Bracing for Impact: My View as British Expat Just Before Brexit

None of the gloomiest predictions of how a Hard Brexit could impact UK expats in the EU has come to pass. But there are complications.

By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET:

As the long hand of the Brexit clock ticks its final seconds toward Midnight, tens of thousands of expats living in the EU are discovering, much to their dismay, that their UK bank accounts are about to be closed. After the transition agreement expires, on December 31, “passporting” rules that allow financial institutions to provide services across the EU will cease to apply. As a result, UK lenders will have to deal with a bewildering patchwork of national regulators on a country-by-country basis in order to continue offering banking services to their expat customers. Many have decided it’s not worth their while.

Barclays has closed an undisclosed number of accounts belonging to expats in Belgium, Estonia, Italy and Slovakia. Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Lloyds Bank, has confirmed it is closing 13,000 accounts belonging to customers based in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland and Slovenia. Nationwide is closing at least 5,000 accounts held by overseas Britons. In total, the lender has 93,000 expat customers in the EU and has not yet decided whether its 88,000 other customers will also face closures.

People who depend on income from pensions and rental properties are likely to be hit particularly hard by this sudden withdrawal of banking services. Some account holders could be left in financial limbo, unable to make vital payments and direct debits. The affected expats are being advised to move their account to an alternative lender in the UK that will continue to offer services in their country of residence. Failing that, they can transfer all transactions to their EU account, which will mean having to pay carry charge fees and conversion charges for any transactions made to and from the UK.

As an expat who has lived in Spain for the last 20 years, I have so far been spared this fate. The probable reason for this is that Spain is home to some 300,000 of the just over 1 million formally registered British residents in the EU — far more than any other EU Member State. As such, it probably makes financial sense for UK banks to continue providing services to expats living here.

But other complications are arising. Like many other British expats living here, I am in a mad rush to exchange my UK driving license for a Spanish one. I don’t own a car or have any need of one, as I live in downtown Barcelona, and very rarely drive in Spain. That said, if I don’t exchange my license before the cutoff date, I will need to go through the rigmarole of passing a Spanish driving test to obtain a license. I have until December 31 to begin the process, which sounds easy enough. But navigating Spain’s labyrinthine bureaucracy is an ordeal at the best of times; in the midst of a global pandemic, with periodic lockdowns making it virtually impossible to even access government buildings, it is a logistical nightmare.

None of the gloomiest predictions of how a Hard Brexit could impact UK expats living in the EU — from loss of access to the public healthcare system to requiring a visa to live in your country of residence and travel in the EU — has come to pass. A small minority of Brits living in Spain became so consumed by fear of the potential fallout and/or disgusted by the British public’s insistence on leaving the EU that they bit the bullet and applied for a Spanish passport — a process that can take years to complete. In return, they must renounce their British nationality.

The lucky few who have Irish parents or grandparents have been able to apply for an Irish passport, which allows them to remain EU citizens without having to sacrifice their UK passport. They include a Liverpudlian friend of mine called Colin who lives in Galicia and writes a daily blog on the latest news and developments in Spain. He was able to apply for an Irish passport because his grandmother was born in Ireland and, thus, his father had automatically been an Irish citizen. “Ironically,” he says, “I don’t think my father ever knew he was both British and Irish, as very many folk born on Merseyside are.”

In the end, such drastic steps as changing your nationality or supplementing it were probably not necessary. The Withdrawal Agreement established that all Britons and their family members who were lawfully resident in the EU at the date of the UK’s withdrawal, on the 31st of January 2020, can stay under the same conditions that existed before Brexit. This means we will still be able to travel freely in the Schengen area for a period of 90 days in any 180-day period, not including time spent in the country in which we’re resident. There are also no restrictions on travel and stays in the UK, as long as we remain resident in the country in which we live. And we will retain access to the respective public healthcare system.

UK expats who arrived in Spain after Jan 30 or who didn’t have a residence permit before then must apply for one before December 30. During their stay in Spain, many of these people did not even legally register with local authorities, let alone become residents. To qualify, they must now meet the EU residence criteria on income and healthcare, which is not going to be easy. Thousands of so-called “snowbirds” — long-stay UK visitors who holiday in Spain for up to five or six months a year, many of whom have second homes in Spain — are now scrambling to start the registration process, after it emerged this week that UK citizens without residence permits will only be allowed to stay in a European country for a maximum of 90 days in any six-month period.

Another reason I consider myself fortunate is that unlike many fellow expats living in Spain, I do not earn any of my income in pounds sterling, which has already lost 20% of its value against the euro in the last five years, given the uncertainty of Brexit. Negotiations this weekend failed to deliver progress on the three remaining stumbling blocks: state aid rules, fishing rights and level-playing field rules. A “no (trade) deal” outcome may have been averted at the very last minute on Sunday, as UK Premier Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed to “go the extra mile” to try to secure an agreement. Just one last deadline extension, for old times’ sake.

