Travelling to work in the EU (updated)

Post updated 27/01/22

I started writing this post because I was quite annoyed that there wasn’t any straightforward advice on travelling to work from the UK to the EU. Also, as far as I can see, Brexit will hit freelancers a good deal harder than employees for two reasons:

  1. employees don’t need to scramble around for work in the first place so the impact of Brexit is limited to the impact on their employers, and
  2. because some countries are looking for evidence that you have been employed by a particular employer for a long period of time before even considering a visa application. For example (quoting the .gov website)…. .

If your UK employer sends you to work on an assignment or secondment to Spain you need an ICT work and residence permit for the provision of transnational services (cross-border services).

To qualify you must:

  • provide services specified in a contract between the UK employer and the company in Spain
  • have a bachelor’s level degree or at least 5 years’ relevant work experience
    have provided services for the UK company for at least 9 months and at least 1 year in the UK
  • be paid at least the minimum salary according to the relevant collective bargaining agreement (depends on what the company does)
  • keep your UK employment contract
  • stay on UK payroll

This permit takes 3 to 9 months to get. It’s valid for up to 1 year and you can extend it for up to 2 years. (from here)

But back to the question of finding straightforward advice: A few hours later and I now know why no one has published any straightforward advice on travelling to work from the UK to the EU. David Thomas, he’s done about as good a job as is possible here.

In the area of live touring, as has already been noted here, the issue of working in the EU has been somewhat clouded by claims from the UK to have sorted something out without necessarily offering much detail on what it is they have agreed.

For people working in the film industry, the BFC have good guidance on what people need to do to be able to come and work in the UK post-Brexit. But leaving this aside, for other forms of work, it’s still remarkably foggy. I’ve had a confusing time trying to unpick some advice from what I’ve found online when I was asked recently about working in France.

Note: My findings will probably be generally useful to people thinking about working in any countries covered by the Schengen agreement. As ever, with posts here, they are a bit of general commentary and should not be taken as advice. It’s a starting point, but you should check if anything has changed since I posted it and definitely get direct advice before basing any decisions on what I’m saying here.

Throat-clearing over! Firstly, France is a Schengen country. The Schengen Area is border-free, and it guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, along with non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU as tourists, exchange students, or for business purposes (anyone legally present in the EU).

If you are an EU citizen, it allows you free movement to travel, work and live in an EU country without having to get a visa or anything like that. It generally means no border checks either.

Most EU countries are in Schengen. Cyprus and Ireland aren’t and aren’t making any attempt to join. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are also not officially in it but they are well on the way to joining and they already applying a lot of the rules. Also, some non-EU States – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein – are actually in Schengen.

If they are making a short trip to work in the Schengen area, British citizens are covered by a Schengen visa waiver. This means you do not need to apply for a Schengen visa to visit these countries for up to 90 days in a 180-day period for tourist travel, or for some business activities, such as attending meetings.

Every country will have its own definition of work, and many will have some forms of work that are permitted without a visa but you will need to check with each one.

So using the example of France, the UK government has detailed advice on working there. The French government also has something that is a bit less comprehensive but worth checking anyway if you’re planning to travel to and work there.

The bad news is that, for periods of work that last for a while, generally, you are going to need a visa to work there, and there is a chance you won’t get it. The headline news is the British citizens don’t have automatic the freedom to work in the EU. Even if you do get the green light, you will often have to apply for it a long time in advance (depending on the type of visa, it can take up to 16 weeks!)

However, there is some good news. There are a list of activities that you actually can do (i.e. things that you may think of as work, but are permissible), though you may be subject to border checks asking for proof of return travel (e.g. plane or train tickets), health insurance that covers your stay, proof of accommodation for your entire stay, or an invitation letter from an employer.

They can also check that you have enough money for the duration of the trip.

And the good news gets even better (in the way that ten-steps-back-one-step-forwards is good news) for many (not all) Bectu members – France has an exemption for people working for up to 90 days in a number of different professions, and this includes artists and their technical production team for film, audio-visual content, and shows, fashion and art models, and people taking part in sporting, cultural, artistic and scientific events, or conferences, seminars, and trade exhibitions. It’s worth checking the list carefully – especially if you’re doing some teaching. Update – 27/01/22Spain’s list is nowhere near as useful for Bectu members – it seems largely geared towards enabling business meetings, research and academic knowledge sharing. You can attend a trade show, but don’t try doing any actual work (filming, audiovisual stuff, etc) at it.

They may, however, need to prove that the exemption applies to them (an assignment letter, an employment confirmation letter, a contract, proof of required qualifications, such as a diploma or professional certificate, CV etc).

So, after composing a long post (and redrafting it a few times as the meaning of some guidance becomes clearer) what can I tell you?

The answer is that I can tell you very little general information about travelling to the EU that is concrete, that you will have to do a lot of detective work to get to the bottom of this question for any trip you are making (checking specific info about each country) and you will also probably have plenty of unanswered questions before you take the chance of heading abroad to actually work.

Anecdotal evidence tells me that people are just not bothering to take the risk at the moment. A lot of this has had a CoViD-shaped veil thrown over it which means that it hasn’t had the impact that it would have otherwise, and hopefully, at least, people will find that their working life will re-shape around not needing to go to the EU for work.

That’s hardly a win, though, is it?


This entry was posted in EU & Brexit, Film & TV industry policy, Freelance working, Theatre and Live Events data and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Travelling to work in the EU (updated)

  1. Pingback: Brexit for freelancers

  2. David Thomas says:

    Excellent post, Paul. And thanks for linking to mine with such kind words.

    I know your members will expect you to give them detailed advice, but that’s an unreasonable expectation at the moment. Everything is down to individual circumstances and individual countries’ rules for non-EU workers.

    It’s a bureaucratic nightmare for freelancers. This will become more apparent as covid travel restrictions ease.

  3. Davide says:

    As an EU-based freelancer (actor/musician), I am trying to understand how to navigate coming to the UK for short-term (1-day to 1-week max) commercial gigs — commercials move too quickly for any sort of visa sponsorship (unlike longer film shoots). Whilst I am able to invoice clients directly via my auto-entrepreneur status in France, I am completely confused as to what type of visas I need if any…I have an EU passport and I am declared fiscally in France…Any thoughts? Thanks in advance!

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