Have questions? Ask us!

How does Brexit impact UK nationals employed in Europe?

At the end of 2020, the European Union and United Kingdom finalized Brexit, where the UK formally left the EU, to once again become an independent nation.  Naturally, this affects many levels of business and personal life for both EU and UK citizens, who had enjoyed many years of open borders and free trade.

As a part of Brexit, there was a final Withdrawal Agreement entered into between the EU and UK to outline how citizens would be treated.  If you are planning on hiring a UK national who is working outside the UK in the EU, then the Withdrawal Agreement and the subsequent Trade and Cooperation Agreement effective January 1, 2021, will apply to your employee.

How Brexit impacts UK nationals working in Europe

Employment law

Employment laws in the relevant EU country would be unaffected by Brexit, as those are internal regulations for employment and labor rights.  However, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement does provide for some mobility of social security benefits, but it won’t be applied as equally or generously compared to when the UK was in the EU.

Subscribe to get more insights like this.

Immigration and work permits

Prior to Brexit, UK citizens working in the EU did not need a work permit as EU citizens, but now that has changed.  Any UK citizen that wants to work in an EU country, and enters after January 1, 2021, would be subject to the immigration laws of the destination country. 

For employees, that will mean applying for a work permit, but there are some exceptions laid out in the Withdrawal Agreement:

  • If a UK citizen was living or working in an EU country before January 1, 2021, work will be protected under the Withdrawal Agreement, and no work permit will be required.
  • The UK citizen is also protected if they were working in an EU country, but living as a resident in a different EU country or the UK.
  • These protections would expire if the UK Citizen left the EU country for more than five years.
  • They will need to apply for a new residence permit by June 2021. (May be extended due to Covid-19)

If those conditions do not apply to your employee, you will need to help them obtain a work permit according to the immigration laws of the specific country.  For example, in France, they would need a long stay work permit, which fortunately can be applied for by a foreign company that is not established in France.  However, it can take two months for approval, so it would be wise to plan accordingly.

Because of high unemployment, Spain is less lenient when it comes to issuing work permits, and the employee must be a qualified ‘highly skilled worker’, with a certain salary level.  In addition, the documentation list for the foreign company is extensive, and it all has to be submitted in Spanish.  Considering this you may want to look for alternatives, such as using a Spanish employer of record to hire and payroll the employee, as well as to help secure a work permit.

How to stay compliant employing UK nationals in Europe

Because of the complexity of the novel post-Brexit rules for cross-border employment and immigration, your company will need to focus on finding compliant solutions to hire your employee.  The easiest way to do that is to use an employer of record (EOR) in the EU country where your UK employee is working.

The EOR will act as the legal employer in the country and will know exactly how to handle the hiring and onboarding of your employee, in full compliance with local employment regulations, and the post-Brexit agreements for immigration and social security.  In addition, the EOR will:

  • Draft an employment contract in the local language
  • Set up payroll for the employee
  • Withhold all taxes and social contributions
  • Secure work permits as a legal, qualified entity
  • Provide ongoing account management attention to handle any issues

Shield GEO provides clients with compliant employment administration in over 50 countries, including most EU-member states.  We can help you overcome any challenges presented by the changes brought by Brexit and onboard your expat-UK employee.  We make international employment simple.

 Need more information about employing in a new country? Learn more about:



Looking to hire an employee in the UK? Get in touch.


The information in this article is subject to changes in local legislation.

Related Articles

Are you managing a remote or global team?

Join 14,000+ managers receiving remote guides and international HR resources!