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Rules Of Residence In The UK For EU & EEA Nationals Explained

13 Jan 2013

EU & EEA National’s right of residence in the UK

Last weekend British Prime Minister David Cameron announced on television his “plan” to introduce new restrictions to make it harder for “EU benefit tourists” to come and live in the UK.

Calling for a “new relationship with the European Union”, Cameron said that “only working European immigrants should be allowed into the UK“, even if it means undermining the EU’s key principle of “free movement”.

What are your rights of free movement as an EEA or EU national?

EEA or EU citizens can freely enter the UK, and other European Union countries, under ‘freedom of movement’ rules.

EEA nationals are normally allowed to enter and stay in the UK for for a period not exceeding three months unless other conditions are met, for instance if they exercise ‘treaty rights’ to work, study or declare themselves as ’self sufficient’. 

However, most people ignore this rule or do not realise it exists, and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) do not pursue EEA national ‘overstayers’.

The UKBA website is clear on this:

An EEA or Swiss National, has the right to live and work in the UK (known as the ‘right of residence’) under ‘freedom of movement’ rules as long as:

  • you are working here (and have obtained permission to work if this is required – for instance if your are Bulgarian or Romanian); or
  • you can support yourself and your family in the UK without becoming an unreasonable burden on public funds – self sufficient.

Comprehensive Sickness insurance

Cameron also brought up access to free NHS healthcare enjoyed by EU citizens in the UK (it should be noted that British people living in other EU countries, such as Spain, do not enjoy the same unlimited access to healthcare).

The UKBA website states:

“If you are an EEA national in the UK as a student or as a self-sufficient person, you and your sponsored family members must have comprehensive sickness insurance for the duration of your stay in the UK.

“If you apply for a document confirming a right of residence for yourself or your family members, as a student or self-sufficient person, then you will need to demonstrate that you have comprehensive sickness insurance on the date we make a decision on your application.

“If you apply for a document confirming a right of residence for you or your family members, as a student or self-sufficient person, then If you decide to apply for permanent residence in the UK, you will need to show that you, and any family members if applicable, have held comprehensive sickness insurance throughout the period during which you were residing in the UK as a student or self-sufficient person.

“The documents that we accept as proof you have comprehensive sickness insurance are:

  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC);
  • S1;
  • S2;
  • S3; or
  • an original private health insurance policy document.”

Family member rights

If you have a right to live the in the UK, your family may join you here. “Family” being defined by the UKBA as follows:

  • your spouse (husband or wife) or civil partner;
  • any children or grandchildren of you, your spouse or your civil partner who are under 21 years of age or who are dependent on you; and
  • the parents or grandparents of you, your spouse or your civil partner.

If you are a student in the UK, only your spouse or civil partner and dependent children have a right of residence.

Extended relatives (including extended family members such as brothers, sisters and cousins) do not have an automatic right to live in the UK. To be considered, they must be able to show that they are dependent on you.

This differs from ‘family members’ of a British Citizen who is not considered as an EEA national for immigration purposes unless he or she meets certain conditions.

If you and your partner are not married or in a civil partnership, you must be able to prove you are in a durable relationship with each other.

Cameron also opened up a potential ‘can of worms’ on free access to free NHS healthcare enjoyed by EU citizens in the UK (British people living in Spain do not enjoy the same unlimited access to healthcare). Britain has become the health tourism capital of the world, mostly through NHS incompetence.

EEA family permit

An EEA family permit is a form of ‘entry clearance’ to the UK (similar to a visa). It is for nationals of countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who are family members of EEA nationals.

Who needs an EEA family permit?

A non-EEA family member of an EEA national will need to obtain an EEA family permit before travelling to the UK if they are:

  • a ‘visa national’ (see ‘More information’ below); or
  • coming to live with the EEA national in the UK permanently or on a long-term basis.

The non-EEA family member must be travelling to the UK:

  • with the EEA national; or
  • to join the EEA national here.

If the EEA national is outside the UK and is not travelling with them, the non-EEA family member must instead apply for a visa (should they need one) before they can come to the UK.

If a non-EEA family member is living in the UK and has a residence document confirming their right of residence here, they do not need to apply for an EEA family permit each time they enter the UK after travelling abroad.

Are British Citizens EEA nationals?

Even though the UK is a member of the EEA, a non-EEA family member of a British citizen should not “generally” come to the UK using an EEA family permit. He or she will be considered under UK Immigration Rules and subject to new minimum income requirements.

What about British citizen living abroad?

In a strange twist, a non-EEA family member of a British citizen living abroad in an EEA member state (e.g. Germany or Ireland) can apply for an EEA family permit to join the British citizen on their return to the UK if:

  • the British citizen has been living in an EEA member state as a worker or self-employed person; and
  • the family member, if they are the British citizen’s spouse or civil partner, has been living together with the British citizen in the EEA country.

The Immigration Rules around EEA nationals and their partners and family members are not as simple and straightforward as you would imagine. Take legal advice before leaping into the abyss of European rules directives and treaties.

If you have been detained, need any immigration advice or are worried about the new immigration rules or need help with Sponsorship or Tier 2, Tier 4, applying for university if your college has closed down, Visa, ILR, Settlement, Citizenship, Dependant Visa or an appeal against a UK Border Agency or British Embassy refusal, or if you have been waiting for a reply from the Home Office for longer than a year, please email: or visit for free immigration news updates.

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