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Carte de séjour: What’s the latest Brexit advice on getting French residency permits?

Residency has been a worry for many British people in France, here's the latest on getting a carte de séjour residency permit.

Carte de séjour: What's the latest Brexit advice on getting French residency permits?
Photo: AFP

When do I need it by?

Well the good news is that there's no rush. As the UK left with a deal, we now enter a transition period, which lasts until at least December 31st (and could be extended).

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

During this period most things stay the same for British citizens, including the fact that they can continue to live in France without the need for a residency permit (carte de séjour). They can also travel to and from France freely without a card.

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, British residents have until six months after the end of the transition period (so June 2021 on the current date) to apply for their carte de séjour.

The Withdrawal Agreement also makes provision for countries themselves to extend the deadline for up to a year if they have 'administrative difficulties'.

So if the French system becomes hopelessly bogged down with the sheer number of applications there is the option for French authorities themselves to extend the deadline.

The French authorities have a problem in that – because residency registration has not been compulsory before – nobody actually knows how many British people live here.

It is thought to be between 150,000 – 300,000 which could quite a burden on the issuing authorities.

What do I need?

The Withdrawal Agreement states that anyone who is legally resident – which is not quite the same thing as simply being in the country – at the end of the transition period is eligible to stay, but you still have to formally apply for residency, it is not automatic.

READ ALSO So you're living in France, but are you legally resident?

Justine Wallington from citizens' rights group Remain in France Together said: “There should be some attempt for a consistent approach to Withdrawal Agreement implementation even if each state can make its own plans. It’s at least potentially better than the no-deal legislation passed with massive differences between each country.”


Some things are still to be decided by French and British leaders. Photo: AFP

How do I apply?

There has been a lot of uncertainty about this, and various different pieces of advice given since 2016, but the French government has now announced that it will be running an online application system – similar to the no-deal Brexit online portal that was briefly active in October.

You can find out more here about how that is likely to work, but it will not go live until July 2021.

They key thing to note is that everyone will have to use the system – if you already have a carte de séjour permanent you simply need to swap it for the new card but everyone else has to make a new application.

The exception to this is people who already made their applications online on the no-deal portal back in October – theirs will be transferred to the new system.

What will I need to make my application?

Although most people cannot make their application just yet, you can get your paperwork together so that you are ready when the system opens.

The basic criteria  under the Withdrawal Agreement is that you need to be legally resident in the country. This has always been the case for EU migrants, but because France has not until now had a registration process, many people have been unaware of this.

To be a legal resident you need to be either working, retired, self-employed, a student or otherwise economically inactive – or a family member of or in a durable relationship with someone who meets one of these conditions.

If you are retired or not working, you need to prove that you have sufficient resources not to be a burden on the French state, and this includes showing that you have health cover (for British pensioners being registered under the S1 scheme is sufficient for this).

READ ALSO What are the healthcare changes for British people in France after Brexit


If in doubt, hang on to any documentation you have about your French life. You may need it later. Photo: AFP

So the type of documentation you are likely to need includes proof of income (payslips, work contracts or tax returns) proof of health cover, proof of address (rental agreement, house ownership papers and utility bills) and proof of ID (passport).

The Withdrawal Agreement also states that the residency application process must be 'smooth, transparent and simple' and that application forms should be 'short, simple and user friendly'.

It's fair to say that this isn't the case with a lot of French bureaucracy, but the no-deal online application form was notably user friendly (and available in English) and required far less supporting documentation than the préfectures had been asking for, so hopefully the new online system will be the same.

Does it make a difference how long I've been here for?

Yes. If you've been legally resident in France for five years or more you can apply directly for permanent residency. Permanent residency also gives you the right to be away from France for up to five years without losing residency status.

If you've been in France less than five years you will need to apply for temporary residency, then apply for permanent residency once you reach the five-year mark. Your permanent residency will be granted on the same basis as the Withdrawal Agreement, even if you don't reach the five-year mark until several years after the end of the transition period. The five years residency must be continuous, and you cannot be out of the country for more than six months of the year (part from certain exceptional circumstances).

People who have been here for longer than five years and already have a permanent (10 year) residency card do not need to supply documentation proving their eligibility, but they do need to swap their current card for the new card, using the same system as everybody else.

So any paperwork that shows your arrival date in France – work contract, rental agreement, house purchase – is worth hanging on to.

What don't we know?

