How many British pensioners live in other EU countries, and how many pensioners from other EU countries live in the UK?

On 19 June 2017, negotiations began that will determine the UK’s relationship with the EU after Brexit, and both sides have identified citizens’ rights as an important priority. Discussions will include the future arrangements for residency, work, education, social security and healthcare for UK citizens living in other EU countries and EU citizens living in the UK.

We’ve been looking at patterns of migration between the UK and Europe in a series of articles called Living Abroad, and some journalists have noted that Brits living in France and Spain are older than the EU citizens living in the UK.

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Are we really “exporting” large numbers of retirees and pensioners to other EU countries?

Where to find the data

There are several possible ways to measure the number of Brits living in the EU. In January 2017, we published What information is there on British migrants living in Europe?, using data from the 2010 and 2011 national censuses published by the Eurostat Census hub.

In this article we use more up-to-date figures from the 2016 EU Labour Force Survey to provide an overview of the number of British citizens aged 65 and over living in other EU countries. Data on citizens of other EU countries living in the UK come from a 3-year-average dataset (2013 to 2015) of the ONS Annual Population Survey.

We’ll consider Ireland separately in a future article, as the UK’s unique relationship with Ireland – encompassing the Common Travel Area in place since 1922 and the right of people born in Northern Ireland to take up both Irish and British citizenship – makes it complex to identify those who may be affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU. There are many dual nationals, and a further unknown number of people who have rights to both citizenships but have not yet exercised one of them.

Overall figures

The number of Brits aged 65 and over living in other EU countries is far greater than the number of EU citizens in the same age group living in the UK.

There are around 247,000 British citizens aged 65 and over living in other EU countries (excluding Ireland), and 85,000 people aged 65 and over from other EU countries (excluding Ireland) living in the UK.

Older British citizens living in the EU, and older EU citizens living in the UK, selected countries1

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There are 121,000 older Brits living in Spain, more than double the number 10 years ago. The number of people in this age group moving to Spain has not gone up significantly since 2008, so the recent increase is likely to be due to people who have lived there for many years getting older.

Italy is the country whose older citizens living in the UK most outnumber the older people from Britain living there. There have historically been relatively high levels of migration from Italy, especially in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and most people who moved to the UK in those years are now aged 65 and over. The older people from Poland who live in the UK, significantly outnumbering the number of older Brits living in Poland, are mainly long-term residents rather than more recent migrants.


The people receiving the UK State Pension, counted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), are a different group from those counted by the EU Labour Force Survey. This is because not everyone that receives a UK State Pension is a British citizen – it’s paid to anyone with qualifying National Insurance contributions or credits – and some people may register their address abroad with the DWP without being a long-term resident of that country.

In February 2017, the DWP paid State Pensions to around 340,000 pensioners living in other EU countries excluding Ireland.

Some media reports have claimed that British pensioners are “rushing to settle in EU countries ahead of Brexit”, while others report pensioners considering returning to the UK because of the falling value of the pound and uncertainty over their rights after the UK leaves the EU. In fact, the number of State Pension recipients living in other EU countries has risen steadily over the last 5 years, continuing a long-term trend.

UK State Pension recipients resident in other EU countries (excluding Ireland), August 2012 to February 2017

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During this time the basic state pension has gone up every year, due to the “triple lock” policy of increasing its value by the highest of inflation, earnings or 2.5%. However, those spending their pension in the Eurozone countries will have seen their spending power rise and fall because of fluctuations in the exchange rate.

In the last 5 years, the value of the full basic State Pension reached a maximum of €164 per week in November 2015, before falling to €138 in July 2017.

Value of full UK basic State Pension per week in euros and pounds (not adjusted for inflation), August 2012 to July 2017

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  1. Data for Greece, Croatia, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Malta are not available for 2016; instead, data from the 2011 European Census are used. Data for France are taken from the 2014 French Census for those aged 55 years and over. Data for Spain are from Spanish Population Figures for 1 January 2016. Data for Poland are not available by age for 2016 - an estimate for those aged 65 years and over is calculated using the 2016 estimate for all British citizens living in Poland, proportioned according to the age distribution of the 2011 European Census estimate of British citizens living in Poland.