2021 France: The key changes that will impact you this year

Brexit will apply with full effect from January 1, bringing a host of changes, and Covid-19 will continue to loom, alongside developments in healthcare, tax and property ownership

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Brexit will come into full effect

The implications of ‘full’ Brexit are wide-ranging and this list cannot be exhaustive. For more detailed information, see our help guide Brexit and Britons in France and follow our online Brexit news section.

For more information, see also the official websites gov.uk/guidance/living-in-france, gov.uk/transition and brexit.gouv.fr

For Britons living in France before the end of 2020

The UK fully leaves the EU at the end of the transition period on January 1, 2021. Britons who were living in France before the end of 2020 must apply for a new (free) Withdrawal Agreement residency card by June 30 at the latest.

Applications need to be made online here.

Those who struggle with the requirements, or with using IT, can seek help from one of several bodies accredited by the UK government. See the Visas and Residency section at its Living in France website (listed above). Cancer Support France is also offering help.

For new British residents, visitors and second-home owners

France will apply “third-country citizen” rules to Britons who move across from now onwards and also to visitors and second-home owners.

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

Visitors to France from the UK, including second-home owners, will be restricted in the time they can spend here (EU generally) and must comply to the 90 days in 180 rule.

Britons living in France will no longer have an automatic EU right to open a basic bank account in the UK.

UK driving licences, car registration and pet passports

UK driving licences will be valid for only one year and additional paperwork will be required if swapping for a French licence. Driving licences of existing Withdrawal Agreement Britons will be valid until the end of 2021.

Requirements for bringing in a car from the UK and registering it with French plates will be different. See the French government customs website for details.

British pet passports are no longer valid for bringing an animal into France. If you are planning to come with a pet, speak to your vet about what paperwork is required.

The UK has been listed by the EU under part 2 of EU regulation 577/2013’s annexe on pet travel. This means that the pet needs an animal health certificate from an official vet (for more information see the guidance on the gov.uk website). You should request a dual language certificate in French and English.

Read more: Rules clarified for visiting France from UK with pet

This document is valid for 10 days after its date of issue for entry into the EU and is valid for up to four months for a single trip, onward travel in the EU and re-entry to the UK. Your pet should have had a rabies vaccination and be up to date with boosters and should be microchipped.

The UK states it will still recognise EU pet passports.

Healthcare and pensions beyond Brexit

The new Brexit trade deal, agreed between the UK and the EU on December 24, includes protections for UK pensioners’ and visitors’ healthcare and for pensions. A summary document for the deal states: “Individuals will be able to have access to a range of social security benefits, including reciprocal healthcare cover and an uprated state pension.”

The country that pays a person’s state pension will also continue to pay for their healthcare if they retire abroad in the UK or EU.

Protections ‘akin to’ the Ehic system will also continue for travellers between the UK and EU, including second homeowners. People will also retain the right to seek authorisation to receive planned medical treatment abroad, funded by the home state.

The deal, officially the UK-EU trade and cooperation agreement, must now pass through final ratification procedures by the EU governments and in the UK Parliament. It is expected to obtain a provisional authorisation to enter into force on January 1, pending a vote in the European Parliament.

Read more: Pension and healthcare protection in new Brexit deal

Covid-19: curfews, vaccinations and travel rules to France

As the UK is now fully outside the EU’s external borders with regards to Covid-19 regulations, it is expected that arrivals to France from the UK will need to show a negative Covid-19 test and carry an international travel attestation. It could also mean travel into France from the UK will be mostly restricted to residents of France.

Read more: Covid-19 - Can I travel to France from UK?

A vaccine against Covid-19 will be available to the most vulnerable groups in France from this month, notably nursing home residents. It will be progressively rolled out with priority to other ‘at risk’ groups before the mass general public from April.

What is open in France in January?

An obligation to wear masks in enclosed public spaces is expected to remain and many cities are likely to maintain local regulations on wearing masks outside.

A curfew from 20.00 to 06.00 will still be in place at the start of this year. It is hoped restaurants and gyms will open from January 20 but no date is set for bars and nightclubs.

Cinemas, theatres and museums will remain closed until at least January 7.

