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Q&A: What does Brexit mean for my rights as a Brit living in Germany?

As we move nearer to the end of the Brexit transition period there are still lots of unanswered questions. We put some of them to the British Ambassador and head of the Brexit Taskforce in Germany.

Q&A: What does Brexit mean for my rights as a Brit living in Germany?
Pro-EU campaigners outside the Brandenburg Gate after Brexit happened on July 31st. Photo: DPA

The UK left the EU at the end of January 2020 but the Brexit transition period lasts until the end of December 2020. What does it mean if you're British and living in Germany?

The Local put questions on key issues to Sir Sebastian Wood, British Ambassador to Germany and Axel Dittmann, head of the Brexit Taskforce in Germany.

In the coming days we will publish the second part of the Q&A on more rights after Brexit, and how it affects Britons moving to Germany after the transition period.

Rights for Brits in Germany

The Local: What are the important points in the Withdrawal Agreement that British people in Germany should know about?  

Sir Sebastian Wood and Axel Dittmann: The Withdrawal Agreement was a crucial step in giving certainty to UK nationals residing in the EU and to EU citizens residing in the UK. The deal gives UK nationals in Germany the same entitlements to work, study and access public services and benefits in Germany as before the UK left the EU. They may also bring dependant family members to live with them here in Germany.

The above applies to all British nationals who exercise their right of free movement in Germany before the transition period ends on 31st December 2020. These rights will be protected on a mutual basis as long as residency in Germany is upheld.

As long as you meet the criteria of the Withdrawal Agreement, the employment status or financial situation of the residency applicant does not matter for British nationals already residing in Germany – e.g. whether the person is self-employed, a pensioner, a student, or a job seeker. In line with the general rules for freedom of movement within the EU, persons who are neither employed nor self-employed may also be required to secure their livelihood without recourse to public funds.

The rights of the UK and EU nationals moving after the end of the transition period will, however, depend on the outcome of the current negotiations.

READ ALSO: 'No big bang but things will change down the line': How Brexit will affect Brits in Germany

The Local: Can you let readers know what their status will be after the transition period ends?

Axel Dittmann: The German government is committed to giving effect to the rights of citizens as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement and ensuring legal certainty for all persons concerned. Therefore, we have proposed draft legislation so that British citizens who currently live and work here in accordance with EU freedom of movement and who wish to continue to do so will still have comparable rights after the end of the transition period under the Withdrawal Agreement.

This bill is currently going through parliament – the German Bundestag – and is set to come into force before the end of the transition period.

The Local: We've heard the media speak about a possible 'no deal’ at the end of 2020. What might that mean for Britons continuing to live and work in Germany?

Sir Sebastian Wood and Axel Dittmann: For you as a UK national living in Germany before 31st December 2020, a “deal” has been agreed – there is no such thing as a “no deal” for you. The Withdrawal Agreement secures the rights of UK nationals in the EU and of EU nationals in the UK, and that will not change, whatever the outcome of talks on our future partnership.

Why is this? This is because the UK and EU have already agreed on and are bound by the Withdrawal Agreement which covers the UK’s exit from the EU. This treaty secures the rights of UK nationals living in the EU and EU nationals living in the UK at the end of the transition period. It has already been ratified by both sides and represents an international treaty in full force and effect.

The Withdrawal Agreement also establishes terms and conditions for the transition period lasting until 31st December 2020 which is meant to provide legal certainty, time to adapt to the changes occurring when the UK leaves the internal market, and time to negotiate aspects of the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Those are the talks which are currently being held between the UK and the EU.

Reports of a ‘no deal’ at the end of 2020 refer to these negotiations on our future partnership. If an agreement on the future relationship cannot be concluded, this would affect people who wish to take up residence or work or provide services in the EU from 1st January 2021 onwards, but does not affect the rights as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement of those living in the EU or UK before 31st December 2020.

Axel Dittmann. Photo courtesy of Axel Dittmann.

