What happens to UK citizens in Estonia post-Brexit? Essential FAQs answered ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

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Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Tuesday. Aug. 6, 2019.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Tuesday. Aug. 6, 2019. Source: SWNS/Scanpix

Given the level of concern amongst UK citizens living, working and studying in Estonia on the possible effects of Brexit, we thought it useful to put together some FAQs on what will and won't change, from the perspective of the relevant government ministries and other authorities. Please note this is an updated piece which first appeared on 20 Dec. 2018.

That said, Estonia got on top of the situation early on, with contingency plans in place for any possible no-deal, or for that matter with-a-deal, Brexit, in place by late 2018.

But to iron out any half-truths and hearsay, we contacted a wide range of specialists from nearly all the government ministries, the police, the state electoral office and other authorities, and they were kind enough to respond to our questions.

After the passing of the original Article 50 deadline in late March 2019, first to May, then to Oct. 31, the resignation of Theresa May as prime minister and arrival of Boris Johnson as her replacement, just before the summer recess, no-deal Brexit was looking more likely than perhaps ever before. However, at the time of writing, Johnson has faced a triple whammy of defeats in as many days, failing to get parliament prorogued ahead of Oct. 31, the passing of a bill blocking no-deal, and the blocking of an imminent general election all reminding us that with Brexit, you can never tell.

However, here is the situation for UK residents in Estonia.

If a deal were to be finalised, most EU laws and rights should apply to UK citizens, during the transitional period referred to below and to last to the end of 2021.

Readers should also regularly check the essential information from the UK Government here and here, as well as the British Embassy in Tallinn site and social media page, and the Estonian interior ministry site here.

The Estonian Government's stance on the issue, which looking at the answers received is overwhelmingly one of continuity and cooperation so far as UK citizens living in Estonia are concerned, also needs to be aligned with the rest of the EU27.

Underscoring this is the fact that one of the last acts of the XIII Riigikogu ahead of the 3 March general election in Estonia was to pass an act safeguarding the rights of all UK citizens, well over a thousand of them nowadays, resident in Estonia.

''UK citizen'' refers to any persons holding citizenship of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, plus citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. Those with other British nationality status (such as ''British Subjects'' and those from other British Overseas Territories, were often not EU citizens in the first place, and would need to check their status accordingly).

Each answer lists inline the sources from the relevant ministry or other authority; the questions run from the more general to the more specific. The driving licence question was added in September.


What is your overall stance on the situation regarding UK nationals resident in Estonia after March 2019 and after year end 2020?

''Estonia's intention is that UK withdrawal goes smoothly for those UK citizens and their family members residing in Estonia today, so that they can continue their everyday life without any notable additional bureaucracy. The Ministry of the Interior is in charge of issues concerning citizens of the UK and their family members who wish to settle in Estonia, as well as their personal identification documents in Estonia''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


''Estonia's main goal is that Brexit has as little negative impact for our citizens and businesses as possible. Currently, the status of Estonian and other EU citizens remains the same as it was before the referendum of 23 June 2016. The UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019 (now 31 Oct. 2019-ed.) and until this date, the UK remains an EU Member State with all the rights and obligations associated with membership (including the EU law on the free movement of persons). The Brexit agreement guarantees that EU citizens and businesses can live and operate on the same basis as before in the UK until the end of the transition period. The status of Estonian citizens studying in the UK will remain the same''.

(Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Media Adviser Liisa Toots).


What, if anything, should a UK citizen resident and working in Estonia, who has residency permission and an ID card, do in the immediate term?

''According to the United Kingdom withdrawal agreement, after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 (now 31 Oct. 2019-ed.), the transition period will start. The transition period will last until 31 December 2020. Until the end of the transition period the law of the EU will generally remain applicable to citizens of the UK and their family members. UK citizens residing in Estonia don't need to take any additional steps so far.  We would like to remind to the UK citizens that their place of residence in the registries should be up to date. It is also important to renew their ID card if it expires''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


''Starting in April 2021, the Aliens Act will apply to citizens of the UK arriving in Estonia, and they will have to apply with the Police and Border Guard Board for a residence permit similarly to other third-country nationals. In the future, the United Kingdom will be treated in the same way as the United States and Japan, with no immigration quota applicable to the citizens of these countries in Estonia''.