The above all only applies to people who are already resident in France by the end of the transition period. What the deal will be for people wanting to move after that is yet to be agreed.

READ ALSO Can British people still move to France after Brexit day

 

Member comments

  1. Are you able to say, what happens to applications that were lodged with Prefectures, before the lockdown commenced. It is good in one sense, as the 3-month expiry rule cannot apply owing to the Prefecture holding the paperwork, but if they have all our documents, we will be unable to apply via the new on-line system.

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For members

MOVING TO FRANCE

The post-Brexit guide for Brits who want to move to France (and stay here)

Is it harder since Brexit? Yes. Is it impossible? Certainly not. Here's everything you need to know about navigating the French immigration system and moving to France as a UK national.

The post-Brexit guide for Brits who want to move to France (and stay here)

Moving to France as the citizen of an EU country is a considerably more straightforward experience – and that’s still the case for those Brits lucky enough to have dual nationality with an EU country such as Ireland.

For the rest, since Brexit they enter an unfamiliar world of immigration offices, visas and cartes de séjour – but this is only the same system that non-EU nationals like Americans, Canadians and Australians have always faced and plenty of them manage to move to France each year.

It’s just a question of knowing how to navigate the system:

NB – this article is for people making the move permanently to France from 2021 onwards, for second-home owners who want to spend time in France but keep their main residence in the UK – click HERE

Visas 

Brits are covered by the 90-day rule so if you want to make short visits to France you can do so without any extra paperwork (until 2023, that is), but if you want to come here to live, you will need a visa.

The only groups exempt from visa requirements are people who have dual nationality with an EU country (eg Ireland) or people who are coming as a spouse or family member of a UK national who is already living here and is covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – click here for full details.

It’s important to note that your visa has to be sorted before you leave the UK, so there’s no point coming over here as a tourist and then hoping to figure it out from France.

Almost all visas charge processing fees and you need to be prepared to create a big bundle of supporting documents, but the first thing to do is work out the type of visa that you need.

Here’s an overview of the most common types:

Spouse Visa

Contrary to popular belief, being married to a French person doesn’t exempt you from the visa process, but does make things a little easier if you decide to go for a spouse visa – you’ll be able to get a 12-month visa and you’ll have to register at the Immigration Office (OFFI) within three months of arrival. This will count as your residence card (more info on how to get residency later).

The good news is that the application is free but you’ll need a heap of documents including application forms, proof of marriage, proof of your spouse’s nationality, and a residence form. More info here.

Work Visa

If you intend to work in France then you have two options; get a work visa as a salaried employee or get an entrepreneur visa if you intend to set up your own business or work self-employed as a freelancer or contractor.

Employee visa – The toughest part of the employee visa is that you need to find a job first, rather than coming to France and then job-hunting. 

Once you find a job, you then need to have your work contract approved by the authorities at the French Labour Ministry (then again at the OFFI offices) and depending on the sector you work in your employer may have to apply for a work permit and justify why they’re hiring you and not a European.

If you’re bringing family on this visa, get the employer to start a file for them at the same time. You’ll need to fill in application forms, residence forms, and you’ll need to pay a processing fee.  

Entrepreneur – this applies for people who want to set up their own business (eg run a gîte or B&B) or work in an self-employed capacity including as a freelancer or contractor. 

The entrepreneur visa has different requirements, including a detailed business plan and proof of financial means – essentially you need to be able to demonstrate that you can support yourself even if your business idea or freelance career never takes off.

Here 2021 arrival Joseph Keen takes us through the entrepreneur visa: ‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – what it’s like getting a French work visa

Visitor Visa

This is for those who want to live in France but don’t have a job, a French spouse, or plans to study – it’s most commonly used by retired people and it brings with it the requirement to have a certain level of assets.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to get a French visa?

You’ll need: filled-in questionnaires and application forms, an undertaking not to work in France (not even working remotely for an employer back in the UK or setting up a gîte or B&B business in France), proof that you can support yourself in France, proof of financial means, proof of medical insurance, proof of accommodation in France, among other things. More info here

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Student visa

The good news is that the fee is around half that of the other long stay visas, at €50, and is usually shorter to process, but the bad news is that it’s no walk in the park.

You’ll need a series of documents from Campus France, financial guarantees and proof of enrolment at a French establishment of higher education. More info here

Au Pair visa

If you’re between the ages of 17 and 30, don’t mind a few household chores and quite like children, then this year-long visa could be right up your alley.

