British retirees are rushing to settle in European countries such as Spain, Portugal and France ahead of the Brexit deadline, according to financial advisers, believing that such a move will become significantly more difficult in the future.
One company that supports those moving to mainland Europe after they finish working revealed that the number of monthly inquiries to its website had doubled in a year, while actual business was up by 25%.
It came as experts said it was extremely unlikely that any post-Brexit deals with European countries would allow Britons to continue to move overseas in their later years as easily they can do now.
“The golden age of British retirees heading to the Costas is probably over,” said John Springford, a migration expert who is director of research at the Centre for European Reform.
He pointed to research that found that while young immigrants provided an economic boost in most OECD countries, people turned into a net drain on national finances somewhere between the age of 40 and 45.
“The thing about retirees they are expensive. There is no way Spain would allow lots of Brits to retire there and use their health system unless young Spanish people could come and work in the UK,” said Springfield. “If we don’t have free movement it is very unlikely we would have retirement rights.”
Carlos Vargas-Silva, of the University of Oxford’s centre of migration, policy and society (Compas), agreed that the UK could strike a bilateral arrangement with Spain, although said that might not be encouraged by the EU.
“And in order for British people to continue retiring into Spain, there would need to be something in return, likely to be around more flexibility for Spanish people working in Britain,” he added.
There were estimated to be almost 300,000 UK citizens living in Spain in 2016, with 40% (121,000) over 65. In France, the figures were 148,800 with earlier estimates suggesting around 19% are at retirement age.
Over 65s make up a third of UK expats in Malta, Cyprus and Portugal, while overall they account for one in five of the 890,000 Britons living in the EU.
While Brexit negotiations are likely to secure a deal to protect the rights of those already living abroad, there is a big question mark over what opportunities there will be after the UK leaves the European Union.
A Home Office spokesman made clear that no decisions had been made, and that businesses and communities would be consulted on what a post-Brexit immigration system would look like.
However, they did admit that there were currently no routes through which non-EU citizens were able to retire into the UK, nor any bilateral arrangements of the type suggested by Vargas-Silva.
As such the only possibility for the current situation to continue would be an immigration system for Europe that was significantly looser than the one that exists for the rest of the world.
Jason Porter, business development director at Blevins Franks that provides financial and tax advice to British expats, said he believed there would be a deal struck. He argued that European countries had benefited from Britons buying property and spending money in shops and restaurants.
But he admitted that there had been a surge in interest from those racing to beat the Brexit deadline.
“The feeling we are getting from our clients is that it is better to be in the country before Brexit than looking to do this after,” he said.
Blevins Franks, which particularly specialises in financial advice for those retiring into Spain, Portugal or France, has seen a 20% to 25% increase in business, he said. Meanwhile, it received 900 inquiries to its website in 2017, compared with 450 a year earlier – with the Brexit rush a significant part of the reason, according to Porter.
Although he was confident of an agreement, Porter conceded that the process could become more difficult, and be easiest for those with sufficient capital to buy a home and not be a drain on the country’s social system.
“The main concerns that people thinking about retiring to Europe have are around three main issues: residence, healthcare and the UK state pension triple lock,” he said, arguing that the biggest worry for retirees would be access to healthcare.
Chris Burke, partner the Spectrum IFA group who advises largely British expats living in Spain, said he had one client who had taken early retirement to beat the Brexit deadline. “People who are looking to retire to Spain are bringing it forward and moving out now before Brexit,” he said.
He also said that 20% of his clients already living abroad were looking into whether they could obtain Spanish or Irish passports to secure themselves after Brexit.
Campaigners representing ex-pats living abroad admitted that they had also witnessed a surge in the numbers attempting to beat the Brexit deadline.
Roger Boaden, founder member of Expat Citizens Rights in EU, which has almost 10,000 members, said he had seen as a “number of additional Brits on the scene buying property – in France” where he is based.
“If free movement goes and the UK becomes a third country, then unless there is a deal the Schengen rules come into play and the Schengen rules can be severe,” he said. “It is a big area of doubt”.
Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain – which is also part of the coalition fighting for expat rights, said the conversations were currently focused on the uncertainty facing those already living on the continent.
“4.5 million people do not know what their future will look like so that is the priority,” she said. “Then we can look at what happens in the future but one thing we are certain about – it is not going to look the same as now.
“On an anecdotal basis people are coming out – people who have had a dream for many years to retire to Spain are keen to do so while they still can.”