They came in their dozens, mostly elderly but all extremely worried about what will happen at the end of the month when the UK is set to leave the EU.
Will they be able to stay in the place they have called home for decades? Will they be able to access medical treatment if they fall sick? Will the children they raised in France, who consider themselves French, be able to live with them?
In the latest of a series of outreach meetings set up by the British Embassy in the runup to the (current) Brexit deadline, The Local travelled to Dordogne to meet some of the worried British residents of France.
Over the course of two meetings around 150 people turned up to quiz Embassy staff and a representative from the local préfecture about the big questions; residency, healthcare, driving and – these are Brits after all – their pets.
Of the 150 or so people who came the majority were elderly, many anxiously clutching the letter that the NHS has recently sent to all UK nationals living in Europe, informing them that their healthcare will only be covered for six months in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
Most had lived in France a long time – most well over five years many for more than 20 – but only a handful had a carte de séjour residency card. Again and again people told of being unable to make an appointment with their local préfecture, or checking the website daily for months on end to see if appointment slots had become available.
The meeting also heard heartbreaking stories from people undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious medical conditions who are now worried about whether their healthcare costs will be met after Brexit and even whether they will be entitled to ongoing medical treatment.
Some of the major points of the meeting were:
1. Residency – The new French government site is now up and running and those who had used it reported that it was relatively simple and easy to use. Everyone currently living in France will now need to go on the website within six months of the date that the UK leaves the EU, in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
People who already have a 10 year carte de séjour permanent can simply swap it for the a post Brexit residency card – and can do this via the website. Everyone else can use website and make a fresh residency application. For anyone without internet access, préfectures will accept applications, The Local understands.
Although the site is now live and accepting applications, the local préfectures will not start processing them until the day after the UK leaves the EU.
You can learn more about the website and where to find it here.
2. Healthcare – People who are already in the French healthcare system and have a carte vitale don't need to do anything, their right to healthcare continues as before (in France) – people who are under the S1 scheme for pensioners, students and posted workers need to join the PUMa scheme, although their healthcare costs will still be covered by the UK in the short term.
If there's a no-deal then British pensioners are being urged to join the PUMa scheme, but there are concerns that will lead to them having to pay social charges. France has said it will cover healthcare for pensioners for two years although this still depends on reciprocity from the UK.
Worth bearing in mind is that current arrangements will cover you for care in France but if you are travelling you need to make arrangements.
A UK-issued EHIC card will cease to work so if you are in the French system you will need to apply for a France-issued card that will cover you for emergency medical treatment in any other EU country. This will not apply to the UK however, so if you qre going back to the UK for a trip you will not be entitled to NHS care unless you are covered by the S1 card. Everyone else will have to rely on travel insurance.
You can find out more about healthcare after Brexit here.
3. Driving: Some good news on driving licences, France and the UK have come to an agreement that they will continue to recognise each other's licenses for the foreseeble future. So you can drive in the UK with a French licence and vice versa.
4. Pet passports: While British human passports will remain valid for travel (although you will not be able to travel in the EU if your passport has less than 6 months left until its expiry date) the deal for pets is more complicated.
In a slightly lopsided arrangement, the UK will continue to recognise Pet passports issued by France but France will not recognise British Pet Passports. So while taking Fido and Tiddles back to the UK for christmas will present no problem, bringing them back to France could be an issue. Pet owners resident in France were advised to get a French Pet Passport which will allow their animals to travel as before. You can find out more about the pet regulations here.
5. Non residents: People who are not full time residents in France were reminded that Schengen Area rules state they can only spend 90 days out of every 180 in France after Brexit. Although it is not clear exactly how rigorous checking will be, particularly in the early months after Brexit, the rules do not allow stays of more than 90 days in every 190 (six months). Anyone who wishes to stay longer would have to look at long term visa options.
6. More staff for prefectures
There was also some good news for the embattled French préfectures, who will be allowed to take on more staff to deal with residency applications.
Areas like Dordogne that have a particularly high concentration of British people living there will be taking on extra staff on one-year contracts to deal with applications, which should help speed the process. There are at least 7,000 British people living in Dordogne alone, possibly many more, which has placed a huge extra workload on the local authorities who deal with residency applications.