No-deal Brexit: Brits in France warned over healthcare restrictions when returning to UK

British people living in France are being urged to prepare for the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit and that includes the likelihood that they may no longer qualify for treatment on the NHS if they fall ill or have an accident while visiting the UK after Britain leaves the EU.

No-deal Brexit: Brits in France warned over healthcare restrictions when returning to UK
British people living in France may not be entitled to NHS care in the UK. Photo: AFP

In the case of a no-deal Brexit there will be many changes to healthcare systems and one of them concerns the rights of British people living in the EU, accessing the NHS when returning home.

British people who live in France will naturally usually use the French healthcare system for most things.

But what happens if you fall ill while visiting friends or relatives back in the UK or you need treatment for an existing condition?

Up until now treatment on the NHS for Brits visiting the UK has been covered by European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC).


The carte vitale entitles you to healthcare in France, but will not extend to the UK. Photo: AFP

If Britain leaves with a deal then current rights on health cover, including the use of the European Health Insurance Cards  will continue until the end of the transition period. What happens to the EHIC in the future will be decided as part of the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship.

But under a no-deal Brexit?

The British government recently updated its advice which says that in the case of a no-deal Brexit: “You should not expect to be able to use NHS services for free when visiting the UK if you are living in France and are not currently eligible for a UK-issued S1 form (which covers British pensioners) or EHIC.”

In the case of a no-deal Brexit, the British government says that pensioners in France covered by the S1 system – which the British government is paying for – will be entitled to use the NHS for free when they are visiting the UK.

But British people who are registered in the French health system and rely on their EHIC card when they return to the UK will not be protected

Students in France, who until now have generally relied on the EHIC card – are also being warned that this will cease to operate after Brexit.

Hence the warning to take out travel insurance if you are heading “home”.

The UK government says: “You should take out appropriate travel insurance when visiting the UK, as you would when visiting any other country.

“If you return to the UK permanently and meet the ordinarily resident test you will be able to access NHS care without charge.”

Justine Wallington, from citizens advice group Remain in France Together, who have been warning Britons to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, told The Local: “Imagine a person with various pre-existing conditions – imagine the high cost of getting insurance cover!

“They may have even paid National Insurance contributions in the past but could find themselves unable to afford the premium for a UK visit.”

RIFT's official advice is: “If you have a French-issued CEAM (France's equivalent of the EHIC) because France is your competent state, from Brexit day you won't be covered while in the UK so you'll need to make sure that you take out health insurance to cover emergency health care.”

The British government has said it is keen for the EHIC system to continue under a no-deal Brexit and suggests France has blocked the idea.

“The UK has offered to maintain the EHIC scheme if there’s no deal, but this would be reliant on France continuing to accept UK EHICs. The French Government has indicated that your EHIC will no longer be valid if there’s no deal,” the government website says.

After Brexit it is widely expected that Britain will come to a bilateral agreements with countries like France and Spain, where many British people live, but this would need to be agreed between the two countries after Brexit day.

There is also confusion over whether old reciprocal agreements between states would automatically come into force in the event of a no-deal or whether they would be subject to new agreement between the UK and EU member states.

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‘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


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.