Ski lifts for the general public are expected to open on this date too.

Stay informed with our daily coronavirus updates

Healthcare is going digital, new benefits for disabilities, cannabis trials

The Assurance maladie will continue to reimburse doctors’ consultations over webcam (téléconsultation) at 100%. The measure has been prolonged this year after it was brought in to encourage the use of the technology during the 2020 spring lockdown.

Maisons de naissance – a new kind of childbirth centre run by midwives – will be rolled out after successful trials. They will offer support throughout the whole process from pregnancy to birth and aftercare.

Trials of cannabis for medical purposes, with reimbursement, will begin in spring for 3,000 patients with illnesses such as epilepsy, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy side-effects. It was delayed last year due to the health crisis.

Health and safety body Anses will report on its findings about the safety of 5G technology in spring.

Changes to French healthcare fees and benefits

The 100% Santé scheme is fully extended to hearing aids from January 1. It will be possible to obtain hearing aids ‘free’ with reimbursement from the Assurance maladie and your mutuelle.

A new fixed €18 fee will be in place from September for visits to A&E that do not require in-patient hospitalisation, called Forfait Patient Urgences (FPU). This fee will be reimbursable by top-up mutuelles.

Currently the cost of visits varies depending on the care received, with reimbursement at 80% the rest being payable by the patient or mutuelles.

Disability benefit allocation supplémentaire d’invalidité is being raised from April 1. It will guarantee an income of €800/month, up from €750.

New rules for bikes and snow tyres, motorway tolls increase, bonuses for buying electric cars lowered

New bicycles sold by professionals from January 1 must be marked with an identification number, similar to a car’s number plate, which will be placed on a database to help identify owners in the case of theft. Second-hand bikes sold by professionals must also be marked from July 1, 2021.

From November 1, prefects of mountainous departments will be able to decree that winter tyres or snow chains are required between November 1 and March 31 in certain communes (a list is to be published).

Motorway péage prices will go up on average 0.44% on February 1.

Subsidies for eco-friendly car purchases are changing

A bonus for buying a new electric car will be lowered from July from €7,000 to €6,000 (€3,000 to €2,000 for those priced €45-€60,000). Those buying a hybrid rechargeable car will receive €1,000 instead of €2,000, and €1,000 is now available for buying a second-hand electric car.

Prime à la conversion money towards buying a new eco-friendly car to replace an old car will, from July 1, only be available for buying a car with a pollution sticker category of Crit’Air 1, as opposed to 1 and 2 at present.

This restricts the scheme to electric, hybrid or hydrogen cars. No diesel cars will now qualify.

The penalty on polluting cars will now be applied from 131g of CO2/km as opposed to 138, meaning more models of cars are affected. The maximum amount for the most polluting cars is being doubled, from €20,000 to €40,000.

A new income tax credit is available for installing an electric car charging point at your main or a second home, whether owned or rented. The credit will be equal to 75% of costs up to €300 per installation.

Related: France confirms €1,000 grant for second-hand electric cars

Developments for inter-regional train travel on track, ferry routes to reopen

The PACA region plans to choose three finalists to run local trains between Marseille and Vintimille early this year, with a winner to be announced in the summer. As part of opening up the service to competition it could mean the SNCF no longer runs the trains from 2025.

Also as part of increasing competition on the railways, Spanish company La Renfe plans to start operating some high-speed services on the Marseille-Lyon line in December.

A ‘RAIL motorway’ service from Cherbourg to the Spanish border, taking unaccompanied freight containers along the Atlantic coast and helping to take thousands of lorries off the roads, initially planned by Brittany Ferries to start in April this year, has now been put back one year.

A facial recognition system is to be installed at London St Pancras station so customers boarding the Eurostar may be identified in a contactless way without showing a ticket or passport.

It is likely to be in place in the second half of the year, rather than April as originally hoped, but will not replace the need for border checks in France.

After a difficult 2020, several France-UK Brittany Ferries routes are expected to reopen this year. Weekly Portsmouth to Cherbourg crossings have resumed, bookings are being taken from March for Ports­mouth to Saint-Malo and from April for Cherbourg to Poole.

