under the withdrawal agreement. The threat of it changing was linked to a no-deal Brexit but it is protected for life under the withdrawal agreement.

I am 73, retired and Danish and live in Edinburgh. I receive a smattering of state pensions from Denmark, the UK and Luxembourg as well as a small pension from the EU commission. I worry that the transfer of the various pensions will be more expensive. Do you think I am right to worry?
L, Edinburgh

Your right to receive your aggregated pension is guaranteed under the withdrawal agreement and there is no reason that would change.

Studying in the EU

Students at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Students at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photograph: Ian Dagnall/Alamy Stock Photo

I applied for university in the Netherlands, to start in September. I still don’t know whether I’ll be paying EU fees or not, and they don’t either. It would be good to know soon because I can’t afford to go if I have to pay non-EU fees.
17-year-old student, London (name supplied)

Those who start a course before the end of the transition period will still benefit from the reciprocal home fees arrangements among EU states. A spokesman for the Dutch government confirmed UK students starting courses this September would pay home fees – currently €2,043 (£1,722) a year – for the course’s duration, provided they remain living and registered in the Netherlands.

Freedom of movement

I’m concerned that while I am currently a European Union citizen, with the right to work and live anywhere in the union, with access to justice and healthcare anywhere in the union, I’m now going to lose that.
Michael Wooley, retired teacher, Chichester

From 1 February, British citizens who do not have dual nationality with another EU state are no longer European Union citizens. However, for the next 11 months, British citizens retain the free movement rights to study, work and retire in the EU.

Frontier workers

My French girlfriend works as a lecturer in France, teaching a few days a week, and regularly commutes between there and the UK. Post-Brexit, how will this work? She doesn’t work here or reside permanently for settled status.
J, Manchester

As she is an EU citizen she can study, work and retire in France, without any questions or extra paperwork, for life. The issue will be coming back into the UK after next year. If she is just visiting she may be fine on tourist access; conditions for that have not yet been defined. But if she intends to remain living here, she will be required to demonstrate that she was resident here before Brexit fully happened on 31 December. The government has opened what is called the EU settlement scheme (EUSS), a special immigration category for EU citizens. There is a phone app and the process should be very straightforward. More than 2 million people have already successfully applied for settled status. EU citizens have up to 30 June next year to apply for EUSS but the Home Office is encouraging people to apply before the end of this year to reduce the risk of any difficulties with border control next year.


Spanish nurses.

Spanish nurses. Photograph: john angerson / Alamy/Alamy

As a retired British citizen living in the EU, I’m very worried about both my healthcare provision and UK state pension after Brexit. I’ve heard so many different versions. What is the situation exactly – should I be concerned?
Susan Templeton, France

There is a lot of confusion about this: people still have in mind the rules that would have applied in the case of a no-deal exit. The rules for both healthcare and pensions are clearly set out in the withdrawal agreement, a legally binding international treaty.

If you have an S1 reciprocal healthcare form (mainly applies to UK pensioners settled in the EU before 31 December), the UK will continue to meet the healthcare costs of you and your family as long as you remain legally resident in your host country, without time limit.

An S1 form will also entitle you to a UK EHIC card for treatment when travelling within the EU, and UK law in any case entitles you to free treatment in Britain. Of course, if you are working in your host country and paying into its social security system, you will continue to be covered for healthcare there as before.

The withdrawal agreement also states that UK state pensions, and all other UK benefits that may be paid to non-residents, will continue to be uprated annually, as if you were still living in the UK. This arrangement is also without time limit, contrary to the no-deal plans which no longer apply. Full details are here.

Irish passport holders in Britain


Passport. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

I was born in Cork, Ireland, and have an Irish passport. I’ve lived in England for the past 61 years, since I was six months old. What are the arrangements for Irish passport holders and am I able to remain indefinitely in the UK?
M, West Yorkshire.

Irish passport holders are treated separately to the rest of EU citizens under the withdrawal agreement. This is partly because of the common travel area but also because of efforts by the British and Irish governments to ensure reciprocity of rights continues. So you have the right to remain indefinitely in the UK, and to work, study, vote, retire and travel between the UK and Ireland freely.

Retiring to Spain (or any other EU member state)

Cadiz, Spain.

