If you’re a British citizen living in Germany or considering moving here in the near future, you’ve no doubt heard a lot about Brexit in recent years. But what exactly is Brexit? How will it affect UK citizens who live and work in Germany? And will Brexit have an impact on their residency and working rights? Here’s an overview of what you need to know about Brexit and Germany.
What is Brexit?
“Brexit”, a portmanteau of the words “Britain” and “exit”, is the name given to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. In a referendum on June 23, 2016, the UK voted to formally leave the EU, after 47 years of membership. 51,89 percent of voters voted to leave the EU, while 48,11 percent voted to remain.
The UK left the EU on January 31, 2020. A so-called “transition period”, during which the UK continued to participate in the European Union Customs Union and the Single Market, was in place until December 31, 2020. On January 1, 2021, the rules set out in the withdrawal agreement, governing a new partnership between the UK and the EU, came into effect.
Can I stay in Germany after Brexit?
When it comes to living in Germany and the right of residence of UK citizens, it all depends on whether you came to live in Germany before or after the transition period ended on January 1, 2021.
Right of residence if you came to live in Germany on or before December 31, 2020
Were you already living in Germany on or before December 31, 2020? If so, you fall under the withdrawal agreement. This means that you are entitled to remain (and work) in Germany. According to the withdrawal agreement, free movement rights will apply permanently to UK citizens and their family members who were living in Germany on December 31, 2020, and continue to do so after December 31, 2020.
You can obtain proof of your right of residence under the withdrawal agreement by getting a special residence document for UK citizens who lived in Germany before the end of the transition period, known as an Aufenthaltsdoukment-GB, from your local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde).
To obtain the Aufenthaltsdokument-GB, UK citizens must register with their local immigration office by June 30, 2021. (If you miss the June 30 deadline, your rights will not be affected, but we still recommend that you register as soon as possible.) Once you have registered, you should receive a confirmation of registration document, which serves as proof of your right to residence until you receive your Aufenthaltsdokument-GB.
You may need to show this confirmation of registration document to enter Germany if you are travelling from abroad. If you have not yet applied for your residence document, you should carry evidence that you are resident in Germany. This could be your registration certificate, a utility bill, or a tenancy agreement dating from 2020.
When the time comes, you will most likely be invited to attend an interview to receive your new residence permit. You will need to bring your valid UK passport with you to this appointment. Note that an administrative fee may also apply.
If you were not living in Germany on December 31, 2020, but you resided in Germany before January 1, 2021, and did not stay outside the country for more than six months until June 30, 2021, you may also be entitled to right of residence under the withdrawal agreement. If this is the case, contact your responsible immigration office.
Right of residence if you came to Germany on or after January 1, 2021
Anyone wishing to come from the UK to live in Germany after December 31, 2020, does not fall under the withdrawal agreement. This means you are classified as a so-called “third-country national” (i.e. a national of a non-EU country) and will be subject to thorough checks at the border of the Schengen area, which Germany is a part of.
As of January 1, 2021, British citizens do not require a visa to enter the Schengen area, provided the duration of their stay does not exceed 90 days within any 180 day period and provided that no economic activity is being pursued.
For longer stays, British citizens will need to apply for a residence permit. However, the privilege of visa-free travel has been granted to British nationals (it also applies to citizens of other countries like Australia, Canada and the US). This means UK citizens can travel to Germany without a visa and then apply to their local immigration office for a residence permit. You are also required to register with your local citizens’ office within 14 days of arrival.
Working in Germany after Brexit
When it comes to your right to work in Germany, once again it depends on whether you came to live in Germany before or after the transition period ended.
Right to work if you came to Germany on or before December 31, 2020
If you were legally working in Germany before January 1, 2021, you are covered by the withdrawal agreement. This means that, up until June 30, 2021, you are entitled to carry on working, even without a residence document. Employers in Germany can continue to offer jobs to these individuals without needing to see proof or any additional documents.
After June 30, 2021, UK nationals covered by the withdrawal agreement should present their new residence documents (Aufenthaltsdoukment-GB) to their employers to allow them to continue working.
Right to work if you came to Germany on or after January 1, 2021
If you came to Germany after December 31, 2020, you will not be allowed to work in Germany without prior permission. Most commonly, this means that you will need to apply for a residence permit that allows you to take up economic activity.
Will my professional qualifications still be recognised after Brexit?
If you want to work in a profession that is regulated in Germany, you may need to get your professional qualification recognised. British qualifications will now be subject to third country regulations. You can find advice on getting your qualifications recognised on the German government’s website.
If your qualification was officially recognised by the relevant regulator before January 1, 2021, you should contact that regulator to make sure your recognition still applies.
Brexit & German citizenship
If you have been resident in Germany for eight or more years (or fewer if you have a good command of the German language, have completed an integration course or are married to a German citizen), you may be able to apply for German citizenship.
If you applied for German citizenship before the end of the transition agreement on December 31, 2020, you may qualify for dual nationality. If you apply after this date, in principle you may only be naturalised if you renounce your British citizenship.
Travelling between Germany and the UK post-Brexit for United Kingdom nationals
From January 1, 2021, UK nationals travelling to Germany will be treated as third-country nationals, meaning they will be subject to more in-depth customs control procedures. Before travelling, make sure you check whether travel is allowed and under what conditions, due to coronavirus.
Do I need a visa to travel to Germany?