There is no news about whether Portsmouth to Le Havre services will resume this year.

Read more: Brexit and Covid leaves Brittany Ferries in trouble

Education in France will be more expensive, support to improve

The UK is no longer expected to participate in the Erasmus+ university and work placement exchange scheme from this year. French people going to UK universities will now pay full international rates.

Britons living in France on or before December 31, 2020, will, however, benefit from national UK rates for courses starting at the latest by January 1, 2028.

Britons living in France wishing to start studies in another EU country from this year no longer benefit from an automatic right to do so. They will have to apply for student visas and residency cards.

In countries that charge a higher fee to international students, this fee will typically apply.

A reduced €1 price for canteen meals for university students with hardship grants, brought in as a temporary measure at the rentrée, is maintained in 2021.

The availability of ‘Universal National Service’ is to be greatly increased this year, with places for service on offer in holiday periods throughout the year and doubled state funding. However, contrary to some earlier statements, the scheme is not set to be obligatory for young people before 2024.

Politics: Alsace is back, elections to be held in spring

The name of the region of Alsace has returned to the map – and local politics – with the creation of ‘the European Collectivity of Alsace’.

Alsace, having disappeared with the reform of the French regions in 2014 which saw it merge with Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine to form the region of Grand Est, is back as a new type of structure which is a first for France.

In local politics, it means the departmental councils of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin will merge and form a new council for Alsace, though, confusingly, nothing will change for central government administration, with prefectures for the two areas remaining.

In March, elections will be held for this new council. Its role will cover the same areas as the former councils but will also include cross-border and European relations, as it is situated on the border with Germany and at the heart of the European continent. It will be responsible for national and departmental roads in its area.

Departmental and regional council elections are scheduled to be held nationwide in March, although they could be delayed until later in the year, dependent on the pandemic.

Own property in France? Tax credits for eco-friendly homes replaced by new grant scheme, rules for showers in new builds, social charges increased

The tax credit for eco-friendly home improvements, in place for a number of years under different names, has finally been removed. It has now been replaced for all by the new grant scheme MaPrimeRénov’.

Measures in the 2018 Elan law in force from July 1 strengthen the legal basis of the home energy-efficiency check required as part of home sales. This increases the responsibility of sellers and professional diagnostiqueurs with regard to the accuracy of the diagnostic de performance énergétique (DPE) certificate.

This rates the home A to G for efficiency (ie. how well insulated and easy to heat it is). Courts had previously ruled these certificates to be ‘informative’ only. This means that a person taking out a new lease or buying a home from July could take the diagnostic firm to court if there is a significant difference between the evaluation and the real energy performance.

Certain new builds – ground-floor flats and detached houses – from January 1 must have space for an ‘Italian-style’ walk-in shower. This will be extended from July to all flats served by a lift.

If a UK resident sells or has income from renting out a French property, they now pay higher social charges of 17.2% instead of a reduced rate of 7.5% on the capital gain or income. If selling, they must use a représentant fiscal to check the tax process, who charges a fee of around 0.5-1% of the sale price.

The calculation of APL housing benefit has changed and is now being based on a person’s more current income – over the last 12 months as opposed to income two years previously. It aims to be fairer, especially if someone has had a drop in income.

Overseas buyers, including if based in France, must pay increased stamp duty if purchasing UK property from April 1 (an extra 2% of the price).

Learn more about the rules for owning property in France with our Owning a Second Home in France Help Guide

Changes to income tax, duty-free shopping limits, life insurance

The top 20% of households in terms of income begin to benefit from a progressive reduction of taxe d’habitation property tax this year. This year’s bill will be 30% less – you can reduce the amount of monthly on-account instalment payments in proportion in your personal space at impots.gouv.fr. This applies only to main homes.

UK life assurance investments may no longer qualify for the same beneficial tax treatment as EU policies. A 25% overseas transfer charge may now be applied if moving a UK pension into 'Qrops' in the EU.

Gifts to UK charities no longer attract a tax credit.

What are the rules for duty-free shopping?

