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How does the 90-day rule work in France?

All non-EU citizens face limits on how long they can spend in France - and since the beginning of 2021 that includes Brits. Here's what the 90-day rule is and how it works.

How does the 90-day rule work in France?
Long, lazy summers in France now come with a time-limit for British visitors. Photo: AFP

Who does the 90-day rule affect?

This rule is for visitors to France who are not citizens of an EU or Schengen zone country.

The rule has been in place for many years for citizens of several non-EU countries – for example Americans and Australians – but began to be applied to British visitors after January 1st 2021, when the Brexit transition period ended.

British people who were full-time residents in France before December 31st 2020 are not covered by the rule (but do have to apply for a residency card in order to remain – more details here).

British people who have dual nationality with another EU country – for example Ireland – are not covered by the rule, provided they travel using their EU passport.

The main groups affected are tourists planning an extended stay and second-home owners.

How does the rule work?

Not all countries qualify for this, for some countries including India you need a visa for even short stays, but if you are British, American, Canadian, Australian or a New Zealander you are entitled to 90 days visa-free.

The rule states that non-EU/Schengen visitors can spend 90 days out of every 180 in the EU without applying for a visa or residency.

So over the course of a year you can spend 180 days in the EU, but not all in one go. This rules out, for example, second home owners spending the summer in France and the winter in the UK (or vice versa) – your stays have to be divided up into at least two blocks of a maximum of 90 days, followed by 90 days outside the EU.

The other crucial thing to point out is that the 90-day limit applies to the whole EU bloc, not just a single country. So if you had already spent 88 days in France and then George Clooney called and asked you to spend a week with him in his villa on the shores of Lake Como, you would have to turn him down as a trip to Italy would exceed your 90-day limit inside the EU.

This site has a fuller explanation of how the 90-day rule works, as well as a calculator to allow you to work out your visits.

Are there ways round it?

Second-home owners, in particular, may want to spend more than 90 days at a time in their French property – so what are the options for them?

In most cases this will require a visa.

Visa

There are lots of different types of visa available – see more on the topic here – but for people who intend to just take long holidays in France the best option is likely to be the visitor visa.

READ ALSO How to get a visitor visa for France 

You will need to give assurances that you will not be undertaking any professional activity while in France, so this won’t be suitable for people who want to work remotely from their French cottage for a few months.

You will need to provide a lot of personal documentation including details of your financial situation to show that you can support yourself and will not become a burden to the French state, as well as paying for the visa, which is between €80 to €99 depending on the type.

The visitor visa lasts a year and while you are free to come and go between France and your home country during that year, you will need to apply for a new one each year that you wish to spend more than 90 days in France.

Residency  

Second-home owners who wish to spend a significant amount of time in France may consider taking up residency.

This is more than simply declaring ‘I’m a resident’.

READ ALSO French tax declaration – what you need to know

All residents in France are required to complete an annual tax declaration, even if their all their income comes from outside France, and in order to access healthcare you will have to either pay for private cover or register with the French healthcare system.

You cannot be resident of two countries at once, so if you become a French resident you have to give up residency of your home country which has an impact on things like tax and – for Brits – access to the NHS.

British second-home owners who wish to apply for the post-Brexit carte de séjour residency card must have been full-time residents in France before December 31st 2021, and need to apply for the card before September 30th, 2021.

The card comes with its own conditions, see more on those here.

Could the 90-day rule be changed?

Second-home owners from the US/Australia etc have always had to work around this rule, but the post-Brexit change came as a shock to many Brits who had got used to coming and going between France and the UK as they pleased and spending months at a time at their French properties without having to worry about paperwork.

The 90-day rule is an EU rule but it’s possible that France and the UK could come to a separate bilateral deal on this issue in the future.

The UK operates the 180 day rule, where people can spend 180 days per year in the country without a visa or residency and they don’t have to divide them into two 90-day blocks. This has raised hopes that a similar deal could be put in place for France and several campaigns are running to push for this.

While it could become a deal eventually it’s unlikely to be a priority for either government ahead of trade and other contentious issues (as well as the ongoing pandemic and major recessions that all countries will be dealing with over the next few years).

Can’t we just slip under the radar?

In previous years France has earned itself a reputation among non-EU travellers as being not too fussy about the exact exit date of people who aren’t working or claiming benefits, as long as it’s fairly close.

However we would suggest that people don’t rely on this. Unlike the pre-EU days, passports are now automatically scanned when you enter and leave the Bloc, which makes it easy to spot over-stayers.

If you are caught over-staying your allocated 90 days you can end up with an ‘over-stay’ flag on your passport which can make it difficult to enter any other country, not just France, and is likely to make any future attempts at getting visas or residency a lot more difficult.

For more information on residency, driving, healthcare, travel and pets after Brexit, head to our Dealing with Brexit section.

Member comments

  1. Hello, in order to get a carte de sejour and to transfer residency (including tax), is it wise to get a visa first?

  2. I believe there is another way to avoid the 90 day rule but does not appear to be widely known. That is, if a non EU citizen is travelling with an EU citizen and is a close family member (eg spouse) and the period of stay fir the non EU citizen is the same as the family member then those days are not counted towards the 90 day rule.

    Have you seen this ruling ?

    1. Hi John, no, this is not the case. People who have an EU spouse or partner can apply for a spouse visa, or in some cases residency through their spouse, but they cannot stay visa-free for more than 90 days

  3. If you get a 6 month visitor visa how does that affect your 90 days in 180 days for the other 6 months? For example when your French visa expires do you have to wait 90 days before re entering an EU country?

  4. A question….if one is in France…and happens to be booked to exceed the 90 day rule…can they travel to Switzerland and remain for several days and then reenter France…thus lessening their days actually staying in France? Thanks, Gary

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For members

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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