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Within the EU, there is a free movement of people agreement which allows EU citizens to freely work/move/search for a job in any EU member state.

Looking into the details, I wonder which formal rules apply if an EU citizen was to be employed for a company based in one EU country for which they work remotely and move temporarily between other EU members every, say, 6 months?

I looked at some of the rules, but couldn't find anything that fits this situation:

  • the Schengen countries have 90 days rule for staying without registering, and I imagine one could work remotely during this time, but it's only for 90 days
  • one could try to register as a worker in the host country every 6 months, but that will likely be denied given that the company is not operating in the host country, doesn't pay taxes/social insurance there, etc.
  • there are cross-country commuter agreements, but they require you to travel between the countries every week (and not every 6 months)
  • one could ask the company to post them to the host country (using the A1 certificate), but this is appropriate where the worker moves to the other country on the request of the employer and not when travelling is at the whim of the employee
  • there is an option to start a company and agree with the employer to subcontract it, but this also requires change of the contract with the employer and also changes the tax/residence rules.

I know no one is basically doing this legally and everyone ignores the rules, but I am curious whether there is a way to work remotely as an employee legally within the EU.

I am asking only from the immigration perspective, I know tax-wise EU doesn't interfere and there are just 2-way Double Taxation Agreements.

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    This is not really "travel", OTOH the sister site about "expatriates" is also not relevant here, and I do not see a fitting site for such question. Jul 21 '20 at 13:00
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    Law is probably the correct site. But this question needs cleaning up. It implies that it about EU Citizens, but contains portions about permits which are not needed. When for EU Citizens a major problem when working and living in one country and the employer is in another country on how taxes and social insurances are paid. This seems to be regulated by double taxation treaties between each country and can differ. Jul 21 '20 at 13:06
  • "I know no one is basically doing this legally" I'm sorry? I can provide counterexamples, myself included (although not moving every six months, but there's nothing preventing that if you really want to).
    – TooTea
    Jul 21 '20 at 13:33
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    You don't register as a worker either. An EU Citizen moves (does not immigrate). Registers their residence when the local laws require it. Applies for a tax card and whatever is needed for social services. Nothing more. Jul 21 '20 at 13:48
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    I don't think there is anywhere where you have 90 days to register. If you are a resident, countries like Germany, the Netherlands, etc. typically require you to register within 1-2 weeks (in Germany it depends on the province) while some other countries (e.g. France) have no such requirement. This requirement tracks registration requirements imposed to citizens and has no bearing on the legality of your presence. The 90-day threshold is something else entirely: it's a definition of what counts as a visit.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 21 '20 at 14:19
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From an immigration perspective, you could simply reside as an economically inactive person. Unless your salary is very low indeed, it should satisfy any income/ressource requirement, if you even need to register officially anywhere. The only thing that could be more complicated is health insurance but that too ought to be solvable with some money. Your presence is in any case fully legal and you do not need a permission to work.

Being considered a “worker“ is attractive because it exempts you from the income/ressource and health insurance requirements and protection from expulsion is very strong indeed. If your work is “genuine and effective” (even part-time), you qualify. If you have to register somewhere, the most you will ever need is a passport/ID, work contract and perhaps a proof of address (as required locally for citizens). You do not need to document savings, income or health insurance. Historically, this was the original scope of the EU (then EC) freedom of movement.

The “economically inactive“ category was added later to extend freedom of movement rights. However, you don't need any permission to work or engage in other economic activity. Economically inactive people are definitely allowed to do that. It's just a less permissive status that comes with additional requirements (namely having — minimal — ressources and health insurance), if you are not able to provide a work contract or anything else to prove you qualify as a worker.

None of this covers tax law or mandatory contributions to social security systems, which can get very complicated.

