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A guide to EU visas and residency permits for Britons

guide to EU visas

A guide to EU visas and residency permits for Britons thinking of buying a holiday home in Europe or retiring to the sun. How much money you will need?

By Jason Porter, director of specialist expat financial advice firm Blevins Franks and head of its European Emigration Advisory Service. 

The majority of UK nationals who are considering acquiring a holiday home in Europe, or those who might want to go a stage further and retire there, will quickly realise the most noticeable change in the relationship between the UK and the EU since Brexit is how restricted we are now in entering the EU.

As the UK is now a ‘third state’; from the EU’s perspective, we no longer benefit from freedom of movement and are restricted to a maximum of 90 days in any rolling 180 day period in the 27 state Schengen Zone (‘the Zone’).

The calculation, while not hugely difficult, involves both look-back and look-forward elements. You need to keep a running total of days you have already spent in the Zone, as well as remaining aware of trips you have planned in the future, to make sure you retain sufficient days. Exceed 90 days and you are likely to be fined and potentially deported with a ban, both of which are likely to affect any future visa applications.

If you know you will need to exceed this amount, or you are planning to move or retire there, then you will need to acquire a visa from the relevant consulate in the UK in advance of travelling.

Most countries recommend starting this process around three months before the date you would like to depart the UK, but this process is often affected by staff shortages or you could submit an incorrect visa application, which might push the timeframe back.

Visas vary in length from four to 12 months, and you will need documents to confirm your identity (passport), birth (birth certificate), marital status (marriage certificate), accommodation, as well as medical and criminal record checks, in advance of the meeting.

Additional requirements for non-working visas include satisfying both the sufficient economic means and medical coverage tests of the country to which you are applying. Both are aimed at you not becoming a financial burden on the state’s social care or health system.

Financially what is required varies from country to country, but the EU’s own directive states this should be based upon the national minimum wage or state national pension, depending upon the age of the applicant. ‘Income’ such as pensions, rents, interest and dividends are often quoted as acceptable, but most states will accept cash at the bank which can be drawn upon as interchangeable with real income.

Depending upon the length of the visa, one of the following should qualify as sufficient medical cover:

1.     For a visit of up to six months, an EHIC, or the new style GHIC card, along with travel insurance.

2.     If you are of UK state pension age, you may be entitled to a form S1 certificate of entitlement from the NHS; here, the cost of your medical care would be paid by the UK NHS, to the same extent a local national would be covered.

3.     If you are too young for an S1, you would need to take out private medical insurance, with a minimum €30,000 of cover and repatriation. How long you would need to retain this will depend on the country concerned, your age and how easy it is to access local public healthcare.

Having made the appointment at the consulate, submitted the visa application online, gathered supporting documentation (including authorised translations where necessary) and paid the fee, you will need to take all original and copy documents along on the day. Most consulates state it could take three months to get a decision, though normally it is only a few weeks before you are notified your passport (with a visa stamp) is ready for collection.

You must collect this within 30 days, or the visa is cancelled. Once you have it, you can then travel, but in most cases, you will also need to register it locally (either online, at a local immigration office, police station or mayor’s office, depending upon the local infrastructure and rules) within 30 days of arrival.  

You are required to attend the consulate visa appointment personally, but you may use an immigration specialist to deal with all the paperwork and translations for you.

If you are moving or retiring, there is a second stage to the process whereby you convert or exchange the visa to a residency permit, a process which varies across the EU.

In France, if you have been issued with a 12-month VLS-TS ‘visiteur’ visa, this is equivalent to a residency permit, providing it is validated online within three months of arrival. This process effectively converts the visa to a one-year residency permit.  

In Spain, once the Non-Lucrative Visa (NLV) has been approved with a passport stamp, along with a NIE (foreigner identification number), you must enter the jurisdiction within three months and then within a month apply for a TIE (foreigner identification card, or ‘residencia’) at the national police station for your area, and a padron (certificado de empadronamiento, a local council registration), at the town hall. The order of obtaining the TIE and padron varies from region to region.

Similarly in Portugal, you will firstly need to obtain a tax identification number, or NIF (número de identificação fiscal), in advance of applying for the D7 passive income visa. The visa is valid for four months and allows you to enter Portugal under the status of an applicant for D7 Residency. Once there, you must arrange an appointment with the Portugal Immigration and Borders Service (SEF), who will need several documents, including your NIF, local bank account details, accommodation to issue you with a D7 residency permit.