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BREXIT

Brexit: Getting French residency as a spouse or partner

As another Brexit deadline looms, British people living in France or planning to are looking at the best ways to gain permanent residency.

Brexit: Getting French residency as a spouse or partner
Photo: AFP

Ahead of the next Brexit deadline – the June cut-off point for the UK to request an extension to the transition period – we have received several questions from readers asking about the rights of a spouse or partner to join their other half in France.

These can broadly be divided into three categories – British people in a relationship with an EU national, British couples where one partner has obtained citizenship of an EU country (usually Ireland) and British couples where only one person is resident in France, with the other hoping to join them later.

So if you fall into any off those categories, here is what you need to know.

Withdrawal agreement

The first thing to note for people already resident in France or planning to become resident before December 31st (the current end of the transition period if the UK does not request an extension) is that they are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. 

The Withdrawal Agreement gives fairly generous cover to people already living here, so people already here will apply for residency in their own right under the terms of the WA – for more on how that works and who it covers click here.

But people planning on making the move later may be hoping to get residency through their spouse or registered partner (for people who have a civil partnership or a PACS in France).

Kalba Meadows of citizens rights group France Rights said: “There are several scenarios – firstly is where a Brit and their spouse/partner who is an EU citizen (but not a French citizen) wants to move to France. In that case the spouse/partner still has full free movement rights, which include being able to bring their spouse or partner of any nationality to France.

“The second scenario is where the spouse/partner has French nationality. In that case the application would be treated under French national immigration rules.”

Here's how it works:

If your spouse is French 

The most common parings in France are of course people in a relationship with a Frenchman or Frenchwoman and if this is the case you are applying under French national rules.

Here you will be applying for a spouse visa, so you will need to apply before you move. 

You will need to supply ID, proof of your relationship such as a marriage certificate, proof of your spouse's French nationality and proof of your intention to live together in France. It is possible for officials to reject your application if they believe that your marriage is one of convenience only.

If your spouse is a citizen on another EU country

It's only British people who have lost their EU citizenship, citizens of any of the other 26 EU countries still retain all their European rights to move to France, and one of these is to be joined by family members – including a spouse, registered partner, children under the age of 21 or parents if they are dependant. 

As the spouse of an EU national you are not exempt from the tedious paperwork that faces all Third Country Nationals (that is, non EU citizens) so you will still have to apply for a carte de séjour.

The difference is that you can apply as the spouse of an EU citizen, a process that is generally simpler.

You need to apply within three months of your arrival in France and you will need a passport, three ID photos, proof of your relationship to the EU person (for example a marriage certificate which will need to be translated into French by a certified translator) and proof of your partner's right to be in France.

If your partner is French their passport is all that is needed for this, but if another EU citizen they need to prove they are legally resident in France through either a work contract, proof of income for freelancers or self employed, proof of study for students or proof of sufficient means for retirees.

It is possible for officials to reject your application if they believe that your marriage is one of convenience only.

Couples where one person has recently gained EU citizenship

Once they had absorbed the results of the 2016 referendum many people who were eligible started to apply for citizenship of an EU country to retain their freedom of movement. Thanks to historical ties and the country's generous approach to ancestry-related citizenship, Ireland saw a large number of citizenship applications from British people.

Once you have an Irish passport you are of course an EU citizen and have all those rights, which include being joined by a family member.

British spouses of Irish citizens can apply for cartes de séjour as an EU family member as per the process outlined above.

British couples where only person is resident on December 31st

Many British people have nursed a long-term dream of moving to France, including people who always planned to retire here, but Brexit has forced them to accelerate their plans.

For those who are not able to make the move before December 31st for reasons of work, schooling or other practicalities, one option is for one partner to make the move before December 31st and the other to join them later.

The partner who moves before December 31st is covered by all the rights of the Withdrawal Agreement, one of which is to be joined later by family members.

The Withdrawal Agreement covers you if you are a family member of someone who meets of the conditions of being legally resident by December 31st.

You’re classed as a family member if your relationship to that person is that of spouse, registered partner, direct descendant (child, grandchild etc) who is under 21 OR who is older than this but dependent, or direct ascending relative (parent, grandparent etc) who is dependent. 

Couples who are not married or in a civil partnership but are in a 'durable relationship' are also covered, although the conditions are more stringent, with the WA stating that the host country shall ‘facilitate entry and residence’ for that partner in accordance with its national legislation.

You also need to be able to prove that the relationship began before December 31st and you will need to prove this through official paperwork – joint tenancy agreements, utility bills in joint names, joint bank accounts and the like. Unfortunately a few snapshots of you at a New Year's Eve party in 2007 will not be enough to establish your relationship.

For more on the practicalities of Brexit head to our Preparing for Brexit section or go to citizens rights group France Rights.

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VISAS

‘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

Appointments

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. 

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