Monday 11 January 2021
With the UK now out of the EU, what are the procedures for obtaining a legal right to live in France? Updated Jan 2021.
As EU citizens, UK nationals were able to visit France for up to 90 days with no formalities other than a valid passport.
They were entitled to stay beyond 90 days provided they were working, in business or studying.
Economically inactive households also benefited from free movement, provided they had ‘sufficient resources’ and comprehensive healthcare cover, the latter normally obtained by joining the French health system.
The terms of departure of the UK from the EU are contained in a Withdrawal Agreement (WA), which is legally binding on both sides.
The WA provided for a possible extension of the transition period for up to a further two years, but this idea was ruled out by the British government.
Although there was the possibility of a subsequent ‘no-deal’ it concerned (mainly) trade negotiations between the UK and the EU. There is no prospect of a ‘no-deal’ concerning citizens’ rights and a (thin) Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCE) was concluded on Christmas Eve 2020.
Under the terms of the WA, the rights of expatriates living in France at the end of 2020 are protected in perpetuity, granting them a right to live and work in France on the same terms as existed prior to the UK leaving the EU.
Accordingly, if you relocated to France before the end of 2020 you have the same, more favourable, legal rights as those who were living in France prior to the UK leaving the EU.
No minimum duration of residence is required, with the government stating: 'aucune durée minimale de séjour préalable n'est exigée pour l'appréciation de la condition de résidence antérieure au 1er janvier 2021'.
Many readers expressed concern about not being able to purchase and relocate to France before the expiry of the transition period, but as we stated in our article Beating the Brexit Deadline it is not imperative you do buy to become permanently resident. That rule applies pre and post Brexit.
In addition, if you relocated to France before the end of 2020, family members can later join you and benefit from the WA. The guidance states:
'The following persons arriving in France between 1 January 2021 and 1 July 2021 are considered to be family members benefiting from the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement:
- the spouse of a British national;
- the registered partner of a UK national;
- the partner of a British national;
- the adult child of a British national;
- the adult child of the spouse of a British national;
- the father or mother of a British national;
- the father or the father of the spouse of a British national;
The family relationship must have existed before 1 January 2021 and continue at the time of the request.
Children born or adopted after 1 January 2021 are also taken into account.'
During the Covid crisis, they will need to produce a certificate etc to border officials, which can be found at Déplacement en provenance du Royaume-Uni.
You can find a full summary of the regulations concerning travel to and from France during Covid in our regularly updated article Travel to and from France.
The rights of non-European nationals family members of EU nationals was also set out in our article Brexit - Rights of Residence of Non-European Family Members.
UK nationals living in France at the end of the transition period need to obtain a residence permit, but in the vast majority of cases it will be a formality.
Those existing expats who have any doubts about the legality of their current status in France need to consider their next steps, as we indicated in our article Brexit and Residence Rights in France.
The application for a resident permit will need to be made on-line. After several delays the process opened on 19th October 2020 and will remain open until 1st July 2021.
The French government have advised that the application must be submitted by this date so that you are in possession of a permit by the end of October 2021.
The application can made on-line at Brexit Residence Permit.
The application form for residency is in the English language and appears to be relatively straightforward, taking no more than 15/20 mins. Photographs not required for the application itself, but only when called to the prefecture, although you need some other documents. We have provided some information on the portal and the process at French Residency Permit Portal Goes Live.
There is every indication from discussions we have had with officials, and from your mails, that the prefectures want to despatch processing of WARP visas as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
The French government have also since published regulations on the rules that will apply for residency applications made under the Withdrawal Agreement, which we reviewed in French Residency WARP Applications.
If you need assistance there are several organisations available, most notably the Franco-British Network in the Dordogne, who are one of a number of bodies commissioned by the French and British governments to provide support to applicants in the process. They have also written a useful on-line guide, which you can find at FBN Guide to Applying for French Residency Online.
Those who have lived in France for at least 5 years are entitled to a residence permit of 10 years validity stating: 'Séjour permanent - Article 50 TUE/Article 18(1) Accord de retrait du Royaume-Uni de l'UE'.
Those who have lived in France less than 5 years are entitled to a residence permit of 5 years validity, stating 'Article 50 TUE/Article 18(1) Accord de retrait du Royaume-Uni de l'UE'.
If you are a British frontier worker, working in France by the 1st of January 2021, and continuing to do so thereafter, whilst residing in France, you benefit from a right to enter and stay. As from the 1st of October 2021, you will need to hold a ‘document de circulation’ stating "Article 50TUE- travailleur frontalier/Accord de retrait du Royaume-Uni de l'UE- Non-résident." This will be granted free of charge and will need to be requested from the prefecture where you work.
