PUBLISHED ON 20/12/2023

Welcome to the Brexit Brief! In this newsletter for UK citizens living in Brussels or thinking of moving here, we will explore some of the more complicated aspects of life after Brexit. Each edition will start from a puzzling everyday question, using it as a chance to explore the rules that UK citizens should know about.

Our EU-funded project is drawing to an end, which means this is the final edition of the monthly Brexit Brief (although there may be special editions in the future). Following the presentation of our final report and rich debate at our closing event on 29 November, we felt the best way to end this series of newsletters is by summarising our main findings related to the status and rights of UK citizens in Belgium. This edition therefore shares some of our key conclusions relating to UK citizens who are M-card holders (protected by the Withdrawal Agreement) and UK citizens who have arrived or who will be arriving in Belgium post-transition.

Protection by the Withdrawal Agreement is limited in space and, in some cases, time

As the UK left the EU, obtaining an M-card was certainly one of the best things UK citizens living in Belgium could do from an immigration perspective. This status secures many rights for holders in Belgium: work, study, residence, family reunification and so on. However, although the M-Card can seem at first glance very similar to the status of mobile EU citizens in Belgium, M-cards have two major differences.

  • Firstly, M-cards grant rights to holders in Belgium only. This means that the M-card holders are subject to the same rules as any other non-EU citizen when they are outside Belgium. There is no automatic right to live or work in another EU country.
  • Secondly, the M-Card and the rights it guarantees can be lost, if the holder is absent from Belgium for a long time or in case of deregistration from the local Belgian municipality. Once lost, the M-Card status is impossible to recover. Temporary and short-term absences are allowed, but the duration of permissible absences differs depending on what type of M-card you hold. More information here.

Post-Brexit arrivals face lengthy and complex procedures

UK citizens moving to Belgium after the transition period must comply with the same immigration rules as other non-EU citizens. For now, Belgium has not created any additional immigration pathways specific for UK citizens (despite some mobility provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which at first sight would seem as setting the basis for facilitated mobility between the UK and EU countries). The absence of additional routes means UK citizens must qualify for one of the already-existing work and residence permits in Belgian legislation and file an application for it. The most common route is the Single Permit.

More often than not, Belgian procedures prove to be complex and slow, which may have a deterring effect on migration from the UK. Indeed, population statistic show a huge drop in the number of UK citizens moving to Belgium since the end of the transition period.

In addition, moving to Belgium on grounds other than work (for retirement, setting up a business, family reunification, etc.) has become even more complicated since the assimilation of UK citizens to other non-EU nationals. More information here.

Short-term travellers and cross-border workers must deal with complex new rules and increased monitoring by authorities

The UK and Belgium share not only close geographic proximity, but also strong economic ties. It is thus natural for business trips, international service provision and cross-border workers to be the norm. However, the legal framework surrounding these categories of short-term travellers has not evolved or made it easy to travel and conduct such activities. Unless they are Belgian residents (or residents of another EU county), and thus hold a long-stay visa or a residence permit, UK citizens can stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. In addition, they are not allowed to conduct any work activities which go beyond client meetings, internal meetings, urgent repair work, etc., and this only for a limited number of days.

How is this monitored? Border, immigration and labour authorities perform checks or audits to verify compliance. Their tools to perform these checks will be even more efficient and interconnected once EU borders are fully automatised (Entry-Exit System is expected in 2024) and ETIAS (pre-travel authorisation applicable also to UK citizens and is expected in 2025). Non-compliance can be sanctioned in various ways: fines, deportation, re-entry bans, impact on future immigration applications, etc.

Acquiring Belgian nationality could be the best way to secure your rights

It is no mystery for most UK citizens that the best approach to recover EU citizenship rights is by acquiring Belgian citizenship, or the citizenship of another EU country. This status comes with increased definitive mobility rights as the risk of losing it is minimal.

Some downsides to this strategy may exist on a case-by-case basis and, therefore, an individual analysis is recommended. However, most of the downsides we could identify in the context of this project are marginal compared to the advantages which acquiring nationality brings.

Brussels is still your home!

These challenges might sound…well, challenging. But the Brussels-Capital Region remains an open and welcoming place for UK citizens to build careers, homes and families. The rules have changed, but thousands of UK citizens are still living and working here.

We hope that the awareness-raising initiatives and individual support offered in this project can help UK citizens navigate this new landscape and establish a lasting foothold in Brussels. Our UK Citizens and Brexit Helpdesk offers a guide to administrative life in Brussels for the post-Brexit era, which has been accompanied by a series of webinars and this Brexit Brief newsletter. All materials will stay online for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Expat Welcome Desk has dealt with around 200 enquiries from UK citizens during these two years, and the service will remain open and free in the years ahead.


Welcome to the Brexit Brief! In this newsletter for UK citizens living in Brussels or thinking of moving here, we explore some of the more complicated aspects of life after Brexit. Each edition starts from a puzzling everyday question, using it as a chance to present the rules that UK citizens should know about. Some newsletters are relevant for M-Card holders, some for those arriving after Brexit, and some for all UK citizens. This newsletter is part of a project funded by the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve, in which we are also developing a series of webinars and an online Brexit HelpdeskTo receive this monthly newsletter straight to your inbox, sign up today!


These pages, webinars and newsletters have been developed in a project funded by the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve.

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