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Brexit: How second-home owners can properly plan for their 90-day limit in France

With the 90-day rule now a reality for British second-home owners and visitors in France, we take a look at how to maximise your time here, while not falling foul of EU rules on length of stay.

Brexit: How second-home owners can properly plan for their 90-day limit in France
JPhoto: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP

Know the rules

As most people will now be aware, since the end of the Brexit transition period, UK nationals who do not have a residency card or visa face limits on how long they can stay in the EU.

This has always been the rule for non-EU citizens such as Americans and Canadians, but since Brexit it applies to Brits as well.

The 90-day rule has a few quirks that it’s worth familiarising yourself with.

READ ALSO How does the 90-day rule work in France since Brexit?

The basic rule says that since January 1st, 2021, Brits can stay for 90 days out of every 180 within the Schengen zone without needing a visa.

The date of entry is considered as the first day of stay in the Schengen territory and the date of exit is considered as the last day of stay in the Schengen territory.

However, it is possible to leave and re-enter the Schengen Area over that six-month period.

“The 180-day reference period is not fixed,” as the EU explains, “it is a moving window, based on the approach of looking backwards”.

That means taking a calendar and highlighting all the time spent in Schengen countries already over the past 180 days.

There are also Schengen calculators that do the job for you. 

If police or border officials ever question how long you’ve been in the EU, this will be how they calculate if you’ve overstayed or not. 

It’s worth stressing as well that the Schengen rule doesn’t work with the calendar year, it’s always a case of counting back 180 days.

Not just France

Crucially, the 90 day limit refers to the entire Schengen zone – that’s Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden plus Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland.

You may spend no more than 90 days out of every 180 in total in those countries – so you need to calculate not only your stays in France, but any other European travel that you do too, including business trips.

France residents

Brits who have a right of residency in France (either through a visa or a carte de séjour residency permit) do not have their time in France counted towards their 90-day limit.

However they must still abide by the rule if they travel to other Schengen zone countries.

Accept that you may have to spend three months away from France 

Whatever your preferences or calculations for your time spent in France and other Schengen countries, once the 90-in-180-day period is over, you will have to spend 90 days outside of the Schengen Area. 

As the website puts it, “an absence for an uninterrupted period of 90 days allows for a new stay for up to 90 days”.  

Plan ahead to make sure this absence from the Schengen Area doesn’t fall at a time when you want to be in France (or any other Schengen country). 

However, remember that you are always counting back the last 180 days, so if you have not exhausted the 90-day limit over the past six months, you will not have to leave the Schengen Area until that’s the case. 

When that happens, spend 90 full days outside of the Schengen Area and France will give you a new period of 90 days.

Remember that travel days count

The clock starts as soon as you enter the Schengen zone, so if it takes you the best part of a day to drive down to your French property, then you’ve used up two days on travel there and back.

It might therefore be more efficient to take longer breaks, rather than multiple short breaks.

Any time in the Schengen zone counts, so if for example you pass briefly through France on your way to non-Schengen Morocco, that’s one day gone from your allocation, even if you were only in France for a few hours.

Consider neighbouring countries outside Schengen 

If you have to leave France but you don’t want to return to the UK, consider spending some time in countries outside of the Schengen Area that aren’t too distant. 

Morocco, Cyprus and Turkey are three options with more temperate climates and affordable prices.

Plan ahead

Decide which part of the year is most important to you in France – whether it’s the summer sunshine or winter in the Alps on the slopes – and plan ahead to make sure you have enough days left of your allocation.

Also bear in mind that this is France so transport strikes are not exactly out of the question. It would be a good idea to have a couple of days in hand just in case your plane/train/ferry back to the UK is cancelled because of industrial action.

Don’t assume that nobody will be checking

Among non-Europeans like Americans and Australians, France has over the years gained itself a reputation as a country that is not too fussy about exact exit dates.

However that doesn’t mean that no-one checks and British visitors to France have reported that most passports of non-residents are now stamped at the border.

This makes it easy for border officials to see exactly how long you have been in France, and whether you have overstayed your allocation. The EU also has new technology coming down the line that will allow for stricter checks on length of stay.

If you are found to have overstayed you can be deported, fined and refused re-entry.

France in general tends to reserve deportation and fines for people who have been illegally working or who have overstayed for many months, but an ‘over-stayer’ stamp in your passport will create all sorts of problems for future travel in France and the rest of the Schengen zone.

If you want to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France you will need a visa – find out how to apply HERE.

