How Will a Brexit Affect EU Property Owners?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

How Will a Brexit Affect EU Property Owners?

There are many fiery debates in the UK licking around the topic of EU membership but there's one that has yet to ignite. And it's the question that always comes up during the property-buying seminars at our exhibitions (along with wills and healthcare):


What will happen to the estimated 2.2 million Brits who live in the EU, and the further one million who own holiday homes there?


At the moment Brits are free to live and work in most EU countries as well as own property. They do so as citizens of an EU member state and are free to come and go as they wish except for usually cursory passport controls.

But how fundamentally will all this change if the UK leaves the EU? The straightforward answer is that if the UK did leave, in theory Brits would be treated as non-EU citizens and treated differently when they visited holiday homes or wanted to live (or continue living) within an EU country.

There is a great difference between what's theory and reality. Those urging an exit say bilateral agreements either with the EU or individual countries would be struck to help establish a working system for UK expats and holiday home owners.

Opponents say the EU's strict immigration rules would make this difficult or impossible. But for the sake of debate, let's play out some likely changes following a Brexit based on the current rules.


Holiday Home Owners


The EU could require UK citizens to apply for a visa in order to visit a country within the EU, which for holiday home owners would mean more intrusive questions about how long you were going to stay, your income and health cover.


Permanent Residents


Anyone who has lived in an EU state for more than five years can apply for long-term resident status under EU law. But your status would be more restricted than your current one as an EU citizen and there may be 'integration rules' for long term residency - such as being able to speak your host nation's language.

In Spain you might be required to take a driving test and file tax returns for the past five years, things you are not required to do now. Working in the EU would also become more difficult. In theory you may have to apply for a Blue Card, and be subject to job quotas and restrictions.

The worst cast scenario is that those living permanently within the EU but who did not qualify for long-term resident status might have to return to the UK.


Property Ownership


UK citizens are likely to remain free to own property within the EU, as any other nationality is. For example, in France many US citizens own property there without any restrictions.

The main area of contention is here is how property inheritance and taxation laws would apply; at the moment the rules treat EU and non-EU citizens differently.


Getting a Mortgage


UK buyers may find it harder to get a home loan to buy a property in the EU. This is because European-based banks consider non-EU citizens to be a higher risk and therefore the amounts that can be borrowed would be lower, and the deposit required may be higher.


View from over there


Marc Pritchard, sales and marketing director at developer Taylor Wimpey Espana, lives on the Balearic island of Mallorca. He says a potential Brexit has yet to impact Spain yet.

"Most Spanish people are too preoccupied with hanging on to their jobs to worry about a UK exit, and very few of the Brits I have met recently mention it," he says.

"Even if Britain did leave Europe it wouldn't stop Brits buying and living here. We sell to over 30 different nationalities including those outside the UK such as Russia, the Ukraine and the Middle East. I'm not aware of any difficulties for them getting visas to live in Spain, or registering with the tax authorities here."


What if we don't leave?


There are two likely outcomes. First is that David Cameron renegotiates our membership of the EU, but this is unlikely to affect Brits owning first or second homes within the EU.

The exception to this may be those thinking of buying or living in some Eastern European states such as Romania, Poland and Bulgaria. If their citizens' rights to enter the UK are restricted, there may be some tit-for-tat action.

The second prediction is that the UK becomes a 'second tier' member of the EU as Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein are, by being a member of European Economic Area rather than full-member of the EU. EEA membership would still enable UK citizens to live and work in the EU as they do now, albeit with restricted access to some rights and social benefits.


Nigel Lewis


Nigel Lewis

Originally published in the A Place in the Sun magazine - Issue 124