Brexit and France: What does it mean for travel after January 31st?

With the fourth and - maybe - final Brexit date fast approaching we look at what it means for travel for British people both living in France and visiting.

Brexit and France: What does it mean for travel after January 31st?
All photos: AFP

Brexit will impact on many aspects of life, but one thing we are receiving many questions on is travel restrictions. 

Assuming that the UK leaves the EU on January 31st under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement – which is looking the most likely scenario at this point, although still not certain – here's a look at what is changing and what stays the same.

READ ALSO Brexit: What do I need to do before January 31st?

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement once the UK leaves it then enters a transition period during which most things stay the same in terms of citizens' rights. This period lasts until at least December 31st 2020 and it is possible it could be extended.

Does anything change for British passport holders?

Your British passport of course remains a valid document for both travel and ID purposes, but from January 31st it will no longer make you an EU citizen.

During the transition period your travel in, out and around Europe remains visa-free so you do not need any supporting travel documents.

Can I still travel freely through the EU?

During the transition period, yes. Freedom of movement remains unchanged during the transition period, both for people moving to EU countries to live and work or just travelling. So if your dream is to pack in the rat race and spend six months wandering through French vineyards, Italian campos and Spanish fiestas then the transition period would be a good time to do that.

After the transition period ends there will be limits to how long UK citizens can spend at a time in the EU, even if they are not working there.

This is one of the things that is yet to be agreed, but it has been suggested that the 90 day rule – in which you can only spend 90 days out of every 180 in the EU without getting a long-stay visa – could apply. This would be the same as the rules already applied to other non EU citizens like Americans and Australians.

Can I leave France and come back if I don't have all my residency papers?

During the transition period you can continue to travel freely without the carte de séjour residency permit.

However there is a grey area around the end of the transition period. UK citizens have until six months after the end of the transition period to apply for a carte de séjour, but once the transition period ends a carte de séjour will be necessary when re-entering France after a trip outside the EU (for example back to the UK). A similar conundrum faced thousands of people in October when the threat of a no-deal exit loomed and many people did not have residency papers organised.

Despite repeated questions to both French and British authorities we never received a satisfactory answer to that question and the best advice we could offer was to take a dossier of paperwork proving residency (rental contracts, utility bills etc) when travelling in and out of the EU. With at least 11 months to go until the end of the transition period, hopefully that question can be answered this time.

Do I need extra travel insurance?

During the transition period, arrangements for healthcare remain the same, so if you have a valid EHIC card you can still use that and should you fall ill in any EU country your healthcare costs will be covered (although bear in mind that this only covers healthcare in the country you are in, not repatriation to the UK).

After the transition period ends, EHIC cards issued by the UK will no longer be valid. If you are resident in France and registered in the French healthcare system you can apply for a France-issued EHIC card and that will cover you for any healthcare in the EU (although not in the UK).

Healthcare arrangements for tourists after the end of the transition period are one of the issues to be addressed during the negotiations.

What about pets?

It's not only people who need passports, of course – dogs, cats and ferrets travelling between the UK and the EU need an EU Pet Passport.

During the transition period these will continue to function as normal, making travel with your furry friend a fairly frictionless experience.

After the transition period ends things are less clear as, for some inexplicable reason, the Withdrawal Agreement focuses mostly on humans.

This is something that would need to be dealt with during the transition period – essentially the UK needs to apply to be 'listed' with the EU as a country providing adequate animal health controls. If this is not sorted before the end of the transition period, the worst case scenario would be the same as the no-deal scenario outlined here.

What if I have dual nationality?

With the continued uncertainty around the status of UK citizens after Brexit, many people have opted to take dual nationality – either applying for citizenship through residency of the European country they are living in or applying for another passport – such as an Irish one – through family connections.

READ ALSO Common questions about gaining French citizenship

If you are lucky enough to already hold the passport of an EU country you will need to start using this when you travel in and out of the EU, in order to continue to benefit from freedom of movement.

What don't we know?

What happens during the transition period is fairly clear, but after that is over there are still many uncertainties.

Among the major ones are restrictions on the length of stay in EU countries – which is a big concern for second home owners in France – the process for applying for residency in France, the restrictions on people who want to move to France after the end of the transition period and whether pets could face extra passport controls.

These things are all supposed to be dealt with during the transition period, but the transition period is currently only 11 months long and the EU and UK also need to thrash out a trade deal during that time. So it's fair to say they have an ambitious workload.

Check out The Local's Preparing for Brexit section for more detail and updates as we get them. If you have questions, please send them to us here and we will do our best to answer them.

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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.