Brits abroad: how many people from the UK live in other EU countries?

Last updated: 29 Mar 2016

In brief: There were an estimated 1.2 million UK-born people living in other EU countries in 2015. Most of them live in Spain, Ireland and France. There were also an estimated 3 million people from other EU countries living in the UK in 2014.

1.2 million people born in the UK live in other EU countries, according to 2015 data from the United Nations. The UN figures are a compilation of census data from the various countries.

Spain hosts the largest group of Brits at an estimated 310,000. Ireland is second with an estimated 250,000, and France third with 190,000.

Those 1.2 million people place the UK fifth among EU countries for the size of their expat population in other EU member countries.

Poland has the most: an estimated 3.5 million Poles live elsewhere in the EU. Romania, Germany and Italy also have higher expat populations than the UK.

The University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory produced similar research in 2011, which has since been updated.

The UN data isn’t a perfect measure, as different counties define “immigrant” differently. Some define their migrant population as those born abroad; others count foreign citizens. Census data may also miss some immigrants.

As the House of Commons Library comments, this is an “unavoidable limitation” of using these figures to compare countries.

Previous estimates have placed the figure higher, but these aren’t the best or most recently available figures

An older estimate by the IPPR think tank estimated that 1.8 million UK nationals lived in other EU countries for at least a year in 2008. This rose to 2.2 million when including people who lived abroad for at least part of the year.

This was produced before all the census data used by the UN was available, so the researchers filled in the gaps using various assumptions.

This estimate has been used as recently as last month by the government, but the IPPR itself no longer uses it. It now says that the figure is 1.2 million.

The number of Brits living abroad is increasing

The British expat population around the world is increasing. In the year to September 2015 around 40,000 more British nationals left the UK to live abroad than came back.

Before 2008 the net number of British emigrants outstripped that of any other EU country at the time, according to the EU's statistics agency. Since then France and Poland have seen surges in emigration and have overtaken the UK.


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