But at this late stage in proceedings, it will take little short of a miracle for both sides to make the necessary concessions that will make a meaningful deal possible. Which means no deal is still a likely outcome. And that is bad news for anyone who earns part or all of their income in sterling and spends it in euros, including, of course, pensioners. In Spain alone there are more than 100,000 UK pensioners, all of whom have seen the value in euros of their pension installments slide over the last four years.

Some analysts believe “no deal” is already baked into the exchange rate. Much will depend on how hard the economy is hit by the logistical chaos that is likely to ensue on Jan 1, as tightly intertwined supply chains begin snapping.

Careful attention should also be paid to what happens with the City of London’s all-important financial services industry. As the Bank of England itself warned on Friday, “some market volatility and disruption to financial services, particularly to EU-based clients, could arise” in the event of no deal. All of these issues will no doubt be compounded by the chaos already being caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the roughly one million UK expats living in the EU and the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK, disaster has by and large been averted. Now, all we can do is sit tight and brace ourselves for what is coming, all the while hoping that both sides on the Brexit divide honor their pledges to us, even as relations between the UK and the EU take a giant turn for the worse. By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET.

Some property owners are more exposed to the fallout than others. Read… Three Big Retailer Casualties in One Week: UK Retail Landlords Reel after Worst Week of Nightmare Year

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  104 comments for “Bracing for Impact: My View as British Expat Just Before Brexit

  1. Javert, Chip says:


    I’m sure, no matter how BREXIT gets negotiated (comprehensive, or otherwise), bitter EU politicians will have gone to some lengths to ensure Brits will “pay a price”.

    UK was a big chunk (about 17% of EU economy), and a smaller EU means less political muscle on the world stage.

    • Harrold says:


      They are still getting a much better deal than US citizens get.

    • char says:

      Sorry, EU politicians have been extremely nice and fair to the UK but leaving the union has negatives. Very large ones, but that has noting to do with “paying the price”

      • Javert Chip says:

        Well, you havre millions of Europeans on both side of the channel who would disagree.

        • char says:

          The EU is really big so finding a million isn’t that hard but finding EU citizens that find that the EU hasn’t been nice or fair enough to the British is hard. In my opinion they should have been harder on the English but England will anyway be a failure so why stick it to them.

    • Karlo Suave says:

      You forgot the IRONY caps. Seems to me the Brits have been the bitter ones all along…. They’re the ones who chose to leave. Just because the rest of the 83% of the EU economy didn’t feel they need to give the UK all the benefits and none of the responsibilities doesn’t make them bitter… puleeez.

    • fajensen says:

      It’s not so much the fact that the UK wants to leave the club, but still use the jacuzzi and not pay any membership fees. Some arrangement could probably be finessed.

      The real problem is that nobody trust the UK to not pee in the jacuzzi!

      • char says:

        It is more that 90% thinks that Britain will order a beer so they can pee in the jacuzzi

    • Haha I've got an EU passport says:

      Sorry mate. You are just another guy who doesn’t understand what it’s all about. The vote to leave the EU was a reaction to 10 years of UK austerity government. Somebody had be blamed and the EU was handy. The problem is that the Wealthy and Elite of the UK don’t like paying tax and all the anti EU brainwashing activity by that part of the community was to get the UK out of the EU because the EU have the idea that if you make money in a country, then you should pay your tax in that country. The UK is a country where tax avoidance is perfectly legal and the W &E are determined to keep it that way so that large amounts of tax lolly that should go to the state finish up in the Caribbian. I suppose I’d be niggly to find out that I’d been conned.

      • Roger Bacon says:

        Actually leaving the EU was a reaction to having unelected bureaucrats overturning elected government policies. The UK chose freedom and self-government over tyranny. This English tradition, is a foreign concept to those countries previously ruled by Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Napoleon.

        • Conor says:

          Oh dear- “unelected bureaucrats”. This from a country where Dominic Cummings has been calling the shots for years. Who voted for him?

    • Old School says:

      My first job in USA around 1980 I worked for British company selling high tech large textile machinery for processing polyester yarn. Exchange rate I think got to around $2.20 to 1 pound. Has standard of living dropped in UK since 1980? I understand housing may be relatively more expensive, but $2.20 to $1.25 or so is a big drop in 40 year time period. Going off of memory on exchange rates, so don’t beat me up if I am wrong.

    • Nick says:

      The UK literally CHOSE to pay a price — that’s what Brexit is, leaving a profoundly rational and convenient association of countries in preference of independence. You’re not going to keep all of the benefits you started with, when you do that.

  2. Martha Careful says:

    Pending (market volatility related to those that provide financial services across the EU) is like a post/secondary infection, following the initial primary economic jolt of The Pandemic. Thank goodness that a slow trickle of experimental vaccines are helping stocks explode upwards, as we all await the finality of reality …

  3. MiTurn says:

    The idea of national identity is undoubtedly in a flux, with real ramifications for people. I’m curious to see how this all plays out, but I hope that things go well for you Nick.

    I was a high school teacher and I remember one exchange student. She was born and raised in Belgium and her native language was French, but she was an Italian citizen.

