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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.