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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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What to know when visiting France’s lavender fields this summer

Known affectionately as 'blue gold,' France’s lavender fields are a popular tourist attraction every year. Here is what you need to know about visiting them:

What to know when visiting France's lavender fields this summer

Lavender is the “soul of Provence,” the French region where the fields can be found. Like wine, lavender was brought to France around 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The flower is the emblem of ‘Haute Provence’ regional identity, though the fields stretch from just outside of Nice almost all the way up to Valence, and they are not fully exclusive to France.

Even the washerwomen, those whose job it was to clean clothes and linen, were referred to as les lavandières in France. 

The flowers, which can be found mainly in two species in Provence, have several uses – as oils for cooking and bathing, as a perfume for soaps, and even as an antiseptic for healing wounds and scars.

The lavender essential oil that comes from Provence is even an AOP (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) in France. 

When is the best time to see the fields?

Typically, the lavender flowers from around mid-June to early-to-mid August. However, depending on the weather, especially if there is a drought or hotter temperatures, the lavender might flower sooner than normal, which is likely the case for this year.

This is unfortunately also a side effect of climate change, which might be pushing up the lavender flowering season.

Where should I go?

The Valensole plateau is perhaps the most famous place to go for lavender fields. Speckled with several small Provencal towns, the area is beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop in the distance. If you go here, you might also be able to see the sunflower fields too.

Sault is perhaps a bit less known, partially because due to its altitude, the lavender typically flowers a bit later.

It is still a great place to go see the fields, and every year the town hosts a Lavender Festival in August. Walking (or cycling) between the villages (Aurel, Saint-Trinit and Saint-Christol) is very manageable.

This is not too far from the Sénanque Abbey, a medieval 12th century abbey which is surrounded by lavender fields. You might notice some small stone houses called bories in the fields, which were historically used for field workers.

Luberon Valley is another location that comes highly recommended. In the area, there is a regional national park, home to rosé wines, castles (chateaux) and charming villages, like Gordes, a stunning hilltop village.

Here you can also find the Musée de la Lavande, if you are looking to learn more about harvesting, producing and distilling lavender, its industry, and some interesting regional history.

How to get there?

You can take a TGV train to Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, or rent a car. With a car, you can also enjoy the several scenic routes that allow you to see the fields from the roads.

What else is there to do while in the region?

The area is also known for its rosé wine, so you could take the opportunity to go visit some vineyards or spend some time wine-tasting. 

In the summer months, the south of France can get quite warm. If you are looking to go swimming or enjoy the water, the Gorges du Verdon are not too far away. Though a bit of a tourist hotspot, the canyon is a beautiful and a wonderful place for paddling along in a canoe.

If you’re a fan of hiking, you can always go for a (light) hike along the Ochre Trail near Roussillon. Here, there are two marked paths that will take you through sunset-colored red and yellow cliffs in an old quarry.

Words of Wisdom

Unless you have been given express permission, do not pick the lavender, as this is the farmer’s livelihood. You can always buy a bouquet from nearby souvenir shops for your photo shoots! 

Also, stick to the paths that exist to avoid trampling any crops, and of course do not litter in the fields.