    I must say that I always look forward to your posts, Nick, although I do not frequently comment on them. They’re always worth reading and a great addition to Wolf Street.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Gotta AGREE, like, totally mitrn,,,
      Nick’s articles, while needing a bit of ”murrican” engleish editing for us old folks and similar not familiar with the oxford comma, etc. are always helpful.
      Friends and we were considering the ”deals” for RE offered for free in various EU areas recently, with proviso for funds to improve, etc., which were very friendly. My fave was a few hectares on which was a small old house and a dozen or so ancient olive trees and some other lesser food trees, in what looked to be a good place in an area near Barcelona of which Patrick O’Brian has SO much to say.
      And this article specifically addresses some of our concerns, regarding that for which we could find NO other information at all, so ducked the deal.
      Bravo Nick and Wolf ,,, and thanks once again for the clarity.

  4. Oolongu Badaloogu says:

    Out of curiosity, why panic now? Were those new rules, regarding the cross-border banking services or the driving licenses, not communicated until recently? Or were they communicated in a timely manner but the expats were procrastinating and hoping in a softened Brexit?!

    • X-PAT DE says:

      As someone who’s lived in Germany since 1991 and has received BREXIT-VISA-“GB” application papers through the post this week, I was surprised to read of how things are in Spain.
      In Germany you had 6 months to reregister car and driver’s license. In fact, the only thing I kept was my passport and a UK bank account (in UK sterling). I’ve had no letters pertaining to its demise, I assume those which are being terminated are EURO accounts.
      If I were able to vote (wasn’t because in Germany “too long”), then I would’ve voted BREXIT. The freedom for the UK should be a shackle less around its ankle. But the way politicians have dragged this fiasco on for four years and still not sorted anything out is a disgrace.

      • Nick Corbishley says:

        X-Pat De,

        Part of the problem is that lots of people waited til the very last minute to get things done (i.e. procrastinating, as Oolongu Badaloogu suggests). And Spanish bureaucracy is not wholly conducive to getting things done quickly at the very last minute.

        It’s also a question of numbers: as I mention in the article, Spain has more British expats than anywhere else.

        In my own case, I ummed and ahhed about exchanging my UK driving license for a Spanish one because I don’t have a car here and these days I hardly ever drive. In the end, I decided to go for it simply as a contingency, just in case some day my wife and I end up moving out of the big city to the country and needing a car, which is pretty unlikely but you just never know.

        • Oolongu Badaloogu says:

          Thank you Nick. I wish you and everyone else affected by this the very best of luck and I hope that whatever pain and inconvenience you’ll encounter will be short lived.

          Also thank you for your articles published here, I always enjoy reading them.

        • X-PAT DE says:

          Hi Nick,

          thanks for your reply and I’d love to take the opportunity to say I appreciate your articles which are included here on WolfStreet.

          What I meant, by my experience in Germany, is that it is the German law to replace your “papers” with 6 months.
          There is no room for procrastination. Umming and ahhing is especially frowned upon! And, believe me, German bureaucracy combined with the language is equivalent to one of Dantes layers of hell.

          Living in Frankfurt I also had no need of a car but was fortunate that my employer arranged for a firm to do all the (initial) “stamping and bureaucracy work”.

          But after that I was on my own.

          Nevertheless, the fact I still (willingly) retain my British passport (being married to a German I could “easily” get a German passport) I have to suddenly and (for me at least completely out of the blue) submit God knows how many (official/notarised) papers (by 31.1.2021) to get a new “Aufenthaltserlaubnis” – something which I already possess from 1991, but not in new “BREXIT” form.

          It is no doubt a way to generate some income (the visa costs money) but it is also a pain in the rear due to unexpectedness, short-time frame (over Christmas and New Year) and the lockdown restrictions.

          Wishing you all the best with your endeavours in Spain and looking forward to your future articles.

        • Keith Matthews says:

          All this is doable. But it pales in comparison the never ending ratchet effect (in one direction) of the Unelected maneless faceless globalist need to have everyone a numbered farm animal.

        • c_heale says:

          I lived in Madrid for 10 years and I agree about the bureaucracy. Not something you want to negotiate in a hurry.

      • Kenny Logouts says:

        It’s been disappointing to see how 4 years have been wasted and now we’re all panicking.

        This is how I used to do high school projects. This isn’t how I expect nations to be run.

        Between brexit and the pandemic ‘response’ I’m officially out of voting for any of the mainstream any more.

        I managed to vote out of the EU which was a waste of time.
        I’m now hoping more power can be devolved from the time-wasters in London too.

        • p coyle says:

          “This is how I used to do high school projects. This isn’t how I expect nations to be run.”

          i too did high school projects in this manner. and to be honest, mostly in college too. i suspect that both of us had better results than those “running” our nations nowadays.

  5. Gandalf says:

    Then there’s still the intractable Irish Border Problem of a no deal Brexit. Enforcing the border with Northern Ireland is likely to bring back The Troubles, not enforcing it is just going to make the border a backdoor to all the immigration and trade complaints Brexit was meant to solve.

