The Connexion has received a huge amount of feedback from readers over France’s upper house of parliament decision to approve a bill amendment giving British second-home owners an automatic long-stay visa right without any formalities.
The bill will be debated by députés (similar to British MPs or US members of Congress) at the Assemblée nationale in December. No decision will be definitive until after that.
The proposal would allow Britons with residential property in the country (not their main home) to spend more than 90 days in France without making a formal application for a ‘temporary long-stay visa’.
However, there are also questions about how a second home is defined, how they would prove their status and why other nationalities, such as US citizens, cannot benefit from similar favourable terms.
These were the main themes of the feedback which we have recevied following our recent articles and the survey we organised to help Senator Berthet in her reflections.
No more ‘mathematical exercises’
C.E. hopes the proposal, if accepted, will end the”‘mathematical exercise” of working out his remaining 90/180-day allowance every time he visits his second home of 20 years.
“We also have to think about the following visit, as this will be affected if it falls within the 180 days. And if we visit other European countries, we have to count this too.
“Anything which makes this easier would be very welcome.”
M.A. stated that he, too, is “constantly bashing into the 90-day limit, effectively forcing me back to the UK. The only way I can manage is to use an app on a smartphone.”
Meanwhile S.B. said that having to literally count the days at her second home in Isère leaves her “always feeling anxious”.
P.O. echoed this sentiment, alluding to the “relief” she feels at the prospect of “not having the awful cut-off looming as we head towards Calais from the south of France on the 88th or 89th day of a 90-day period.
“There is always the fear of accident or illness or a car problem delaying return, and the ensuing bureaucratic problems.”
End of ‘painful’ visa applications
P.W. agreed that the current 90/180 limit is frustrating. He has had a house in Languedoc since 2010 and used to spend “three months-plus there every year, together with holidays in other countries in the EU,” until Brexit imposed the 90-day restriction.
This year, like many other British second-home owners, he went through the “painful” process of securing a long-stay visa.
“It was a long and irritating process even to get an interview online. We are lucky in that we are not far from the Wandsworth TLSContact location, but we spent over three hours there at our interview – a thoroughly grim experience which we shall not repeat. So if this excellent amendment does not pass through we shall, with huge regret, have to truncate our visits to France.”
R.A. said the financial burden of obtaining a six-month visa (“in excess of £500 for the two of us”) meant any sign it could be avoided in future was “good news”.
“As my wife and I live in the West Country, we have to get a train to London to visit TLS. As this has to be done early, we have to stay the night. We have to give TLS our fingerprints each time we apply, and photographs have to be recent. The payment for the secure delivery of passports is a farce as they come by Royal Mail through my letter box.”
Other readers have put the visa expense at more than £1,000, including fees and travel to and from the TLSContact centre.
“Plus, there is the carbon cost to be saved of not having to travel back from France to the UK every year to attend the annual appointment with TLS,” said R.K, owner of a second home in France since 1997.
‘We’re no longer contemplating selling’
In May, a Connexion survey revealed almost two-thirds of Britons have considered selling their French second homes due to the post-Brexit 90/180-days rule.
Indeed, several of the 1,300-plus who responded had already sold or put homes on the market.
Since the Senate decision was taken, however, many readers can now imagine a long-term future in their second homes again.
F.W, who has had a holiday property in the south-west for almost 16 years and estimates having spent some €200,000 renovating it, said that he was considering selling “and reinvesting in the US or Canada” before hearing the decision.
Assuming the proposal is passed, he is looking forward to spending six months at a time in France and continuing improvements on the property “as opposed to just going into a maintenance mode.”
G.J, meanwhile, is already in the process of selling, “such is our level of despair at the unfair, restrictive ruling that is currently in place.”
Although saying that he “really loves” his property and the local community, “having to count the days and live our retirement in such a restrictive fashion is not for us. If the new proposal is accepted and put in place quickly, then we will reconsider our position for sure.”
For other second-home owners, the Senate’s approval revives plans they have been laying groundwork for over many years.
C.A. said she had “no words to express how life-changing it would be and how happy we would feel” if the bill is eventually passed, having spent 17 years of “hard work and money” doing up a house in Limousin with a view to spending more time there in retirement.
“Brexit stole our hopes,” she said, so the Senate’s approval is “finally a light at the end of the bleak tunnel.”
