Revealed: How the post-Brexit rules in France are really working

The post-Brexit world is now a reality and a myriad of extra rules apply to Brits in France. Whether you're living here, planning on moving or just visiting - here are the systems now in place and how they are working in reality.

Revealed: How the post-Brexit rules in France are really working
Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP

The Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021 and the UK is now a Third Country, subject to many of the same rules as other non-EU nations like the USA, Canada and Australia.

The period after the 2016 referendum was marked by many years of uncertainty for Brits living in France, but now most of the outstanding questions have been resolved and new systems put in place.

But how are those systems working on the ground?

Here’s how they affect you if you are a UK national either living in France, visiting France or planning to move here.

Living in France


The rule: Definitely the biggest change for Brits living in France has been the requirement to obtain a carte de séjour residency card. The deadline to have this card has now passed – click here if you missed the deadline – and figures from the Interior Ministry suggest that virtually everyone who applied has now got the precious card.

How it’s working: While the system for getting the card was relatively straightforward, via a special online portal set up by the French government, some problems remain. The main one is the card numbers of the post-Brexit residency cards not being recognised by certain French government websites such as the one to change addresses or replace a lost or stolen card. There is also the issue of border guards apparently not recognising the card and continuing to stamp passports (see below).

Driving licence 

The rule: After many years of uncertainty a deal has now been reached allowing Brits living in France to swap their licence for a French one without having to take a driving test. The process is a staggered one, so many people can still legally drive on their UK licence – click here for the full timetable.

How it’s working: Those who are eligible for a swap still face a long wait, however, as officials continue to work their way through the backlog of applications.

Some people have ended up with no licence after their licence expired while they were still waiting for their application to be dealt with. In order to help relieve the workload, people are asked not to apply until they are eligible – early applications will be rejected – and not to submit multiple applications if they are still waiting.


The rule: For most residents Brexit changed nothing with regards to healthcare, since UK residents were always able to register in the French system after three months of living in France. However prior to Brexit, some people simply used their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if they needed healthcare. This is no longer an option, so they will need to register for a carte vitalefull details here.

How it’s working: This has always been a slow process – about six months is the average waiting time – but the combination of an increase in applications and pandemic-related delays mean that many people report that it’s even slower than ever now. Unfortunately the only solution is to have patience and make sure that you send a complete dossier. While you’re waiting, you can use Feuille de soin


The rule: Parcels going to and from non-EU countries have always been subject to extra paperwork, restrictions and in some cases a customs duty and this now applies to the UK. The application of this rule to UK parcels coincides with tighter VAT controls on all non-EU parcels.

How it’s working: Even those who have diligently followed all the new rules have been hit by big fees on parcels arriving from the UK and it seems that some businesses – and in some cases La Poste – are not applying the rules correctly. We asked readers for their tips to avoid getting stung by hefty charges.

Having visitors

The rule: If you’re having friends or family from the UK to stay, you may need to head to the mairie to get an attestation d’acceuil for them. The rules state that these are necessary for people arriving to stay in France from a non-EU country who do not have a booking in a hotel, Airbnb, campsite or similar – although there is a workaround for people who cannot get the attestation in time – click here.

How it’s working: Reports from readers suggest that it’s rare for arrivals from the UK to be asked for this at the border, although it has happened in some cases. If you’re not able to get the certificate in time, it’s worth reading up on the financial proofs that can be offered instead.

Passport stamping

The rule: Visitors who arrive in France from outside the EU normally have their passports stamped in order to apply the 90-day rule. This should not, however, happen to Brits who have residency status in France, as long as they show their carte de séjour along with their passport at the border.

The French Interior Ministry has been clear on this, telling The Local: “Since the effective exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union on January 1st, 2021, only British nationals who are residents of France are exempt from having their travel documents stamped when entering or leaving the Schengen area.”

How it’s working: While the Interior Ministry’s direction seems pretty clear to us, it apparently hasn’t filtered down to individual guards at the border, many of whom have been stamping the passports of all Brits, including those with cartes de séjour. The Local has raised this issue repeatedly with French authorities and the British Embassy – click here for details.

