January 31, 2019 – With less than 2 months until the UK is set to leave the EU, confusion reigns as to how Brexit will affect lives for Brits in Croatia and elsewhere. A topic over lunch with the British Ambassador.
Let me begin with full disclosure. Although I am British, I have hardly followed the Brexit saga at all. The reason for that is threefold.
Initially, I was sure that it would not affect me, a Brit with permanent residency in Croatia, married to a lovely local girl and running my own company for 16 years. As some doubts set in, I was able to deflect all the Brexit fuss by the fact that one of my parents is Irish, and if things got really heated, all I would have to do was book a flight to Dublin. Which is never an unpleasant experience.
As English-language media here in Croatia, I was saved by my lack of knowledge by my colleague Lauren Simmonds, who seems to revel in the detail of topics like these. As she spends a fair chunk of her time in Brussels working as an official EU translator and interpreter, there are probably few in Croatia who have as much information about Brexit as Lauren. And even fewer who take unbridled pleasure at writing on the subject. I was off the hook.
And then came an invitation to lunch from British Ambassador Andrew Dalgleish, who was keen to explore ways the embassy and English media in Croatia could work together to inform Brits in Croatia as to how Brexit would impact their lives in Croatia. While the embassy was putting information out there, it wasn’t reaching all of its intended targets.
I have always found the relationships between embassies and expats amusing, whichever country I have worked in. There are those who cling to the embassy as a prop for social life and friendship, with perhaps a higher number having no intention of going anywhere near official institutions from the mother ship – they did emigrate for a reason.
As so starts the confusion. Expats complain that the embassy is not looking out for their interests, indeed it does not even know how many Brits are living in the country. The embassy has no connection (or even knowledge) of a number of its citizens in country. How could it if they do not register? And all goes along without problem until something happens like…
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at lunch, or how to mask my lack of knowledge on the topic of the day (Lauren was away on Brussels duty). Fortunately, the Honorary Consul of Dubrovnik, Mark Thomas, who also wears the hat of The Dubrovnik Times, was also at lunch. He has been following events a lot more closely, as it will directly impact his consular work from March 30.
The first thing that was very apparent at an early stage was not a surprise – 100% cast-iron information on life after March 29 is still hard to come by. With the politicians yet to agree on No Deal, Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit or even possibly no Brexit, it is a little much to expect firm guarantees from institutions in the public firing line.
The next two months are going to be particularly challenging and stressful for many people, particularly Brits in countries like Croatia. Things are changing on a daily basis, and I am pleased that the Ambassador reached out to the English media to help spread the word on the latest developments. Mark and I both agreed to let our media be public channels for regular updates as the story progressed, and we should have a video update from Ambassador Dalgleish to share with you shortly. He was very receptive to the idea of answering questions from worried expats who replied to my forum posts. I have sent them off in full to the embassy today.
As someone who has not been following the story’s events in any detail, several things surprised me. Chief among these was Prime Minister May’s decision not to use citizens of other countries as bargaining chips, and so pre-Brexit foreign residents in the UK will enjoy broadly the same rights as they do now, even with No Deal. This was done on a unilateral basis, but with the hope and expectation that EU member states would reciprocate. So far, apparently 14 have, with some like Portugal giving full guarantees. Croatia has not – yet. But the embassy is confident this will not be an issue.
Lauren contacted the Ministry of the Interior in Zagreb to see if TCN could get some clarification from the Croatian Government on where they stand. Here is what she asked (in Croatian):
I work for Total Croatia News, the largest Croatian portal in English.
What will be the situation with British citizens living in Croatia after 29 March 2019?
600+ Britons live legally here in Croatia and people are worried and concerned.
After leaving the European Union, in the UK, Croatians will of course have continued access to the labour market, free healthcare, access to the social security system and protected residency rights, for life. Will there be a reciprocal situation? You are eerily quiet and after such guarantees have been provided to Croatian nationals by London, the same should be publicly guaranteed by you.
I look forward to your reply!
