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VISAS

Reader question: Are there extensions to the 90-day rule due to French travel restrictions?

Travel has been heavily restricted around most of the globe for the past year, so has this lead to any relaxation of the rules around length of stay?

Reader question: Are there extensions to the 90-day rule due to French travel restrictions?
Travel to France has been heavily restricted for most of the year. Photo; AFP

Question: We are British and travelled to our second home in France the week before Christmas, when it was legal to do so. Since then travel restrictions have again been tightened and quite a few flights have been cancelled so we have holed up in our home in rural France. But now the 90-day rule is in force will we have to leave by mid-March or has the rule been waived because of the difficulties in travelling?

Many people’s travel plans have been thrown into disarray over the last year, for many that has made trips to France impossible, while others have ended up staying much longer than they planned.

But however topsy-turvy the world has become, there are still limits on how long certain groups can stay in the country.

For people who are not EU citizens – which from January 1st 2021 includes UK nationals – the 90-day rule comes into play.

You can find a full explanation of how it works HERE, but essentially it limits trips into the Schengen zone to 90 days out of every 180. People who want to stay longer than 90 days in every 180 must either get a visa or apply for residency.

So have these limits been waived during the Covid crisis?

The EU has issued some general advice on this, encouraging member states to grant visa extensions where necessary and to waive sanctions on people who have overstayed due to travel restrictions.

As ever, though, decisions on border issues remain with national governments within the EU.

France has within its travel restrictions exemptions which allow people to return home if necessary. 

Within the current rules for travel out of France to a non-EU country there are two possible exemptions for people who have travelled to their second homes in France;

  • Returning to your main residence from a trip that began before January 31st (documents required – proof of residency plus tickets showing your outward journey)
  • A legal or economic reason that makes it impossible to remain in the country you are travelling from eg the expiry of a residency card 

These cover people who are normally resident outside France returning home, or people leaving France for good due to the expiry of their permission to remain, such as a visa.

In order to travel you will need extra paperwork and, depending on your destination country, a negative Covid test. Find the full list of rules HERE.

If you have a question on any aspect of life in France, email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to answer it.

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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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