    And watch Scotland sail away to freedom and back to the EU. The Union Jack will then just have the two red crosses on a background of pure white, no more blue at all

    • X-PAT DE says:

      Sail away from freedom and back to the EU’s schackles …
      The English should be given the vote, whether Scotland should stay in the Union. They’d be out on their ear in a shot.
      Removal of the St. Andrew’s flag from the union flag will perhaps allow some creative person to incorporate the much more interesting Welsh flag.

      • char says:

        Brussels shackles are golden and felted. Those from London are made from unpolished steel

    • 2banana says:

      The irony is the Shetland Islands want to break away from Scotland and Scotland won’t let them.

      Kinda ironic.

      But the islands got the oil. And now, a spaceport.

    • Javert Chip says:

      Scotland requires huge subsidies from the UK central government. The fantasy of a free Scotland requires another sugar daddy (or Scotland gets a lot poorer).

      I seriously doubt the EU wants to encourage this behavior.

      Catalonia is watching, and they also require huge subsidies from the central state.

      • char says:

        Scotland is energy, energy & energy. It wouldn’t need a sugar daddy if it as run from Scotland instead of being sucked dry by London but the EU would love to be that “sugar daddy” especially because it would be money lifted from Scottish accounts

        EU doesn’t care about legal independence of parts of states outside the Union. Catalonia was not legal and Spain was against it but it is obvious that we support the anti democratic forces in HK.

        Catalonia is the richest part of Spain. I find the suggestion that they are subsidies somehow not reality based.

        • James Watt says:

          Scotland became rich by building ships used for the Atlantic Slave Trade. It’s been going downhill ever since.

      • Cashboy says:

        Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish First Minister) went to the EU requesting that the EU accept Scotland into the EU.
        The EU told her that Scotland has no financial benefit for the EU so wouldn’t want Scotland in the EU.

        Nicola Sturgeon is demanding another referendum for independence of Scotland.
        It should be England voting if the UK want Scotland to become independent. English voters would vote for Scotland out of the UK.

        • char says:


          Scotland has a lot of energy benefits so the union definitely wants Scotland, It is also small so it never could cost much. Besides the EU has a problem finding its speaker so “the EU told”sounds unbelievable

    • Edward says:

      Scotland doesn’t meet EU ascension needs unless the EU bends the rules for them.

      • char says:

        I think you mean Euro acceptance rules. I doubt that any candidate was closer to the requirements of EU membership than Scotland

    • Manster says:

      Sad to see the once proud Scots slide right into drug addled EU State they find themselves in.
      I could accept William Wallace in a kilt.
      Now they just look like a bunch of pop culture lbltghttigthfu
      Compliant sheep.

    • fajensen says:

      And watch Scotland sail away to freedom and back to the EU.

      Nope. The Spanish would veto it, probably the French too. It would give Catalonia and Corsica dangerous ideas. Probably set off some of the rich veins of cray-cray lingering in EU’s eastern european areas too.

      The most the EU could do was to put an independent Scotland onto the “entry ramp” and then maybe “the situation is different” at some point.

      • char says:

        Corsica independence is not a serious problem and i wonder if France would mind. Italy, Germany and the states around Hungary have bigger problems than France. And Belgium really wants to split but does not know how.

  6. Martha Careful says:

    It seems that ZIRP and sub-zero rates are not an issue lately, and as such, any bad news these days is looked at as good news for stocks — and nothing can go wrong for those buying insanely overvalued equities in highly volatile environments. It’s different this time, because risk is a non-issue! I suspect more people with less money will need to buy more stocks on margin.

    “As such, we suspect that in a ‘cooperative’ no deal GDP growth would be around 1% lower in 2021 as a whole than it would be if there were a deal,” Dales said.

    “Put into context, the Covid-19 crisis has meant that GDP this year will be about 11.5% lower than last year and at one point earlier this year it was 25% lower.”

    ==> Meanwhile, deep inside the intestines of our foul smelling government:

    The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) (collectively, the “Commissions”) are adopting rule amendments to lower the margin requirement for an unhedged security futures position from 20% to 15% and adopting certain conforming revisions to the security futures margin offset table

    • char says:

      A cooperative “No deal” would be the EU slowly sucking away any British “industry”. The only 1% in the first year would be because it takes time to move an industry like for example Commodity Future Trading. It is in year 3 that the really hard hits come.

      An uncooperative no deal would obviously be even worse.

    • Old School says:

      Stocks and Bonds are inflated because of Zirp, Nirp and pseudo nirp which is qe. The problem with sustained Zirp is that it slowly destroys the productive use of assets because it makes everyone into a leveraged gambler and makes billionaires out of guys who can’t make a profit selling autos for $50,000 each.

  7. Outwest says:

    Political incompetence at the highest levels in the UK mirrors what has been occurring in the US over the past four years. It is astounding to watch the UK struggle to govern itself at such a critical time considering the pandemic and other global catastrophes currently upon us. Best of luck.

