Does a French residency card allow you free movement in the EU?

Understand carte de séjour and freedom of movement rules for UK passport holders in the EU

A person’s feet next to an EU flag on the floor
EU nationality citizenship will grant you additional freedom of movement rights around the bloc’s Schengen zone – but residency permits will not

Reader question: I have a UK passport. Will a carte de séjour give me freedom of movement in the EU or will I need to stick to the 90/180-day rule?

You wrote in your original email to us that you have a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement five-year residency card, which is a kind of carte de séjour granting you the right to reside in France.

However, it does not allow you the same rights as a European Union citizen permitting you to move freely between all the countries in the borderless Schengen zone.

The British government says: “British citizens who had been exercising free movement rights in an EU country before the end of the transition period have certain residence-related rights protected by the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement (WA)”.

However, it adds: “The WA protections only apply in the person’s country of residence. The WA does not give free movement rights throughout the rest of the EU”.

As you are not a citizen of an EU country – you only mention having a British passport – you are still subject to the 90/180-day rule with regard to travel in other EU states.

Although your passport may not be stamped on entering another EU country from France, if you stay longer than 90 days and the country can prove this (for example from your travel documents or bank statements) they could ask you to leave.

Alongside travelling, there are also limitations when it comes to working or moving to another EU country using your Brexit WA card.

The card is only valid for the country it is granted in, meaning you cannot use a French five-year residency permit to move to live and work in Germany, for example.

To do that, you would need to apply for a German residency permit.

Note however, that under the terms of the WA, if you have a five-year WA card and want to maintain French residency rights by changing it for a ‘permanent’ card later, you should normally not spend more than six months a year away from France without good reasons, such as a temporary relocation for health reasons or education.

This has raised some issues, however, for holders of five-year cards, in some cases.

Those who had not been living in France for five years at the time of Brexit were issued a five-year WA card, as opposed to the ‘permanent’ (renewable with minimal formalities every 10 years) card that can only be lost after spending five or more years away from France.

In theory, under the WA, they would be entitled to swap it for the ‘permanent’ card after proof of five years in France, however, the latest advice from the French authorities is that WA cardholders should only apply for a permanent card when the first card is coming up for expiry, not after five years cumulatively in France.

This is liable to leave many people waiting longer for one than strictly necessary.

Are there any residency permits that allow you to live elsewhere in the EU?

After having any French residency permit for five years, and if you fulfil certain other criteria such as having been supporting yourself and having had healthcare arrangements, then you are legally eligible to apply for a kind of card called carte de résident de longue durée - UE.

This 10-year residency permit gives limited ‘freedom of movement’ rights in other EU countries, provided you fulfil the conditions to live in that country (which could be related to job offers, healthcare insurance, financial resources, etc).

In practice, however, this is mostly limited to the right to settle in the country without first obtaining a visa. You will still need to apply there for a residency permit under the local rules, to stay long-term.

If you move to a new country, you will need to ask for a residency permit there within three months of your move.

If you leave France for six consecutive years, however, you will lose your carte de résident de longue durée.

Obtaining citizenship

The only way to obtain full ‘free movement’ in the EU is to obtain citizenship of an EU country.

Note, however, that even this is not completely unconditional. At least in theory, an EU citizen should not stay longer than three months in another EU country if they do not have means to support themselves and/or a job, and have arrangements for their healthcare (not necessarily a private policy, it can include joining a national system).

However EU citizens do not need to concern themselves with visas, obligatory residency cards or obtaining permission to work (note, however, that in France there are optional residency cards available to EU citizens).

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