Brexit: What Brits moving to France after December should know

For British people already living in France, the last four years have been a period of nightmarish uncertainty over their rights to stay - but what about those who want to make the move in the future, in particularly after December 31st?

Brexit: What Brits moving to France after December should know
Thinking of selling up and moving to France, here's what you need to know. Photo: AFP

Many British people have been nursing a long-term dream to move to France one day – either as a retirement plan or to move to the country and work. But have you already left it too late to move?

Let's have a look at the rules for moving countries without the benefit of EU freedom of movement.

Is it too late to take ship for France? Photo: AFP

Transition period

The UK is currently in a transition period during which British people keep most of their rights, including the right to move to an EU country. 

This runs until December 31st, 2020, and the UK has opted not to ask for an extension to this.

So not only can you move to France before December, you probably should if it's possible, because afterwards things are set to get a lot more complicated.

The Withdrawal Agreement provides that British people who are already legally resident in an EU country have the right to remain there, and that includes people who move between Brexit day and the end of the transition period.

READ ALSO Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – what is it and does it cover me?

The phrase legally resident is important though and it's not the same as simply being in the country by New Year's Eve 2020.

This applies also to people already resident and means that certain criteria – including being financially self sufficient – must be met.

Find out more on legal status here


After the transition period

Once the transition period ends things get more complicated.

Exactly what the rules will be for people who want to move to France after this date we don't yet know – it's one of the many issues that needs to be negotiated in the next six months, along with the little matter of a trade deal.

What could happen after the transition period?

As far as what kind of deal that will be agreed, we're really moving into guesswork here, but given the UK wants to end freedom of movement it seems likely that the rules will end up being similar to those already in place for third country nationals such as Americans or Australians who want to move to France.

And there are plenty of them living here, so clearly it's not impossible.

It is a lot more complicated though – and expensive.

People who don't take up permanent residency are restricted to spending only 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen zone – something that will have a big impact on British second home owners.

READ ALSO Second home owners in France – what are your rights after Brexit?

People who want to make the move permanently need a visa. 

Most non-EU citizens have to apply for a long stay visa in their home country before making the move, and have it validated as a residency permit within three months of arriving.

Often visas are linked to work or study, so people who want to move to France, live off savings for a while or set up their own business could find themselves being rejected.

People who do not intend to work – such as pensioners – will need to provide extensive proof of their financial means to show that they will not be a burden on the French state.

Any exceptions?

British people have now ceased to be EU citizens, with all the rights that go with that.

However there are a couple of ways that British people can still benefit from EU rules.

One of these is to become the citizen of an EU country.

Thousands have applied for French citizenship, while others have moved to safeguard their EU citizenship by applying for nationality of another country such as Ireland. Both these routes come with conditions of course.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

The other is to apply for residency as a family member of an EU citizen, so if you are married or in a durable relationship with an EU national – or are a dependent child/parent – you can 'piggy back' on their rights. Although this too is more complicated than travelling under freedom of movement and you would still need to apply for residency within 90 days of arriving in the country.

Finally if you are married or in a durable relationship with a British person who is legally resident in France before December 31st, you can apply for residency as their partner. So one option for couples is for one person to make the move to France before December 31st and establish residency and the other to join them later. Find out more about spouse rights here.

Check out The Local's Preparing for Brexit section for more detail on residency, healthcare, pensions, driving and citizenship.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


‘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.