Due to Brexit, there are new rules on tax-free goods when travelling between the UK and France – notably on duty-free sales, which do not apply on travelling within the EU, and import limits on items such as alcohol and tobacco. In the EU, there are no limits for personal use.

Visitors to France from the UK will be able to buy VAT-free goods in some French shops on purchases of more than €175. Not all shops offer this, so you will have to ask. It will also be possible to buy duty-free (without VAT and excise duty) items when returning to the UK from France, in ferries and on planes, and at French airports and ports.

There will be limits on purchases that visitors to France can bring back to the UK, though the UK says it has increased its usual allowances (which previously related to the rest of the world outside the EU). For example, it will be possible to bring back up to three crates of beer, two cases of still wine and one of sparkling wine.

Read more: Will Brexit mean caps on taking alcohol from France to UK?

When travelling from the UK to France, duty-free shops in UK airports will no longer sell items such as clothing or electronics, though duty-free sales of alcohol and cigarettes will still be on offer.

It was formerly possible for foreign (non-EU) visitors to the UK to buy items in some UK shops VAT-free, but the UK is ending this policy as it says it caused complications for businesses in reclaiming the VAT. It will still be possible if the purchased goods are sent to your home in France, not taken back with you.

There are limits on value and quantity of UK-bought goods you may bring into France after a trip. These are €430 by air and sea, or €300 by train, or €150 for under-15s. Rates are per person.

There are tax-free limits for import of alcohol and tobacco from the UK, including 200 cigarettes and four litres of wine or 16 litres of beer, or for other alcohol 1 litre of drinks over 22 per cent or two at 22 per cent or less.

When you buy goods from the UK, as well as VAT, some items will now attract import taxes unless there is an exemption in a future relationship deal. There is an exemption up to €150 for items bought online.

Transporters may also add frais de dossier charges due to dealing with customs formalities in bringing in goods from outside the EU.

Environment: Protection for dolphins increased, new crime of 'ecocide' introduced

All of the trawler ships in the Gulf of Gascony now have to be equipped year-round with equipment that makes sounds intended to scare away dolphins, thus avoiding them being caught in nets. This requirement previously only applied in the first four months of the year but the EU has accused France of not doing enough to protect the animals.

A new crime of ‘ecocide’ is to be created, with heavy punishments for acts of pollution, especially where found to have been committed deliberately.

However, it is proposed that it be classed as a délit, as opposed to the most serious term crime, usually reserved for rape and murder, which had been proposed by the Citizens’ Convention for Climate Change.

A return to the office in 2021? Paternity leave increased, new benefits for unemployed

Until now, workers have been asked to work from home where possible, but Le Figaro reports the government is considering a relaxation from January so that those who wish to may return to workplaces at least one day a week.

Statutory paternity leave has been extended from 11 to 25 days, including an obligatory period of seven days immediately after the birth of a child. Combined with the statutory three days off for the birth of a child, this means a mother’s long-term live-in partner (of whichever gender, and married or not) can have up to 28 days off. An additional week is available in the case of multiple births.

The government says it will provide extra money this year to help those aged under 26 or disabled people to find work, with new financial help for businesses taking them on either as ordinary employees or apprentices.

It will also help those struggling to get into work via 300,000 parcours d’insertion sur mesure – special support programmes. More on help available for young unemployed people can be found online here.

This is part of the government’s ‘relaunch plan’, which included an objective of creating at least 160,000 new jobs this year.

The minimum wage is now €1,555 gross/month (€1,231 net).

What else is changing for life in France in 2021?

Sending a Colissimo parcel between the UK and France will now be at a higher international rate.

The Tour de France will be held in June and July, with the grand départ from Brest on June 26. Two other big events initially scheduled for 2021 – the UEFA Women’s World Cup (football) and the Jeux de la Francophonie (in Democratic Republic of the Congo) – have been delayed to 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The full restoration phase of work on Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral is to get underway this year after the previous work of clearing debris and cleaning and consolidation since the fire in April 2019. It is intended that it should be rebuilt to have the same appearance as before.

Read more: Notre Dame historic stained glass may be replaced

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet is going back to space this summer. The voyage to the International Space Station will be his second after a first mission to the ISS in 2016-17.