Visiting France

While the bulk of the Brexit changes have affected Brits living here, there are also some big changes around travel and visiting France – especially for frequent visitors such as second-home owners who spend significant amounts of time here.

90 day rule

The rule: This is the biggest change and has had a big impact on second-home owners, many of whom were previously accustomed to splitting their time between France and the UK and never before had to count how long they had spent in France. This is no longer the case, and visa-free travel is limited to 90 days in every 180 – find a full explanation of the rules HERE. Those who want to spend longer than 90 days in France need to apply for a visa.

How it’s working: Requiring a visa to visit France is a big change and has disrupted the lifestyles of many people. Getting a visa is neither simple nor cheap – full details here – but feedback from second-home owners who have done it suggests that at least the process itself is running fairly smoothly, with an online application system and no requirement to have documents translated into French.  

French border guards are increasingly checking 90-day stamps and visas at the border, and issuing formal warnings or fines to people who have over-stayed their 90 days, so we would suggest that people don’t chance it.


The rule: The EU Pet passport made taking dogs, cats and ferrets to France simple, but this is no longer available to people who live in the UK. Brits who live in France are still able to get an EU Pet Passport, which makes trips back to the UK a lot simpler. Those living in the UK now require an Animal Health Certificate for trips to France.

Pet Passports: What pet owners need to know about travel between France and the UK

How it’s working: The big difference between the Pet Passport and the AHC is that you need a new AHC for each trip. Research suggests that vets in the UK charge around £100 for an AHC, so if you have more than one pet and make multiple trips in a year, costs will mount up rapidly.

Bringing in items

The rule: There are new rules on items that can be brought into France and they break down into two sections; items which cannot be brought in at all (eg cheese, meat and flowers – full list here) and those which are subject to duty if the total value is above €430 – this applies to all items but particularly affects second-home owners who want to take over furniture, fittings or DIY items for their French property.

How it’s working: A survey of readers of The Local suggested that enforcement of these rules is patchy – plenty of people arrived in France with no checks at all, but others reported being pulled over, having their cars checked and having items confiscated or being issued with a customs bill. 

Moving to France


The rule: The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement gave many protections to Brits who were already living in France before December 31st 2020, but those who wish to move in future fall under the rules for Third Country Nationals. This means that a visa is required before you can move to France, and depending on the visa type you may also need to have a certain level of financial resources.

EXPLAINED How to apply for a visa for France

How it’s working: Brits moving to France now are covered by broadly the same rules as those already in place for other non-EU citizens like Americans, Canadians and Australians. France has an online ‘visa wizard’ that tells you what type of visa you need, and allows you to submit your application and supporting documents online (although an in-person visit to a French Consulate in the UK is also required). While the system is taking some getting used to for those used to visa-free travel, it does seem to be working fairly smoothly. Once you have the visa though, that is not the end of the administrative process.   

Driving licences

The rule: Most of the post-Brexit deals put in place applied only to those already living here, but the exception to that is driving licences, where the bilateral France-UK deal also applies to new arrivals – click HERE to find out when you need to swap your licence.

How it’s working: As mentioned above, there are still long delays for those who are eligible for a swap. This is caused by officials still working their way through a large backlog of UK applications, and will hopefully ease in time.

Health insurance 

The rule: Although you are eligible to register in the French health system after living in France for three months, many types of visa require proof of private health insurance, so you will need a policy at least for the initial part of your stay in France.

How it’s working: This has always been the rule for non-EU citizens on certain visa types, but while for example most Americans already have private health insurance, it’s less common in the UK where people generally use the NHS if they get sick. Private health insurance, especially for those with a health condition, can be very expensive. Some groups, including pensioners, can use the GHIC card as proof of health cover.

Is this the end of the changes?

You might hope so, but no. In 2022 the UK will start to impose its own checks on goods arriving from the EU – full details here.

And the EU is bringing in changes around travel in and out of the Bloc for non-EU citizens. These aren’t directly related to Brexit, but will now apply to British travellers – Passport scans and €7 fee: What changes for EU travel in 2022.

