The quick Brexit checklist: Residency, travel, healthcare, work and pets

As we enter the final month of the Brexit transition period there are a lot of changes on the cards for British residents, second-home owners and tourists in France. Here's our quick guide to what you need to know.

The quick Brexit checklist: Residency, travel, healthcare, work and pets
Photo: AFP

Where are we now?

We're currently in the final phase of the Brexit transition period. After the UK officially left the European Union on January 31st, we entered an 11-month transition period during which most things remained the same for British people either living in France or visiting. That transition period ends on December 31st, 2020 and then things will really start to change.

The UK and EU are currently trying to negotiate a trade deal – this doesn't seem to be going very well, but the part of the Withdrawal Agreement that covers citizens' rights for both Brits and EU nationals is largely unaffected.

Trade negotiations in London and Brussels haven't produced many smiles. Photo: AFP

December 31st, 2020

This date is the big one, it's when Brexit becomes 'real' for most people and when the effects really start to be felt on day-to-day life.

For British people living in France or planning to do so there are some things that need to be done before then. They include;

Moving – if you're not already living in France but want to do so in the future you will find the conditions for moving here may get a lot tougher from 2021 onwards.

We lay out here the main differences in moving to France before or after December 31st. It's worth pointing out that Brexit also ends onward freedom of movement, so even if you are legally resident in France you won't be able to move to, for example, Germany on the same terms in 2021. So if you're undecided over which European country you want to settle in long-term, now is the time – as Bucks Fizz said – for making your mind up.

Legal status – All Brits who are living in France by the end of the year will have to apply for a residency permit, known as a carte de séjour. For this you will need to be a legal resident in France, which is not quite the same as simply being on French soil – find more on the conditions for legal residency here.

EXPLAINED How do you prove you are a resident in France?

Healthcare – Most British people living in France will already be registered in the French health system, and for them nothing will change. But anyone not registered needs to do so – find out how here.

Passports – From 2021 onwards you will not be able to travel inside the EU on a British passport if it has less than six months left on it, so anyone whose passport is approaching its expiry date will need to renew.

Pets – It's not just people whose travel documents are changing, the EU Pet Passport scheme will no longer apply to the UK, so people wanting to take their pets between France and the UK will need to embark on a much more complicated process which in some cases needs to begin four months before your date of travel – see here for details.

Banks – Most people living in France will already have a French bank account, but if you don't then now is the time to open one – you will need a French account to link to your health cover and some British banks are closing accounts or cutting services for British customers living abroad.

January 1st 2021 and beyond

From here on we get into some uncertainty, because a lot of the rules for British people moving to France to live or work after this point are still the subject of future negotiations.

Residency – People who are already resident in France by December 31st 2020 are covered by the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, which gives lifetime guarantees on issues like residency, family reunification, healthcare and pensions.

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

However for people who want to move to France after that date, things are less certain.

Unless any extra deal is done in the next 31 days (which seems unlikely) British people default to Third Country National status on January 1st.

This means that the conditions for living and working in France become the same as already in place for other non-Europeans such as Americans, Australians and Indians. For them moving to France is of course still possible but is considerably more complicated and involves visas and residency permits. Find out more about the visa system and conditions here.

Work – working in France for British people will also become more complicated, and not just for full-time residents. People who want to work in France temporarily without moving here to live – such as people who work the ski season or spend a summer working in France – also face extra paperwork such as visas and work permits.

Travel – British people will have to use the non-European passport queue at airports and as mentioned above cannot travel within the EU on a passport that has less than six months until its expiry date. It's also worth mentioning that French ID cards will no longer be valid to travel into the UK on from October 2021, so if you are travelling with a French friend or partner they will need their passport.


Cats, dogs and ferrets will also be subject to stricter conditions when travelling between France and the UK.

It's worth also mentioning that the cherished British tradition of the booze cruise will cease. Although 'duty free' will make a comeback, if no extra bilateral deal is negotiated then we return to strict limits on the amount of beer, wine, tobacco and spirts that than be brought into the UK from France.

Visiting – for people who just want the odd holiday in France, not much will change apart from the travel rules mentioned above.

90-day rule – However for second-home owners and people who want to take long breaks the 90-day rule comes into effect, limiting how long you can spent in France. For a fuller explanation of the 90-day rule, click here

Driving – people who are resident in France will – from January 1st – need to swap their driving licences for a French one. There is one year to complete this process – more detail here.