The reply was quick:
The Republic of Croatia considers that it is of great importance to protect both the citizens of the European Union in the United Kingdom, and the citizens of the United Kingdom in the European Union. The European Commission’s intention is to ensure a high degree of tolerance for UK nationals already residing in an EU member state. Such reflections and efforts are in line with the objective of the Republic of Croatia that the citizens of the United Kingdom and members of their families who have a regulated status in the Republic of Croatia are not regarded as illegal persons on the date of their [the UK’s] departure from the European Union, that their residence and unimpeded access to the labour market in the Republic of Croatia is allowed. In this regard, the Republic of Croatia will take the necessary measures to regulate the stay of UK citizens who, at the time of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, have regulated residence in the Republic of Croatia, in accordance with the European Commission’s guidelines.
Updated information is being provided on a special official Living in Croatia page (it was last updated two days ago). You can sign up for email alerts each time the page is updated here.
There is also a special Brexit hotline, which you can access via the embassy in Zagreb. British Nationals should call +385-1-6009100, press 1 (for English language) and then 2 (for Consular services). Consular services directs you through to a Brexit hotline. Interestingly, so I learned at lunch, there has been a 41% increase in calls from Brits in Europe recently, necessitating the hiring of 8 more staff. Of those thousands of calls, not one has come from Slovenia and just one from Croatia. Want to change that stat? Now you know where to dial.
If you prefer email contact, you can do so here.
For a more general overview of the joys and realities of leaving the EU, this official page will be of interest.
The embassy also has its own social media channels, and after the lunch, it posted this status update on its Facebook page:
Ambassador Andrew Dalgleish met Paul Bradbury from Total Croatia News and Mark Thomas from The Dubrovnik Times to discuss how the Embassy and English language media in Croatia could cooperate in keeping British citizens living here or travelling to Croatia informed about Brexit and its implications on their rights.
The Ambassador stressed that the Citizens’ Rights have been a top priority for the UK Government throughout Brexit negotiations and remain so today. The UK Government continues to be focused on leaving the EU with a deal, but we are also stepping up preparations for all possible eventualities, including a ‘’no deal’’ scenario.
In the UK, we have reassured EU citizens and their family members living in the UK that they are welcome to stay in the event of a No Deal scenario. They will continue to be able to work, study, and access benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now. Concerning UK nationals living in Croatia, the British Ambassador and his team are continuing to engage with the Croatian government to request that reciprocal rights be granted to UK nationals living here.
We encourage all Brits living in Croatia to check our Living in Croatia page, which is being regularly updated. Ambassador Dalgleish will also hold a meeting with Brits living in Croatia in February – we will provide more details in the coming days.
During the meeting with Paul and Mark, a number of Q & As were discussed. We have copied a selection of these below which we hope you find informative. We have also included information as to how you can keep updated on the UK Exit from the EU and the impact it might have on you.
Will the UK Government continue to uprate the UK state pension even in a No Deal scenario? The UK State Pension is payable worldwide and this will continue to be the case when the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal. The UK leaving the EU will not affect entitlement to continue receiving the UK state pension if you live in the EU and we are committed to uprate across the EU in 2019/20. We would wish to continue uprating pensions beyond that but would take decisions in light of whether, as we would hope and expect, reciprocal arrangements with the EU are in place. We are confident EU Member States will feel, as we do, that it is in all our interests for this to happen on a reciprocal basis.
Would a dual national Croatian-UK citizen living in Croatia with a UK passport be considered for fee purposes by a UK university as a ‘home student’? UK nationals resident in the EU remain eligible for home fees providing they meet the existing residency requirement. EU nationals and their family members, starting courses in England in the 2019/20 academic year will remain eligible for undergraduate and postgraduate financial support from Student Finance England for the duration of their course providing they meet the existing residency requirement. The devolved administrations have made similar announcements though the exact support offered may vary across the different parts of the UK. Entitlement to student finance and home fees status after academic year 2019-20 for UK returners and those outside the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement is under consideration.
Can I still use my passport to travel to the EU in a No Deal scenario? Yes. British passports remain compliant with the guidelines as set by the International Civil Aviation Organization and are still valid for travel within and outside the EU. However, the Schengen Border Code places requirements on maximum validity and unexpired validity needed for non-EU passport holders. In the event of a No Deal scenario, you will need to check whether your passport meets the new requirements when travelling to the Schengen area from 30 March 2019. Most people will be unaffected, but if your passport is nearing the end of its validity you may need to renew it early.