P.O. added that since time at her house has been reduced post-Brexit, “contact with friends and neighbours in our village has lessened, and our involvement in local associations, of which we are members, has been greatly reduced.
“Being able to spend more time there would help us to resume these activities to the previous level,” she said.
“All in all, the amendment would help us to regain the life we had in France before the 90/180 rule, the life to which we signed up in 2001, when we bought our property.”
‘Our contributions don’t feel valued’
For C.M, however, the years of campaigning to get to this stage have cast serious doubt on the value the French government places on British second-home owners (editor’s note: the official government view so far remains that the change voted for by the Senate is unnecessary).
“I do find it troubling that my contribution to the French economy and to my commune is so little valued,” he said.
“We cheerfully pay all our local taxes, do our bit for the community and I have even built, maintain and pay for the hosting of a website for a local ecological association of which I am a member.
“I will happily get involved in local initiatives, have an ever widening group of French friends and I do not cost the French nation anything in medical services or other support.
“We keep a car in France and pay all the insurance on it. We’ve completely renovated a derelict barn and turned it into a four-bed house, using French artisans extensively in the process, and we spend freely when we are in residence.”
T.E. added that he, too, would have been happier “if the government spokesperson had struck a more supportive note in debate – and had been better informed.” He hopes that this does not “presage resistance at the next stage.”
Too little, too late
For S.C, the result of the next stage will have little bearing on his decision to sell the French farm he has owned for 20 years.
The 90/180-day limit, coupled with Covid restrictions, have not given him enough time to maintain the farm.
“With the 90 days allowed, it took all of 2022 and part of 2023 to recover to where we were in 2019, along with additional costs and lost income to be met, which we can no longer afford,” he said.
“We feel let down by UK bureaucrats negotiating Brexit, who ignored the estimated 86,000 home owners in France, plus elsewhere in the EU, but allowed French nationals to stay twice the 90-day allowance in the UK.
“Senators and MPs’ support for a five-year visa will be too late for us; we will have sold and reinvested in the UK by the time it is ever likely to take effect.”
‘The devil is in the detail’
Some reader feedback has been lukewarm until details are revealed of how an ‘automatic visa’ system would work in practice.
“We would hope that the proposal would make things more straightforward,” said M.H. “That said, the devil will be in the detail, as always.
“The suggestion that we might just have to present to border control a justificatif showing our home owner status along with our passports sounds delightfully simple. But how this would mesh with the EES and Etias systems is not clear.”
J.M. feared that although the proposed amendment might “strengthen one’s position in qualifying for a visa,” it might not necessarily “reduce the bureaucracy of the application.”
Another potential stumbling block was identified by D.P: “Our apartment is in my wife's name only – so would the proposals extend to spouses?”
What about other nationalities?
Other readers have queried why the legal change cannot include second-home owners from other countries, not just the UK (editor’s note: two other proposed amendments for second-home owners related to all foreign non-residents, but were not validated by the senators).
“As a non-British owner of a maison secondaire, I am very disappointed to read that the surviving amendment is limited to Britons,” wrote M.H.
“I do recognise that the rules changed after they bought their properties, however, many rules have changed after I (and others) have bought our homes too – for example, those on fosses septiques, taxe foncière and d'habitation – which may cause us grave financial harm.”
Americans K.D. and P.J, who have a second home in Charente-Maritime, were also unhappy that “the proposal will not benefit us at all” and added that “we do not support it.”
They have found that “balancing family and home responsibilities in the US with such regulated travel is very difficult” and had hoped the Senate would consider their position too.
“We feel very disrespected, since as property owners we must pay taxe foncière and taxe d'habitation and we were not even allowed to enter France (to be in our home) during the pandemic for 18 months.
“Given the amount of respect Americans have for France, as well as the amount of money Americans spend annually there, we think the French should treat us more equitably, or at least equal to what is being proposed for UK second-home owners.”
Appeal for non-conventional dwellings
Readers have also expressed concern that non-conventional dwellings may not be included in the proposed changes.
“Can we please get away from ‘second-home owners’ and discuss ‘residence’, as used by the French, which would then be a broad enough definition to include boats and mobile homes? suggested C.S.
Boat owner B.L. echoed this sentiment. Retired, he and his wife like to spend the whole summer, about five months, cruising on their boat.
“Before ridiculous Brexit we could just drive over to our boat and stay for as long as we liked. We are hoping that boat owners – there are lots of us – will be treated the same as house owners, although maybe that is wishful thinking…”