  8. WSKJ says:

    Very informative. Thanks, Nick.

    So Brexit is really happening. I look forward to future posts on how it’s working out.

    • c_heale says:

      Brexit has already happened. What is being negotiated is the future relationship between the UK and the EU. No deal (which is the default) means no relationship of any kind.

  9. roddy6667 says:

    If somebody in an EU nation has their money in an HSBC account in the UK, they can make withdrawals from any ATM in the world without fees. If they have over $100,000 US in all accounts (IRA’s included), they are charged very little in interbank, currency exchange, and other fees. Also, the daily limit on ATM withdrawals is doubled. For most retired people, having a bank account in their second country is not necessary or prudent.

    • Harrold says:

      Unless their account is canceled.

      • roddy6667 says:

        Their UK chartered account cannot be cancelled by any other country. The parent company is HSBC, but other than that, they are all separate banks, and need to follow the laws and banking regulations in their respective nations.

      • Volvo P-1800 says:

        Then Sweden’s Handelsbanken may be an alternative.

        • fajensen says:

          Good Luck With That!

          My local branch of Handelsbanken does not understand basic stuff like: What the Swedes call a Credit Card is really a Debit Card with an overdraft facility on the account it links to.

          They *will not understand* why this would certainly lead to financial problems where one using ones “Debit Card” in, say, Sicily or Russia!). These are people who should know finance.

          The core problem is that in Sweden most people simply do not understand that other countries can do things differently than they do in Sweden.

          Of course people know this happens on an intellectual level but they cannot process it properly, so it doesn’t have any meaning for them.

    • char says:

      AT is not a problem. Paying the bills in a non-cash way is and most bills can’t be paid in cash

    • tolkapiam says:

      I have a HSBC account in Hongkong for a very long time (no longer live in HK). I with draw up to $500-700 anytime in HSBC atms in most asian countries I do maintain a cheap HK prepaid sim to receive OTP & sms.

  10. James says:

    Your comment Martha Careful in the last paragraph is very interesting….
    I quiets that you believe that the lowering “the margin requirement of unhedged security futures from 20% to 15% by the SEC & CFTC,” will
    what? Juice the speculation?

    From my experience trading PM futures (gold, Silver & Platinum) it’s a “mug’s game.” I haven’t traded these particular fitters for several yrs now
    because I learned the hard way that Gold is manipulated by the Fed’s
    commercial; banks in US, Canada & Europe (London). This is particularly true for Silver whose price is almost 92% controlled by JP Morgan (Jaime Diamond) who have the single largest stock of Silver bullion stored inter vaults in the world! Bigger than the Hjunt Brothers in the late 70’s.

    Unfortunately,ALL the future merits, heck the “markets” with no real price discovery are a “mug’s game” these days!

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Texas bros in late 70s/early 80s were not well informed about the billions of ounces of silver held then by USSR and their ability to produce SO much more anytime they wanted to do so.
      Made a good profit on their ignorance then, and a couple times soon after,,, and a couple of times in SM, long before and right after,,, until it became clear that there was a total lack/reduction of ”public” information on which to base rational trades, exactly how JPM and similar of that age made their gazillions off the suckers, AKA WE the Peedons.
      Similar to Suny129 commenting here,,, but the opposite,,, I got OUT of the SM in the early 80s after 30 plus years following a very successful uncle who took me to the local broker whenever he was babysitting me, and then, as a teen, at my request…

  11. Patrick Lewis says:

    hi Nick, very good read, i am based on the Isle Of Man, and have a small house in Bulgaria, got my deeds in my own name not company, as you can with an EU passport, got my back account all done last year went to get my residency permit and told that my passport was not EU i said it was just the wording on the inside says British Islands and was excepted my many businesses including the Notaries office other Bulgarian Government departments to no avail they then asked for my NHS forms again i said i don’t have this as i have to have my own insurance, had planned to have all this done by now but C19 and stuck in IOM till the vaccine is sorted. as for the bank and other finance companies the UK banks put up something like a wall and even my bank account and HP was all moved to other subsidiaries of the same bank in either the Isle Of Man or Channel Islands.

  12. Anthony says:

    Having a British passport and an Irish one (which I can have because of my long dead my Irish Grandparents) could be important to people living in Spain. Why? Well the Spanish Government always liked to charge double House taxes to people without a Spanish passport, until they were forced to accept anyone with a passport from the EU. People with only a British passport after Jan 1st may find their house tax (or whatever it is called in Spain??) going up. As my brother has a villa near Valencia, it is the reason he is getting an Irish passport. I’ll probably get one as well….to be sure…to be sure

    • Anthony says:

      There is also something people have not thought about and that is the EU is leaving Britain as well. So there may be World Trade duties to pay on both sides(20%) without a deal…. It means, as the pound has fallen 20%, British goods could be the same price as they were four years ago if we export to Europe. It also means that, say German cars for example, could be anything up to 40% dearer than they were four years ago. Do you get the feeling that a deal may be in the offing, especially as the EU exports far, far more stuff to us than what we export to them…

  13. Hi Nick. I have the reverse problem. As an EU citizen with a bank account in the UK, I am frozen out of my account because the bank sends the TAN log in code only to a British phone number. Several calls and even a registered letter had no effect so far. The Bank didn’t;’t even deign to reply. Neither did Guardian Money, whom I wrote about this problem. Closing the account would be a nuisance (I have a UK pension and occasional earnings in the UK) for the reasons you describe. I try to obtain a British pay-as-you-go phone now.

