Expat Concerns about Brexit

For many British people living in Europe, the upcoming referendum is a source of concern

As the political posturing increases in the United Kingdom, and the “for” and “against” parties begin to seriously address the matter of a Referendum on whether Britain should stay in Europe, there are many British expats who work and live within European borders who are becoming alarmed.

Permanent and part time expats

There are two types of expats in Spain. Those who live here permanently, either due their job or because they have chosen to retire abroad, and the numerous people who have bought second home, usually in sunny climes. The first group are becoming worried that there could be a British exit which will put them in a potentially impossible position. If an exit were to come about, many fear they will no longer have access to state health care, and will receive no annual increase in the state pension.

Free health care

As things currently stand, there is a reciprocal agreement between the UK and the other EU countries covering all European Union nationals, and this allows them to receive the same health service as the indigenous population in any of the EU countries. This means that [pull quote: British pensioners get free medical treatment in Spain as they would in Britain.] Should the referendum produce a vote to leave Europe, British citizens are unlikely to be entitled to this. For many, the cost of private insurance at an advanced age would be prohibitive and in any case, most private medical insurance companies won’t insure new clients over the age of 70. It is estimated that there are around 800,000 British people living in Spain alone, and if you add to that those living in Italy, Portugal, Greece, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and all the other EU countries, you begin to see that a vote to exit the EU will affect an enormous number of British citizens.

Right to vote

Another area of concern is the fact that a large number of these British citizens do not have the right to vote in the Referendum. Believe it or not, anyone who has lived outside the UK for just 15 years is denied the right to vote. The current Conservative Government has said it will look into changing this unjust and arbitrary law, but has so far it has not announced any moves to do so. As a result, thousands of people are disenfranchised.

Spanish view

The Spanish don’t understand the referendum. Most are content to stay in the EU, though they agree that it needs reform to make it less bureaucratic. They also comment that “as usual, Britain wants to be different”, which suggests they are not surprised. A Spanish businessman who is moving his company from the UK to Belgium was interviewed recently and commented “I just don’t understand the British. First they wanted to join the Common Market, then when they don’t like the club, it doesn’t suit them, instead of working to improve it, they say “goodbye” we’ll be fine on our own. They already did this to their own Commonwealth countries. This would suggest they are as unpredictable as small children?” 
Only time will tell whether Britain stays in or exits, and to be honest, leaving the EU does appear unlikely at this stage. The uncertainty continues, though – just as it does here in Catalonia, which is seeking independence from Spain.

Further reading for Living In Spain


Finding work

There are a number of ways that UK expats can fund their lifestyle in Spain.

Read more..


Social life in Spain

Find out as much as you can about your new community and find new friends.




Arrange health insurance and locate your new local hospitals and practices.



Education in Spain

Emigrating with school-age children? Learn more about schooling in your local area.