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BREXIT

Will British people still be able to retire to France after Brexit?

Retiring abroad is the dream of many British people and France and Spain are among the most popular destinations for this - but this will become more difficult from 2021.

Will British people still be able to retire to France after Brexit?
If you dream of a future of pétanque on the beach this may be more complicated in 2021. Photo: AFP

While Brexit has already impacted the lives of British people who currently live in France, it will also affect those who have long-term plans to relocate here.

France has long been a popular place to retire to and many British second-home owners plan to one day change their holiday home into their main residence, not to mention those who still have intentions of buying their dream property in France.

But although owning property in France gives you a practical head start on your retirement plans, it doesn't afford you any extra legal rights in relation to moving here full time.

READ ALSO How long can British second home owners spent in France after Brexit?

Many of France's rural regions have low living costs which make them popular with retirees. Photo: AFP

France's excellent healthcare system and – in many places – cheap cost of living combine with its more general attractions (nice climate, interesting culture, delicious food and proximity to the UK) to make it both attractive and affordable for British pensioners.

Under EU freedom of movement, making the move has been relatively straightforward but once the Brexit transition period ends on December 31st 2020 things are set to change.

Exactly what the rules will be for British people who want to move to France after January 1st 2021 we don't yet know – it's one of the many things that still need to be agreed before the end of the transition period (along with the small matter of a trade deal).

Brexit: What Brits moving to France after December should know

But as non-EU citizens, it is likely that British people will face a regime similar to that already in place for third country nationals such as Americans and Australians.

And of course there are plenty of them who manage to retire to France so clearly it is not impossible. It is however a lot more complicated and considerably more expensive.

Here is a look at some of the key points for potential retirees in France; residency/visa rules, income level, healthcare and pensions.

Residency

For all British people, not just retirees, there is profound uncertainty over what the rules will be on moving to France after January 1st 2021.

Given that the UK is ending freedom of movement for EU citizens it effectively means that freedom of movement is ended for UK citizens.

It is still possible that France and the UK could come to a future bilateral agreement to make it easier for their citizens to move countries.

But in the lack of any such agreement, the rules for Brits moving to France are likely to be as they are for third country nationals at present.

That system is basically a two-step process – you need to secure a visa before you move and then once in France you need to get a carte de séjour residency permit.

For full details on how the visa system works, and how much it costs, click HERE.

There are many different types of visa but retirees generally fall into the 'long-stay visitor and other personal motives' category.

For this you will generally need to provide information on your financial situation and health insurance (more detail below).

Income

There's a stereotype that British retirees in France are all wealthy gin-swilling “expat” types, and while these undoubtedly exist many British pensioners in France live on very modest means.

Compared to the UK, property in France is cheap and this, combined with the relatively low cost of living outside the big cities, has made France a popular destination for those who need a stretch a small pension to make ends meet.

However getting a visa to retire to France requires, among other things, giving detailed financial information to prove that you will be able to independently finance your stay in France. A guideline figure that is often used for third country national applications is an income of more than €1,200 a month for one person.

You are likely to be asked for information about your financial situation, your pension and any savings you have as well as being able to demonstrate that you have insurance that will cover any medical costs while you are in France.

So while it is true that plenty of Americans, Australians and other third country nationals do retire to France, they tend to be people who are quite well off.

There is a charge for both visas and residency cards.

Healthcare costs need to be considered if you intend to move to France. Photo: AFP

Healthcare

With apologies to any retirees who are currently fit as a fiddle (or péter le feu – farting fire – as you say in French) healthcare is something that you need to consider as you get older.

At present the British government operates a scheme called S1 under which British pensioners who live in France register with the French healthcare system but the UK government reimburses their medical costs.

According to reports the UK is intending to end S1 cover after the Brexit transition period – meaning healthcare costs of British pensioners who move to France after December 31st will no long be reimbursed.

Importantly the UK is also proposing cutting social security benefits for people who move between the UK and the EU from after the transition period, although nothing has yet been agreed.

If there is no S1 or alternative scheme agred, then British pensioners may need to have comprehensive private medical cover – something that can be expensive or difficult to secure for people with long-term health problems.

Pensions

At present people who are paid a state pension in the UK can continue to claim it if they live in France and their pension will be uprated – raised in line with inflation, wage growth or price increases – every year.

For people resident in France before December 31st 2020, their UK pension will continue to be uprated for the rest of their lives.

For people who make the move after transition, however, there is no such guarantee at the moment that their state pension will be uprated.

Also to be considered is pension amalgamations for people who have worked in more than one country. At present if you have worked in more than one EU country your total pension contributions in both countries are added up and you are paid a single pension by the country you live in when you retire. This arrangement will continue for people covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (those legally resident in France by December 31st, 2020) but not for those who move afterwards.

Again, although an agreement to continue this arrangement could be negotiated in the future, at present there are no guarantees. 

 

The above all applies to people who plan to move to France after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st, 2020. If you are already living here or plan to make the move by the end of the year, your rights will be protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.

For more on the Withdrawal Agreement and what it means for residency, healthcare and travel, head to our Preparing for Brexit section.

 

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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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