For members


Jobs, study or retirement: Why Brits move to the EU and where they go

Brexit has made moving to the EU more complicated for Brits - but it's far from impossible and in fact more than 40,000 first-time residency permits were issued to Brits in 2022. Here's a look at why they moved and which countries they went to.

Jobs, study or retirement: Why Brits move to the EU and where they go
Maxime Tait, son of a British expat and founder of QK, a traditional British confectionery chain in Angers, France. Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

An indication of the latest trends comes from data on first-time residence permits collected from national authorities and published by Eurostat, the EU statistical office.

In 2022, it emerges, EU countries issued first-time residence permits to 43,497 British citizens, a number that increases to 46,977 when adding Switzerland. 

Eurostat considers a first residence permit an authorisation to stay in the territory of an EU country issued for the first time and valid for at least 3 months – so in most cases they are issued to new or recent arrivals who intend to live in the country, rather than just pay an extended visit.

The data shows how many people moved to these countries for work, study, family reunions or ‘other reasons’ (which includes retirement or any kind of residence without the right to work), international protection (Ukrainians excluded) or other special residence schemes.

In most countries the ‘other’ category is made up largely of retirees.

Spain was the EU country that issued the largest number of first residence permits to British citizens (10,158), followed by France (7,927), Germany (6,005), the Netherlands (3,640) Switzerland (3,480), Italy (3,251) and Denmark (2,081). Sweden came just after Portugal (1,760), and Austria issued 698 first residence permits to Brits. 

Moving for employment

The reasons why Britons moved to these countries, however, are quite different.

Overall, most residence permits were for employment and other reasons (some 14,000, or 30 per cent each), followed by family reunions (11,500) and education (7,300).

Top countries where Britons moved to for employment were France (3,182), Switzerland (2,073), Germany (1,800), the Netherlands (1,708), Denmark (1,443), Spain (955) and Sweden (557). Among the countries covered by The Local, Italy and Austria followed from a distance (308 and 182 respectively). 

As regards residence permits for other reasons, such as retirement, at the top of the list there was Spain (4,400 first residence permits to Brits), followed by Germany (2,868), Italy (2,141), France (1,760) and Portugal (783). Much lower in the list came Austria (241), Sweden (162) and Switzerland (100).

The countries that issued the largest number of first residence permits to British nationals for the purpose of education were France (1,901) and Spain (1,811). Fewer British students went to Germany (506), Switzerland (420), Sweden (295), Denmark (288) and Italy (193).

The biggest number of family reunifications were also recorded in Spain (2,992) and France (1,084), followed by the Netherlands (1,038), Switzerland (887), Germany (831), Sweden (746) and Italy (609). 

Staying 12 months or more

The vast majority of all permits (over 35,000) were issued for 12 months or more. 

Pre-Brexit, Brits did not need residency permits to live in the EU, so direct comparisons with pre-2000 movement cannot be made – data from 2020 and 2021 is likely to be impacted by Covid-19 restrictions and the post-Brexit transition. 

The figures do not include Brits who were already resident in the EU prior to December 31st 2020 – as they were dealt with under a different regime covered by the Withdrawal Agreement – but they might include some people are joining family members already resident in the EU.

More than 3.6 million first residence permits to non-EU citizens

To put things in perspective, EU countries issued more than 3.6 million first residence permits to non-EU citizens in 2022, a 26 per cent increase over 2021. In 2019, before the pandemic, the number was around 3 million. 

Germany granted the largest number (538,690 or 15 per cent of the total), followed by Spain (457,412), Italy (337,788) and France (324,200). Germany recorded the largest increase compared to 2021, +190 per cent, mainly due to family and other reasons. 

Employment reasons accounted for 42 per cent of all first residence permits issued in the EU in 2022, at around 1.6 million permits, while family reasons accounted for 24 per cent, other reasons 21 per cent, and education 13 per cent. 

Full data for countries covered by The Local

  • Denmark –  total 2,081 (family reunification 303, education 288, employment 1,443, other 47)
  • Germany – 6,005 (family 831, education 506, employment 1,800, other 2,868)
  • Spain – 10,158 (family 2,992, education 1,811, employment 955, other 4,400)
  • France – 7,927 (family 1,084, education 1,901, employment 3,182, other 1,760)
  • Italy – 3,251, family 609, education 193, employment 308, other 2,141
  • Austria – 698 (family 201, education 74, employment 182, other 241)
  • Sweden – 1,760 (family 746, education 295, employment 557, other 162)
  • Switzerland-  3,480 (family 887, education 420, employment 2,073, other 100)
  • Norway data not complete for 2022

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Danish agency slammed for not sending new Brexit reminder letters

A support group for British nationals who live in Denmark has criticised the country’s residence permits agency after it said it would not be sending reminder letters before an upcoming deadline.

