FACTCHECK: Have 10,000 Brits really moved to France since the Brexit vote?

Facing the imminent loss of freedom of movement, many British people have accelerated plans to move abroad to live, love, study, work or retire. But is it really as many as an eye-catching new study suggests?

FACTCHECK: Have 10,000 Brits really moved to France since the Brexit vote?
Many British people have plans to move to France before 2020. Photo: AFP

A new study of data from the OECD and Eurostat shows a huge increase in British nationals emigrating to the EU since the Brexit vote in 2019.

The data shows that 10,280 British people registered for residency in France between 2016 and 2018.

This follows a trend of big increases in registration in Spain (21,250 people), Germany, (11,310), Ireland (5,660) and the Netherlands (5,510). The data also showed a large increase in applications for citizenship, especially in Germany which saw a 2,000 percent rise in citizenship applications.

“These increases in numbers are of a magnitude that you would expect when a country is hit by a major economic or political crisis,” Daniel Auer, co-author of the study by Oxford University in Berlin and the Berlin Social Science Center, told UK newspaper The Guardian.

However in the case of France, the data may not be quite what it seems.

France is unusual among EU countries in that it does not require EU citizens to register for residency, as the authors of the study acknowledge.

READ ALSO What is the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and does it cover me?

Many British people who have lived here for many years have never figured in the foreign residency data, even if they are fully registered for health and social care and in other official databases.

After the Brexit referendum the situation for British people already living here was quite unclear, but many people registered for a carte de séjour (residency card) as a precaution, which would account for at least some of the 10,280 new registrations seen between 2016 and 2018.

The same is likely to be true for Spain's figures. Although EU citizens in Spain do need to register for residency the rule has not always been strictly enforced. People working need a foreigner ID number, but many of the pensioners who make up a large part of the British population in Spain had never before registered as foreign residents. As in France, many people rushed to make their life official after the referendum which could again account for at least some of the 21,250 new registrations.

The situation with registration for Brits in France remains complicated and – apart from the ongoing uncertainty for many – it means that France doesn't actually know how many Brits live here.

It is estimated to be between 150,000 and 300,000 but the uncertainty is creating headaches for local officials, who will soon be faced with registering every British resident in France.

After initially being advised to get a European carte de séjour the system has now changed for British people who are either already living in France or who make the move before December 31st 2020 (the end of the transition period).

Every British person in France will need to register for a new carte de séjour

Those who already have a carte de séjour permanent (10 years) can simply swap their card for the new card, but those who have a short-term card and those with no card will have to make a new application.

READ ALSO Carte de séjour – the online process for post-Brexit residency cards in France

The French government has created a new online portal which all British people must make their applications on. This was originally due to go live in July, but due to a backlog of immigration cases created during the lockdown, the launch has now been postponed until October.

For more on how the process works and what you need to do click HERE.

Since early 2019, the majority of local préfectures have not been accepting residency applications from British people, so very few of the people who have moved here since then will appear on any official figures.

Many real estate agents have reported a big rise in the number of British customers, but as far as official data goes we simply don't know how many Brits have made the move in the last four years.

For countries such as Germany, where EU residents including Brits have always had to register for residency after a certain time period, the figures are more likely to reflect new arrivals in the country, and they show a sharp jump that fits with anecdotal evidence that many British people are accelerating their plans to move to Europe before they lose the right to EU freedom of movement.

The study also shows a 500 percent increase in those who took up citizenship in an EU state. Germany saw a 2,000 percent rise, with 31,600 Britons naturalising there since the referendum.

Most EU countries have a qualifying period of residency before you can apply for citizenship, so these figures are more likely to represent long-term residents who want to make their positions more secure.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

In France, if you are applying for citizenship through residency, you must have lived here for at least five years. The application process itself is quite complicated and takes on average between 18 months and two years.




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What you should do if you need to give up French residency

If you're leaving France for good, or for a long period, then you need to make sure that all your paperwork is up to date before you leave and that might mean officially giving up French residency. Here's how to do it.

What you should do if you need to give up French residency

People move to France for numerous personal and professional reasons – and there are as many valid grounds as to why many decide to leave the country. 

Anyone who does leave France permanently will have a number of administrative jobs to do. Most of them are similar to moving house within the country – dealing with final utility bills, for example, and informing the necessary authorities that you’re changing address. 

Others are more final, but doing them will ensure, for example, that you are no longer taxed in France.

Residency permit

If you have a ‘permanent’ residency permit to stay in France, you can leave France and live elsewhere for up to two years without losing your residency rights. Although for Britons covered by the Brexit withdrawal agreement they are allowed to leave France for up to five years without running the risk of losing their residency permit.

If you return to France after that period then you run the risk of losing your residency permit and will be forced to go through the appropriate process again.

But, if you do not plan to return within that period, you need to notify the authorities, as you would if you move house within France. Click here for information about process (in French).

Handily, you complete the process online. Once you are ready to start the process, you need to log on to a recently created Interior Ministry website dedicated to foreign nationals living in France. Once you have created an account – by inputting the ‘Personal Number’ on your carte, as well as its issue and expiry dates (the issue date is on the back, expiry date on the front), and logging into the site – you can declare your change of address.

Do this after you have moved, as you will need proof of address, in the form of a utility bill or similar. Acceptable forms of proof are detailed on the site as you go through the process.

Anyone moving within France should demand a new titre de séjour by clicking Oui to the Mise à jour de mon titre de séjour prompt. But those moving outside France should tick ‘no’ at this point. 

Be aware, this is far from the only thing you need to do.

Tax office

To ensure you are no longer subject to taxes in France, you must inform your tax office that you are moving and give them your new address.

Remember, income taxes in France are paid the following year, so don’t be surprised to receive tax forms to complete at your new, post-French address – they will need to be returned and any outstanding taxes will have to be paid.

This is especially important to contact them if you continue to earn some form of French income, such as a salary or pension, which may still be taxable in France.

If you don’t do this, and you leave without arranging to pay all owed taxes, you could find that you run into problems if you try to re-enter the country.

All the information you need is here, on the website.

Social Security

If you are registered with the French healthcare system and have a carte vitale, you need to tell Assurance Maladie that you are leaving France. What you need to know is here, and the declaration you to complete is here (pdf)

If you get child or housing benefit in France, you have to contact CAF and tell them when you are leaving the country.

Driving licence

Holders of French driving licences should be aware that they may have to exchange their licence for one issued in their new country of residence after a certain period. You’ll have to start this process after you move.

Don’t forget…

You will also need to inform energy and water suppliers, and your bank, in France, otherwise you may continue to rack up charges after you leave the country – which, again, could lead to problems if you try to return to the country later.