How Does Brexit Impact Your Freedom of Movement to France?

Brexit and impact on freedom of movement

If you’ve long held a dream to turn the memories of happy family holidays in France into making new memories as you enjoy your retirement years, you might be wondering how Brexit has impacted that plan.

The UK’s departure from the EU on 1st January 2021 inevitably brought change to the freedom of movement and residency rights within Europe for UK nationals. And while the changes do make things more complicated and expensive, it is still perfectly possible to realise your dream of retiring to France, but you will have to meet certain requirements in order to do so.

So, how do things work now and what do you need to know?

If you were already resident in France before Brexit

Things remain unchanged for UK nationals who were already resident in France prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on 1st January 2021. In this situation you are protected under the UK’s withdrawal agreement and, providing you are in possession of a French Residency Card (carte de séjour), you will continue to enjoy the same full rights as any other EU citizen. This will also mean there are no changes to you receiving your UK state pension.

If you are planning to retire to France post-Brexit

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU means that as a UK national you can no longer come and go as you wish in France, or the rest of the European Union. For visa free travel there is now a limit of 90 days maximum in any 180-day period in which you can be in European Union countries.

So, if you planned anyway to split your time between France and the UK, there may be no change for you other than the way you schedule your time. The 90-day limit will reset either at the end of a 180-day period or once you have spent 90 days outside the Schengen zone.

If you want to make France your new permanent home in retirement however you will need to follow the visa process to achieve residency.

Step One – ‘Visitor’ Long Stay Visa

In the first instance you will need to apply for a ‘Visitor’ Long Stay Visa (visa de long séjour visiteur) which allows you to stay in France for up to a year and is the first step towards achieving permanent residency. These visas have strict requirements and you must be able to demonstrate that you are able to be self-sufficient without relying on the French state which will include having somewhere to live, sufficient income (expect that be at least €1200 per person per month) and health care provision.

You can file the application from 3 months ahead of your arrival date in France but note that as part of the process your supporting documentation will be checked meticulously and you will need to attend an interview, at a local French embassy or visa centre. It is only once all this process has been satisfactorily completed that the visa will be issued.

Once you arrive in France you will need to validate the visa online, this will need to be done within 3 months.

Step Two – French Residency Card

The second step to becoming a permanent resident is to apply for a French Residency Card (carte de séjour) which you must complete between 2 months to expiry and the expiry date of your ‘Visitor’ Long Stay Visa. The application can be made online.

This will likely be a two-step process, initially applying for a carte de séjour visiteur temporaire which will be valid for one year and then applying for a carte de séjour visiteur pluriannuelle, or a multi-year card, which is usually valid for four years.

Again, this application process requires significant paperwork and supporting documentation as well as attending an interview at your local prefecture and submitting proof of income, health insurance and a guarantee that you will not work in France.

Should you wish to do some work in your retirement then you will need to apply for a different long stay visa initially and subsequently a ‘work’ carte de séjour.

It is important to note that having a long stay visa does not guarantee that a permanent residency card will be issued but if you can provide the documentation and you meet the criteria then you can expect that it will all be processed favourably.

Once you have been living in France for five continuous years on a renewable carte de séjour you can apply for a 10-year renewable permanent residence permit (carte de résident). You will need to meet certain criteria which typically includes sufficient French language skills and proof of integration into French society.

Property buying rights

There is no change to your right to buy property in France.

Pensions unaffected

Brexit has meant little change in terms of how you receive your British pension while living in France. You will continue to benefit from ‘uprating’ which allows anybody who retires to a country within the EEA (European Economic Area) to see their UK state pension rise in line with inflation, earnings, or by 2.5% depending on which is highest. You will also continue to be able to transfer your UK private pension funds into a QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme).