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Brexit and France: How visas, residency cards work in 2021

Withdrawal Agreement cards and titres de séjour are now important to all Britons who live in France or who wish to visit for more than three months

Britons living in France before the end of 2020 must apply for a free Withdrawal Agreement (WA) card by June 30. You must have one by October 1 to remain a legal resident. Non-EU close relatives can also apply for WA cards, even if they come after the transition period, as long as the family link existed before.

Readers report that the online application process is straightforward and cards are already being issued. The Dordogne prefecture has sent out around 1,000 cards.

A visit to the prefecture is required to give passport photographs and have your fingerprints scanned.

Read more: No Brexit cards denied so far to Britons in Dordogne

Second-home owners and other visitors are subject to the 90/180-days rule for visa-free visits.

Applying for a visa to stay long-term in France

Visas could be a solution for a longer stay and must be obtained before travel to France. Britons who move to France from now on must apply for a visa while in the UK, and then, later, at a French prefecture for a residency card (a carte or titre de séjour – the terms mean the same thing).

Entry and residency rights in France for non-EU nationals are partly governed by EU law and partly by French national law. International law can also be relevant if special rules are agreed in the Brexit future relationship deal or between the UK and France.

EU law mostly applies to short stays (up to three months). It is agreed that Britons will not need short-stay Schengen visas. The issue of long-stay visas is a matter of national law of each state.

A visa is usually a sticker in the passport, giving a right to cross the French border, whereas a residency card is a plastic card conferring a right to stay for a given period and for set reasons, such as work or leisure, depending on the type of card issued.

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

The most common form of first long-stay visa to France combines the two and is called “long-stay visa equivalent to a residency card” (visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour, VLS-TS).

EU law gives a foreign (eg. British) spouse or other close foreign family members of an EU citizen the right to come to France visa-free with them, whether for a temporary stay of more than three months or a change of country. States may require the non-EU spouse to obtain a residency card to benefit from this right, and this is the case in France.

The spouse would have to apply before the end of the first 90 days to the local French prefecture for a (free) carte de séjour de membre de famille d’un citoyen de l’union. The card is valid for five years or the planned length of time of the EU citizen’s stay.

The EU rule on family members’ right to stay applies to those accompanying an EU citizen who is making use of their EU free movement, so it does not apply to a foreign spouse coming to live with a French person in France. In this case, France offers a different spouse’s residency card.

The EU right does apply where a French person has moved abroad in the EU and then returns to France with foreign family members.

Note that under EU free movement rules, having or gaining a right to live in an EU country does not automatically mean that you have taken your official main “domicile” there, whether for tax or other (social security, health) purposes.

Coming to France as a visitor

There are extra rules for foreign visitors, including second-home owners, entering the Schengen area in addition to the 90/180-day rule.

Your British passport must have been issued less than 10 years ago at the date of entry to the area and its expiry date must be at least three months later than the planned date of departure. There is a checker tool here.

The Schengen Borders Code EU law also states that foreign visitors should be asked to show the trip’s purpose and prove they have sufficient means to cover expected costs – this could involve showing cash, travellers’ cheques and credit cards.

To prove the ‘purpose’ of the trip, eg. for tourism or a family visit, you could show an invitation from your host, a hotel booking, or a booking for an organised trip.

Related: Brexit rules clarified for visiting France from UK with pet

French rules list other documents that may be asked for, such as health insurance and, if staying with a member of the public, an attestation d’accueil (the host obtains it at their mairie). Several Americans in France however told us their visitors are not asked for these.

We have asked the Interior Ministry for clarification of what is essential.

The EU’s view is that paperwork is checked in detail for visa applicants so those exempt from this should still “make their case” at the border before being able to move freely in the area so as to show, for example, that they are unlikely to overstay.

Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement who are returning to France from a visit abroad are exempt from these rules but must be able to prove their status. The best way will be to show a WA card or a receipt received by email showing they have applied. A residency card previously obtained as an EU citizen is also acceptable.

Otherwise, it will be necessary to bring any other documents showing you were living in France in 2020.

An assessment will be made by border guards. All border guards are being issued with amendments to their rules handbook concerning Brexit changes, and France has recruited new customs and border officials.

More on Brexit and staying in France

Brexit cards for Britons in France: Here is a first example

Should Britons have already received new Brexit deal cards?

Brexit checklist to complete before December 31

Resident or second-home owner in France?
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