Can I still contract in the EU, post-Brexit?
Brexit was the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (EU), and it took place at 23:00 GMT on January 31st 2020. The UK is the only sovereign country to have left the EU.
The UK’s leaving the EU prompts many freelance and contract professionals who are UK tax residents to ask, ‘Can I still contract in the EU, post-Brexit?
Not as you once did
Well, not as you once did, as in most cases, you will now need a job offer from your chosen EU country, so that you can obtain a visa to move there, writes Kevin Austin, managing director of Access Financial.
First, you should check with the UK embassy in the country you want to work in, to see what you need to do. Next, assuming you still want to work in the EU country, you will need to check the UK’s ‘living in’ country guides selection, here.
If you moved to the EU before January 1st 2021…
If you were legally living in an EU country before January 1st 2021, your right to work will be protected, if you carry on living there. This is because you are covered by the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement, which the UK signed with the EU.
You are also covered by the Withdrawal Agreement if you started working in one EU country and living in a different EU country, or the UK, before January 1st 2021.
Coverage by the Withdrawal Agreement entitles you to the same rights as nationals of the country you are working in when it comes to working conditions, pay and social security (for example, benefits).
Where can I travel, live and work freely?
Britons may live and work freely in the Republic of Ireland under the Common Travel Area or CTA.
The CTA is a long-standing arrangement between the UK, the Crown Dependencies (Bailiwick of Jersey, Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Isle of Man) and Ireland that pre-dates both British and Irish membership of the EU and is not dependent on it.
There are special rules for those involved in the arts and you can find more information here but ContractorUK readers are most likely not covered by these provisions.
Do you always need a concrete job offer?
As mentioned, you are more likely to be able to work in the EU (or anywhere else abroad), if you – as a UK national -- have a binding job offer in the country you want to work in.
But this is not always the case.
For example, Germany allows qualified skilled workers to apply for a ‘job search visa’ to look for employment once they arrive, which is valid for up to six months.
So, as recommended at the outset, check what the country you have in mind requires.
Post-Brexit, professional qualifications you hold may not now be recognised in the EU country you want to work in.
The European Network of Information Centres (ENIC) provides information and country-specific guides to help you determine whether this will unfortunately be the case for you.
EU Blue Card
You might be eligible for an EU Blue Card, which allows you to live and work in 25 of the 27 EU countries for up to four years, if your profession puts you in the category of ‘highly-qualified worker.’
There are a number of criteria you will need to meet to be considered a ‘highly-qualified worker,’ including having a work contract of at least 12 months. The application process varies from country to country, so check the specific requirements for where you want to go. Some countries may ask you to pay a fee to apply.
You must factor in from the outset that a Blue Card is not a pan-European visa – rather it allows you to work only in the country which issued it.
Many countries are trying to attract ‘digital nomads’ – a increasingly popular term given to describe people able to work remotely but who choose to live in another country.
Post-Brexit (and for some nations, pre-recession), countries are keen to shore up their tourism businesses. Rather than have a Briton come over and spend their money for just a fortnight in a hotel and a few bars/restaurants, how much better if they come over for one or two years and, what’s more, pay their taxes there as well?
The following EU countries offer nomad visas (at the time of writing):
Norway (only in Svalbard)
The nomad visas have conditions which need to be met, principally on the minimum level of income. But positively if you are keen to contract overseas, the income levels on these visas are usually not high, and tend to be related to average earnings in the host country.
The tax rules in each of these ‘Digital Nomad Visa’ countries differ significantly, and you may or may not have to pay taxes there.
Also, you may or may not remain UK tax resident depending on your circumstances.
But don’t worry – you will not have to pay taxes twice on the same income. There are double tax treaties and unilateral relief given by HMRC to prevent this unfairness. Yet it’s best to consult an adviser on the tax particulars, rather than rely on online guidance, even if it is official online guidance.
Work visas are not issued as freely as nomad visas. And with work visas there are stricter criteria relating to minimum salaries, levels of education and skills. The ability to communicate in in the local language can be a further stumbling block for UK contractors or British workers, as this is a common condition too.
Either way, the official website or the consular office of the country that you are interested in going to work in – via a work visa -- will provide the qualifying information required.
It would not be practical or wise to specify here how long each country will take to issue work permits or nomad visas. However, most of the countries which contractors are likely to go forward for have a statutory time in which they are obliged to respond to you.
For example in the Netherlands, it is possible to obtain a Knowledge Migrant Worker visa (‘KMR’ in Dutch) in a matter of just a few weeks -- if the employer is registered with the Dutch Immigration Department (the ‘IND’), to issue KMR permits.
So, can I contract in the EU, post-Brexit?
The answer as to whether you can, as a Brit, contract in the EU is a resounding 'Yes...BUT.'
Such contractors have to understand that they are now a 'third-country' national, with no more or less right to live and work in the EU than any other non-EU or EEA national.
One of the three fundamental freedoms attaching to EU membership is the 'freedom of movement' of persons within the borders of the EU. The only rights you may now claim are those granted by individual EU states rather than the EU as a whole, and this is a restriction we Brits did not have to face prior to Brexit.
Final considerations: business visas and Schengen
There is one last point though, if you need to get overseas for a business-related matter. Brits can travel to the EU and the EEA on their British passport for up to 90 days without a visa. They may not work there. But you may be able to obtain a business visa, which permits the holder the right to attend business meetings, conferences, and even participate in training sessions. Again though, you cannot undertake paid work.
Very finally, are you considering the Schengen Area? Well, within the Schengen area you need a visa from the state where you enter, but positively that visa applies throughout the Schenghen Area. In the EU, the following countries are not covered by the Schengen Arrangement -- Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Ireland. As a result, a flight from one of these states to a Schengen state is regarded as an external flight and is subject to border checks. Good luck contractors and where possible, happy contracting in the EU!