Residence permits 

The Local: Let’s look at residence permits in more detail – do all British people living in Germany need a residence permit to stay in Germany after the transition period ends? What will the requirements be for a residence permit?

Axel Dittmann: The draft legislation of the German government provides that British people legally residing in Germany at the end of the transition period will receive a residence document based on a declaratory system. There is a difference between a residence permit and a residence document. Pending the decision of the Bundestag the Federal government has proposed a model under which anyone who is a beneficiary of the residence rights under the Withdrawal Agreement will have an automatic right to remain. The residence document simply serves as documentation of this right.

The alternative – which we have not chosen – would be a permit model. This would mean that the right to stay would not exist automatically but one would have to apply for it and it would then be conferred by the authorities in charge in each and every case. This is the model chosen by the UK.

In practice, this means that persons who have a right of residence will receive the residence documents from the foreigners authorities (Ausländerbehörde). If you have not already done so, please register first with the residents’ registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) where you live.

We will provide further information when it is time to contact the foreigner’s authority for the document. The fee for the residence document will most probably be similar to the one German nationals pay for their identity cards.

These provisions will provide legal certainty for British nationals and their dependant family members. They also mean that the employment status or financial situation of the residency applicant does not matter for British nationals already residing in Germany, i.e. it is not relevant whether the person is self-employed, a pensioner, a student, or a job seeker – as long as they meet the criteria of the Withdrawal Agreement.

READ ALSO: What Brits in Germany need to know about draft law to guarantee residency

The Local: Will a new category of residence permit for British people in Germany be made, or will the residence permits take the form of those already issued to other countries? (eg Australians, Indians or Canadians.) 

Axel Dittmann: British people living in Germany before the end of the transition period will be granted a specific residence status which ensures their status (and rights) as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. 

The Local: If British people are legally living in Germany before the end of the transition period are they guaranteed to receive a residence permit? And are they guaranteed to be able to stay in Germany long-term?

Axel Dittmann: Provided that a British person lives here in accordance with the EU right of freedom of movement and is registered with the residents’ registration office in Germany, such a person can register for residence within six months after the end of the transition period and will be issued a residence document with only some routine checks, such as establishing their identity.

British people retain their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement as long as they remain resident in Germany. Short absences or, in the case of British citizens who have been legally resident in Germany for five years absences of up to five years, will not lead to forfeiting their residence status.

The Local: What happens if a British person in Germany does not apply for a residence permit before the end of the transition period?

Axel Dittmann: British persons residing in Germany will have up to six months after the end of the transition period to register for the new residence document. As for any other third-country national, this registration will be required in addition to the “Anmeldung” of their address.

This registration is crucial as without a residence document, a person’s new status under the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be proven. So, in their own best interest, British citizens and their family members should take this requirement seriously.

The Local: We’ve had readers get in touch to say they are concerned about the future and worried that they won’t get a residence permit or they will lose their job in Germany after Brexit. What would you say to them?

Sir Sebastian Wood: I have spoken to many British nationals in Germany during my time as Ambassador, and recognise that our EU exit has caused significant uncertainty. But both sides have been focused on implementing the Withdrawal Agreement since it came into force at the start of this year.

The UK has already processed the applications of almost 3.5 million EU nationals, and UK nationals in Germany will be able to start the process here in the coming weeks. The recent period of uncertainty is now coming to an end, and even if this was not the outcome many in Germany desired, including some UK nationals, I hope this offers an opportunity for us all to focus on the future. 

Axel Dittmann: First of all, let me stress that all British people living in Germany are and will remain an integral part of our society, irrespective of Brexit. The German government is committed to ensure that everyone eligible can enjoy all rights set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. This will of course have to be assessed on an individual basis but as I mentioned in an interview with the Local more than a year ago: Protecting citizens’ rights was and still is the top priority for us.

And I think it is fair to say that we are very well on our way to reaching this goal. The current draft legislation will ensure that British people living in Germany and exercising their right to free movement before the end of the transition period retain their status and rights to live and work here to the extent granted by the Withdrawal Agreement.