You may also wish to read our article Detached Workers' Regulations in France.
Under the WA there is a loss of some political rights, and there are also concerns about the lack of provision in the WA for freedom of movement beyond France, but the right to visit, work and live elsewhere in Europe is not entirely lost, as we stated in our article Brexit and the Right of Onward Movement.
As for health cover, the UK government state on-line: 'If you’re living in France or move there permanently before 31 December 2020, you’ll have life-long healthcare rights in France as you do now, provided you remain resident.' That statement probably needs qualifying, because the process for obtaining health cover for EEA early retirees is not automatic, but should, bizarrely, become easier, as we say below. You can read our Guide to Getting Health Cover in France for a detailed explanation of current rules.
Those who are living in France and who hold an S1 certificate for health cover need to apply for a new EHIC card for travelling around Europe, which can be done at Get healthcare cover for travelling abroad.
So just what are the terms of the WA as they affect your right to visit France and live in France post 2020?
Since 1st January 2021, those not protected by the WA are only able to visit France for up to three months in any 180-day period as a tourist or on business, without the need for a visa. France has agreements with many countries concerning visa-free travel for tourism and the UK is not an exception to that general rule, as was confirmed in the UK/EU TCA reached prior to Xmas.
The Political Declaration between the UK and the EU, signed alongside the WA, also states that: 'In line with their applicable laws, the Parties will explore the possibility to facilitate the crossing of their respective borders for legitimate travel.' However, until a new broader agreement is reached UK nationals will be subject to Schengen area border controls.
Under the Schengen rules 'third-country' nationals (including UK nationals) have to leave at 90 days and not return for 90 days. It is a rolling 180-day period, so you can visit as many times as you wish, except that at each visit it is necessary to calculate whether by the end of your most recent visit you will have exceeded 90 days in the previous 180 days. If you overstay you can be prevented from returning. The entry date is the first day on which you spend any time in Europe, the exit day is the last day you are in Europe.
It is important to note, therefore, that the 90/180 day rule applies across the whole of Europe, which means that if you make other visits to Europe other than to France, the days spent elsewhere will count towards the total.
If you seek to stay in France for a period of more than 90 days you must, in principle, hold a long-stay visa. This visa can only be obtained from the French consular authorities in the UK, which means that you must return to the UK to apply for a visa.
Visitors for less than a 3-month stay are expected to have adequate resources, equivalent to €65 per day.
You will also need health cover, which you can obtain through the new EHIC, called the Global Health Insurance Card.
As a result, though the property rights of second home/holiday homeowners will not be affected by the UK leaving the EU, it will constrain their ability to visit France.
Many second home-owners currently spend more than 3 continuous months in France and this practice is going to become more complicated, as they will be subject to the same rules as other non-EU nationals visiting France, i.e. visa, health insurance and sufficient resources.
In Dec 2020 the French government issued guidance for those with a second home in France, which states:
'If you are spending between 3 to 6 months a year in France, you are not considered as a resident in France and cannot pretend to a ‘Carte de Séjour’ under the withdrawal agreement. You will have to apply for a temporary Long Stay visitor visa ‘VLS-T Visiteur’.
If you spend more than 6 months a year in France, you are then considered as a French resident and must apply for a Long Stay visitor visa (visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour VLS-TS « visiteur »).'
Needless, to say, if you are 'considered as a French resident' you will be considered tax resident in France. We frequently hear from second-home owners who fear of becoming resident in France because of the tax consequences. In the vast majority of cases, we consider this pessimism is misplaced. Most people who relocate to France pay less in taxes than they would in the UK.
There is every prospect that your passport will be date stamped on arrival and entry. You can read more in our article Brexit and Border Controls. You may also wish to read our article on Brexit and Pets Travel Scheme.
In addition, the EU is in the process of introducing an electronic travel information and authorisation system (ETIAS) for those travelling to Europe from visa-free countries. This means that your travel back and forth (including dates of arrival and departure) will be logged on a central computer system.
Although the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme will end for those not benefiting from the WA, as part of the trade negotiations the UK and the EU have agreed on a 'Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)' . The free GHIC can be obtained on application via UK Global Health Insurance Card.
There remains some confusion about the validity of the GHIC for periods longer than three months, as the French Embassy in London have advised us that:
'For a Visitor Long Stay visa (VLS-T or VLS-TS), an applicant must provide a Health insurance for the full duration of the stay. The insurance must cover the visa’s entire validity period (1 year at the most). The applicant needs to take a private health insurance covering all medical expenses.'
We have published a substantive article about the health insurance requirement at Brexit - Health Insurance for Visas.
