Britons rush dream France move before Brexit deadline

Meet the people trying to finalise last-minute moves to avoid the consequences of the UK leaving the European Union

15 December 2020
By Thomas Brent

Sadie Jemmett, 49, a singer-songwriter and composer from England, has long dreamed of moving to France but only this year has been able to make it a reality. 

She told The Connexion that at the beginning of 2020 her family and financial situation meant she could finally buy her dream house in France. 

She had wanted to have the sale completed earlier in the year, but faced delays due to Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions. 

She started the process to buy a house in Centre-Val de Loire in late summer and is now in the final stages of the purchase. She is now waiting for the local mairie, which has first priority to buy the property, to authorise the purchase. 

“We are just trying to get the house sale through before the end of the year and before the end of the Brexit transition period,” she said. 

“I really hope we make it in time.

“The people involved understand that we want to get it done before Brexit. We didn’t choose Brexit, we didn’t vote for Brexit. It would be awful if making the move became more complicated or costly because of Brexit,” she said. 

A transition period aimed at enabling the UK to exit the EU in an orderly way is in place until December 31, 2020.

Anyone who can prove they have been residing in France before that date will be eligible for a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement residency card, that will ensure they retain most of the same rights as EU nationals living in France for the next five years.

British citizens who decide to move to France after that date will need to obtain a long-stay visa before applying for an ordinary residency permit. 

Without the long-stay visa, they will only be able to remain in France for 90 out of every 180 days. 

Helen Charteris, 53, who runs a recruitment business in the UK, is another last-minute mover. 

She and her husband Simon have bought a house in Charente, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, and will get the keys on December 28. 

They are currently renting a house nearby so that they are eligible for the Withdrawal Agreement cards, which they have applied for. 

“We arrived in France on September 1. It was something that we had in mind a couple of years back anyway, but all of a sudden the stars aligned. Coming out of lockdown back in the UK made us realise this is something we want to do sooner rather than later.”

She said that Brexit is not the reason that her and her husband are moving to France, but it is the reason they decided to take the plunge this year rather than waiting any longer. 

“It was always at the back of our minds: ‘Is Brexit going to change things or not…’ 

“So, we said let’s go now. We still don’t know what is going to happen with Brexit so I think it’s a good idea for us to come now,” she said. 

Ian Newman, 65, and his wife Jaci have owned a second home in France for over 20 years but only in early December decided to move over and make it their main residence.

He told The Connexion that their long-term plan had always been to move permanently to France in 2021, but “because of Brexit we’ve had to move everything forward six to eight months”.

He said: “Our family embraced Europe entirely. We have one son in Spain, two in Malta and we have grandchildren there too.

“We have no choice but to do it now or not do it.”

Joanna Leggett, head of marketing at French estate agency Leggett Immobilier, said that even with two lockdowns this year, the company has had a 4.7% increase in British customers compared to 2019, which equates to just over 50 offers.

Between January to November 2020, Leggett Immobilier had 1,180 British clients make offers on homes in France, compared to 1,127 during the same period in 2019.

She thinks that around 70% of the company’s British clients who are looking to buy at the moment are now in France and are either renting or residing there in order to be eligible for the Withdrawal Agreement cards.

She does not expect to see much change with regards to how many British people buy property in France in 2021, saying, “I think Brits have been coming to France for years anyway”.

Read more:

Brexit: 90-day rule may force us to sell our house in France

How can a Brexit deal (if done) be ratified in two weeks?

Why can Britons only stay 90 days and EU visitors to UK 180?

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