(Ministry of the Interior website).


What will change for those who came with a UK or non-EU spouse and/or children, to Estonia? What about other family members? Will having a spouse and/or children who are Estonian citizens have any bearing on the situation of a UK citizen living here?

At the time this article was originally penned, the The Act on Amendments to the Citizen of the European Union Act and Other Acts (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union), which passed at the Riigikogu on 21 February, was at draft stage. Details on that act are here.

In addition and in connection with the above question:

''An alien residing in Estonia on the basis of a residence permit can invite his or her spouse and children to reside in Estonia. The prerequisites to family members settling in Estonia are that the family is stable, the alien has a permanent legal income, or the joint legal income of the spouses ensures the maintenance of both the person himself or herself and his or her family members in Estonia. The family should also have a place of residence in Estonia''.  

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


Will UK citizens need to apply for a new ID card once the nature of the UK's withdrawal from the EU is known entirely?

''As UK nationals will become third-country nationals, they need to change their Estonian ID card for a residence permit. According to the Draft Bill, all ID cards are valid until the end of their validity date and thus UK citizens do not need to hurry to change their ID cards. An ID card can be exchanged for a residence permit card from 1 January 2020 (postponed in line with Article 50 deadline extension-ed.). We will inform UK citizens directly in the future about this''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


UK citizens who have been living here for five years automatically qualify for permanent residence; is this likely to change?

''We are not planning any limitations for the UK citizens compared with the current system. A citizen of the UK will have the right to such status after five years, just as before''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).

(See also "How, where, and how often should people keep up to date with the details and changes, especially in the event of a no-deal if the EU27 agreement is rejected?" below).


Will holders of UK driver's licences need to exchange it for an Estonian one, and will that involve a test?

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK driver's licence holders will have 12 months to exchange their UK licence for an Estonian one. This requires no test, simply the payment of an administrative fee. After this 12-month period is up, the UK will be treated as a third country which complies with the 1968 Vienna Convention, meaning its driver's licences are recognized in Estonia - visitors to Estonia will still be able to drive on their UK licence - but UK citizens resident in Estonia will have to apply for the replacement.

If Brexit takes place via a deal, the 12-month period would follow the proposed general Brexit transition period, which would run from the end of 2019 until year end 2021. So in other words UK citizens resident in Estonia would have until the end of 2022 to get their Estonian licence.

(Answer summarized from Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications press release).


Will anything change regarding UK citizens who additionally also hold the citizenship of a third (ie. non-EU) state?

''No it won't''.

(Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Media Adviser Liisa Toots).


Will UK citizens still qualify for the use of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) after 2020?

''According to the draft withdrawal agreement, UK citizens still qualify to use their EHIC if medical expenses incur after the end of the transition period (ie. After 31 December 2020-ed.) only in cases where a person travelled to Estonia before the end of the transition period. The corresponding reimbursement procedures shall also apply even after the stay or treatment ends''.

(Ministry of Social Affairs, Head of Communications Karin Volmer).


Will those hoping to claim state and other pensions have to do anything, after (or before) 2020?

''According to the draft withdrawal agreement those hoping to claim pension still have a right to do that as the acquired insurance periods before the end of the transition period are aggregated. For instance, insurance periods while working in UK and Estonia are both taken into account. Periods acquired after the transition period shall be a matter of the future agreement. As also the information exchange system will continue to be applied, people themselves do not have to do anything extra compared to current claiming system''.

(Ministry of Social Affairs, Head of Communications Karin Volmer).


Will there be any changes to existing taxation treaties and agreements? Will there be any excise duty changes or allowances?