British citizens have been granted visa-free travel to the Schengen area. This means you do not need a visa to enter Germany for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
Can I enter the UK with an ID card or do I need a passport?
If you are visiting the UK from Germany, you can travel on your German ID card up to and including September 30, 2021. From October 1, 2021, you may only cross the UK border with a passport, which must be valid for the duration of your stay in the UK.
An exception applies for UK residents covered by the withdrawal agreement and their family members, who are entitled to use an ID card to enter the UK until at least the end of 2025. Note that you may be obliged to show proof that you fall under this agreement.
Will UK nationals still have access to German healthcare post-Brexit?
Health insurance is compulsory in Germany, meaning you must have health insurance if you live in the federal republic, no matter whether you arrived before or after the end of the transition period. This will ensure that you have access to the German healthcare system. British nationals resident in Germany usually access healthcare in one of the following ways:
- Taking out statutory health insurance
- Taking out private health insurance
- Using a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) for temporary stays
- Registering a UK-issued S1 form with a statutory health insurer
If you live and work in Germany
If you’re employed in Germany, you will normally access healthcare by joining a health insurance scheme through your employer. If you’re self-employed or not covered by your employer, you can register directly with your chosen insurer. You will receive a social security card that also doubles up as your German EHIC for travel abroad, including visits to the UK.
If you are temporarily posted to Germany by your UK employer
If you have been temporarily sent to Germany by your UK employer (known as being a “posted worker” or a “detached worker”), you can access healthcare in Germany using an EHIC, GHIC or S1 form. HMRC has a helpline for non-UK residents if you have questions about your posted worker status and healthcare.
If you’re a German resident and receive a UK State Pension
If you’re a resident of Germany and receive a UK State Pension, you may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK. You can access this via a so-called S1 form, which you must register with a statutory health insurer. The form will entitle you and your dependents to healthcare in Germany on the same basis as German citizens who are covered by statutory health insurance.
Can I still use my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?
If you live in Germany, you must not use your UK-issued EHIC card for healthcare. However, if you were living in Germany before January 1, 2021, you may be eligible for a new UK-issued EHIC if you’re:
- A UK student in Germany
- A UK State Pensioner with a registered S1 form
- A frontier worker with a registered S1 form
Am I still entitled to German social security benefits after Brexit?
When it comes to social security rules, the objective of the withdrawal agreement is to ensure that everything remains pretty much the same as it was before Brexit. This means that if you live and work in Germany, Germany will continue to be competent for your state welfare - that is, you will be pay contributions to the German social security system and be entitled to German benefits, under the conditions provided in national legislation.
If you have accrued rights to social security benefits either in Germany or in the UK (for instance, if you built up a pension entitlement in the UK before moving to Germany, or vice versa) you will retain these rights even after Brexit:
- UK citizens who are already receiving an old-age pension from either Germany or the UK (or both) will continue to receive this as normal.
- UK citizens who started working in Germany before January 1, 2021, are covered by EU law and will retain their pension entitlements.
- UK citizens who started working in Germany on or after January 1, 2021, are covered by the Trade and Cooperation Act, which gives them almost exactly the same rights as the EU law.
Will I still be able to drive in Germany on my UK licence post-Brexit?
If you live in the UK and are just visiting Germany for a short period of time, you can drive on your UK driving licence. Just make sure you also bring a separate form of ID, a motor insurance certificate, and your V5 registration document. You should also attach a GB sticker to your car.
If you are living in Germany, and you have a UK driving licence, you should exchange it for a German driving licence within six months of arriving. You do not need to take a driving test; you can simply exchange it at your local driving licence office.
If you were living in Germany before January 1, 2021, you can use your UK photocard licence to drive in Germany until June 30, 2021, provided it remains valid in the UK. If you lose your UK driving licence while you are resident in Germany (or if it gets stolen or expires), you will not be able to renew it with the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
Can children attend primary and secondary school in Germany after Brexit?
The right to primary and secondary education is not affected by nationality - and schooling is compulsory in Germany for any child above the age of six. This means that if you live in Germany, your children will retain their right to education.
Can UK nationals study in Germany post-Brexit?
If you were legally resident in Germany before January 1, 2021, you will be eligible for the same tuition fees as German nationals. You are, however, required to report your residence to your local immigration office.
If you are planning to study in Germany after January 1, 2021, you need to make sure you meet all visa requirements before you arrive. You may also be required to pay tuition fees. Contact the relevant Higher Education provider for more information.
Can I take my pet to Germany after Brexit?
If you have a pet passport that was issued by Germany or another EU member state, you can use it to travel with your pet between the UK and the EU.
However, as of January 1, 2021, EU pet passports that were issued by the UK are no longer valid for travel to the EU or Northern Ireland. You should speak to your vet before travelling to ensure you have the necessary documents. Your pet will also need a microchip, a valid rabies vaccination, and an animal health certificate.
Bringing food products into Germany from the UK after Brexit
As of January 1, 2021, stricter rules are in place when it comes to bringing food into Germany from the UK. You are no longer allowed to bring in products containing meat or dairy, but a limited quantity of fruits and vegetables, as well as eggs, egg products and honey, is permitted. There are some exceptions.
Importing products from the UK post-Brexit
Post-Brexit, if you buy something from the UK (for instance, online) the same rules apply to ordering goods from outside the EU. This means that you will have to pay VAT on products that cost more than 22 euros, and you will need to pay import duties on products that cost more than 150 euros.