Danish agency slammed for not sending new Brexit reminder letters

The decision not to send individual letters to people who may not be aware of the deadline was criticised by British in Denmark, a support group for UK nationals resident in Denmark.

The group said it was disappointed that people who were not sent letters back in 2021, due to an error by authorities, would again not be individually notified of the need to apply.

“We were disappointed to read that SIRI does not intend to reach out to the hundreds of British citizens who arrived in 2020 and did not get the information letters,” a spokesperson from British in Denmark told The Local with reference to the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI), which is responsible for processing residence permit cases.

“We fear that this is potentially a massive problem as we know that many who arrived in 2020 were wrongly told in person by staff at SIRI that they did not have to do anything else after registering under EU rules,” they said.

In a statement last week, SIRI underlined the importance of the extended deadline to apply for residence in Denmark under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

“British citizens and their family members who do not already hold a residence document in Denmark under the Withdrawal Agreement must submit an application – SIRI is not going to send out individual information letters,” the agency said on its website.

We will not send letters’: Danish immigration agency in reminder over extended Brexit deadline

In March, the government announced that British nationals who had missed the previous deadline to secure their post-Brexit residency status, now have until the end of 2023 to apply or resubmit their late application.

That decision came after a large number of British nationals living in Denmark missed the 2021 deadline, in part because many did not receive individual notification of the need to apply.

In December last year, SIRI told The Local that, due to an error, it did not send individual reminders to people who moved to Denmark from the UK after January 2020 — meaning many people were not directly notified that they needed to submit an application to update their residence status before the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

“There could still be many individuals out there who are unaware that they were given the wrong advice and have to re-apply to keep their residency under the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of the year,” the spokesperson from British in Denmark said.

“British in Denmark will continue to lobby for letters to be sent out, otherwise we fear that another wave of ‘late applications’ will happen after the new deadline has passed,” they said.

“We also will continue asking for clear guidance on late applications so that those who miss the extended deadline have some kind of clue as to what constitutes a ‘reasonable reason’ for applying late,” they said.

SIRI said that it was using its regular channels to inform affected persons about the deadline and that it was engaged in an information campaign.

“The British citizens and their family members encompassed by the Withdrawal Agreement should be aware that they must apply by the end of the year,” Kirsten Meier, the head of SIRI’s EU office, told The Local in a written comment.

“We have chosen to use the information channels we offer to all of our other users and therefore don’t send out individual letters,” Meier said.

“From SIRI’s side, we provide information about the deadline via the website and our Brexit telephone line. Up to December, we will also spread the message on social media and via our network,” she said.

SIRI’s Brexit helpline can be contacted on the telephone number 72 14 20 05, according to the agency’s website.

Majority of Britons not affected

In 2021, British residents in Denmark who moved to the country under EU free movement rules were asked to submit applications to extend their residency status, and thereby receive a residency permit card.

People who completed this process in 2021 – the majority of Britons who live in Denmark – do not need to contact authorities again before the extended deadline.

People who moved to Denmark from the UK after December 31st, 2020 are not covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and are therefore subject to Denmark’s general immigration rules for third-country nationals. They are also unaffected by the extended deadline.

However, the December 31st, 2023 deadline is important for a significant number of people.

That is because some Britons who have lived in Denmark since 2020 have not previously submitted an application under the Withdrawal Agreement. Others submitted their applications after the original deadline of December 31st, 2021 and subsequently received a rejection to having their application processed.

It is people who fall into these two groups who must submit applications within the new deadline.

According to figures provided by SIRI to The Local in January, 352 late applications had been received by the agency. Of these, 50 were rejected while 179 were pending. Some 113 had been approved despite late submission and 10 lapsed without an outcome. The figures cover late submissions from persons who both did and did not receive the information letters.

SIRI did send letters to over 19,000 British nationals in Denmark, but only to earlier movers — not those who registered after moving to the country between February and December 2020. Some 17,811 applications were received by SIRI before the earlier deadline.