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    What do you do with taxes then? Most tax treaties say "income from work done in country X should be taxed in country X". Will the tax office of country X let you file your income tax as an "economically inactive person"? Or will you just never tell them the work took place in country X (IANAL, but that sounds like tax evasion, thus not "legal").
    – TooTea
    Jul 21 '20 at 13:53
  • @TooTea I don't know what you do with taxes. It might get hairy very quickly but it's totally unrelated. There is nothing preventing you (or, indeed, exempting you) from filing a tax return as an economically inactive person if you think it's required in your situation. Your presence is any case legal and you cannoy be sanctioned for having residing too long in the country or for working without a permission. You can certainly be asked to pay taxes, just like a citizen who would get a remote job abroad. That's why I wrote “From an immigration perspective“ as that was the focus of the question.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 21 '20 at 13:57
  • Could you point to some rules/rulings that confirm that you can indeed register as such? Stating that you are "economically inactive" while you work seems like a lie
    – sygi
    Jul 21 '20 at 14:01
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    @sygi That's not at all how this works. I will try to elaborate a bit.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 21 '20 at 14:02
  • @TooTea The employer in country Y would pay directly to country X (instead of country Y). From what I have read, there are tax specialists that can do this for the employer if it becomes to complicated for them to do it themselfs. Jul 21 '20 at 14:09
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As several others have pointed out, there are almost no limitations on registering your residence in any EU country. As long as you can show you physically have a place to stay and means to support yourself, your registration can't be denied.

Either way, the key here is to get your employer on board. If your employer is not going to cooperate, there's nothing you can (legally) do. But in that case, I suspect that your employer would also take a dim view of you not showing up at the usual workplace for months or years.

There are several avenues that you and your employer can take to get the paperwork sorted out:

  • Get posted to wherever you wish. This only works if there's a plausible explanation of that (e.g. a customer or partner in the other country that you need to work with). Expect the relevant social insurance authorities processing your A1 to thoroughly scrutinise whether your posting isn't a fake one (trying to circumvent the labour law in the host country).
  • Amend your work agreement to say that the place of work is going to be in country X (Y, Z…). Your employer will have to register with the authorities in these countries and start withholding income tax and relevant national insurance contributions. There are many agencies that will sort all of that out for you. Just ask any major international accounting/tax network and they'll send you a quote in no time.
  • Go self-employed and replace your employment agreement with a sub-contracting one.

In all three cases, you'll need to apply for an A1, but that's a straightforward process that won't take you more than an afternoon. The authorities will then sort it out between themselves and tell you which country you belong to for the purposes of health and social insurance.

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    This is not exactly the answer to the question. I understand that if the employer cooperates, one could do that; however, the question considers an employer who doesn't care where the job is performed but doesn't want to be involved in complex, costly, or legally shady practices (like posting an employee without the need on the employer side).
    – sygi
    Jul 21 '20 at 14:42
  • @sygi Then take the latter option. Going self-employed shifts all the burden from the employer to you, so it's certainly the easiest and cheapest route from the POV of the employer.
    – TooTea
    Jul 21 '20 at 14:44
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    It seems that you are getting lost in considerations that go way beyond the scope of the question. I delibaretely steered clear of these issues because they are very complicated. Setting up payroll in another country can be quite a bit of trouble, it's true that there are businesses supporting this but it will take more than an afternoon of effort on the employer's part. The self-employment route is flat-out illegal in some EU countries.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 21 '20 at 14:45
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    @TooTea You're completely right about that, I added a sentence at the end of my answer to mention this. In practice, I don't think the OP's plan is easy to follow through without running afoul of some tax or social security laws and in fact I don't think your suggestions fully solve the problem. However I also think that it's important to understand that this has no bearing on the legality of the presence or residence in the country (the actual question here). At most, they would be treated like a garden variety local tax evader.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 21 '20 at 14:54
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    In other words: Residing and working from another EU country is unambiguously fully legal. It just creates other obligations that might be very impossible to meet without significant effort, money, and risk.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 21 '20 at 14:55

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