Tourists can still drive on a British licence and will not need an International Driving Permit, but will need to get a 'Green Card' from their insurance company before travel.

For more on how you can get ready for the Brexit changes, head to our Preparing for Brexit section, which is updated with all the latest information as it is released by the British and French governments.

Member comments

  1. “British people will have to use the non-European passport queue at airports” I presume that should be the ‘Non-European Union or non EU’ passport queue. As far as I know the UK is firmly attached to Europe, unless it’s drifted into the Atlantic over night. Leaving the European Union is not leaving Europe

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For members


The post-Brexit guide for Brits who want to move to France (and stay here)

Is it harder since Brexit? Yes. Is it impossible? Certainly not. Here's everything you need to know about navigating the French immigration system and moving to France as a UK national.

The post-Brexit guide for Brits who want to move to France (and stay here)

Moving to France as the citizen of an EU country is a considerably more straightforward experience – and that’s still the case for those Brits lucky enough to have dual nationality with an EU country such as Ireland.

For the rest, since Brexit they enter an unfamiliar world of immigration offices, visas and cartes de séjour – but this is only the same system that non-EU nationals like Americans, Canadians and Australians have always faced and plenty of them manage to move to France each year.

It’s just a question of knowing how to navigate the system:

NB – this article is for people making the move permanently to France from 2021 onwards, for second-home owners who want to spend time in France but keep their main residence in the UK – click HERE


Brits are covered by the 90-day rule so if you want to make short visits to France you can do so without any extra paperwork (until 2023, that is), but if you want to come here to live, you will need a visa.

The only groups exempt from visa requirements are people who have dual nationality with an EU country (eg Ireland) or people who are coming as a spouse or family member of a UK national who is already living here and is covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – click here for full details.

It’s important to note that your visa has to be sorted before you leave the UK, so there’s no point coming over here as a tourist and then hoping to figure it out from France.

Almost all visas charge processing fees and you need to be prepared to create a big bundle of supporting documents, but the first thing to do is work out the type of visa that you need.

Here’s an overview of the most common types:

Spouse Visa

Contrary to popular belief, being married to a French person doesn’t exempt you from the visa process, but does make things a little easier if you decide to go for a spouse visa – you’ll be able to get a 12-month visa and you’ll have to register at the Immigration Office (OFFI) within three months of arrival. This will count as your residence card (more info on how to get residency later).

The good news is that the application is free but you’ll need a heap of documents including application forms, proof of marriage, proof of your spouse’s nationality, and a residence form. More info here.

Work Visa

If you intend to work in France then you have two options; get a work visa as a salaried employee or get an entrepreneur visa if you intend to set up your own business or work self-employed as a freelancer or contractor.

Employee visa – The toughest part of the employee visa is that you need to find a job first, rather than coming to France and then job-hunting. 

Once you find a job, you then need to have your work contract approved by the authorities at the French Labour Ministry (then again at the OFFI offices) and depending on the sector you work in your employer may have to apply for a work permit and justify why they’re hiring you and not a European.

If you’re bringing family on this visa, get the employer to start a file for them at the same time. You’ll need to fill in application forms, residence forms, and you’ll need to pay a processing fee.  

Entrepreneur – this applies for people who want to set up their own business (eg run a gîte or B&B) or work in an self-employed capacity including as a freelancer or contractor. 

The entrepreneur visa has different requirements, including a detailed business plan and proof of financial means – essentially you need to be able to demonstrate that you can support yourself even if your business idea or freelance career never takes off.

Here 2021 arrival Joseph Keen takes us through the entrepreneur visa: ‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – what it’s like getting a French work visa

Visitor Visa

This is for those who want to live in France but don’t have a job, a French spouse, or plans to study – it’s most commonly used by retired people and it brings with it the requirement to have a certain level of assets.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to get a French visa?

You’ll need: filled-in questionnaires and application forms, an undertaking not to work in France (not even working remotely for an employer back in the UK or setting up a gîte or B&B business in France), proof that you can support yourself in France, proof of financial means, proof of medical insurance, proof of accommodation in France, among other things. More info here

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Student visa

The good news is that the fee is around half that of the other long stay visas, at €50, and is usually shorter to process, but the bad news is that it’s no walk in the park.

You’ll need a series of documents from Campus France, financial guarantees and proof of enrolment at a French establishment of higher education. More info here

Au Pair visa

If you’re between the ages of 17 and 30, don’t mind a few household chores and quite like children, then this year-long visa could be right up your alley.