''If the Brexit withdrawal agreement enters into force, nothing will actually change for people regarding customs regulations for the duration of the transition period (and also after the transition period in case a similar agreement is concluded at a later stage as planned now)''.

''However, if the withdrawal agreement does not apply, then as of midnight of March 30, 2019 (now 31 Oct. 2019-ed.), the UK will become a 'third country' to which full customs control and customs duties will apply''.

''The website of the European Commission on taxation and customs union is here and on external trade here; these provide general information on the rules as they apply currently to the importation and exportation of goods. The relevant pages will be updated with further information, whenever available''.

''It is important to note that all of the above concerns British citizens in all member states of the European Union, there are no exceptions regarding UK residents in Estonia''.

(Ministry of Finance, Head of Communications Ivi Heldna).


How, where, and how often should people keep up to date with the details and changes, especially in the event of a no-deal if the EU27 agreement is rejected?

''We will inform UK citizens directly in case additional action is needed. In the case of a no-deal, we need to keep in mind that UK will be a third country according to EU legislation and therefore relevant EU law for third-country nationals will be applied. We are sure that in case of a no-deal scenario, we will not limit UK citizens and their family members residence in Estonia and we will try to do everything so that UK citizens and their family members residing in Estonia can continue their everyday life here without major obstacles''.

''Documents issued to the citizens of the United Kingdom in Estonia are valid internally until the end of their validity term and UK citizens and their family members are not obligated to immediately replace their documents''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


Will anything change regarding travel to Estonia's immediate EU neighbours, Finland and Latvia; should a UK citizen take his or her passport when travelling to those states, by any means of transport?

''If the agreement is ratified by the UK Parliament, then until the end of the transition period (ie. until 31 December 2021 as things stand), EU legislation applies and UK citizens can travel between Member States according to the same rules that have been valid so far''.

''In case of a no-deal or after the end of transition period, the EU rules for third-country nationals will apply. UK citizens need to carry their travel document (passport) and document which proves their right of residence (eg. residence permit) in case of travel between Members States. The Estonian ID card for the UK citizens proves the right of residence in Estonia and is not a travel document inside the EU. Therefore we recommend carrying the UK national passport together with the Estonian ID card while travelling between EU Member States''.

''If you wish to travel from Estonia to other EU Member States, an ID card is sufficient until 1 April 2020. On 1 April 2020 at the latest, the documents must be replaced with a residence card.'' (note this period has likely been extended in line with extensions to Article 50 of the EU treaty-ed.).

''If a UK citizen is staying in a foreign country at the moment of the UK leaving the EU, he or she can return to Estonia on the basis of a valid travel document (passport) and a document that certifies the right of residence (ID card). He or she can also apply for an extension of the document that certifies his or her right of residence at Estonia's foreign missions''.

Readers of all nationalities are in any case advised to take their passport or recognized travel document - the Estonian ID card is not a travel document for non-citizens - when travelling within the Schengen Zone, as authorities in those countries can, and do, carry out spot checks; citizenship of a Schengen Zone nation still needs to be proven.

Staying in other EU Member States on the basis of Estonian residency permit:

''Upon the change of status from an EU citizen to a third-country national, you should keep in mind that you are allowed to stay in the Schengen Member States on the basis of a travel document (passport) and a visa of a Member States or visa-freedom for up to three months from your first entry into an EU Member State. Over a period of six months, you can stay in the EU Member States for up to three months on the basis of a residence permit of a Member State and a travel document. It is important to keep in mind that when working in the Schengen Member States, you have to comply with the law of that respective Member State, as legal acts may differ in individual Member States''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


Were the European elections in May 2019 the final European election UK citizens could vote in? Will this also apply to local elections?

''After withdrawal the UK will become a third country in relation to the EU. After that, the UK will no longer be participating in the work of the European Parliament – it will not be organising or participating in elections to the European Parliament. In short, UK citizens cannot run for office or vote in the European Parliamentary elections once, and if, Brexit takes place''.

