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How Brexit could now scupper that dream move to France

Now that Britain has voted to leave the EU, Brits can expect a tougher road if they want to move to France, not least because the fall of the pound has made property a lot more expensive.

How Brexit could now scupper that dream move to France
A house of sale in La-Faute-sur-Mer (Vendée). Photo: Frank Perry/AFP
There are already an estimated 300,000 Brits living in France, but now that Britain has voted to leave the EU, others may find it harder to follow the well-trodden path across La Manche.
 
While no one yet knows whether Brexit will make it legally more complicated Britons to buy a property in France – the French almost certainly won't want to scare away British buyers from the market – there was a more immediate, more drastic impact from the shock referendum result.
 
The result of Thursday's vote sent the value of the pound crashing, recording its biggest drop in over 30 years, with financial forecasters predicting that it will continue to tumble.
 
This means for anyone thinking about a new life in France, they will now have to readjust their calculations dramatically to see if they can afford it. 
 
“Let's just say it's not good news,” one estate agent in France told The Local on Friday.
 
Victoria Lewis, a Paris-based financial advisor at Spectrum IFA Group, said that the plunging pound could have serious effects for potential buyers.
 
“The sterling has dropped dramatically and sharply, which means that Brits wanting to buy homes in France possibly now won't be able to get their dream home,” she told The Local, adding that many Brits had already exchanged their pounds for euros before the vote.  
 
“Brits might still consider the move, but may have to choose a different region where the prices are cheaper.”
 
She said that she encountered many Brits who intend to retire or indeed starting afresh in France, but that these people may have to put their plans on hold. Who knows for how long.
 
Older Brits planning to live in France off their pensions may also suffer, not least because the pensions are index linked and could not potentially be frozen by the government, she said.  
Tony Emery, who sells French homes to Brits through the Country Homes France agency, said that if the exchange rate drops further then it could mean real problems for home buyers. 
 
“What has traditionally governed these moves is exchange rates, and I'm looking at the live Interbank rate now and it's at 1.25 euros to the pound. If it stays at around this rate, or between 1.25 and 1.3, it won't be a problem.”
 
“I'm not sure it's going to have a long-term affect on people wanting a holiday home or a second home in France,” he told The Local.
 
He said that when the rate is a concern to buyers is when it is closer to parity.
 
While he said he was personally disappointed by the news of Brexit, he said that those who voted to Remain may now “up sticks and move to the EU”, a silver lining for real estate agents specializing in French homes for Brits. 
 
“One thing is for sure, we're going to be faced with a period of uncertainty over the next few months, and the dust needs to settle for people to get a better idea of where and how things will go.”
 
Brits in France left stunned after UK votes for Brexit
 
But it's not just the tumbling value of the pound that will cause headaches – life may also be tougher for those hoping to run a business from France. 
 
Paul Hallett, who will move from the UK to France next month, said that despite seven years of planning the move, his family had never considered that a Leave vote would actually win. 
 
“We're in a little bit of shock to be honest, as we never allowed for this possibility: we always thought people would pull back from the brink come voting day,” he told The Local on Friday. 
 
He said the Leave vote will affect his family's plans to run their small UK GIS consultancy from France, and his plans to be a “frontier worker” commuting from Toulouse to the UK when needs be. 
 
“Effectively, everything we've planned now has to be rethought. We're still moving (…) but our whole 'business plan' is now up in the air,” he said. 
 
“We wanted an adventure. It seems that adventure just got bigger.”
 
 
The potential problems extend beyond running businesses and buying homes, says London-based lawyer George Peretz QC who already owns a house in France and plans to retire in France. 
 
Peretz, who specialises in EU law told The Local previously what he foresaw in Brexit:
 
“UK citizens would lose their EU law rights to work, to set up a business, to buy property, to bring family to live with them, not to be deported for trivial offences and so on. France might let them do all those things. But that would be entirely up to France.
 
“Any protection under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties certainly doesn't mean that France would be prevented from (for example) starting to charge UK citizens the full cost of use of its health service, or to require them to get a “green card” in order to take a job or start a new business.
 
In March, estate agents Leggett Immobilier said, however, that even though potential buyers have raised concerns about the impact of a Brexit they hadn't noticed any slowdown in demand.
 
“Our personal view is that even if the vote was to leave the EU there would be little in the way of substantial change to UK citizens living in France,” said Trever Leggett.
 
“We're convinced that the government will take every step possible to protect benefits in any withdrawal discussions, it's a financial & political minefield…..imagine all these (generally elderly) citizens coming back to the UK and the burden this would place on the NHS.”
 

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VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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