Treaties would need to be put in place to recreate the current situation when it comes to tax, pensions, study and properties if the UK votes to leave the European Union in the upcoming referendum in June.
There have been a variety of claims about what this would mean for British expats in Europe with many headlines suggesting that these would take years to negotiate and leave expats in turmoil.
Everyday there are a rash of new headlines warning of the consequences of what is known as Brexit, some of them quite frightening with claims that expats will be left without health cover, that they won’t own their own homes and even that they will have to return to the UK.
But a lot of this is scaremongering. Experts point out that the right to buy property, work, retire and use EU healthcare would continue as there is already a lot of interaction between the UK and EU countries, it is just a matter of on what basis.
Those campaigning for the UK to leave point out that treaties exist which mean that rights built up over time by individuals cannot be revoked by new treaties. This means that British expats living in EU countries would not be forced to return to the UK and vice versa.
But unfortunately rumours are already causing stress for expats. According to the British Community Committee of France, a registered association, there is widespread concern that people who have retired to France will no longer have access to free healthcare. In Spain there are report of expats leaving already as they fear the consequences of a leave vote.
The issue reveals the disparity between the campaigns for leaving and staying. The Stronger In campaign says, for example, that if the UK leaves there would be nothing to stop countries like France and Spain from preventing British nationals from accessing healthcare.
But the Vote Leave campaign says that in reality if there is a No vote a deal would be done on healthcare and things would carry on as normal until an arrangement is reached. A spokesman also pointed out that despite the scaremonger it is unlikely that British citizens would be asked to leave and EU country.
Other issues for British expats revolve around pensions, income tax and student fees. There is no doubt that these could change if the UK leaves.
Peter Esders, commercial director of legal services firm Judicare, said that the firm has already had enquiries whether it is worth getting Spanish nationality now in advance of buying a property just in case Britain exits Europe.
He explained that people buying and owning property within Europe have several concerns and these revolve around certain issues such as the ability to buy and own property, the ability to visit, live, work and retire within the EU, finance, pensions, healthcare and tax.
Esders points out that there will be change if the UK leaves and no one really knows what would happen regarding visa requirements, pensions, tax until new treaties are put in place. For example, in theory British people would need a visa to live and work in EU countries but this would not mean a drastic change in lifestyle. American, Australians and South Africans all have large expat populations in the EU.
When it comes to tax then it is expected that the current double taxation treaties would continue to exist so expats would not pay tax twice.
Esders believes that with an exit from Europe then the movement of money abroad may become more difficult. “Certainly until new treaties are struck with individual countries, visitors are likely to have to take out private healthcare or travel insurance rather than being able to rely on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as they can at the moment,” he explained.
“There is already so much interaction between the countries and so many Brits living and working in Europe and even more who own property it is likely that it would be necessary to put into place treaties to recreate the situation that we have at the moment or at least allow those who are already in the system to continue as they are,” he added.