Brexit: What does the transition period mean and what do I do now?

So the UK is no longer a member of the European Union and British people have lost their status as EU citizens. Here's what you need to know about the next 11 months.

Brexit: What does the transition period mean and what do I do now?
Photo: AFP/ egal/Depositphotos

So we're out of the EU – what happens now?

As we left with a deal, what happens next is covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. This offers cast iron legal guarantees to British people living in France and also creates an 11-month transition period while we deal with what happens next.

For governments the big thing about the transition period is agreeing a trade deal, but it's also important for British citizens in France as it gives us time to sort out our affairs.

Doubtless there will be a lot of brinkmanship and political posturing as the trade talks go on, but the important thing to remember is that the Withdrawal Agreement is a legally binding document that cannot be taken away.

Even if the UK cannot agree terms and crashes out of the EU without a trade deal, the protections outlined below in the Withdrawal Agreement will still stand.

READ ALSO What the Withdrawal Agreement means for Britons living in France

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson now has a strong majority. Photo: AFP

So what happens from February 1st?

Well in practical terms for British people who either live in France or visit frequently not a lot changes.

Travel will continue as it did before Brexit and British residents in France will not immediately have to gain any extra paperwork or permits.

All UK citizens who do not have dual nationality lose their EU citizenship and people living in France will no longer be able to vote in municipal elections or stand for office.

The next municipal elections in France are in March and at this time many British local councillors will have to stand down.

How long does the transition period last?

At the moment the transition period ends on December 31st, 2020. It was originally intended as a two-year period during which the UK and the EU could negotiate their future trading agreement, but repeated Brexit delays from the original date of March 29th 2019 have whittled it down to just 11 months.

There is an option to extend it up to a maximum of two years (so until December 31st 2022 at the latest) but that would need to be agreed by June 2020.

Trade experts say making a deal in just 11 months will be extremely difficult, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is adamant that he will not ask for an extension (although it's worth pointing out that he also said that about the October 2019 Brexit date).

What should I be doing during the transition period?

For people already living in France this is the time to sort out your affairs. For people who do not already live here it's a time to consider what you want your future relationship with France to be and to take the necessary steps.

The Withdrawal Agreement covers all British people who are legally resident in France before December 31st 2020. 

But being legally resident in France is not the same as simply being in the country and if you do not meet the criteria for legal residence it would be best to get your affairs in order as soon as possible.

There are several criteria for being legally resident – read in more detail here – but the key one if that you must either be working, self-employed, studying or – if none of those apply – prove that you are self sufficient. Or be a family member of someone who meets those criteria.

For residents

During the transition period British people can continue to live in France without residency permits, but this will change.

The deadline to get applications in for the carte de séjour residency permit is six months after the end of the transition period (so on the current date that would be June 2021).

France announced on Friday that the process to make applications will be an online one, but the applications site will not be open until July. You can find out more about it here, but there is good news for anyone who already made online applications on the no-deal Brexit portal that was briefly active in October – they won't need to reapply and their applications will be transferred to the new system.

So although most people cannot actually get their applications in yet, you can start making sure that all your paperwork is in order so you are ready to make your application when the time comes – find out more here.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement you will qualify for residency if you are legally resident as outlined above, or if you are a family member or in a durable relationship with someone who is.

Durable relationship does not necessarily mean married or in a PACS (civil partnership) but if you intent to apply via this route it would be good to asses whether you have enough official paperwork to prove that you are a couple – ie joint bank accounts, joint tenancy agreements, both names on utility bills.

Anyone who already has a carte de séjour permenant (10 years) does not need to prove their legal residence again, but will need to swap their card for the new residency card. This will be via the online process that goes live in July.

One thing you can do now is get your professional qualifications recognised if necessary. Exactly how this will work after the transition period we don't know, so if you are working in France in a profession where this is necessary, it would be best to get any UK-acquired qualifications recognised now under EU rules.

It is also worth checking that everything is in order with your health cover – through the S1 system if you are a pensioner or under the French system if you are working – and your driving licence and car registration as well as your tax returns.

If there are outstanding things that need to be arranged it will almost certainly be easier to do them during the transition period than as a Third Country National afterwards.

For non residents

For people contemplating making the move to France, this might be the time to do it. It is still not clear what the requirements will be for British people wanting to make the move after the end of the transition period, but it could be similar to the process that American and Australian citizens already have to go through.

They face much stricter requirements for residency than those offered to British people who are in the country by the end of the transition period, so if it is possible to make the move earlier that may well be the better option.

If you intend to make the move between now and December 31st make sure you keep all paperwork relating to your arrival date in France, as this will be important when you come to apply for residency.

Likewise travel for non-residents will be much stricter after the end of the transition period, so anyone who has always dreamed of spending four months travelling though Europe will find it a lot easier to do that now.

For second home owners there will also be important decisions to be made, as it seems likely that after Brexit they will be restricted to spending just 90 days out of every 180 in their French homes. So people who might currently spend the summer in France and the winter in the UK could find that is no longer possible without visas.

During the transition period the UK and the EU will attempt to make a deal on their future trading relationship, among other things. Photo: AFP

What don't we know?

As ever with Brexit, there are still plenty of unanswered questions.

There is also a lot that still needs to be negotiated around what will happen after the transition period ends, including exactly what the rules will be for people moving to France after that date.

We also don't know whether British people will need to exchange their driving licences for French ones once the transition period ends, but for the moment the advice is not to unless you fit one of these criteria.

For second home owners, there is still no certainty on how long they they will be able to stay at their French property after the transition period ends. 

Most of the existing French legislation was passed in relation to a no-deal Brexit, so if the UK exits with a deal, these will need to be revisited.

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.