Living on a stunning Cyclades Island, in a sugar cube house with sweeping views of the Aegean Sea, was a dream come true for novelist David Young from Twickenham, when he settled on the Greek island of Syros several years ago. Like thousands of second-home owners in Greece – and elsewhere in Europe – however, David’s dream could turn into a nightmare on January 1, 2021 when Schengen rules, limiting the amount of time he can spend in his foreign bolthole, come into force.
“Like me, many Brits divide their lives between two countries, but after Brexit – unless they apply for full residency in the EU country where they’ve bought their property, pay taxes there, and lose their NHS provision back home – second-home owners will be limited to stays of a maximum of 90 days,” says David, who set up Facebook group 180 Days in Greece to help fellow Britons affected by the new regulations.
With no flexibility for family illness, vital property maintenance or other emergencies, the 90/180 rule could also create major practical problems for second-home owners. In 2014, Stephen and Rosemary Moy from Kirstead near Norwich, spent £200,000 to have a house built on the island of Antiparos, where actor Tom Hanks has a second home.
“We have caring responsibilities for our elderly parents who are now in their nineties, so we can only be away for a certain amount of time each year. We usually travel out to Greece twice a year – via France, Switzerland and Italy – in our campervan but the journey takes us about eight days each way, which means that after Brexit we could only spend about eight weeks per year in our property,” they say.
Margaret Hibbit from Kidderminster, who bought and renovated a small stone house on the island of Crete in 1997, is also worried about the new visa rules. “Since my husband’s death I no longer live there full time, but I visit at least three times a year. Not being able to return for three months after spending 90 days in Crete causes great concern over maintaining my property, paying my bills and keeping it in good repair.”
And it’s not just homeowners who will be affected: from January 1 2021 yacht owners, caravanners – and even gap year students – will have to apply for a visa if they plan to stay in the EU for longer than three months. “It will be a nightmare,” says Amanda Shaw from Kent, who has a caravan on a plot of land near Limoges, in France. “We’ll have to make the visa application months in advance of travel and there will be thousands of us applying, so it’s bound to be a really lengthy process.”
Britons who overstay their visa could be faced with sizeable fines, deportation, or being banned from the Schengen zone. “Visa applicants also need to prove a sufficient monthly income. In some countries this will probably be higher than the average UK state pension, so for some people it might not even be possible to obtain one,” Amanda says.
Lured by the promise of cheap property and a better standard of living, Britons have been flocking overseas ever since the United Kingdom joined the EU in 1973. Today there are more than half a million second home owners throughout Europe. “For those that cannot become fully resident, their visiting rights will be limited following Brexit. This will be bad for local businesses and the economy generally,” says Eleni Kourakle, president of the cultural association of Chrani, a seaside resort in The Peloponnese which is popular with British visitors.
Like David Young, many second homeowners are frustrated by the lack of response from government officials “We’ve contacted numerous Greek MPs and local officials, and have recently submitted our case to the Prime Minister and the British ambassador, but with little response,” he says.
Answering a question about extending the 90-day limit, MP Wendy Morton stated: “The type of visa arrangements that your constituent suggests are not part of the UK approach to negotiations with the EU on our future relationship.”
With the recent news that Portugal will allow Britons to remain in the country for 180 days without a visa, however, second home-owners and long-stay visitors are hoping that other EU countries will offer workarounds. “Citizens from the EU, EEA and Switzerland who want to stay in the UK for up to six months will not require a visa post-Brexit. All we are asking for is parity,” David says.