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Move to the UK as an EU national

European (EU) nationals can exercise their EU Treaty rights by moving to the UK to live and work. They can bring their partner and dependent children under the age of 21 to accompany them.

Irish citizens

Irish citizens are afforded a special status in UK immigration and British nationality law which pre-dates EU law. Irish citizens can travel freely into and out of the UK without restriction and are not subject to the requirement of exercising EU treaty rights.

Irish citizens are:

  • Not required to exercise EU treaty rights (to be a student, work or be self-sufficient)
  • Considered “settled” upon entry in the UK
  • Not required to obtain a residence card before qualifying for naturalisation

More on Irish nationals moving to the UK.

All other European Union (EU) nationals

As a non-Irish EU national, to remain legally in the UK you need to be exercising EU treaty rights. This would require that you are either a student, working or otherwise self-sufficient.

Examples of potential issues are:

  • An EU woman is on maternity leave (i.e. not working) and does not return to work
  • An EU national is not in employment or is looking for work

On 27 October 2015, new regulations were passed to prevent EU nationals applying for British nationality if they do not first hold a residence card.

After a period of five continuous years of residency in the UK, you can apply for your residence card (as long as you meet the set of criteria). You can then naturalise as a British citizen after a further 12 months. Click here for more information on naturalisation of EU nationals.

But what about Brexit?

Given the recent Brexit vote and the likelihood that the UK will exit the European Union over the coming years, the status of those EU nationals living in the UK is unclear.

In order to secure your rights to live and work in the UK, we would urge you to regularise your residency status in the UK and obtain your permanent residence card as soon as you qualify for it.


Contact our immigration team

Phone us (SA): +27 (0) 21 657 2180

Phone us (UK): +44 (0) 20 7759 7580

South Africa

Regent Square
Doncaster Road
Kenilworth 7708
Cape Town
t: +27 (0) 21 657 2120

United Kingdom

Castlewood House
77/91 New Oxford Street
t: +44 (0) 20 7759 7514


Suite 8.06
9 Yarra Street
South Yarra
Melbourne VIC 3141
t: +613 (0) 86 514 500

Hong Kong

Level 1102
The Lee Gardens
33 Hysan Avenue
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
t: +852 3959 8681

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