The Government has already published advice on travelling to the EU without a UK passport in the event of a no deal:
These rules will apply if you are returning to the Schengen area. You should check your passport issue date and that it is no more than 9 years and 6 months before the date you arrive in the Schengen area. HM Passport Office has provided an online checker on www.gov.uk to allow you (British passport holders) to see if you have enough validity to travel.
Will my passport be accepted for travel/entry back to the UK if it doesn’t comply with the new rules?
Yes, these rules are only for entry to the Schengen area. All British citizens arriving in the UK are required to produce a valid British passport satisfactorily establishing their identity and nationality. As long as the passport is valid at the time it is presented on entry into the UK, there is no requirement for it to be valid for a minimum period.
I live in Croatia and hold a UK driving licence, should I get a foreign licence now? Holders of UK driving licences who are resident in an EU country should exchange their UK licences for a driving licence from the EU country you are living in before 29 March 2019. If you have not exchanged your UK licence after our exit from the EU, you will be subject to the domestic laws of that country and how they treat non-EU licence holders, which could mean needing to retake your driving test. Many EU Member States only recognise third country licences for up to 6 months. EU issued driving licences will continue to be recognised in the UK after our exit from the EU, including in a No Deal scenario.
To convert a UK licence to a Croatian one, go to https://www.mup.hr.
What if I want to return to the UK to live and have a Croatian driving licence? If someone passed their driving test in the UK but then exchanged their UK licence for an EU licence as a result of moving to an EU country, they would be able re-exchange for a UK licence after exit, if they returned there to live.
I live in Croatia but I have family coming to visit me this year, bringing their car. What should they do? If you are a visitor to Croatia from 29 March 2019, in the event that there is no EU Exit deal, you may need an International Driving Permit in addition to your UK driving licence to drive in EU and EEA countries. IDPs cannot be applied for from overseas by residents in the EU.
I am a UK national living in Croatia. Where can I find further information on healthcare cover in a no deal scenario? All information regarding healthcare abroad can be found at https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/healthcare-abroad/
We also strongly recommend that you subscribe to Living in Croatia. These pages will be updated with relevant information as and when it becomes available.
I am a UK national living in Croatia. Will I need to pay to receive healthcare in a no deal scenario? The UK is seeking agreements to maintain peoples’ healthcare rights in a no-deal scenario as a top priority. Access to healthcare is vital. We are exploring options with Member States to ensure that people living in, working in, or visiting their countries can continue to access affordable healthcare and continue to receive their planned treatment. We have recently introduced legislation that will provide us with the legal basis we need to maintain the current arrangements, where Member States agree to do so bilaterally.
I am a UK state pensioner living in the EU, what will happen to my (S1) healthcare in a no deal scenario? The UK is seeking agreements to maintain peoples’ healthcare rights in a no-deal scenario as a top priority. We will keep you updated as these agreements progress.
I am a UK resident who will be visiting Croatia on or after Exit Day. How will I be covered for healthcare and will my EHIC still work? The UK is seeking agreements to maintain peoples’ healthcare rights in a no-deal scenario as a top priority. We will keep you updated as these agreements progress. We already recommend purchasing travel insurance to ensure you can travel safely. This will be just as important if there is no deal.
I’m a Croatian national wanting to travel to the UK after 29th March – can I? If you are a Croatian national with an enquiry regarding travelling to the UK after March 29th as a visitor or to work or study (if the UK exits the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement), please see the latest information here. If you are a Croatian national wishing to settle in the UK please consult the information here on the UK Settled Status Scheme.
Keeping up to date!
There are a number of ways to stay informed. Please continue to check our Living in Croatia page which we will keep updated on how to secure your rights in Croatia. When changes are made, you can receive email alerts by signing up here. UK Nationals in the EU has a wealth of official information on the UK Exit and how it might affect you. You can find information for UK nationals living in the EU in the absence of a withdrawal agreement here. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
There will be some new and useful information for some above, nothing new for others, and the same unanswered questions for yet others. The situation is very uncertain (I am still not convinced Brexit will happen) and getting concrete information on subjects which directly affect the lives of people is stressful. At least now there is a platform, and we are happy to assist in any way we can.
We look forward to publishing the next update from the embassy, but I also encourage those of you with questions to use the channels above to ask them, as well as to sign up to the latest updates, so that you can keep up with developments.
Many thanks to the Ambassador for lunch, and to Lauren for her hard work. You can follow her writing on Brexit and non-Brexit issues here.