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Cutting back and applying for benefits: How the weak pound has impacted Brits living in France

In recent weeks, the pound has become weaker when compared to other currencies, namely the euro. This has made life more complicated for Brits living in France. The Local asked readers to share their experiences - and advice - for others who find themselves in the same situation.

Cutting back and applying for benefits: How the weak pound has impacted Brits living in France

While the pound is still low when compared to other currencies, it has recovered somewhat since its drop after the British Chancellor’s mini-budget.

As of October 5th, the exchange rate was £1 to €1.14. For British people living in France who receive income in pounds sterling – whether they be pensioners or others with financial interests still in the UK – the drop in the pound’s value has had negative impacts.

The Local reached out to readers to hear how they have been affected by the exchange rate. Many offered their tips for navigating the current economic landscape.

Many readers found life still affordable, but expected to be more severely impacted in the future. Retiree A. Wood, who lives in Haute Vienne, said that “The recent drop in the value of the pound will not immediately affect me. If it remains low for more than a year then maybe I will have to do some calculating.”

Pensioners especially said that life in France had become “more expensive” and “costlier” for them, but being aware of price rises and managing the changes “with care” were plausible solutions for the time-being.

In general residents of France are better protected from inflation than many other European nations, thanks to government initiatives such as energy price caps and fuel rebates, but prices for many everyday items such as food have been rising steadily.

One respondent, Nigel Harrison, a retired former business consultant, said that weak pound has “not made life unaffordable, but worrying.” 

Meanwhile, some readers, all of whom are also retired, said that they were starting to feel more serious impacts of the exchange rate.

Retired librarian and micro entrepreneur, Pat Hallam, who has been living in Paris for the last two years, said that she receives her career pension in pounds, which she later transfers into euros by way of her French bank account.

She explained that she already works to supplement the cost of life in Paris, but now she expects to have to take on extra work.

She expects to also “cut back on things like socialising, eating out and culture.”

“Explaining this to friends will be hard, and it is what makes living in Paris a pleasure. I know the cost of living would be cheaper in other parts of France, but I’ve spent the last 2 years building a life in Paris, my dream destination. I would be very disappointed if events across the Channel forced me to move away, or even back to the UK,” she said.

READ MORE: The best banks for non-EU citizens living in France

Pat is not alone – Tom Baker, who is retired and lives in south-west France – said, “All my pensions are from the UK and the drop in exchange is definitely felt, coupled with the loss on transferring the money to France as I have five pensions.”

Baker explained that having his income drop has been particularly difficult “as a 74 year old with two young sons aged seven and 10” and amid “the present financial climate the cost of everything is spiralling.” 

Many readers said they would try to live on savings while waiting for the value of the pound to rise again, which has also posed its own problems, as many British bank accounts have begun closing the accounts of non-UK residents. 

John Stanley Mumford found himself in this situation, he said: “I have a pension in pounds. I will live on savings until the value of pound goes up! But, Barclays bank is to close my account as I am a French resident, so basically I’m stuffed!”

READ MORE: Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in France

Non-pensioners have also felt the impacts of a weak pound. One respondent discussed the dilemma of attempting to sell their UK home, and worrying about whether they should leave the money in pounds or transfer it to Euros afterwards. Others worried about their UK savings accounts.

Respondents did offer helpful advice for others in similar positions – ranging from tips to try to hold out for a better exchange rate to recommendations for how to become thriftier – like getting rid of unused streaming services and cutting back generally. 

Tom Baker said he recommends transferring funds “perhaps every three months to reduce the cost of transfer fees, which since Brexit have really increased.”

He also said that he checks the daily rate “for a week or 10 days before the transfer is needed to try and get a better each rate.” Others said if possible – wait until the pound recovers.

However, for those unable to hold out until the pound is stronger, several readers recommended apps and international banking services, such as Wise and Revolut as handy ways to find better exchange rates and avoid high fees when transferring between a UK bank and a French one. 

Finally, Pat Hallam counselled Brits living in France to consider applying for welfare benefits if necessary. She said even if you’ve never considered it, “either out of pride or because you didn’t think you were eligible, maybe now’s the time to look again.”

She also recommended tracking energy use more carefully via a smart metre: it “takes three months’ use before you can start comparing consumption but it helps keep track of your energy use.”

READ MORE: Living in France: How to cut your household energy use by 10% this winter

Many thanks to everyone who took part in our survey and shared their experiences and tips.