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The clock is ticking to lock-in residency benefits in France post-Brexit

By Rob Kay, Senior Partner, Blevins Franks

British expatriates in France should act now to secure residency and take advantage of healthcare and pension opportunities before Brexit changes the rules.

February’s Chinese New Year celebrations bring to mind a Chinese proverb that never dates: ‘dig the well before you are thirsty’. In other words, make sure you plan for your future needs early, before it becomes too late.

Such wisdom has particular relevance amidst today’s Brexit uncertainty. Despite many unknowns, now is the time for Britons living in France to take action to protect their position. We explore what you can do to secure the key areas of residency, healthcare and pension benefits in a post-Brexit world.

Residency and Brexit

December brought reassuring news for expatriates as the UK and the EU27 agreed to maintain existing residency rights for Britons settled in the EU. A joint statement confirmed that citizens “lawfully residing” on both sides can continue “to live, work or study as they currently do under the same conditions as under Union law”.

So as long as you are legally resident in France at the Brexit cut-off date, you should keep the right to stay and access the same benefits as today for as long as you remain resident.

The most secure position is permanent residence, available after a period of five continuous years living in France. While you will not qualify if you have lived in France for less than this, you may still be considered French resident for tax purposes. If you have not already registered at your local tax office, do so urgently to ensure your position is formally recorded. You could also consider applying for a ‘carte de séjour’ – although some Britons have been told they need not apply yet as this document is not required for EU citizens, it is still legally possible to obtain. This can help demonstrate that you are legally resident in France before the Brexit cut-off date and therefore eligible to benefit from the citizens’ rights agreement.

Those thinking about moving to France should act fast. While it may seem like Brexit is still a long way off, there is already an administrative backlog for residency applications and a surge of interest is likely closer to the cut-off date. Even if you would prefer to wait until more practical Brexit details are known, it is a good idea to relocate and start the residency process – as an EU citizen under current rules – as soon as possible. Post-Brexit, we can expect the requirements, time and expense for acquiring residency to be much less straightforward than today.

Securing healthcare

Under the existing Brexit deal, settled residents can continue receiving reimbursements for certain healthcare costs. This means the Form S1 system will carry on providing free cover in France for British pensioners, and holders of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) remain eligible for free or reduced healthcare when visiting another EU country on a temporary basis, such as holidays.

To secure residency in France, you may be asked to show evidence of ‘comprehensive’ health cover. If you do not hold Form S1, you may therefore need to join the French healthcare system (a process that can take weeks) or prove you have sufficient private health insurance to qualify. Note, however, that being affiliated to the French social security system has potential tax implications, so take advice to assess your options.

Pension options

The UK has committed to continue yearly cost-of-living increases to State Pension payments for retired Britons living in the EU post-Brexit. As a result, British pensioners in France will receive annual increases linked to the ‘triple lock’ – whichever is highest out of the rate of inflation, earnings or 2.5% – until 2022.

When it comes to private pensions, current opportunities may not survive Brexit. Today, UK pension contributions and growth both benefit from tax relief in Britain, and can potentially be accessed by expatriates without paying UK tax (under double tax agreements). While this is unlikely to change with Brexit, the government may want to stem the flow of UK pensions abroad and keep more funds within taxable range.

Currently, it is possible for French residents to transfer UK pension funds to a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) in the EU or European Economic Area (EEA) tax-free. Doing this can unlock tax efficiency, estate planning advantages and currency flexibility. However, since 9th March 2017, transfers to QROPS outside the EU/EEA attract 25% UK taxation (unless you live in the same jurisdiction as the QROPS).

Post-Brexit, the UK could potentially limit how expatriates in France can access their pensions by widening this taxation net, or by making it harder to cash-in UK ‘final salary’ pensions tax-efficiently. Consider acting now under current rules, but take personalised, regulated advice to ensure a suitable approach and avoid pension scams.

A realistic timeline

Although the Brexit date is currently set for 29th March 2019 – and could potentially be extended by a transition agreement – it is sensible to work towards a much shorter deadline. If you cannot take action immediately, make sure you have put processes in place by September 2018 to allow at least six months before the Brexit clock runs down (pension transfers may need even longer).

Even if you are already permanently resident in France, do not wait for the final Brexit details to be confirmed before reviewing your situation. With just a few months of certainty left, now is the time to explore your residency, estate planning, investments, pensions and general tax planning options.

With suitable planning – done early – you can make sure you are in the best position possible to continue enjoying your life in France as you do today. A locally-based financial adviser who understands the interaction between both the UK and France can help you take advantage of opportunities and find the best solutions tailored for you as an expatriate, during the Brexit countdown and beyond.

Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals are advised to seek personalised advice.

Blevins Franks accepts no liability for any loss resulting from any action or inaction or omission as a result of reading this article, which is general in nature and not specific to your circumstances.

Read more about the financial issues that can affect you on our website www.blevinsfranks.com

 

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