We consider it a moot point as to whether a full private insurance is strictly necessary in all cases. Thus, on the French government visa website, it only refers to 'Travel Health Insurance' for stays up to a year. Presumably, a private policy in tandem with a GHIC would be accepted, which is likely to considerably reduce the cost of the private policy. Only time will tell.
For those staying longer than 3 months, you will also need to demonstrate that you have 'sufficient resources' equivalent to the minimum working wage (SMIC). See 'Test of Resources' section below for a broader explanation.
Second-home owners who decide to sell their property are also now subject to additional fees on the sale of their property, as we set out in our Newsletter article Tax Representative on Property Sales.
A campaign group has been formed to assist second-home owners with the visa process, whose website can be found at 180 Days in France.
UK nationals going to France work for up 90 days will not require a visa, but you need to obtain temporary permit.
There are, however, exemptions on the need for a work permit for those travelling for a sporting, cultural or scientific event, a seminar or trade show, the production and broadcast of cinematographic and audio-visual works, modelling, IT/ asset management/ insurance/ finance/ design/ engineering audit or expertise missions.
As we are entering unchartered waters, we cannot be completely sure of just how the French government will treat visa applications from British nationals.
However, in Dec 2020 the French government stated there would be no specific provision for the UK, and that 'the common laws on the entry and residence of third-country nationals would apply.'
The Political Declaration also makes clear the position of the UK: 'the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply.'
In due course, it is possible the UK and France may enter into a bilateral agreement, or there may be a new, wider agreement with the EU, but until and unless such an agreement is reached, the requirements that apply for those who arrive from 2021 onwards will be those that already apply to other non-EU nationals.
The conditions for entry into France of 'third-country' nationals are set out in the Code de l'Entrée et du Séjour des Etrangers et du Droit d'Asile (CESEDA).
The processes and the rules for entry visas and residence permits are complicated, and they vary according to the reason and proposed duration of your stay. In all cases, however, applications are considered on an individual basis.
Generally speaking, those seeking to relocate to France will need to make application for a long-stay visa called a visa de long séjour, of which there are different types, but most are valid for initially one year.
Specialist visas and residence permits are issued to those who have family ties to France, those with substantial wealth, non-European family members of an EEA citizen, students, artists, seasonal workers, or those with skills or talent which could make a substantial contribution to the country, which may be for periods shorter or longer than a year.
A British national married to an EU national will be allowed to stay in France for a maximum of 3 months per 6 month period without the need to obtain a visa. A British national married to an EU national wishing to move to France and settle over there will have to apply a French residence permit at their local prefecture. There is no need to apply for an entry visa.
The most common long-stay entry visa effectively doubles up as a residence permit. It is called Visa Long Séjour valant Titre de Séjour (VLS-TS),of which there are several different types, other than specialist visas:
It is important to note that if you obtain a VLS-Visiteur, you will be expressly forbidden from taking employment or starting a business. If you later decide to start a professional activity, you will need to change your residence permit at the local prefecture.
You must arrive in France within three months following the issue date of your visa.
If you have been issued with a VLS-TS, there are particular validation requirements once you arrive in France, but no need for you to apply for a residence permit (Carte de Séjour) for the duration of the visa, normally one year.
Alternatively, you may be granted a visa called a Carte de Séjour à Solliciter, which gives a right of entry to France and requires you make application for a residence permit in the two months following your arrival in France.
Where you are certain of not staying longer than a year you can apply for a Visa Long Séjour Temporaire (VLS-T). This may be the best solution for those with a second home, but the conditions on which it might be available have not been specified. Under current regulations, a new application would also need to be made each year.
As well as a visa application, you may also need to make an application for a work permit, although the double requirement will not always apply. Employers in France will normally take care of the initial formalities for a visa for a prospective employee.
If you are granted a long-stay visa, you remain entitled to travel to other European countries, subject to the 90/180 day rule. Travel to and from the UK can be on an unlimited basis.
No sooner that 90 days before you leave the UK, you will need to apply for a visa from the French Embassy in the UK. If you are living outside of the UK, then it should be made to the local consulate.
The application is made on-line at France Visas.
Do send us your feedback and queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The French Embassy in the UK have also advised us that you will later need to make an appointment at the Embassy: "Long stay visa applications must be lodged in person. However, it will possible to have one’s passport returned by post in due course."
The guidance also states:
'You must attend your appointment with all the required documents. Also bring a copy of each document, including the passport and its ID pages.
The service provider (or consulate) will receive you, review your application, collect the visa fee, capture your biometric data (photo and fingerprints) and retain your passport and the copies of all your supporting documents in order to forward them to the consulate.
The visa application submission will take approximately 20 minutes at the visa centre.'
There are Embassy offices in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, which the French Embassy have confirmed to us will be available to applicants. UK nationals not living in the UK will need to contact their local French consulate.
NB: Nevertheless, as a result of Covid-19 the Embassy have advised that they will not be issuing visas until travel restrictions have been eased. Accordingly, you might be best advised not to apply at the present time. You can obtain up-to-date news from the UK government on travel restrictions between the UK and France at France Travel Advice.
You will need to produce a substantial amount of documentation - passport, promise not to exercise any professional activity in France, if applicable, health insurance, proof of income, including 3 months bank statements, marriage certificate, proof of accommodation in France.
The documentation will not normally need to be translated into French.
It is imperative that the the application is completed correctly, or it will be delayed or even rejected on procedural grounds. There is a tracking tool available on the visa application website.
The visa is delivered by means of a stamp (vignette) on your passport.
A fee of €99 is payable, which is paid in Sterling.
As part of the process two important conditions will apply: sufficient financial resources and health insurance.
It may well be that practice will vary between the requirements imposed by officials in the UK, who will issue the initial entry visa, and prefectures in France who will be required to adopt the following main principles in the issue of residence permits.
In relation to the test of resources, it requires that you have an resources at least equivalent to the minimum working wage (SMIC), which is €1,231 net (€1,555 gross) per month in 2021.
The test is applied differently as between those who are economically inactive and those who are proposing to run a business activity, or who will become salaried.
Strictly speaking, if you are not proposing to work, the SMIC figure is per adult in the household, although in practice a lower test is applied.
The French Embassy in London have advised us that they will accept a minimum net income of €1,231 per month for a couple with no dependants, provided your income is stable.
We have published an article on the issue at Income Test for a French Visa.
Some relaxation of the SMIC rule also operates if you own your home in France without a mortgage, although not below net SMIC for a couple, with the law stating:
'Lorsque les ressources du demandeur ne sont pas suffisantes, une décision favorable peut être prise si le demandeur justifie être propriétaire de son logement ou en jouir à titre gratuit.'
Similarly, if your income is below the minimum level, but you have capital resources that would enable you to live in France for at least a year or more, that can compensate for a lower level of income.
Indeed, the term that is used for the test is 'resources', not 'income', so it is potentially the case that provided you can demonstrate you have a capital lump sum of at least the equivalent of SMIC for one year, you may be given a one-year visa.
Clearly, however, if you are seeking more permanent residence you will need to demonstrate on renewal of the visa that you still have 'sufficient resources', to enable you to obtain a longer residence permit. If your capital resources are substantial it likely that will be taken into consideration.
ii. Business Owners
Those proposing to set up business will need to demonstrate the economic viability of their project, which requires you produce a business plan.
If you satisfy the authorities as to your prospective earnings the initial minimum income requirement can similarly be relaxed, provided you have other resources, with the law stating as follows:
'Afin de tenir compte des aléas d’un début d’activité libérale, vous pourrez, pour la première délivrance du titre, procéder à un examen assoupli de cette condition et prendre en considération les ressources propres dont le demandeur peut faire état.'
The same concessions concerning owning your home and capital resources that apply to retired persons also apply to prospective business owners.
All of which poses a dilemma for many prospective expatriates, who may be unwilling to invest in the purchase of a property in France unless they can be certain of obtaining a visa. One approach may be to purchase on a conditional basis, but that may not be easy to agree with a seller.
For some people, the best solution would be not make application for a visa to work, but to make application for a standard visa, provided you have the minimum level of resources. Once in France you can later make application for a new visa to run a business, when it will be easier for you to judge the market prospects of your project.
We have provided guidance on applying for a business visa, which you can find at Brexit - Starting a Business in France.
You can also read our Guide to Starting a Small Business in France for detailed information on the regulatory structure in France.
In addition, you will be required to show you will have health insurance cover.
For a full consideration of this issue, you need to read our article Brexit - Health Insurance for Visas.
Our general advice would to take a prudent view and to assume private health insurance will be required for the duration of your visa, not only to obtain admission to France, but also for your own protection.
Although there are many insurers you could use, for those who have a serious pre-existing medical condition such a policy is likely to be difficult to obtain. Age limits often also apply.
You can discuss your health insurance requirements with our English language speaking health insurance partner, who is able to offer competitive policies for both private health and 'top-up' cover for foreign nationals.
If you are setting up a business, once you become business registered in France, you and your family have an automatic entitlement to join the French health system. This may well preclude the need for you to offer a health insurance policy as part of the visa application process. We cannot at this stage be sure, but we hope to be able to offer further advice in due course.
In addition, if you are retired or an early retiree, you have an entitlement to join the health system after three months' legal residence in France. Unlike EEA early retirees, non-EEA nationals are not subject to the 5-year residence rule that applies to EEA nationals.
Thus, the French government health website states: 'If you are not a European citizen ……………You can make an application after three months of residency.’ That statement is also confirmed in law.
Interestingly, although entry requirements state that health insurance is required, for those entering on a Visiteur visa, the guidance to prefets who grant a residence permit state that they cannot insist on such insurance, stating: 'Le préfet ne peut exiger, pour délivrer ou renouveler un titre de séjour portant la mention «visiteur», que l'intéressé justifie d'une couverture sociale. Le refus fondé sur l'absence de couverture sociale est entaché d'erreur de droit.'
We are seeking more information on this advice, but it is unlikely to apply to those who are granted a VLS-TS, as it will be consular officials in the UK who determine the visa requirements.
If you are refused a visa, the reasons for refusal are generally not given, although you are entitled to appeal to the Commission de recours contre les décisions de refus de visa d’entrée en France within two months of the decision.
If you are relocating to France customs duties are not payable on personal belongings, provided you have owned them for at least 6 months and taxes have been paid in the country of origin. You will need to provide proof of change of residence, eg visa.
You will also need to provide official proof of living outside of the EU for at least a year.
The rule does not apply if your property is a second home where you are bringing personal belongings, when you may be liable for duties and taxes, notably VAT, although as a general rule the items will be duty-free. You need to produce information on values with, where possible, purchase invoices for high value items. You can also produce your removals insurance certificate.
For permanent relocation, you need to bring the belongings within 12 months of your relocation to France.
However, you need to complete two copies of a customs declaration and attach to it a complete inventory, with values. The document may normally be handled by your shipping agent.
Customs officials in France state that: 'Customs formalities must be carried out at the transit office when you enter the European Union.'
If you bring your belongings over in several journeys, you must list all of them on the inventory submitted to customs at the time of the first transfer.
Strictly speaking, you are not entitled to relinquish (by sale, rental, loan, etc.) your belongings, which are duty-free, before a period of one year following their importation into France.
Our guide to importing a vehicle can also be found at Importing a Vehicle to France.
There are particular controls on the importation of plants and plant products, and animal based products as well as limits on tobacco and alcohol. You can read more on plants at Export plants and plant products from Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
You may also find it useful to read our article Border Checks on UK Nationals
We published an article about pet travel at Brexit and Pets Travel Scheme.
We provide information about driving in France and driving licences at Driving in France.
At least two months before the expiry of your long-term visa, you can either seek renewal of the carte de séjour, or make application for a different type of visa.
If you are retired, you will normally make application for renewal of your existing Visiteur visa, although you may be able to persuade the authorities to grant you a longer visa if you have substantial, stable resources.
If you are employed or run a business, the residence permit you are likely to be granted is called a Carte de Séjour Pluriannuelle, which is valid for four years.
A fee is payable, recently reduced to €200 for most visas, although €50 for students and certain other categories of applicants. A tax (droit de timbre) €25 is also payable in most cases.
The conditions regarding the test of resources and health cover continue to apply.
Business owners in particular will need to prove they are generating adequate income from their business. If you are unable to meet the SMIC threshold from your business income, but you can do so from your total income, then one possible solution is to seek renewal of your carte de séjour on the basis of it being a part-time business activity.
As part of the process of applying for a carte de séjour pluriannuelle, or permanent residence, you will be required to participate in an integration process, called Republican Integration Contract (CIR), which includes a basic language test, for which purpose the French government runs courses.
However, if you are not ready for the test, you can renew an existing shorter-term visa. Where you have applied for a pluriannual residence permit, the government also grants up to two years for you to complete the requirements of the contract, but in such circumstances you will need to demonstrate you are taking the process seriously.
Those who are seeking renewal of a Visiteur visa have no requirement to participate in this integration process, but they will later be required to do so should they subsequently seek permanent residence in France.
After five years' legal residence in France you can apply for more permanent residence (Carte de résident de longue durée-UE étranger en France depuis 5 ans), valid for ten years, the issue of which remains subject to the conditions on income and health insurance. The residence permit allows you to stay in other countries of Europe for more than three months.
Subsequently, you can you apply for a permanent residence permit (Carte de résident permanent d'un étranger en France), which is not subject to any further conditions relating to income or health insurance.
We have introduced a Brexit Helpline for those of you who have questions about the whole process. The service is free of charge. If you have a question, send it to us via the form on our Brexit Helpline page.