By Rob Kay, Senior Partner, Blevins Franks
After four and a half years of uncertainty, negotiations and false starts since the 2016 Brexit referendum, the UK has now fully left the EU. A trade deal agreed at the eleventh hour offered very little time for people and businesses to digest how things will work from 2021.
So what does the post-Brexit landscape look like for UK nationals who live or enjoy spending time in France? Here are 4 key things that changed on 1 January.
1. UK nationals are ‘third country’ nationals by default
When the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December 2020, the UK joined the likes of Australia and the USA in becoming a ‘third country’, with UK nationals losing the automatic right to study, work and live in the EU.
Fortunately, Britons who can prove they were legally settled in France as at 31 December 2020 can maintain citizens’ rights protections under the Withdrawal Agreement. This provides the right to remain and come and go in France, with broadly the same access to benefits as citizens for as long as you remain resident there.
However, these rights will only apply to France. To gain full EU citizenship as a UK national – unlocking the freedom to live and work in any EU country – you need to become a French (possible after ten years’ residence).
2. Non-EU residents can only stay in the EU for a limited time
Coronavirus restrictions aside, UK nationals who don’t have EU residence or citizenship can currently still travel to France without a visa – but there are new limitations. Now, non-residents will only be allowed to spend 90 days in any 180-day period here; to stay longer will require applying for a permit in advance.
Note that this restriction covers the entire Schengen zone – which includes most EU countries plus some EEA states – so you would not be able to, say, leave France and enter Spain to gain more time.
If you enjoy spending part of the year in a French holiday home, this is particularly likely to affect you. For example, if you stay there for June, July and August, you will use up your allowance in one go and be unable to re-enter the country – or any other Schengen state, for any period of time – until the end of November.
Calculating your allowance is not as simple as it seems. As the time is treated as a rolling rather than a fixed period, you will need to count 180 days backwards from your arrival date in a Schengen country and track your stay to check you will not exceed 90 days at any point.
You therefore need to take extra care when planning trips to Europe to avoid illegally overstaying or being denied entry. As well as making sure your passport is valid for at least six months, be prepared to show a return ticket and answer questions at the border about the duration and purpose of travel.
3. Applying for French residence is less straightforward
With freedom of movement pre-Brexit, Britons did not always need to meet stringent requirements to become EU resident and could apply once already there. Now, those wanting to live in France have to meet the legal immigration requirements and provide the correct documentation in advance of arriving. As you can no longer apply ‘in-country’, you will need to go to the relevant consulate or embassy in the UK and wait for your paperwork to come through before moving.
To apply successfully, you will need to demonstrate you have “sufficient” annual income to support yourself and any dependents without relying on the state. While this has always been a condition of EU residence, it has not always been enforced, plus the income thresholds for third state nationals are generally higher than for EU citizens.
There are, however, special visas and fast-track residence programmes available that can make moving to an EU country much easier, so explore your options.
4. UK financial arrangements may not work as before
Unless they already have arrangements in place to work in the relevant EU country, UK banks, advisers and other financial providers may no longer able to legally service EU residents. This is because Brexit dissolved automatic ‘passporting’ rights for UK financial services in the EU.
So if you live in France and have a UK-based adviser, check they can still support you. If you have UK bank accounts or other investments, you may be restricted from making changes, such as moving funds or applying for new services, or they may be closed altogether. And in some cases, you may find that UK assets and investments attract a higher tax bill in France now they are non-EU/EEA assets.
Making the most of the new landscape
Although this is how things stand now, there are many unresolved aspects of Brexit, so the UK may still agree preferential arrangements with France on issues such as immigration requirements and UK financial services.
You should, in any case, regularly check your tax and financial planning remains suitable for your family’s circumstances, so it is sensible to review your arrangements now that things have changed. Talk to a locally-based, cross-border specialist who can help you take advantage of available opportunities and ensure you are you are suitably prepared for this post-Brexit world.
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.
You can find other financial advisory articles by visiting our website here