Member comments

  1. The article glosses over the delay dealing with Ants for exchange of UK Driving Licences. There are literally thousands of Britons with expired DVLA Licences who are unable to drive and waiting for an indefinite period. ANTS could have resolved this by following their own rules and sending out online an Attestation to drive upon returning UK licence. They are indifferent and callous in their attitude in my opinion but that much different to the UK Foreign Office or Embassy ! This is certainly not the post Brexit reciprocity promised between France & UK. Other EU countries swap licences in a timely efficient manner.

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‘So grateful for opportunities in France’ – from new arrival with no French to police high-flier

She moved to France at the age of five with her British parents, not speaking a word of French but now Georgia Ellis has completed her education and been accepted onto a fast-track programme for high fliers in the French police.

'So grateful for opportunities in France' - from new arrival with no French to police high-flier

Georgia Ellis, 24, came to Charente, in 2002, at the age of five, when her detective parents decided to swap the busy UK capital for a quieter, slower, life in the rural south west of France.

And now the naturalised French citizen is following in her parents’ footsteps – becoming one of just 35 people to qualify for a place on a fast-track scheme in the French police.

Georgia didn’t always plan on a career in the police, but said: “I’d got to the end of my studies – and I think with everything going on with Covid as well, I thought it’s interesting to do something that helps society and that has a direct impact on the community.” 

Understandably proud mum Maggie said that Georgia knew next to no French when the family arrived in 2002: “Bonjour, au revoir, merci and s’il vous plaît – that was about it,” she said.

“We’d come on holidays together over a period of about 18 months together with her – and she always seemed to communicate with children on the beach … kids just get on, don’t they?”

READERS TIPS: How to raise bilingual children in France

Georgia, she said, was thrown into the deep end with learning the language just about from day one.

“When she got to school on the first day, the headteacher had changed from the one we had meetings with earlier – and they had no idea who this child was who had turned up… They found one teacher in the school who spoke a bit of English and it all fell into place.”

But, like many young children before and after her, Georgia soon picked up the language. “It was about six months before she could fully understand what was being said to her, and about 12 months before she was fully fluent.

“She was lucky in that she was the only English child in the tiny school she was at – she had to speak French, there was no alternative.”

Several years later, after passing through collège, Georgia moved away to board at a lycée Angoulême because she wanted to learn Chinese, where she studied a language bac.

“She did find it quite easy to pick up languages,” Maggie said, “and she got a mention très bien in her bac.”

READ ALSO How learning a language as a child opened up France and the world to me

From there, she studied languages and law at Nantes, including a six-month Erasmus period at Grenada, Spain. She was accepted into an international law and global governance Masters at the Sorbonne – and spent six months in Melbourne, returning to France shortly before the Covid-19 lockdown. 

It was about this time that Georgia’s French nationality came through. She had applied shortly after the Brexit vote in the UK, and had been approved in 2018, but her time in Australia followed by the health situation delayed the formalities for some time.

“She wanted to do something to give a bit back to her adopted country – and this was more or less the first time she thought of a career with the police.”

Maggie added: “Georgia has achieved all this through her own hard work, determination and perseverance, and the education system here in France that has rewarded her endeavours with the chance to study abroad, and to obtain her degrees and Masters, without having to incur student debts.

“She has worked in hospitality when her study workload allowed, in order to make a little extra for living expenses but both she and we are so grateful for the opportunities and lifestyle that France has afforded us.”

To get to this stage, Georgia had to go through an intensive preparatory course, including physical and written examinations. 

And the hard work starts again in September, when the fast-track course begins in Lyon.

Georgia explained that she could end up working anywhere in the country once her training period ends. “When you finish your training period, a list of postings comes out, and where you can go depends on your ‘rank’ at the end of the training period.

“Most of it’s in ‘securite publique’ – which is mainstream policing. You can choose to go to Paris, or what they call the Provinces – other towns. For the beginning of my career, maybe going to Paris will be a good idea.”

Even then, her life will not be exactly settled. “We have to move about a lot. The first posting is two years, and then we have to move every four years. You can do that a lot more easily in Paris, because you can move to different places in bigger police stations.”

But she’s hoping her placement period during training will be rather closer to home. “For the placement, we get to choose where we do that – I’m hoping to do that in Bordeaux because it’s not too far away, but I don’t know the city that well … and the south of France would be nice at some stage!”