    • MonkeyBusiness says:

      Get a Google Phone number and forward it to your real number.

      • Felix_47 says:

        As an American living in Europe on a US pension I grant that the exchange rate is an issue and one needs a local bank account so it costs a little money and effort but it is a choice we made and we can afford it. Got a native driver’s license and took the test in the native language which took some effort. Is it so unreasonable to have to learn the language, take the tests the natives take, and pay the exchange rate tax which was caused by the irresponsible politicians we might be trying to escape. Do we really want to homogenize Spain Hungary Germany France and England and Afghanistan and Nigeria. I am all for Brexit. I am opposed to multiculti. If I want Afghan food I’ll go to Afghanistan thank you. Multiculti is designed to make it cheaper for plutocrats to hire cheap and subservient help. I am all for national identities and languages and I expect to be addressed in the native language and I appreciate being expected to answer in it. If I go to Spain I expect to speak Spanish. In Peshawar perhaps some Pashto. With due respect to the author if one can’t speak Spanish and open a bank account and take a driver’s test maybe expat living is not the right choice.

        • Wolf Richter says:


          “With due respect to the author if one can’t speak Spanish and open a bank account and take a driver’s test maybe expat living is not the right choice.”

          The author Nick Corbishley has near-native skills in Spanish. He is married to a Mexican woman, and his mother-in-law has been living with them since the beginning of the Pandemic, and they all speak Spanish at home. He has been working in Spain in Spanish for 20 years. Unlike you, he’s not a retiree. So don’t worry about his Spanish.

        • char says:

          Spain is (or was) the Florida of Britain. A lot of British live in colonies where they don’t need to speak Spanish and in fact don’t just as a lot of ex-NY-ers don’t speak the local language in Florida

        • Old School says:

          Currency exchange rates are important to consider for investments too if you are retired. If you are in USA the vast majority of your consumption is going to be for US goods and services so you want most of your investments in dollar denominated assets or currency can go against you for a decade or more.

    • Nick Corbishley says:

      I’m sorry to hear that Hendrik. I wish you the best of luck trying to get it sorted.

      • Paulo says:

        What about other off shore banks? Just wondering about the money laundering bandits we always read about. If a Brit expat cannot use a British bank how do crooks access their funds stashed in safe havens? Seems crazy.

        As a Brit, I don’t understand why you cannot maintain an account and use it until you take your last breath, regardless of where you live?

        Will there be a class action taken to resolve this? I could see a bank perhaps adding on an extra fee for expats if there were additional costs administering your accounts, but I don’t get the shutter. It’s not like it is charity. They do make money off their customers, after all.

    • Cashboy says:

      Hendrik Wagenaar

      Get a UK Gif Gaf sim card that cost £5 top up occasionally.

      I am an accountant with UK clients.
      I live 50% of my time in Thailand and it enables me to get the text message for log ins on the UK Government Gateway.
      I use a VPN ($100 for three years) to log into the UK Government website so it doesn’t realise I am not in the UK.

  14. John says:

    Well what do you know, quite a bit there, thanks.

  15. Some fear that Brexit might have a dominoe effect, but after all of the zone sees the disruption their tone may change, much like the Texas secessionists whose state draws more money from DC than they put in.

    • R Bacon says:

      That’s because the federal government relies on Texas for goods and services. Thus the US government is dependent upon Texas for military service, semiconductors, oil, steel, and agricultural products. States like NY that produce no tangible goods offers nothing needed by the government.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        “States like NY that produce no tangible goods…”

        BS. Don’t confuse the Financial District of Manhattan with the State of New York.

  16. LouisDeLaSmart says:

    The concerns are justified. With the current situation ,in respect to the impact of the epidemic on the economy, countries will do their best to fill up their budgets. And what better way to do so, then from immigrants that do not have the right to vote but do have money on their bank accounts. Services will be allowed, it’s just that suddenlly there will be charges, surcharges and taxes to pay.

  17. Engin-ear says:

    – “the logistical chaos that is likely to ensue on Jan 1, as tightly intertwined supply chains begin snapping.”

    Thanks for pointing out this, even if it gives me uneasy thoughts.

    The efficient logistics (aided by computer) is one of the core reasons of today’s low prices for many products, including essential ones.

    So the supply chains will be put at test for a part of the Europe in several days.

    I pray they will be found resilient by design, as the Internet architecture.

  18. nick kelly says:

    The supply chain is already breaking/ broken due in large part to anticipated Brexit plus Xmas plus…

    Shippers are charging a 175 $ premium for containers for Felixstow (sp?) the largest UK port. The ship may have to wait days. Containers of PPE have been sitting on the quay for weeks.

