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The myths you shouldn’t believe about the rights of Brits in France after Brexit

The post-Brexit situation for Britons living in or visiting France is complicated, and not helped by a series of persistent myths, rumours and wrong information. Here we separate the facts from the fiction.

The myths you shouldn't believe about the rights of Brits in France after Brexit
It wasn't just the flags that needed to be rearranged after Brexit. Photo: François Walschaerts/AFP

For Brits who lived in France before December 31st, 2020:

I’m married to a French person so I don’t need to apply for residency 

All British nationals who were living in France before December 31st 2020 have to apply for the residency card known as the carte de séjour – even if they have been here a long time or are married to a French person.

The only exception to this is Brits who have dual nationality with an EU country eg France, Ireland etc.

The deadline to have made the application is September 30th, 2021 (extended from June 30th) and you can find out how to apply HERE.

I already have a European Carte de séjour so I don’t need a new one

Some Brits already applied  for a carte de séjour before 2020 on the basis that they were EU citizens. However these cards are no longer valid for Brits and have to be exchanged for a new carte de séjour – this card is a specific one for Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.

You make the application to exchange on the same online portal as those applying for a new card and it is a fairly simple swap process. Full details HERE.

If I apply for a residency card I will have to start paying tax in France 

Not necessarily. Virtually everyone who is a permanent resident in France must fill out the annual tax declaration – this applied to British residents before Brexit and getting a carte de séjour does not change that. Whether you pay tax or not depends on your sources of revenues and whether they are taxed in the UK or not.

You can find full information in our tax declaration guides HERE.

I can keep my main residence in the UK and still apply for a carte de séjour

The Withdrawal Agreement carte de séjour is for people whose main home is in France. Many Brits with property in France have got used to splitting their time roughly 50/50 between France and the UK, but the British government’s decision to end freedom of movement for its citizens means that people now need to make a decision on which country is their place of residence. Here are some things to consider when making that decision.

“Tax residency” – the threshold at which you can be liable to pay tax in a country – is not the same as having residency status via a carte de sejour

I’m unemployed so I can’t apply for residency 

If you are unemployed and registered at the Pôle emploi (the French unemployment office) you can still apply as a jobseeker for a post-Brexit carte de séjour.

If you have never worked in France you apply as “economically inactive” – the category which includes pensioners. Depending on how long you have been in France, you may need to show some proof of your resources (more details below). 

I need private health insurance before I can apply for a residency card

Only people who have been in France for less than five years and are not working need to supply proof of health cover and it is sufficient to be registered within the French health system, no additional health insurance is required.

This confusions seems to have arisen due to an early mistranslation in the English-language version of the online portal for residency applications. France’s state health insurance system is known as Assurance maladie, and the English-language portal used the literal translation of this – health insurance – which lead many Brits to believe that they needed additional private insurance. In fact, being registered in the French system and having a carte vitale is sufficient.

I only have a basic UK pension so probably won’t qualify for residency under the income requirements

This has probably been the biggest worry for many Brits, especially as the requirements were not finally clarified until the residency application site went live in October 2020.

The majority of people do not have to provide proof of their financial resources, but one group does – those who have lived here for less than five years and are not working (eg pensioners).

The French have lowered some of the standard income requirements and allowed couples to use joint resources to apply. In cases where people are under the income threshold, assets such as mortgage-free property will be taken into account.

Find the exact amounts needed HERE.

Applying for residency will be a French bureaucratic nightmare and I’ll have to supply several trees’ worth of documents

French bureaucracy has a bit of a reputation for being slow and cumbersome, but Brits who have already applied under this system have been struck by its – relative – simplicity and speed. The Interior Ministry has scaled back the number of supporting documents required and set up an online portal specifically for Brits.

Read the experiences of people who have used the system HERE.

The above answers all relate to people who were living in France prior to December 31st 2020, for people moving after that date, click HERE. 

But what about non-residents – British second-home owners, Brits who do short-term work in Europe or just those who enjoy lengthy trips to France?

There are also some persistent myths surrounding these groups

I live in the UK but own property here, so I don’t need a visa for visits

This is a common trope, but unfortunately simply owning property in France does not give you any extra rights when it comes to border controls and immigration rules.

British second-home owners are now covered by the 90-day rule, which limits visits to 90 days in every 180 (either in one block or several shorter visits).

Anyone who wants to stay longer than that without taking up residency needs a visa. The only exception to this is Brits who have dual nationality with an EU country.

You can find a full explanation of the 90-day rule HERE and a guide to getting a visa HERE.

I don’t need a visa for visits if I don’t intend to work in France

Visas are required even for people who don’t intend to work here if you want to stay for longer than 90 days out of every 180. There are various different types of visa, but second-home owners who simply want to enjoy lengthy visits to their property would probably want a visitor visa.

I need a work permit for work undertaken in France, even if it’s only for a few weeks 

Not necessarily. If you intend to work in France without taking up permanent residency – ie as a freelancer, contractor or taking business trips or cultural tours – you may need a work permit, but there are some sectors that are exempt from the requirement.

If you work for less than 90 days out of every 180 in France then you don’t need a visa, but if you work in multiple countries bear in mind that the 90-day limit applies to the whole EU Bloc, not just France, and each EU country has different visa and work permit requirements.

Find a full explanation of who needs a work permit in France HERE.

I have an International Driver’s Permit so I don’t need to swap my driving licence for a French one

If you are visiting France as a tourist or second-home owner then you can continue to drive on your UK licence and don’t need an International Driver’s Permit.

For residents in France who have a UK licence the situation is more complicated. This group will have to swap their licence for a French one by the end of 2021, but at present an impasse on reciprocal agreements to swap licences between the French and British governments mean no applications for a swap are being accepted.

Residents can continue to drive on a UK licence in the meantime, so most people just need to wait and hope an agreement is reached soon. For those whose UK licence has expired or is about to expire, however, the situation is grim with no immediate resolution in sight, despite pleas and petitions to the British government.

An International Driver’s Permit is not a substitute for a licence, and cannot be used if the licence it is attached to is expired or no longer valid.

If you have questions on Brexit, head to our Dealing with Brexit section or email us at [email protected]

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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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