The Local: What do we know about healthcare rights for Britons in Germany after Brexit?

Sir Sebastian Wood and Axel Dittmann: If you are living in Germany or move here permanently before the transition period ends on 31st December 2020, you will have healthcare rights in Germany as you do now, provided you remain resident. 

This means you will continue to have access to health insurance in Germany from 1st January 2021 on the same basis as a German national. If you are paying into a German health insurance scheme, your Germany-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will continue to be valid for travel.

For UK nationals relying on UK-funded S1 healthcare, your rights to access healthcare will stay the same from 1st January 2021 if you are either receiving a UK state pension, receiving another ‘exportable benefit’ or are a frontier worker. This also applies if you only start drawing a state pension, and therefore become eligible for a UK-issued S1 form, in the future.

Sir Sebastian Wood. Photo: DPA

Professional and academic qualifications

The Local: Do British nationals need to get any qualifications recognised? 

Sir Sebastian Wood and Axel Dittmann: Yes, you will need to get your UK professional qualifications recognised to be able to exercise your profession here in Germany. If you have not yet done so, you should submit an application for this by 31st December 2020, which will be processed under the current rules even if the application is only considered next year. If your UK qualifications have already been recognised by Germany or another EU member state, that recognition decision will remain valid.

It is important to know that a formal recognition of academic qualifications (Bachelors, Masters, PhDs) is not needed if you do not intend to work in a regulated profession. Regulated professions include occupations such as architect, doctor, midwife or vet.

If you have a foreign higher education qualification for a non-regulated profession, you can work in the profession without recognition. However you can have your higher education certificate assessed if you hold a diploma from a British university. The Statement of Comparability may be necessary if you want to enter Germany to work.


The Local: Is there anything else you think is important to add or that British people in Germany should be aware of?

Sir Sebastian Wood: Securing the rights of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK has been the priority for both sides since the beginning of the negotiations. The Withdrawal Agreement protects the rights of all UK nationals in Germany and I welcome the German government’s decision to establish a declaratory process, which ensures that every UK national in Germany is entitled to a residence document.

I would like to once again reiterate that in order to receive a new residence document confirming your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement, you will need to contact your local foreigners authority by 30th June 2021 at the very latest. Also have a look on our Living in Germany guide for other steps you should take to prepare for the end of the transition period and sign up for email alerts.

The Local: Do you have any advice or anything you’d like to say to British people living in Germany?

Axel Dittmann: Most normal citizens, employers, or local or regional government officials will have heard of Brexit but many will not have heard of the Withdrawal Agreement and its detailed provisions. The Withdrawal Agreement is there to protect citizens’ rights for UK nationals living in the EU and EU nationals living in the UK at the end of the transition period. German authorities – at the level of the Federal Government, the Länder (states) and local authorities – have taken extensive measures to implement the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement and to provide everyone with the necessary information.

In view of the ongoing legislative process, I would just like to ask [Britons] for a little patience. In any event, we take the worries of the British citizens in Germany very seriously. We hear your concerns, not only via Social Media but also in personal meetings with the representatives of British in Europe. 

And it goes without saying: British people are still very welcome in Germany – be it as residents or visitors. We aim to maintain close economic and personal ties which are beneficial for both the EU and the UK.

Keep an eye out on the Local homepage for the second part of our Q&A looking at other issues including the rights of Brits coming to Germany after the transition period.

Useful links

You can find more information, and keep up to date with any developments, by subscribing to the Living in Germany Guide on the UK government website.

Visit the German government website for further general information.

For more information about qualification recognition this is a helpful German website.

If you are receiving BAfög, the German student and trainee loan, you find information on this website.

For more information on German citizenship visit this website.

The British embassy recommends reading  UK nationals in the EU: essential information, attending one of the embassy's citizens outreach meeting and following your local British Embassy on Facebook and Twitter.


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How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.