If you’re an EU citizen, you have the right to reside, work and study in any of the 27 EU member states. As this article shows, however, the law imposes a number of limits on your EU rights.
Right of residence
The conditions placed on your right to reside in another EU country will depend on your status. For example, if you are a student, unemployed, or want to retire in an EU country in which you have never worked, you must have sufficient financial resources and health insurance to ensure you do not become a social security burden. These conditions do not apply, however, if you retire in a country where you worked previously.
Note also that if you are unemployed, you have the right to live in another EU country for a ‘reasonable period’ of time — generally 3-6 months — in order to look for a job. No matter how long you have to look for a job, however, you cannot be asked to leave the country if you can prove that you are still seriously looking for a job and that you have a real chance of finding one.
Members of your family, whatever their nationality, may go with you and take advantage of their right to live in another EU country.
- If you are not a student, your family is defined as your spouse, children under 21 (or dependent on you), as well as your parents and your spouse’s parents, if they are also dependent on you.
- If you are a student, however, the right of residence is limited to your spouse and dependent children.
Nationals of newly admitted member states
It is important to note that following the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and 2007, workers from some of the new member states may face restrictions on access to the labour markets of the older member states. For more information, read the ‘Right to Work’ section below.
Right to refuse residence on public order and health grounds
If your presence represents a serious threat to public order, security, or health, your right to reside in another country may be restricted. If an EU country takes any decision in relation to your residence on these grounds, you must be told the reasons for the decision. You must also be given sufficient time to prepare a defence and submit an appeal.
Five year uninterrupted residence
After five years of uninterrupted residence, EU citizens and their family members acquire a permanent right of residence, which can no longer be subject to any conditions.
Right to vote and stand for elections
Every EU citizen has the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections in the country where he or she has a right of residence, under the same conditions as nationals of that country.
Right to work
EU citizens and nationals of countries in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) do not need a work permit to work in another EU/EFTA country.
Your right to work in an EU/EFTA country might be temporarily restricted, however, if you are a national of a newly admitted EU member state.
- If you are a national of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia or Slovakia
You have the right to work without a work permit in the following countries: Belgium; Bulgaria; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Norway; Iceland; and Liechtenstein.
Until 30 April 2011, however, restrictions apply in: Austria; Germany; Malta; and UK. And Switzerland can impose restrictions until 31 May 2011.
- If you are a national of Romania or Bulgaria
You have the right to work without a work permit in: Bulgaria; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; Greece; Hungary; Latvia; Lithuania; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; and Sweden.
Until 31 December 2013, however, your ability to work might be restricted in: Austria; Belgium; France; Germany; Iceland; Ireland; Italy; Liechtenstein; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Norway; UK. Switzerland can impose restrictions until 31 May 2016.
Right to study
As EU citizens, you and your children are entitled to study in any EU country under the same conditions as nationals of that country.
Your children have the right to be placed in a class with their own age group, at the equivalent level to their class in your country of origin — regardless of their language level. Indeed, if you are an EU national migrating to another EU country for work, your children are entitled under EU law to receive free language tuition in your new home country to help them adapt to the school system there.
To study in another EU country for a period of less than three months (if you want to take a language course, for example), all you need is a valid identity card or passport from an EU country.
If you want to study in another EU country for more than three months, you must:
- be enrolled at an approved educational establishment;
- be covered by comprehensive health insurance;
- have sufficient resources to support yourself and your family (if they are moving with you) — for more information, read the ‘Right of Residence’ section above.
The country you move to may require that you register your residence with the relevant authorities (often the town hall or local police station).
Enforcing your rights
If you feel your EU rights have been violated, you should first complain to the authority concerned. If you are not satisfied with the response, you may want to contact the Citizens Signpost Service (CSS), a free multilingual EU legal advice service.