When does residence begin?

People make interesting mistakes in calculating how long they have been resident in an EU host member state, usually underestimating it by not understanding when their residence actually started.

Getting it right is important because of the requirements for:

  • Permanent Residence (including the right to be gone for longer periods)
  • Retaining your right of residence after a divorce
  • Retaining your right of residence when the EU family member dies

When does the residence clock of an EU/EEA citizen start?

If you are a citizen of an EU/EEA member state, then your residence clock begins the day you arrive in the host state.  You do not need to initially be working, or doing anything specific.

When does the residence clock start for non-EU family members?

When residence starts sometimes depends on whether you are a DFM (direct family member, such as a married spouse or child) or an OFM (other family member, such as an unmarried partner, or dependent relative).

If you were already a DFM before you came to the host state, then your residence clock begins the day you arrive in the host state.  (You are required to be travelling with or meeting your EU family member).

If you entered the host state on some other basis, and then became a DFM by marrying a EU citizen (or because your parent or grandparent married), then your residence clock begins the day of the marriage.

If you are an OFM and entered on a visa which is explicitly designated for a “family member of an EU citizen”, then your residence clock begins the day you arrive in the host state.  (You are required to be travelling with or meeting your EU family member).

If you are an OFM and came to the host member state without a visa explicitly designating you as a “family member of an EU citizen”, then (most likely) your residence clock begins when your Residence Card is issued.  This is the only case where the date on the Residence Card is important.

Some other notes about the start of the residence clock:

  1. It does not matter when/if the EU citizen began working, as long as they meet the requirements to be legally resident in the host state.  For the first 3 months, there are no requirements for the EU citizen to be exercising any treaty rights (such as working).
  2. If you came for a short visit to the host state with your EU family member, e.g. for house hunting or for job interviews, and then went back to your previous residence before fully moving to the host state, then your residence most likely began with the short visit.   For this to be valid, the EU citizen would have to begin exercising their treaty rights within 3 months of the short visit (or longer if they were actively looking for work).

What can cancel the clock?

You clock is considered cancelled if you “permanently” move away from the host state.   It is not clear who sensibly, in these times of cheap airline tickets and unclear outcomes, ever decides to “permanently” move no-matter-what-happens-at-the-destination.  But if you one of those types of people, you can think of yourself as having lost your residence in your former host member state.

Your clock is also considered cancelled if the EU/EEA citizen does not have Permanent Residence and is no longer considered to be exercising treaty rights (or looking for a job).   The details can be a bit complicated, and is outside the scope of this article.

Time away from the host member state?

Directive 2004/38/EC,  CHAPTER IV – Right of Permanent Residence,
Section I Eligibility
Article 16 – General rules for Union citizens and their family members

3. Continuity of residence shall not be affected by temporary absences not exceeding a total of six months a year, or by absences of a longer duration for compulsory military service, or by one absence of a maximum of 12 consecutive months for important reasons such as pregnancy and childbirth, serious illness, study or vocational training, or a posting in another Member State or a third country.

4. Once acquired, the right of permanent residence shall be lost only through absence from the host Member State for a period exceeding two consecutive years.

I could not write this more clearly.

To learn more

To look at references to “Residence” in EU law for EU citizens and their non-EU family members, see “residing” in an EU member state

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