''As for local elections in Estonia, UK citizens will still be able to vote – a citizen of a non-EU Member State or a stateless person residing in Estonia may vote at the local government council elections if he/she resides in Estonia on the basis of a long-term residence permit or the right of permanent residence''.

(State Electoral Office, adviser Kristi Kirsberg).


Will companies/people who employ UK citizens in Estonia have to make any major changes? Conversely will UK nationals who employ people here, either Estonian citizens or others, need to change any of their procedures?

''After the transition period, all regulation for the third-country nationals will apply to the new UK citizens, who will arrive after the transition period. As negotiations of the exact details under the future relationship will start after Brexit, there may be some changes in the near future''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


Will Brexit, particularly a no-deal situation, imply any changes for the children of UK nationals going to school in Estonia, or UK nationals who are students studying, researching or otherwise working at the higher education institutes (also teaching in secondary schools)?

''Our main goal is that Brexit would have as little negative impact for citizens as possible. It must be stressed that students and people working in (higher) education are above all citizens of some country. Therefore, whichever agreement is achieved on living abroad between the UK and the EU, all students, researchers and other working in education must follow these. It cannot be said that the outcome of Brexit will change something specific for students, researchers or employees – as long they are eligible to live in Estonia they are very welcome to do so; all study- or work-related matters or disputes are settled in their contract with their school or employer''.

(Ministry of Education and Research, Consultant at the Department of Communications Sten Otsmaa).


Will anything change regarding UK citizens bringing pets from the UK/outside Estonia?

''If the prepared withdrawal agreement is approved, then the movement of pets during the transitional period will continue under current procedures. Provisions of EU law shall apply to live animals and germinal products transported from a Member State to the UK or vice versa, presuming that the starting date for the transportation was before the end of the transitional period''.

''The corresponding EU law is derived from Chapter II of Regulation (EU) No 576/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 June 2013 on the non-commercial movement of pet animals and repealing Regulation (EC) No 998/2003, which lays down the conditions for the non-commercial movement of pet animals between Member States''.

''If no agreement is reached, then the UK will be considered a third country starting from the moment of withdrawal and provisions from Chapter III will apply''.

''A more precise overview of the current regulations is available at the webpages of the Estonian Veterinary and Food Board here (in Estonian) and the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) here''.

(Ministry of Rural Affairs, Deputy Head of Food Safety Department Pille Tammemägi).


Will any of the changes affect UK military and ancillary personnel stationed at Tapa, Ämari and elsewhere in Estonia?

''Estonia and the United Kingdom share a special defence relationship and Brexit has no impact on UK's NATO and enhanced forward presence (eFP) commitment in Estonia''.

(Ministry of Defence, Deputy Director of Strategic Communications Department Andres Sang).


Will there be any changes regarding ownership of land, in other words would UK citizens not be able to make purchases (including forest) that they previously could have?

''The only law that restricts the acquisition of land for foreign nationals in Estonia is the Law on the Limitation of the Acquisition of Immovables (Sections 5 and 10). Section 4 (1) of this Act provides that:

'A citizen of Estonia or another country which is a contracting party to the EEA Agreement or a member state of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (hereinafter Contracting State) has the right to acquire an immovable which contains agricultural or forest land without restrictions'.

Therefore, if the UK continues to be 'contracting state', then nothing will change for UK citizens in this area''.

(Ministry of the Environment, Silver Jakobson, Head of the State Assets Department of the Ministry of the Environment).


Will there be any changes for UK citizens in hunting rights in Estonia?

''Hunting in Estonia is regulated by law and is permitted to those who possess a permit. There are no differentiations between a foreign citizen and a citizen of the EU when hunting, so nothing will change for UK citizens after Brexit''.

(Ministry of the Environment, Hunting Adviser Tõnu Traks).


Are there any differences in carbon emissions for UK citizens running a company in Estonia?