You’ll need all the usual forms, but also an “au pair contract” approved by the French ministry of labour, an invitation from your host family, and you’ll have to sign up to language courses for while you’re here. Read more about becoming an au pair here, and find out more on the visa info here

Talent Passport

If you qualify for it, there’s also the ‘talent passport’ which is really the best type of visa because it lasts for four years before you need to renew and you can bring family members on it. 

It offers a four-year work visa to people who can demonstrate certain business, creative or academic skills, or who have a provable reputation in their field – for example, scientific, literary, artistic, intellectual, educational, or sporting. The categories were recently expanded and cover quite a wide variety of fields. More info here.

Besides these options, there is always a scientist visa, an internship visa, and a diplomatic visa.

Next steps

Once you have decided which visa you need, you apply online, submitting all the required documents and a fee (usually around €80-€100). You will then need to make an in-person visit to the French consulate in London.

EXPLAINED: How to get a French visa 

Processing times for visas vary, but you should allow at least six weeks.

What else?

Once you have secured your visa you’re more or less ready to travel, but there are some other things to check.

Health insurance – some visa types, especially those for people who will not be working, require proof of health insurance and depending on the type of visa the GHIC or EHIC card is not always accepted.

If this is the case you will need to buy a private health insurance (not travel insurance) policy that covers the entire duration of your visa. Depending on your age and state of health these policies can be expensive, so you should factor this in to your financial calculations.

If you are a UK pensioner or student you might be entitled to an S1 form from the NHS – S1 is accepted as proof of health insurance for visa purposes.

Once you have been living in France for three months, you’re entitled to register in the public health system and get a carte vitale, but the process of getting the card can be quite lengthy, so it’s a good idea to have health cover for these early months even if it’s not a requirement of your visa.

Bear in mind the GHIC/EHIC doesn’t cover all types of medical expenses.

Driving licence – if you intend to drive in France then you can use your UK/NI licence with no requirement for an international driver’s permit.

The good news here is that the post-Brexit deal on driving licences also covers new arrivals, and means that after a certain period you can swap your UK licence for a French one without having to take the French driving test – full details here.

If you are bringing your UK-registered car with you, you will have to change its registration to French – here’s how.

Bank account – for everyday life in France you will likely need a French bank account, but many French banks require proof of an address, while landlords often won’t rent to you without a French bank account, creating something of a Catch 22. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about opening a French bank account

If you still have financial activity in the UK such as a rental property or a UK pension you will likely need a UK bank account too, but keeping UK accounts while resident in France is becoming more difficult. We spoke to a financial expert to get some tips

Taxes – this hasn’t changed since Brexit, but it’s something that often catches people out – if you live in France you need to file an annual tax declaration, even if you have no income in France (eg you are living on a pension from the UK). More details here.

If you still have financial activity in the UK – such as a property rental – you will usually also need to file a tax return in the UK, but while you have all the fun of doing two tax declarations every year, a dual-taxation agreement between France and the UK means you won’t have to pay tax twice on the same income. 

And how to stay in France

But once you’re in France, you might want to stay here. Think that getting your visa represents the end of your French paperwork? Dream on!

Depending on the type of visa you have you may be required to visit OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et Intégration) on arrival to register and you may be required to undergo a medical examination or to take French classes if your language skills are a little basic.

Other types of visa require you to validate them at your local préfecture within a certain time period.

These ‘in country’ steps are important, so in between popping Champagne when your visa arrives, take the time to read carefully the accompanying documents and note down when you need to take the next steps.

Your visa will also need renewing, most initial visas last for one year, but there are exceptions.

The exact steps vary depending on your visa type, but the most common route is to apply for a residency permit (carte de séjour) so that you can stay longer than just 12 months – you usually apply for this two months before your visa runs out.

We look in more detail at the next steps HERE.

French administration is in the process of moving its immigration system online, but we’re now at the halfway stage where you can apply for some types of cartes de séjour online, but others require a visit to your local préfecture.

Once you’ve been here for five (continuous) years, you’re eligible for long-term residency, which does away with the annual paperwork.

And if you have been here for five continuous years (or three years if you completed higher education in France) and speak good French, then you can apply for French citizenship – if you’re game for a whole lot more paperwork.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

You can also find lots more information tailored to UK nationals in our Brits in France section.