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.
It's the same rule that was already in place for many citizens of 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 are resident in France 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 – will not be 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?
The formal name for the rule is a Schengen Visa – although despite being called a visa it does not require paperwork in advance of your trip. It allows citizens of many (but not all) non-EU or Schengen zone countries to spend periods longer than a standard holiday within the European bloc.
The rule states that non-EU/Schengen visitors can only 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 spent 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 89 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.
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?
Broadly, there are two options – apply for residency or get a visa.
Residency – This is more than simply declaring 'I'm a resident'. To become resident in France you will need to apply for a carte de séjour residency permit – which comes with its own conditions, see more on those here.
You will also need to become a tax resident in France, which means filing annual tax returns with French authorities, even if all you income comes from the UK, and registering 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 your British residency which has an impact on things like tax and access to the NHS.
Visa – For people who want to remain resident in the UK but spend longer periods in France, the best option is a 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.
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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 the UK 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.
Could the 90-day rule be overturned?
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?
For British people who have got used to coming and going with minimal paperwork or checks this can seem like an attractive option.
Among non-EU nationals like Americans and Australians France has earned itself a reputation 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. It's also true that there is likely to be a 'bedding in period' for the new rules.
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.