''The ETS (the EU's greenhouse gas emission trading scheme), is a Europe-wide market-based measure that regulates emissions from energetic and industrial sectors. Therefore, there is no difference, from which country the company is – if it acts in our legal area, the rules of our country and also of the EU apply to it''.

''For example, if a British company produces electricity in Estonia, then it will receive all corresponding permits from the state of Estonia, not from the UK. And if it exceeds the limit values of the membership of ETS, it is a systemic responsibility irrespective of which state owns the company. A good example of this is Kunda Nordic Cement (a cement producer) which belongs to the Heidelberg Group or, Fortum Estonia, and which produces heat''.

(Ministry of the Environment, Head of Climate Department Getlyn Denks).


At least one UK citizen was working at Danske bank during the period of illicit funds allegedly being transferred via the Tallinn branch. Whilst he was not implicated, he claims he blew the whistle on activities to management. Will criminal activities be harder to detect or apprehend after the UK's withdrawal? Will anything change regarding sharing information between police jurisdictions in the UK and Estonia, in both directions?

''In case of a no-deal Brexit, cooperation between Estonian and UK authorities could only be based on either international instruments, such as appropriate Council of Europe conventions, or on bilateral treaties concluded for specific purposes. Since the EU legislation provides for a framework to ensure smoother and faster information exchange between law enforcement and judicial authorities, a no-deal Brexit could impact the way the information is shared, especially in the case of personal data. However, as noted before, the EU legislation provides for possibilities to exchange personal data, including for law enforcement purposes, with third countries and therefore while the rules would certainly be different, it is difficult to predict at the moment how big exactly this difference would be. In the case of non-personal data the rules of the parties, ie. Estonia and the UK would apply, therefore it would depend on the type of information to be shared, its sensitivity etc.''.

(Ministry of Justice, Criminal Policy Department adviser Julia Antonova).


''Brexit can cause some negative impact on information exchange. Many matters depend on the agreements that will be made in the future, for example with Europol (SIENA). Possible effects are still being analysed, however, and there are several alternatives when it comes to exchanging information, for example INTERPOL''.

(Ivo Kolk of the Central Criminal Police (PPA) and head of Interpol National Central Bureau).


Will anything change regarding UK nationals apprehended in or suspected of committing a crime in Estonia? What about any UK nationals incarcerated in Estonian prisons if that were to happen/has happened?

''In the case of a hard Brexit, judicial cooperation in criminal matters would be governed by the international agreements and conventions on mutual legal assistance and judicial cooperation, such as Council of Europe conventions. Estonia applies the same rules of criminal procedure and trial for both EU and non-EU citizens, so there would not be any differences for the UK nationals in the way a trial is conducted. However, since in case of the conventions a country can decide itself when to sign and ratify a convention, certain constraints might come from the fact that not all the Conventions are ratified and enforced by Estonia or the UK. Additionally, cooperation on the basis of the conventions tends to be slower, so there would certainly be an impact on the efficiency of judicial cooperation''.

''In cases of a UK national being sentenced to imprisonment in Estonia after a 'hard Brexit', the Council of Europe convention on transfer of sentenced persons could be used. Both the UK and Estonia have ratified the convention. The convention has been in place since 1983, therefore the regime of this convention, similarly to other Council of Europe conventions, is more burdensome and slower that in case of direct cooperation currently established on the basis of the EU law. There are also certain possibility for declarations and reservations to be made in respect to the convention. Therefore, in the case of a hard Brexit, the Council of Europe conventions would be the way to go for judicial cooperation, taking into account specific regimes laid down in the conventions, ratification of the convention by the parties, declarations and reservations made etc.''.

(Ministry of Justice, Criminal Policy Department adviser Julia Antonova).


''The situation for UK nationals arrested in Estonia will not change, as it is national law, that affects this. The courts and The Ministry of Justice can comment on possible changes in extradition processes. The status of ay UK Nationals incarcerated in Estonia also depends on national law. However, we do suggest you also seek clarification from Estonian prisons on the issue''.

