Entering and living in the UK

Last modified: 10 September 2019

Entering the UK: documents

Last modified: 21 December 2016

EEA nationals

The Home Office has confirmed on its website that citizens of EEA countries can travel to the UK using their national identity cards or passports.


Non-EEA family members

If your family member is a non-EEA national and does not have any documentation issued under the Directive certifying that they are your family member, they should apply for an EEA family permit before entering the UK.

Even though the Directive says that getting documentation is not necessary, it is certainly strongly advised for any direct family members who are non-EEA family members. It will definitely be necessary for any extended family members to obtain the EEA permit before arriving in the UK, as the UK government must satisfactorily assess that your family member qualifies to come to the UK under EU law prior.

If your family member is a non-EEA national and has an EEA residence card issued by another EEA country (on the basis that they have spent time with you as your family member in another EU state) they should be allowed to use this card to enter the UK. However, in guidance for employers about avoiding penalties, these cards are not mentioned, so it is advisable, if your family member needs to work, to obtain a residence card once they are in the UK. You will either need to be entering the UK with your family member or you will need to be in the UK already. If your family member(s) are intending to come for more than three months, you may also need to show that you will be exercising a right to reside or, if you are already in the UK or that you are exercising a right to reside.

Basic residence rights

Last modified: 09 September 2019

EEA and Swiss nationals have an initial, unrestricted right to reside in another member state for up to three months (in this case the UK). Thereafter, you must be here as a student, employed person (or someone who has retained 'worker status'), self-employed person, self-sufficient person or the relevant family member of one of these. In addition, you can be here as a jobseeker for a limited amount of time. The European Directive 2004/38/EC (known as 'the citizens' directive') contains the criteria you have to meet to exercise your right to reside in each capacity. You can be in the UK exercising more than one treaty right which means all EEA and Swiss national students can work in the UK.

You can continue to stay in the UK after you have completed your studies (or even if you do not complete your studies) as long as you are continue to exercise a right to reside here. In order to do this, you must be either ‘self-sufficient’, self-employed, a ‘worker’ (or someone who has retained ‘worker status’), a student or the relevant family member of someone who has right to reside (other than as a work-seeker).

The Citizens’ Directive (2004/38/EC) says that someone is exercising a right as a ‘self-sufficient’ person if they: “have sufficient resources for themselves and their family members not to become a burden on the social assistance system of the host Member State during their period of residence and have comprehensive sickness insurance cover in the host Member State”.

There is more information in the Modernised guidance on what the UK government will accept from someone to show that they are exercising a right to reside in the UK on this basis.

Depending on how long you have been in the UK, you may have acquired the right of permanent residence. If you have acquired the right of permanent residence, you will be allowed to remain in the UK without having to exercise a right to reside and will be treated as having ‘settled status'. However you will need to apply under the EU settlement scheme before the deadline to have settled status under UK law after the UK leaves the EU.

In some circumstances a family member of an EEA national may ‘retain’ a right of residence if the EEA national dies, leaves the UK, or (in the case of spouses or civil partners) the couple divorce or terminate their civil partnership.

In addition, the UK government has made provision in their EEA Regulations for those who have a ‘derivative’ right of residence.

The Home Office issues instructions to its staff on how to interpret EU law when making decisions about applications from EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members. These are contained in the Modernised guidance and European operational policy notices. They are available on the Home Office website . In addition, there is separate guidance for entry clearance officers known as ‘Entry clearance guidance’.

Right of permanent residence

Last modified: 10 September 2019
If you have resided lawfully for five years continuously you have acquired the ‘right of permanent residence’ in the UK, by virtue of the Citizens’ Directive (2004/38/EC). The UK's EEA regulations extends this right to all qualifying EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who have lived in the UK ‘in accordance with the regulations’. Time spent in the UK as a student can count towards this five years’ residence, as long as you have resided in the UK in accordance with the directive, and have met the criteria laid out in them.

Periods spent in the UK not exercising a right of residence do not count towards the five years of ‘continuous lawful residence’ required for the right of permanent residence. It is therefore very important if you are exercising a right to reside in the UK as a student to ensure that you are fulfilling all the requirements of the directive, including having comprehensive sickness insurance for the duration of your time in the UK as a student to ensure you do not break the continuation of the five years needed to gain the right of permanent residence. However, if you were issued with a registration certificate on the basis of being in the UK as student before 20 June 2011 transitional arrangements in Annex B of this guidance will apply.

Guidance issued by the Home Office provides information on page 49 about what are considered acceptable gaps in the continuity of residence. 

Once you have this right, it can only be lost through absence from the UK for a period exceeding two consecutive years unless the Home Office chooses to cancel it because they believe serious grounds of public policy, public security or public health require cancellation.

Family members of the EEA or Swiss national who have resided with the EEA or Swiss national for five years, in line with you also gain the right to permanent residence.

Your family member’s right of permanent residence, once acquired, is independent of yours.

You are not required to obtain a certificate, as the right of permanent residence is acquired regardless of obtaining this, but it would help educational institutions (if you wish to study) and employers (if you wish to work) if you do. Having the document is evidence you have met the requirements of the Citizens' Directive, but you will need to apply under the EU settlement scheme before the deadline to have settled status under UK law after the UK leaves the European Union.  Since 1 August 2016 unless you have a document certifying a right of permanent residence or a permanent residence card, any application for naturalisation as a British citizen on this basis will be refused.

To apply to have the right of permanent residence certified on a document, use form EEA(PR) which is available on the Home Office website and costs £65. This is the form for all EEA nationals and for the family members of EEA nationals. Since 1 October 2016, there has been a European passport return service in some locations in the UK for those applying under the EEA(PR) route or under the EEA(QP) route. 

EEA and Swiss nationals will receive a document certifying permanent right of residence in the UK.

Non-EEA/Swiss national family members will receive a permanent residence card.

There are some circumstances where the right of permanent residence can be acquired in fewer than five years, but these are related to those who were ‘workers’ or ‘self employed’, and their family members, for example, those who may be retiring at pensionable age or ceasing work because of permanent incapacity or industrial injury. Family members will also gain the right of permanent residence in line with the worker or self-employed person, or in some circumstances where the worker or self-employed person dies before acquiring the right of permanent residence.