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UK Exit: Rights of UK citizens in Portugal

What are your rights after the UK leaves the EU? Ambassador Chris Sainty shares information on some of the issues impacting UK nationals in Portugal.

HMA Chris Sainty answers FAQs

HMA Chris Sainty answers frequently asked questions about British citizens' rights

1. Residence: Can I stay in Portugal after the UK leaves the EU?

1. Residence

The first question most people ask is ‘Can I stay in Portugal?’”

For those of you who are residents in Portugal now, your residence rights will be protected under any scenario. If the UK leaves the EU under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, your residence rights will be protected by that agreement.

But the Portuguese government has also given a public assurance that if the UK leaves without a deal, those who are already resident, or can prove they are living here on 29 March 2019, will retain their residence rights.

In order to be recognised as a resident, you should register with the proper local or national authorities. For advice on how to do this, please go to our Living in Portugal guide. This is a very important point I would like to stress: Portuguese law states that you must register yourself as a resident if you intend to stay in Portugal for more than 90 days.

If you are wondering whether you will need new residence documents after the withdrawal date, the Portuguese government has yet to confirm what, if any, specific steps you need to take. They have assured us that more information on this, and what documents you might need to prove residence, will be made available.

2. Travelling in Europe: Can I travel to other European countries after the UK leaves the EU?

2. Travelling

Many of you have asked what will happen if you want to travel to another EU country after the UK has left the EU.If you are registered as a resident in Portugal, you can stay in Portugal for as long as you wish. However, the rules for travel to other EU countries will change.

If the UK leaves the EU with an agreement, nothing will change until the end of 2020. Until then, you can continue to travel freely in the Schengen area on your UK passport. If, however, the UK leaves without a deal, UK nationals will become Third Country Nationals after 29 March 2019, and different rules will apply.

The EU have proposed that UK citizens should have the right to enter and stay in the Schengen area without a visa for short-term visits. This means that you would be able to travel in the Schengen area for up to 90 days within any 6 month period without needing to apply for a visa. So, if you live in Portugal and want to travel to Spain and France, for example, you can do so on your UK passport as long as you do not stay longer than 90 days. For longer visits, you may need to apply for a visa from the country or countries in question.

3. Healthcare: Will I lose my right to access the Portuguese healthcare system?

3. Healthcare

Healthcare and access to it is, understandably, an area of concern for residents and those visiting Portugal. Residents who are legally registered will continue to have access to the Portuguese healthcare system, whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal.

It is important to understand that your right to access state-sponsored healthcare comes from your residency status, and not from your nationality or from national insurance contributions. So please make sure you are properly registered as a resident before 29 March 2019 and enrol with your local health centre.

You may also be wondering about visitors who come to Portugal. In their case, if the UK leaves the EU with a deal, nothing will change on access to emergency healthcare until the end of 2020 and they can still use their UK-issued European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC. The UK and the EU Member States will then have to negotiate future rules on access to emergency healthcare.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, UK EHICs may not be accepted. You will still be able to access emergency medical treatment in a state hospital or health centre, but you will probably have to pay the cost. It is therefore very important to purchase suitable travel insurance before travelling to Portugal, just as you should when travelling anywhere abroad.

4. Driving licences: Will I be able to drive in Portugal with my UK driving licence?

4. Driving licences

Driving licences are an important issue for many British citizens who live in Portugal.

If you are resident in Portugal you can exchange your UK driving licence for a Portuguese one now without having to take a driving test. Doing this before 29 March 2019 will ensure that your right to drive in Portugal and throughout the EU is protected, whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal, so this is a sensible precaution. Details on how to exchange your UK licence for a Portuguese one now can be found on our Living in Portugal guide on GOV.UK.

If you do exchange your UK licence for a Portuguese one, even in a no deal scenario your Portuguese licence will be valid in the UK for short stays. And if you later return to live in the UK, as long as you originally passed your test there, you will be able to re-exchange your Portuguese licence for a UK one.

In a no deal scenario, visitors to Portugal after 29 March would be able to use their UK licence for the duration of their visit. However, in a no deal scenario they may also need an international driving permit, to drive within the Schengen area. If you are also planning to drive in other EU countries then please check the rules on travelling and driving in those countries on GOV.UK, which may not be the same as Portugal.

5. Pensions: What will happen to my pension when the UK leaves the EU?


Some UK citizens resident in Portugal receive a state pension from the UK, or will be eligible to claim a UK state pension in the future. The UK government has been clear that entitlement to a UK state pension will not be affected by the UK’s exit from the EU. But some of you might want to know if the amount you receive will continue to be uprated. The Withdrawal Agreement protects the right of UK nationals resident in Portugal to receive an uprated state pension in the future. In the event the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will continue to uprate UK state pensions in 2019 and 2020 and hopes to reach reciprocal arrangements with the EU to continue to uprate pensions beyond that.

For those of you who have made pension contributions in the UK and in one or more other EU Member States by 29 March 2019, the Portuguese government’s contingency plan confirms that it will follow the EU proposals, if we leave without a deal. This means that Member States like Portugal should take into account any contributory periods of work or insurance made up to 29 March 2019 in the UK, or another EU country, when calculating pension payments.

We recommend you keep all documentation relating to your periods of employment in the UK.

Some of you will also have private pensions. Your pension provider should have made plans to make sure you can still receive payments from your personal pension or annuity, even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. If you are in any doubt as to whether your private pension could be affected by the UK’s exit from the EU, contact your pension provider for clarification.

Closing words: Stay informed

Closing words

For more information on these and other issues concerning Citizen’s Rights after the UK leaves the EU, please visit our Living in Portugal guide on GOV.UK. You can also sign up for email alerts which will let you know when new information is published.

If you use social media, you can follow our Brits in Portugal page on Facebook and our Twitter accounts.

I hope you have found these videos helpful.

Thank you.

Published 14 February 2019
Last updated 25 February 2019 + show all updates
  1. We have added a new bit dedicated to pensions (title no 5 and its correspondent text and video)
  2. First published.