  19. MonkeyBusiness says:

    Brace Brace Brace!!!

    The following quote taken from the Independent:

    “It’s hard to compute for some people, because we’re still in a bubble of British exceptionalism where we think nothing every goes wrong here,” he says. “We’re not remotely prepared for this as a country, and we have such an incompetent government. There will be huge supply problems. No question. And I don’t think those problems are going to get ironed out in a couple of months. It’ll be chaos.”

    Replace British with America, and we might be looking at the same thing perhaps a couple of years from now.

    • fajensen says:

      We’re not remotely prepared for this as a country, and we have such an incompetent government.

      This is also the case with Sweden and the inept handling of the corona virus pandemic. In my opinion, we are looking at a cascading systemic failure which will roll on through 2021.

      Right now we are in the “Everybody knows that …”-phase, where many individuals can see things breaking and failing around them, but they think they are “the only ones” and Swedes don’t like to stand out so there is little action.

      Later, 2021 when, f.ex., the unemployment numbers finally works their ways through the 5 months of bureaucratic delays in processing claims or the evictions start, the government will recognise there may be a problem, then information is reflected downwards and we transition to the “Everybody knows that everybody knows …”-phase, where people react to the new situation, hoping to front-run the others.

      What willl happen I don’t know, but will probably not be pretty.

      The way “it works here” is that Somebody Else must be blamed (Russia?, Donald Trump?) or Everyone must be blamed equally (Fälles beslut). Bad outcomes are never the sole responsibility of The Leadership who actually takes the “hard decisions” (and are paid very well for this).

      One sees that Anders Tegnell is already getting out in front of his own mess with blaming immigrants for FHM’s disastrous “heard immunity” experiment or rank incompetence or indeed, why not both?

      • c_heale says:

        That behaviour by Tegnall is disgusting, especially since he was responsible for this herd immunity policy. Hope he gets his just desserts.

  20. Wisdom Seeker says:

    RE “UK lenders will have to deal with a beguiling patchwork of national regulators on a country-by-country basis”

    This seems like a very unusual usage of “beguiling”. Is a country-by-country patchwork of byzantine regulations truly so charmingly attractive to lenders? (Even if the looks are deceptive?)

    • Nick Corbishley says:

      Thanks for the correction, Wisdom Seeker.

      I think I must have meant bewildering, which is an altogether different combination of vowels and consonants. I’ll leave the decision up to Wolf whether to change it or not.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        I made the change. But I hafta admit, I loved “beguiling” in that sentence and thought it was a lot funnier than “bewildering,” and right on target, given the context :-]

        The original, to save it for posterity: “As a result, UK lenders will have to deal with a beguiling patchwork of national regulators on a country-by-country basis in order to continue offering banking services to their expat customers.”

  21. Hotairmail says:

    Global citizens, citizens of nowhere. Most expats tend to want to keep all their perceived UK benefits just in case they need to call on them such as health, pensions etc. But typically pay zilch into the common purse to help pay for it all. They feel British to the extent that they moan about the country they left about as much as the country they are in and the people they are amongst. At the end of the day, no matter where you go, you cannot escape yourself and your skin. Find out what it really is that makes you happy would be the appropriate advice.

  22. Cas127 says:

    This post has a bit of a narrow and esoteric focus…impact on expats is interesting and all, but the much, much, much larger issue is how a hard Brexit will likely impact the 65 *million* on the mainland.

    Plus, the impact on domestic prices (globalism’s main pitch being much cheaper prices…although domestic retailers may have long skimmed off most of the advantage) has worldwide relevance…America and others could move further from globalism if it turns out that the globalists were really skimming most of the advantages and that prices remain largely the same with Brexit/Globexit.

    Discussion around that topic would make for a more interesting post.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      “…much larger issue is how a hard Brexit will likely impact the 65 *million* on the mainland.”

      That discussion is the oldest hat there is. It has been going on since 2016, including here, and nearly all of it is still speculation.

  23. 2B Frank says:

    As far as Bank Accounts are concerned, if you have problems open one in Gibraltar, they work well in all of Europe, plus maybe one in Andorra, and/ or Monaco, maybe some bitcoin?.

  24. WES says:

    Spain needs wealthy Brits and other EU people to retire in southern Spain.

    The EU needs access to Britain’s economy since exports exceed imports.

    Being free of unelected EU bureaucrats is positive long term for Britain.

    • Karlo Suave says:

      Well it will be interesting to see whether the UK needs the EU more or vice versa. A simple measure of trade surplus/deficit does not tell the whole story. Different EU countries are affected in different degrees, and the respective export amounts for the UK are a larger % of total trade than for the EU as a whole

      If it were as clear as “the EU needs Britain’s economy since exports exceed imports”, then you would expect the EU would settle more on the UK’s terms? It seems each side seems to think the one needs the other more, and hence let’s stick with no deal?