You’ll need all the usual forms, but also an “au pair contract” approved by the French ministry of labour, an invitation from your host family, and you’ll have to sign up to language courses for while you’re here. Read more about becoming an au pair here, and find out more on the visa info here

Talent Passport

If you qualify for it, there’s also the ‘talent passport’ which is really the best type of visa because it lasts for four years before you need to renew and you can bring family members on it. 

It offers a four-year work visa to people who can demonstrate certain business, creative or academic skills, or who have a provable reputation in their field – for example, scientific, literary, artistic, intellectual, educational, or sporting. The categories were recently expanded and cover quite a wide variety of fields. More info here.

Besides these options, there is always a scientist visa, an internship visa, and a diplomatic visa.

Next steps

Once you have decided which visa you need, you apply online, submitting all the required documents and a fee (usually around €80-€100). You will then need to make an in-person visit to the French consulate in London.

EXPLAINED: How to get a French visa 

Processing times for visas vary, but you should allow at least six weeks.

What else?

Once you have secured your visa you’re more or less ready to travel, but there are some other things to check.

Health insurance – some visa types, especially those for people who will not be working, require proof of health insurance and depending on the type of visa the GHIC or EHIC card is not always accepted.

If this is the case you will need to buy a private health insurance (not travel insurance) policy that covers the entire duration of your visa. Depending on your age and state of health these policies can be expensive, so you should factor this in to your financial calculations.

If you are a UK pensioner or student you might be entitled to an S1 form from the NHS – S1 is accepted as proof of health insurance for visa purposes.

Once you have been living in France for three months, you’re entitled to register in the public health system and get a carte vitale, but the process of getting the card can be quite lengthy, so it’s a good idea to have health cover for these early months even if it’s not a requirement of your visa.

Bear in mind the GHIC/EHIC doesn’t cover all types of medical expenses.

Driving licence – if you intend to drive in France then you can use your UK/NI licence with no requirement for an international driver’s permit.

The good news here is that the post-Brexit deal on driving licences also covers new arrivals, and means that after a certain period you can swap your UK licence for a French one without having to take the French driving test – full details here.

If you are bringing your UK-registered car with you, you will have to change its registration to French – here’s how.

Bank account – for everyday life in France you will likely need a French bank account, but many French banks require proof of an address, while landlords often won’t rent to you without a French bank account, creating something of a Catch 22. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about opening a French bank account

If you still have financial activity in the UK such as a rental property or a UK pension you will likely need a UK bank account too, but keeping UK accounts while resident in France is becoming more difficult. We spoke to a financial expert to get some tips

Taxes – this hasn’t changed since Brexit, but it’s something that often catches people out – if you live in France you need to file an annual tax declaration, even if you have no income in France (eg you are living on a pension from the UK). More details here.

If you still have financial activity in the UK – such as a property rental – you will usually also need to file a tax return in the UK, but while you have all the fun of doing two tax declarations every year, a dual-taxation agreement between France and the UK means you won’t have to pay tax twice on the same income. 

And how to stay in France

But once you’re in France, you might want to stay here. Think that getting your visa represents the end of your French paperwork? Dream on!

Depending on the type of visa you have you may be required to visit OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et Intégration) on arrival to register and you may be required to undergo a medical examination or to take French classes if your language skills are a little basic.

Other types of visa require you to validate them at your local préfecture within a certain time period.

These ‘in country’ steps are important, so in between popping Champagne when your visa arrives, take the time to read carefully the accompanying documents and note down when you need to take the next steps.

Your visa will also need renewing, most initial visas last for one year, but there are exceptions.

The exact steps vary depending on your visa type, but the most common route is to apply for a residency permit (carte de séjour) so that you can stay longer than just 12 months – you usually apply for this two months before your visa runs out.

We look in more detail at the next steps HERE.

French administration is in the process of moving its immigration system online, but we’re now at the halfway stage where you can apply for some types of cartes de séjour online, but others require a visit to your local préfecture.

Once you’ve been here for five (continuous) years, you’re eligible for long-term residency, which does away with the annual paperwork.

And if you have been here for five continuous years (or three years if you completed higher education in France) and speak good French, then you can apply for French citizenship – if you’re game for a whole lot more paperwork.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

You can also find lots more information tailored to UK nationals in our Brits in France section.

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