Why are Americans not part of second-home easy visit plan in France?

Many Britons have written to French lawmakers over difficulties after Brexit

Americans are also affected by complex paperwork for long stays in France
Published Last updated

Reader question: Why are only Britons being included in the proposals to make it easier to spend long periods in France? We are Americans with a second home and do not like the visa process either to stay longer than three months.

This issue relates to amendments added by French senators and députés (similar to US members of Congress or British MPs) to France’s immigration bill so as to help non-resident, non-EU people, especially Britons, visit France for more than 90 days at a time.

The short answer is that there was a proposal to help all non-EU, non-resident second-home owners but it was rejected by the Senate as being too wide in scope.

Britons are seen as in a unique situation as many bought property under one set of rules and these then changed limiting access to their properties when the UK’s decision to leave the EU came into force in 2021.
The current proposals, and their strong backing in the Senate and among députés, are likely the result of significant letter-writing by British citizens with properties in France.

What is being proposed?

The amendment voted through by the Senate was for an ‘automatic visa’ right for British non-residents who own a home in France. It clarifies that this right should be available without the need to apply for it.

The aim is to simplify matters for British second-home owners who want to spend more than three months in a row at their properties, and who must now undertake long and complex ‘temporary’ visa procedures each time.

Otherwise, as non-EU citizens, they are subject to a basic EU rule of ‘no more than 90 days in any rolling 180-day period in the Schengen area’.

Read more: How does EU’s 90/180 days rule apply when visiting France

A 90-day stay in France is the maximum, or less if the person has had other holidays or work or family-related trips in the EU in recent months.

How did the proposal come about?

When the new immigration bill was submitted early this year, the France Visa Free Facebook campaign group raised the issue of writing to députés and senators to ask for an amendment to help.

The Connexion also took up the idea, including speaking to Les Républicains senators Imbert (Charente-Maritime) and Berthet (Savoie), who had previously expressed support towards the France Visa Free campaign.

Both senators went on to propose amendments, with Ms Imbert taking the view that it would be best to target the help widely, at all foreign second-home owners.

She said France should create a new second-home owner visa that would have to be applied for, but only once every five years, which would allow the holder to visit for up to six months a year at the times of their choosing, thus reducing paperwork.

Read more: Give second-home owners in France a special visa, says senator

Ms Berthet then proposed her ‘automatic visa’, saying it was more likely to succeed as it was narrowly focused and not open to all foreign people indiscriminately.

Her colleague Philippe Bas spoke in the Senate, saying this was the “best” amendment “because it’s the most targeted”.

He added: “It’s the one that is the least wide and open and so doesn’t give rise to the risk of creating a big splash, it is just for British people who own a second home in France.

“Generally speaking, they didn’t have anything to do with Brexit, but Brexit has punished them. They must be able to come to France and make the most of their second homes and spend their money.”

He added that the temporary visa procedures in the UK “don’t work well and involve a lot of paperwork and complexity”, whereas Ms Berthet’s solution “allows us to resolve the problem in a very simple and effective way”.

The senators adopted her idea.

At the Assemblée nationale it was then stripped out by a small show of hands in the assembly’s laws commission, in a pre-debate vetting process.

Some 135 députés then put their names to amendments putting it back, or a version of it concerning only those who bought before Brexit and including nationals of any country who were living in the UK as well as spouses of French nationals in the UK.

Read more: Flurry of new MP bids to ease second-home visits to France

An assistant for Ms Berthet said it was likely that many Britons had written to the députés helping them understand the issues.

Her idea is still in the text as voted for by the Senate, which will now be considered by a ‘mixed committee’ of députés and senators.

Read more: Immigration bill - what happens now to second-home visits plan

What is specific about Britons?

While in the EU, Britons, as EU citizens, had free movement to come to France without formalities but in 2016, the UK voted (52% to 48%) to leave the EU.

Many of those with links to the continent, such as French homes, did not vote for it.

In the UK-EU negotiations which followed, arrangements were made to protect rights of British people living full-time in the EU before Brexit, but nothing was done to protect visiting rights of non-residents with second homes.

As the UK is one of France’s closest neighbours – Dover and Calais are 42km apart – many Britons had taken advantage of EU membership to buy second homes, especially in rural parts of France.

Statistics body Insee has previously estimated a total of 86,000 homes owned by British residents.

Retirees, in particular, often come for up to half the year to France, for example in the spring to autumn, which has now become very difficult.

Many who have undertaken the temporary visa process say they could not face it a second time. It is the same application as that for people moving to France, but lasts only for a fixed period, usually of six months, each time.

Can anything be done for Americans?

We have no precise statistics on this but consider it likely that Americans own fewer French second homes than Britons as they cannot come to France by putting their car on a ferry or train for a few hours, as Britons can.

They also were never EU citizens, so have always faced more complexities to undertake long stays.

However, we suggest that Americans who feel strongly about the issue of spending more than three months in France at a time write to the députés and senators for the areas where they have homes, as letter writing to explain issues has proved effective in the case of the British homeowners.

We advise explaining why this is important to you, and how you contribute to the French community while there, whether financially or otherwise (participation in clubs and volunteering etc).

If your French is not good, you could use a translator such as deepl.com, though we advise getting a French-speaking friend to check your text.

You can find MPs here and senators here.

As a matter of interest, there is an old US-France treaty, which in theory could allow Americans an additional three months on top of the 90/180 days, but it is not, to our knowledge, being used or recognised on a routine basis.

It could, however, perhaps be a starting point, to ask for simpler visiting rights beyond 90 days.

Related articles

Can Americans stay in France longer than 90 days due to a 1949 agreement?