(Ivo Kolk of the Central Criminal Police (PPA) and head of Interpol National Central Bureau).


How can we know that the status quo will not change dramatically in future, particularly in the event of a no-deal withdrawal?

''The EU Commission together with Member States is only commencing to prepare for the no-deal situation and therefore the overall EU Member States approach is not clear yet''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


Has a change in government and the makeup of the coalition following the March general election and entry into office of the current coalition of the Centre Party, EKRE and Isamaa, changed anything? Some government members and their supporters have railed against immigration in the past, as well as strongly opposing the UN's global migration compact in late 2018.

''The agreement is directly applicable, ie. the agreement prevails over the law of a Member State, and only contradiction of the law of a Member State to the agreement can be considered, not its interpretation. It is important to emphasise that any persons whose rights are covered by the Agreement can rely on the Agreement directly, if they feel that their rights have been violated''.

(Ministry of the Interior, Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Harry Kattai).


Is the UK's withdrawal likely to affect the status of English as the second foreign language (after Russian) provided in state and public-sector institutions, services, notices etc.?

''English is overwhelmingly the most popular first foreign language that students choose in schools and we do not expect this to change. Public services are always provided in Estonian as per the Language Act [of 2013-ed.], but additional languages are optional and often welcomed in the public sphere. Brexit is not going to affect these nor any other parts of Estonia's language policy''.

(Ministry of Education and Research Consultant at the Department of Communications Sten Otsmaa).


Will there be any changes to the type of electronic and other data, and the way in which it is collected or stored, on UK citizens?

''In case of no-deal scenario, the UK would become a third country in terms of EU legislation on data protection. This means that the transfers of personal data between the EU and UK would be governed by the rules on international transfers similarly to other third countries. EU legislation on data protection provides for a comprehensive set of rules on international transfers. The first option is the adequacy decision by the Commission, confirming that the UK´s data protection regime is fully compliant with the EU rules. However, negotiations on adequacy decisions are usually lengthy and therefore this option could not be used as of the end of March in case of no-deal scenario. Alternatively, the EU legislation foresees a number of other possibilities to transfer personal data between the EU and a third country. Since the UK has as of now fully implemented the EU data protection framework, the possible grounds for transfers could be based on the appropriate safeguards or, if applicable, a derogatory rules for specific situations could be used, depending on the particular case at hands''.

''Estonia is subject to the EU rules on data protection and we do not distinguish the rules based on the citizenship. Therefore, if the data of the UK citizens has been transmitted to Estonia lawfully, the EU data protection regime is applicable to such data and would remain applicable after Brexit''.

(Ministry of Justice, Criminal Policy Department adviser Julia Antonova).


All information correct at time of writing, 21 December 2018.


Hopefully the above is of some help. If and when significant updates or changes occur, we will cover them on ERR News.

Please note we were unable to find satisfactory answers to the question of any changes to the use and storage of personal data after UK withdrawal.

The foreign ministry's Brexit page is here and the interior ministry's is here.

ERR News would like to thank the following for their invaluable help in compiling this piece:

Harry Kattai and Merje Klopets (Ministry of the Interior), Liisa Toots and Britta Tarvis (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Karin Volmer and Enneli Mikko (Ministry of Social Affairs), Ivi Heldna (Ministry of Finance), Sten Otsmaa and Tarmu Kurm (Ministry of Education and Research), Silver Jakobson, Tõnu Traks, Getlyn Denks and Agnes Aaslaid (Ministry of the Environment), Pille Tammemägi and Angelika Lebedev (Ministry of Rural Affairs), Kai-Ines Nelson (Ministry of Culture), Andres Sang (Ministry of Defence), Juia Antonova and Kristin Rammus (Ministry of Justice), Kristi Kirsberg (State Electoral Office), Ivo Kolk and Barbara Lichtfeld (Police and Border Guard Board), Maj. Arvo Jõesalu (Estonian Defence Forces), Viivika Siplane (Harju County Court).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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