Brexit: Should British second-home owners take up French residency or not?

This has been a common question from our second-home owner readers, people who until now have split their time fairly evenly between France and the UK and consider both of them 'home'.

Brexit: Should British second-home owners take up French residency or not?
Many people like to split their time between France and the UK, but this will become less flexible from January 2021. Photo: AFP

Freedom of movement has until now made this sort of flexibility possible for British people, whether it’s a regular 50/50 split of time or more spontaneous decisions to spend several months at a time in one place or the other.

But as the Brexit transition period ends, British people lose their freedom of movement and with it the freedom and flexibility to make these sort of choices.

Residency must be fixed to one country and from January time limits come into place for the non-resident country.

So is it best to take up residency in France or keep your British residency status?

Of course a lot will depend on your personal circumstances, but here are some things to consider.

French residency

British people who are resident in France by December 31st are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, which gives them broad guarantees that they can remain – find out exactly what it says here.

For people planning to make the move that doesn’t leave a lot of time, but people who already own property and spend a significant amount of time in France are at an advantage here.

Reasons to do it

If you are resident by December 31st 2020, you can apply for a carte de séjour residency permit which will make you a legal resident with access to healthcare, social security and the right to work.

READ ALSO What you need to know about the French carte de séjour

If you are an official resident of France there is of course no limit to the amount of time you can spend here.

Reasons to think twice

However, it’s not as simple as just applying for the residency card and then settling down to enjoy your French home. If you are declaring yourself a full-time resident of France – which is what it means to apply for a carte de séjour – then with that comes with other responsibilities.

For a start you will need to register yourself in the French healthcare system and that requires opening a French bank account if you don’t already have one.

You will also have to make an annual tax declaration in France. If all your income comes from the UK then you may not need to actually pay any tax (apart from local and property taxes) but you still need to fill in the complicated annual declaration that tells the French taxman about your financial affairs.

READ ALSO What exactly do I need to tell the French taxman about?

French residents need to register with the French healthcare system. Photo: AFP

If you drive, you will need to change your driving licence for a French one.

You also cannot be resident of two countries at once, so by declaring yourself a resident of France you are giving up your British residency, which has an impact on things like tax and access to healthcare.

There’s also another factor to consider – are you ready to make the emotional shift from being a frequent visitor to France to becoming a resident?

For example, French healthcare is generally considered to be excellent, but if your French is not very strong you might prefer treatment in the UK if you become seriously ill. If 2021 brings more lockdowns and travel bans will you cope with prolonged separations from friends and family in the UK?

UK residency

The other option is to keep your status as it is and remain a resident of the UK and a visitor to France.

Reasons to do it

For most British people who are frequent visitors to France they will have British residency by virtue of citizenship, as long as they have not previously declared themselves resident of another country.

So this has the benefit of simplicity and no need to fill out complicated and lengthy forms.

You will already be registered in the NHS and social security systems, as well as with HMRC for tax and you will have the advantage of already understanding how these systems work (and doing it all in your native language).

Reasons to think twice

But after January 1st 2021 you will be limited in how much time you can spend in France. For non-residents, the 90-day rule kicks in next year, which means you can only spend 90 days out of every 180 within the EU or Schengen zone.

READ ALSO How will the 90-day rule work in France after Brexit?

This doesn’t just limit how much time you can spend in France, but in the whole of Europe and your visits need to be strictly organised and regulated to ensure that you are not exceeding the 90-day rule – it is up to you to keep track of this. 

In total over a year you can spend 180 days in the EU, but this must be broken down into two blocks of 90, which rules out spending the summer in France and the winter in the UK (or vice versa) which many people like to do.

If you are coming to France for visits under the 90-day rule, this also limits your right to work in France. 

If you want to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France you then enter the world of visas – complicated, expensive and needing regular renewal.

READ ALSO How to get a French visa

You also have fewer rights as a visitor to the country. Before the pandemic, many people who owned property in France and paid property taxes assumed that this gave them more rights than standard tourists. The lockdown rules disabused them of this notion, as travel rules barred second-home owners from France for months at a time.

If 2021 brings in further lockdowns or travel bans, you could again be excluded from the country for long periods. As things stand at present, British travellers who are coming for ‘non-essential’ reasons (which includes family visits and second-home owners) will be barred from France under the EU’s Covid rules, unless an exemption is made in the next few days.

It’s a difficult choice, and a crying shame that it needs to be made at all, but for many second-home owners this is the new reality from January.

Member comments

  1. If I travel to my house in the Perigord in January, I can then spend 90 days there either in a block or split into shorter stays. The 180 day clock stops in June. So then in July say the 180
    clock restarts so I could then spend August September and October in France say. The clock will restart again in December. Is this right?

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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.