France launches ‘test run’ of no-deal Brexit customs checks

French officials have launched their first "dress rehearsal"of new customs checks that will be imposed if Britain crashes out of the EU without an exit deal, a scenario that could severely crimp the flow of people and goods across the English Channel.

France launches 'test run' of no-deal Brexit customs checks
France has hired an extra 700 border control staff. Photo: AFP

France's Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin was on hand at the Normandy port of Ouistreham – near the D-Day beaches stormed by Allied forces in 1944 – for the early morning arrival of a ferry from Portsmouth.

He said France was “ready”, but he said he remained a “a bit worried about how the British are preparing” as the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson published alarming documents warning of Brexit queues and disruption.

READ ALSO Yellowhammer: British government warns of months of delays

France's Budget minister Gerald Darmanin, right, in the port of Calais with Britain's Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove and Ambassador to France Ed Llewellyn. Photo: AFP

As French officers directed lines of passenger cars toward passport controls and customs declarations, others boarded lorries and began cutting open boxes of baby pacifiers for sanitary checks.

“Up until now, they are supposed to conform with EU norms,” a customs agent told AFP.

“So either the British keep doing so, or they apply norms that are less restrictive and in that case, we'll inspect them just as we would with Chinese or American products,” she said.

“France is ready… these tests prove it,” Darmanin told journalists after the exercise, expressing confidence that “there won't be any traffic jams in France.”

A no-deal Brexit is possible on October 31st, meaning France will have to start inspections on a wide range of goods arriving from Britain for the first time in 46 years.

To ease trade disruptions, France has spent some €40 million and hired 700 extra customs officers.

Authorities have scrambled to set up a “smart border” with cameras to scan the license plates of trucks heading to Britain and automatically link them to shipping documents filled out online by exporters.

Darmanin said British preparations were a source of concern.

“You don't re-create a border that hasn't existed for several years… in just a few hours,” he said.

British government documents released on Wednesday said up to 85 percent of British lorries may not be ready for French customs checks in the event of no-deal, reducing the “flow rate to 40-60 percent of current levels.”

That could spark shortages of food and crucial medical supplies, the Yellowhammer report warned.

While most larger French firms have prepared for the new bureaucracy, officials worry about many of the 100,000 smaller French companies which sell in Britain.

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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.