But at that time, Brits living in France – many of whom had been here for many decades – faced the prospect of having to apply for the right to stay in France, leaving many extremely worried about whether they would be rejected and forced to leave the place they called home. There was also at that stage no system set up by which they could make those applications.
Fast forward 18 months and the Brexit transition period is over and processing of the residency applications of the between 200,000 and 300,000 Brits in France is well underway.
So did France walk the walk, as well as talk Macron’s talk, when it came to protecting Brits living here?
Spot on Ben -way too simple – got mine too so swiftly after heading to the prefecture – The French state said it would try and make the process of getting carte de sejours for long term resident expats as painless as possible and they genuinely meant it.
— chris bockman (@chrisbockman) February 27, 2021
France, unusually among EU countries, does not require EU citizens to register for residency, which meant that at the time of Brexit no-one knew exactly how many Brits were living in the country, where they all were or indeed how to get in touch with them.
Estimates were that there were between 200,000 and 300,000 Britons residing in France. That would mean a significant extra workload for France’s public administration to register and issue residency cards to them all.
In addition many of those, particularly retirees, were not registered in any French system such as the social security or health systems – many people simply used their European Health Insurance Cards when they needed healthcare. There were also a significant number of second-home owners who split their time roughly equally between France and the UK, who would now have to chose if they wanted to become an official resident in France.
The French Interior Ministry’s solution was twofold – they built an online platform specifically for Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (ie those living here before December 31st, 2020) and they put in place a simplified application process, with significantly fewer documents required than the usual residency permit application for non-EU citizens such as Americans or Australians.
I got mine at the end of December. Such mixed feelings, happiness for a permanent card and sadness that it had come to this. My huge thanks go to the French who simplified the process and have made it possible for many fearful people to stay who thought they couldn’t.
— KatieBoo Shill for liberté, égalité, fraternité💙 (@k8tshires) April 19, 2021
Those living here for more than five years only needed to provide ID, proof of their current address, proof that they had been living in France for more than five years and that they were in France before the end of the transition period. French authorities allowed a wide range of documents to be provided as proof such as bills, payslips or rental contracts.
For more recent arrivals more documentation was needed, proving their status as employed, self-employed, studying or retired or otherwise economically inactive or a family member of one of those groups.
For many the greatest worry had been around providing proof of resources, with many British pensioners fearing they would not have enough earnings to qualify for residency.
In the event, this was only required for people who have lived in France for less than five years and were not working or seeking work. France also lowered some of its standard levels of minimum income and agreed to take into account assets such as property owned outright.
(article continues below)
See also on The Local:
The whole thing is dreadful pointless and damaging, but I’ve been struck by how easy France’s Ministère de l’Intérieur has made the residence process for us, in stark contrast to UK’s Home Office and their hostile environment. It’s hard to stay proud of my country right now 🙄.
— jboutbound 💙 (@jboutbound) April 19, 2021
So how are these systems working in reality?
It’s now eight months since applications opened, and three months until the final deadline to make an application (which was extended to September 30th from the original deadline of June 30th, 2021).
While plenty of Brits are still waiting for their application to be processed, many of those who have begun the process have been struck by its simplicity – particularly compared to most other French administration tasks.
I got mine in February, it was a huge relief & quite exciting 😊. The process was simple, efficient & the prefecture staff were patient, kind & very helpful 🇫🇷
— Julie Robertson (@julie74140) April 19, 2021
Applicants make the application online and are generally then invited to their local préfecture to give fingerprints and have their ID checked. Most people who have been for an appointment have reported a quick 10-minute process of checking the file and taking fingerprints, a far cry from the grilling that many had feared.
Congratulations. Mine came in January after applying last October. Very easy straight swap. First of 12 applicants to be interviewed at my Sous Préfecture. Big thumbs up to the French admin for easy, online procedure.
— tartanpimpernel 🏴🇪🇺🇫🇷 (@galofhal) April 19, 2021
Many were also struck by the friendless and helpfulness of préfecture staff, again in stark contrast to what many people had feared.
Waiting for mine to come in the post. They were so nice to me at the Prefecture when I had my appointment, they made me feel so welcome. I feel only relief to be out of UK—the country I once loved is gone, the Tories and Brexiteers have ruined it.
— Todd Foreman 🏳️🌈🇪🇺🇺🇸 (@ToddDavidForem1) April 19, 2021
I got mine today!! It was a relief 😊, I’m grateful to my prefecture in Annecy, they’ve been great, the whole process has been seamless.
— Julie Robertson (@julie74140) February 26, 2021
But let’s not claim that the process is without issues, this has been a massive administrative undertaking and some things have gone wrong.
From feedback so far, here are some of the common problems.
Waiting times – according to a survey conducted by citizens’ rights group Remain in France Together (RIFT) the average waiting time between applying and getting an appointment date at the préfecture was four months, but this varies widely between areas.
— fiona thwaites (@isthisseattaken) April 19, 2021
still waiting even for a date at Boulogne Billancourt
— Stowe (@stowe__) February 26, 2021
Applications are all submitted online but are then passed to the applicant’s local area préfecture for processing, and préfectures move at different speeds. Only Dordogne – with its large British population – has been given extra staff to process applications from Brits, in other areas these are being handled on top of the usual residency paperwork, so speed depends on the number of applications and how many staff there are to process them. You can find a more detailed area breakdown here.
Document requests – although the website requires comparatively few documents, some people reported being asked to bring a large dossier of paperwork, including tax returns for the past five years, to their appointment at the préfecture. In some cases it seemed that préfectures were using the standard email/letter wording for all residency applications, rather than the slimmed-down requirements for post-Brexit paperwork.
Appointment dates – some préfectures seemed flexible on appointment dates if applicants were unable to make the appointment offered, while others either said they could not be changed or advised people to make a new application.
Translation fails – the application website is available in English or French, but some of the early translations on the English site caused some confusion, although this appears to have largely been corrected now.
Administrative complexities – the process is simple compared to a lot of other French bureaucratic tasks, but French bureaucracy is notoriously complicated and slow. Several applicants at the Préfecture de Police in Paris report being directed to the wrong section of the building, then told there was no record of their appointment.
It’s not over yet . .
Brits in France have until September 30th 2021 to make the application (extended from June 30th). It’s likely that applications will speed up as the deadline approaches, which will be a test of whether the system can process the volumes of applications in time.
It also seems likely that those who applied early are those who had their paperwork in order so we may not have seen yet how well the system deals with people in more marginal situations, or those who don’t fit into a clear category.
(And let’s not spoil it by mentioning the ongoing fiasco over driving licences – although that’s not entirely France’s fault).
Head to our Dealing with Brexit section to find more info on what you need to do if you are a Brit living in France.