Brits, Brexit and the transition period

Brits, Brexit and the transition periodRecently there was a meeting at the British Embassy in Lisbon between representatives of British communities here in Portugal and representatives from SEF, IMT, Dept for International Trade, Higher Education and the health service. The aim was to inform us all about the transition period and how it relates to us. Below is a summary of the main points.

Currently, the transition period, where we are third-country nationals that retain our EU citizen rights, extends up to 31st December 2020. A notable date for us all is 30th June 2020 because after that date it won’t be possible for the UK government to extend the transition period. However, because of this, many decisions cannot be finalised, so many questions will remain unanswered until a later date. But there are some things we do know.

The main message from everyone giving presentations at the meeting is the necessity for all Brits living in Portugal for more than 183 days a year, to get legal residency. Only legal residency protects the rights of the individual under the Withdrawal Agreement, which was passed in January and is a legally-binding treaty. There are two forms of residency: 5-year initial residency often referred to as ‘temporary’ residency, and permanent residency which is granted after 5 years.

TEMPORARY RESIDENCY

This is the usual route for residency and requires a trip to your local Junta de Freguesia and Câmara. You will be issued with proof showing that you come under the rules for EU citizens. Provided you can prove conclusively that you began living here before the 31st December 2020, you have until the end of June 2021 to apply for residency. However, it’s strongly advised that you take up residency as soon as possible. To retain residency you must spend a minimum of 183 days in Portugal per year. In future passports for Brits will be stamped and used as proof. If you arrive from the UK by a land border your passport will be stamped when you enter the Schengen area and you would be wise to retain all receipts for fuel, hotel, campsites etc. to offer as proof of your presence in Portugal. To be even safer, ask for a ‘fatura’ and give your fiscal number to ensure your presence in the country is logged onto the government database.

PERMANENT RESIDENCY

This is granted after your temporary residency has expired. It can also be granted by declaration where you prove to SEF (border agency) that you have been resident for 5 continuous years but have not requested the initial 5-year residency. For this you will need physical documents but as each case is dealt with individually, there’s no definitive list that proves residency by default. Owning property and paying utility bills are not proof, but paying social security and producing pay-slips is.

Permanent residency is retained even if you spend up to 5 years outside of the country, which differs from the temporary residency of 183 days.

Residency doesn’t give you any extra travel rights outside of Portugal. Your EU rights only exist in Portugal. Therefore, if you leave Portugal to spend time in other Schengen (EU) countries you can only spend 90 days in any 180 within the whole of the Schengen area, except for Portugal. The area extends throughout continental Europe but doesn’t include Ireland. At the end of 2021 the EU are introducing their new travel security system known as ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System). To travel to any other Schengen country you will need an ETIAS and in theory, no airline or ferry service will take your booking without an ETIAS.

As soon as the transition period is over you will need to exchange your EU citizen residency card, for a third country national card. This applies to both temporary and permanent residency cards. This is done at an SEF office up to 6-months after the end of the transition period. The European Commission has decided to create an EU-wide biometric residence document for all British nationals living in the bloc by the end of the transition period. This is so that Brits resident in the EU have a uniform physical document that helps them prove their residence status and continue to be able to exercise their rights. It will have the same format in all member states, and will look like residence permits for other third-country nationals. The only difference would be an “Article 50” mention and an indication of whether it was issued under a declaratory or a registration system.

Travelling between the UK and Portugal it is hoped that Brits will continue to use the E-Gates, but nothing has yet been decided as to how this will work in practice.

DRIVING LICENSES

Driving licenses were not covered in the Withdrawal Agreement and the EU has devolved the treatment of UK licenses down to each individual country. The advice by IMT is to register your UK license with IMT and wait to see what the bilateral talks between Portugal and the UK agree upon. If your UK license was issued before 1997 you may have driving categories that were given without testing. If we are forced to swap licenses and you wish to retain these categories, you will need to prove that you have passed the relevant test e.g. motorcycles over 125cc. You can simply book a test in Portugal or you might find it easier to do it in the UK when you next visit.

HEALTHCARE

Portugal has a residence-based healthcare system just like the UK. This means that if you are legally resident in Portugal, you are entitled to state healthcare on the same basis as a Portuguese citizen. You don’t need a Social Security number for this, just your residence permit and your passport. Your health number is known as a ‘Number de Utente de Saúde’.

If you are visiting Portugal and become ill you will be able to access healthcare and if you have an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) you will be treated free-of-charge or at a reduced cost. UK-issued EHICs will continue to be accepted until the end of the transition period.

One detail we are asked to stress is that if you receive a UK pension you should request a form S1 from the Overseas Healthcare Team in the UK (0044 191 218 1999) for both yourself and your spouse. It’s free and it means that the Portuguese national health system can reclaim the costs of your healthcare that would have normally been covered by social security contributions during periods of work here. Whilst we have access to the Portuguese NHS through residency few of us have covered this cost with contributions. The UK NHS uses the same system to cover the costs of Portuguese pensioners in the UK.

Once you receive your S1 you need to take it to your local social security office and register it. Make sure you keep a copy to show the health centre when you register for your health number. If you return to the UK as a visitor, take your S1 with you to receive free healthcare under the NHS should you need it.

You should apply for a Portuguese-issued EHIC if you are registered with the Portuguese Social Security and have a NISS or if you are resident in Portugal, have a health number, but are not entitled to an S1.

Finally, please pass on this information to any Brits you know, particularly those leading isolated lives and who don’t know what their rights are or what to do about them.

If you have any questions for Sue Fletcher, author of this article, please email info@algarvedailynews.com and we will pass your query on.

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