    • fajensen says:

      I find it interesting that, for the UK, Brexit is (now?) all about Values and Principles, whereas when “Brit-splaining” to the people in the EU, the UK insists that Brexit for them must be only about Markets and Money (the UK’s money, of course …)

      … While it was always the UK who absolutely insisted that the EU be only about Markets and Money.

  25. an expat says:

    This is what pretending being an expat vs really being one sounds like. I too would rather live in Spain than in Britain. You just don’t want to be inconvenienced the sligthest while getting out of there. I’m just glad I got to live the day an Englishman publicly complains that life is unfair. Let’s face it: that is how you English like it. It is, however, very un-English to complain without facetiously abmonishing yourself. So just maybe you are on a path. Never let up passionately complaining and you’ll eventually grow to be a true European.

  26. David Brewer says:

    You may be able to solve some of your bank problems with one of the new money transfer services, such as TransferWise, WorldFirst, OFX, Currencies Direct or InstaRem. You can generally have accounts in multiple currencies, move money between them, and get a credit card that automatically deducts money in the right currency, as long as you have enough, and if not, takes it from the next cheapest currency to convert. Conversion fees are low (usually well under 1%).

    • sammyiyer says:

      David Brewer
      Yes.Transferwise works very well across countries & cheaper than SWIFT. My daughter is studying PG in Germany. First time to obtain the student visa we sent 10000 euro in to a student named “blocked account” in Deutch bank (sperkanto) in germany. Nowadays she has a saving account (girokanto ) in Sparkasse bank. We do domestic transfer in ₹ local currency to her sb account in our City . She uses Transfewise to convert & sends ₹ to her german girokanto in euros. (Less than 750 euro at a time). charges/conversion rates cheaper than us sending SWIFT /TT to her direct via banks

  27. JM says:

    It is now clear to everyone that there will be no agreement for a very simple reason, if UK can get out very easily with little or no logistical or financial problems, other European countries, France or Italy or others could choose the same path and exit this great dicta from Brussels where bureaucrats decide the fate of Europe with immunity completes a case of catastrophe of their decisions. So the Brussels bureaucrats will do everything they can to give the UK the greatest damage by making fun of British citizens until the last day of the year

    • fajensen says:

      I had an uncle who died with dementia. He would often talk the same way as “Brexit Britain”:

      Everyone are stealing from him, Everyone mean to him behind his back, Everyone working against him in non-specified ways, and how Everyone would eventually come to regret treating him like this, he still had some friends in high places! Nobody would inherit anything.

      When in a better mood, he would talk at length about past achievements and funny stories 60 years ago and The War (when he was a kid in shorts running groceries for his mum. That’s what he actually did in The War, which is not exactly the way he “remembered” it).

      If one made an agreement involving him, like a repair person coming, he would forget about it, then deny ever making any agreement, definitely not *this* agreement with *that* repair person, who were only there to steal his stuff, the date and time on the reminder note he wrote himself had been changed …. always accusations, suspicions, arguments over every little detail, till the very end!

      The same problem seems to apply to Brexit. The UK has lost the plot. Thus there will only be an agreement if the EU writes it and enforces it (which the Swivels will veto if they can). Circumstances alone will ensure a rotten deal, no extra effort or malice required.

  28. Bob Edwards says:

    Nick you should have changed your licence years ago now you will be lucky to get it back from trafico in the next 6 months . I have been told that in Malaga they have set up a new department just to deal with this but I don’t know about Barcelona .
    Spain is being sensible I think so far .
    it need the brits and there money taxes ect and does not want them relocating to Portugal .
    ( I know people who have now got Portuguese residential status with no bother and done at full speed)
    The next step is get a TIE card
    With pictures and finger print on it
    Much better than the bit of paper we have now tgat says resident
    Ours are on there way

    • Nick Corbishley says:


      As I wrote in the article, I hardly ever drive these days. The last time I drove in Spain was over two years ago. Hence the lack of urgency. I have already booked an appointment with DGT to get the ball rolling which is all that is required before the year is out. British drivers can still use their UK license until June 30 next year while waiting to swap it for the Spanish one.

  29. EmpireDead says:

    You are not an “Expat” living in Spain. You are an immigrant living in Spain.
    Your Empire is long gone, and you personally had nothing to do in building the Empire. Start using appropriate terminology, or otherwise let us go ahead and start calling all illegal or legal immigrants as “expats”.

    • char says:

      Expat/migrant is a class thing. I see why he would use expat. Migrant is somebody who picks tomato’s.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        It’s a perception thing, in my perception. Expat means he’s there temporarily. Immigrant means he’s there permanently and wants to grow roots and stay there. The dividing line can be iffy. And it’s possible that he started out as an expat and accidentally grew roots and then realized that he wanted to stay there and thereby became an immigrant. After 20 years in the country, it might be time to review the terminology.

  30. Spiff says:

    Wow, the horrors of needing to live in the country you are a citizen of if you want to receive your pension and such. Right up there with famine and pestilence.

  31. marc says:

    The EU is such a totalitarian enterprise that no matter the price, it’s worth it.
    I wish France would leave too.

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