Cadiz, Spain. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

I own a house in Spain. I bought the house with the intention of retiring there in a few years. What provisions will be made for the many thousands of people in my position?
G, north-east England

If you retire to an EU country before the end of the year, you will retain all the rights you currently have, apart from freedom of movement. If you are eligible for a pension or UK-funded healthcare (known as S1), you will retain these rights for life. What you will lose, as it currently stands, are the rights to study, work or retire in another member state. Britons in Europe are campaigning for this right to be granted in the next stage of negotiations, along with the right to return back to the UK with a EU family member, and the right for your children to pay home fees at a British university.

This article might be of some interest as it features someone of a similar age (50s) who has just moved to Spain.

Residence permits in France

Paris, France.

Paris, France. Photograph: Chinatown/Alamy Stock Photo

The French and British government websites give little practical – and some contradictory – guidance about applying for a residence permit. The British government site refers to the French for definitive information. But in many places on their official site, the French authorities state that you will only need to apply for a permit if there is no withdrawal deal. Clearly, there is an agreement, but one only covering the transition period. So, we are in limbo until at least December 2020. How do we plan for retirement, move house, and continue to work when in such intolerable uncertainty?
Robin Williams, Savoie, France

As a Briton legally resident in France, you are right that nothing will change during the transition period. After that, you will need to apply for a residency permit before June 2021, assuming the transition is not extended or France opts, as it may do under the withdrawal agreement, to extend its administrative deadline itself.

It isn’t yet clear how you should apply, so it is probably best to wait until that becomes clear, presumably within the next few months.

Until very recently France has focused on the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, and its online application process for post-Brexit residency applications has not yet been updated. We do not know if it will be, or if the government will revert to the old system via local authorities.

The permit itself is in any case likely to be a special one for post-Brexit British residents; its design is not yet known. What is clear, however, is that when you do apply for it you’ll need to show you are legally resident – either in a job, retired, self-employed, a student or self-supporting.

If you have been legally resident in France for at least five years, you can apply directly for permanent residency. Otherwise, you will be applying for temporary residency, which you can upgrade later.

Boating around Europe

Côte D’Azur, France.

Côte D’Azur, France. Photograph: Westend61 GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

I am an army veteran who was medically discharged in 2016 with PTSD after 40 years’ service. I live on a boat because I can’t find affordable accommodation in the UK as my only income is an MoD pension. I also live on a boat to avoid the hassle of UK life. Can I and my UK-registered sail boat stay in EU waters after Brexit? The boat is my only home.
Name supplied

An unusual predicament that touches on both freedom of movement and customs controls. For the remainder of the year, all British nationals are free to come and go as they please in Europe. After that, freedom of movement is unlikely to apply although campaigners are hoping it will apply to a particular group of British nationals who are already fully resident in an EU member state.

On the customs aspect, we asked the Royal Yacht Association, which said: “The ability for recreational boats together with their equipment and other contents to navigate free of customs procedures and time limits throughout the waters of the European Union is currently dependent on them having customs status of union goods.

“In order for a boat to have union status the VAT must be accounted for and if the boat has been imported any applicable customs duty must also have been paid. The owner is then able to move the boat freely through the EU without being subject to a customs procedure, from one point to another within the customs territory of the union, and temporarily out of that territory by sea without alteration of their customs status provided that their union status is proven.

“During the transition period the UK and the EU will finalise the UK’s future relationship with the EU and it is only once those negotiations have been concluded that we will know the implications of the end of the transition period and any steps that recreational boaters need to take if they wish to retain union status.”

Living half in EU, half in UK

Border control at Heathrow.

Border control at Heathrow. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

Q. I have a Greek residence permit and spend about six months each year in Greece, in a house which I rent all year. I do not have Greek citizenship and will never be able to apply for this (it requires a proficiency in the language which I despair of ever attaining). I and many friends would be very grateful to have some clarity on this issue. My residence permit was issued in August 2019 on the basis of the EHIC card as proof of health insurance. The residence permit is not time limited but the EHIC card may be, so this is another concern for many of us.
Anne, Surrey

British citizens will no longer be EU citizens as of 11pm on 31 January. However, freedom of movement rights remain in place until the end of the year while the UK remains part of the single market from where these rights flow. This means you are free to move to and from Greece as before, no questions asked, for the remainder of the year.

If you have permanent residency before the end of this year, you will retain your rights to study, work and retire in that member state for the rest of your life. However, permanent residency is usually based on being in a country for more than six months of a year and you may find yourself classified as a tourist, with normal immigration rules applying after 2020. Britons in Europe who have been campaigning for their rights complain that no countries in the EU, apart from the UK and Ireland, have yet said how they are going to deal with British nationals who retain the right to live there. You will find their information sheet on residence rights here.


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