There are two key elements in preparing for Brexit: to make sure you are ready to benefit from the offers of any future deal and to take advantage of any benefits that may disappear as Britain leaves the EU next year. It is possible the time-limit for completing some or all of these issues may be extended to the end of a transition period – however this has not yet been confirmed.
Benefiting from ‘the deal’
The deal so far between the UK and EU intends as far as possible to allow existing expats to ‘live their lives as before’.
However some campaigners object, saying it misses out certain rights, such as voting in local elections and the automatic right to move on to live or work in other parts of the EU.
That aside, the agreement does protect such key matters as British pension uprating, the EU pension aggregation scheme, the right for UK pensioners to use French healthcare, and the exportability of UK disability benefits.
To make sure you benefit you may be asked to prove you are a ‘legal, stable’ resident of France and preferably that you have been so for five years or more (if less then you would be allowed to stay ‘freely’ to accrue at least five years).
One way to do this is by obtaining a séjour permanent carte de séjour from your prefecture, which we explained in a previous article at: https://tinyurl.com/carte-how
The current deal says states may require expats to apply for cards to prove their right to stay under the terms of the agreement, however it says that people who already have EU permanent residence cards would have their applications simplified and streamlined if a new kind of card should be required.
If you do not yet qualify for a ‘permanent’ card you might like to apply for one of the shorter-term ones which are issued for periods between one and five years.
Whether or not you choose to do so, it would be advisable in any event to gather the kinds of document asked for to apply for these cards – these include proof of residence, such as a utility bill at a French address for each half-year going back five years.
You may also be asked for evidence that you have had ‘comprehensive’ health cover, such as documents demonstrating affiliation to Cpam (again dating back up to five years or more if possible). If you are an early-retiree and have been relying on private health insurance, now may be a good time to consider requesting affiliation to Cpam on residence grounds under the PUMA scheme (this involves annual payments at 8% of income above a certain level).
You might consider applying for French nationality – a similar process to obtaining a residence card but involving extra paperwork, and, for the under 60s, a language test and an interview.
If successful it would allow you to live and work in France with no residence card (as now), to vote in all elections and maintain EU free movement. It could also help you show the requirement for the ‘deal’ of being a stable, legal resident as French people have an unconditional residence right.
You could still apply for this after Brexit, of course, but by that stage you might need to obtain a carte de séjour in order to meet the legal residence part of the requirements.
While the UK is an EU member you can drive on your British licence as long as it is within its validity date; non-EU licences on the other hand must be swapped for a French licence within a year and should in the meantime be accompanied by a sworn translation and/or an international driving permit. That being the case it may be preferable to apply to swap a UK licence for a French one as soon as possible.
Due to recent changes at prefectures this must now be done in writing to a national service (more information in French at this link: https://tinyurl.com/permis-swap).
Get your British work qualifications validated
While the UK is an EU member, UK work qualifications benefit from EU rules on mutual acceptance of qualifications. If you rely on a UK qualification then it is worth having it formally vetted by France.
The current Brexit deal states that only those qualifications that have passed or are undergoing such checks at the point of Brexit, are guaranteed to be treated according to EU mutual recognition rules. After Brexit, any British qualification will be treated as a third-country, non-EU one, and may be subject to tougher criteria.
Note however there are some positions, such as being a teacher in the national education system, which are only available to French and EU citizens (whether or not diplomas have been checked).
The above comments all relate specifically to vocational qualifications; the recognition of academic degrees for further academic study, such as whether a British BA allows you to do a French MA, is governed by an international treaty and will not change.
In France the main body involved in checking foreign diplomas is called CIEP. It offers an attestation de comparabilité (comparability statement); a certificate which can be shown to a French employer to indicate the level of the qualification. The application costs €70 per certificate and you can do it online here: https://goo.gl/Bp6ChZ
CIEP’s attestations are only relevant for certificates that are not linked to practising a so-called ‘regulated’ profession.
For these, you need to contact a professional body for the kind of work concerned, such as the Ordre des Médecins for doctors. Check the lists at: https://goo.gl/fZj39p
Bank accounts and Qrops
After Brexit it is possible that the UK will reverse certain laws based on EU cooperation, such as the one that currently means a French resident has the right to open a new UK bank account of a ‘basic’ no-frills type.
If you wish to take advantage of the rule, therefore, it would be best to do it now.
Another example is the current rules on transferring UK private pension funds into a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (Qrops).
A 25% overseas transfer charge is waived by the UK for transfers into a scheme based in the European Economic Area, however it is possible that in the future this will not be the case, perhaps with the exception of transfers to employers’ occupational pension schemes. In which case, if you were considering a Qrops transfer, you may wish to do it before the UK leaves.