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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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TRAVEL NEWS

Everything you need to know about travel to France from within the EU

After two years of limited travel many people are planning a holiday this year and France is a popular destination - but it's easy to lose track of the latest travel rules. Here's what you need to know if you are coming to France from a country that is within the EU or Schengen zone.

Everything you need to know about travel to France from within the EU

Restrictions

France operates a ‘traffic light’ system that has been in place since summer 2020, assigning countries a colour based on their Covid infection rates.

These days most of the world is green – the lightest level of restriction – including all the countries in the EU and Schengen zone. Find full details on the government website here.

Map: French interior ministry

Vaccinated – if you are fully vaccinated according to the French definition (see below) and travelling from a green zone country all you need to show at the border is proof of vaccination. There is no requirement for extra paperwork such as passenger locator forms or health declarations and no Covid tests needed. Once in France you are not required to quarantine.

Unvaccinated – if you are not fully vaccinated according to the French definition (see below) you will need to show a negative Covid test at the border. The test can be either a PCR test taken within the previous 72 hours or an antigen test taken within the previous 48 hours. Once in France you are not required to quarantine.

Fully vaccinated – in order to qualify as ‘fully vaccinated’ you must be vaccinated with an EMA approved vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Astra-Zeneca or Janssen) and must be at least 7 days after your final dose (or 28 days after in the case of Janssen). If you had your vaccine more than nine months ago, you will need a booster shot in order to still be classificed as ‘fully vaccinated’ if you are aged 18 and over.

Anyone vaccinated within the EU/Schengen zone will have the EU digital vaccine pass, but vaccination certificates issued outside the EU are also accepted at the French border. 

Children – The rules on vaccination apply to all children aged 12 and over. Under 12s do not need to supply proof of vaccination at the border. Children aged between 12 and 18 do not need a booster shot, even if their vaccine took place more than nine months ago.

The above rules apply to all EU and Schengen zone countries – if you are travelling from the UK click HERE, click HERE for travel from the USA and HERE for travel from other non-EU countries.

In France

So you’ve made it into France, but what are the rules once you are here?

On May 16th, France ended the mask requirement for public transport, representing one of the last Covid restrictions still in place.

Masks – masks are now only compulsory in health establishments, although they remain recommended on public transport. They are not required in other indoor spaces such as shops, bars, restaurants and tourist sites, although private businesses retain the legal right to make mask-wearing a condition of entry.

Health pass – the health pass was suspended in March and is no longer required to enter venues such as bars, restaurants and tourist sites. It is still required to enter establishements with vulnerable residents such as nursing homes. In this case it is a health pass not a vaccine pass – so unvaccinated people can present a recent negative Covid test.

Hygiene gestures – the government still recommends the practice of hygiene gestures such as hand-washing/gel and social distancing although this is a recommendation and not a rule.

Self-isolation – if you test positive for Covid while in France you are legally required to self isolate – full details HERE.

READ ALSO How tourists and visitors to France can get a Covid test

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