BREXIT: Did France really ‘protect’ its British residents, as Macron promised?

BREXIT: Did France really 'protect' its British residents, as Macron promised?
French president Emmanuel Macron said Brits in France would be protected after Brexit. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP
In February 2020, just after the UK finally left the EU, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote an open letter to the British people, telling those Britons living in France "we will protect you".

But at that time, Brits living in France – many of whom had been here for many decades – faced the prospect of having to apply for the right to stay in France, leaving many extremely worried about whether they would be rejected and forced to leave the place they called home. There was also at that stage no system set up by which they could make those applications.

Fast forward 18 months and the Brexit transition period is over and processing of the residency applications of the between 200,000 and 300,000 Brits in France is well underway.

So did France walk the walk, as well as talk Macron’s talk, when it came to protecting Brits living here?

The challenge

France, unusually among EU countries, does not require EU citizens to register for residency, which meant that at the time of Brexit no-one knew exactly how many Brits were living in the country, where they all were or indeed how to get in touch with them.

Estimates were that there were between 200,000 and 300,000 Britons residing in France. That would mean a significant extra workload for France’s public administration to register and issue residency cards to them all.

In addition many of those, particularly retirees, were not registered in any French system such as the social security or health systems – many people simply used their European Health Insurance Cards when they needed healthcare. There were also a significant number of second-home owners who split their time roughly equally between France and the UK, who would now have to chose if they wanted to become an official resident in France.

The solution

The French Interior Ministry’s solution was twofold – they built an online platform specifically for Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (ie those living here before December 31st, 2020) and they put in place a simplified application process, with significantly fewer documents required than the usual residency permit application for non-EU citizens such as Americans or Australians.

Those living here for more than five years only needed to provide ID, proof of their current address, proof that they had been living in France for more than five years and that they were in France before the end of the transition period. French authorities allowed a wide range of documents to be provided as proof such as bills, payslips or rental contracts.

READ ALSO This is how Brits apply for a residency card in France

For more recent arrivals more documentation was needed, proving their status as employed, self-employed, studying or retired or otherwise economically inactive or a family member of one of those groups.

For many the greatest worry had been around providing proof of resources, with many British pensioners fearing they would not have enough earnings to qualify for residency.

In the event, this was only required for people who have lived in France for less than five years and were not working or seeking work. France also lowered some of its standard levels of minimum income and agreed to take into account assets such as property owned outright.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to stay in France after Brexit?

So how are these systems working in reality?

It’s now eight months since applications opened, and three months until the final deadline to make an application (which was extended to September 30th from the original deadline of June 30th, 2021).

While plenty of Brits are still waiting for their application to be processed, many of those who have begun the process have been struck by its simplicity – particularly compared to most other French administration tasks.

Applicants make the application online and are generally then invited to their local préfecture to give fingerprints and have their ID checked. Most people who have been for an appointment have reported a quick 10-minute process of checking the file and taking fingerprints, a far cry from the grilling that many had feared.

Many were also struck by the friendless and helpfulness of préfecture staff, again in stark contrast to what many people had feared.

Any problems?

But let’s not claim that the process is without issues, this has been a massive administrative undertaking and some things have gone wrong.

From feedback so far, here are some of the common problems.

Waiting times – according to a survey conducted by citizens’ rights group Remain in France Together (RIFT) the average waiting time between applying and getting an appointment date at the préfecture was four months, but this varies widely between areas.

Applications are all submitted online but are then passed to the applicant’s local area préfecture for processing, and préfectures move at different speeds. Only Dordogne – with its large British population – has been given extra staff to process applications from Brits, in other areas these are being handled on top of the usual residency paperwork, so speed depends on the number of applications and how many staff there are to process them. You can find a more detailed area breakdown here.

Document requests – although the website requires comparatively few documents, some people reported being asked to bring a large dossier of paperwork, including tax returns for the past five years, to their appointment at the préfecture. In some cases it seemed that préfectures were using the standard email/letter wording for all residency applications, rather than the slimmed-down requirements for post-Brexit paperwork.

Appointment dates – some préfectures seemed flexible on appointment dates if applicants were unable to make the appointment offered, while others either said they could not be changed or advised people to make a new application. 

Translation fails – the application website is available in English or French, but some of the early translations on the English site caused some confusion, although this appears to have largely been corrected now.

Administrative complexities – the process is simple compared to a lot of other French bureaucratic tasks, but French bureaucracy is notoriously complicated and slow. Several applicants at the Préfecture de Police in Paris report being directed to the wrong section of the building, then told there was no record of their appointment.

It’s not over yet . . 

Brits in France have until September 30th 2021 to make the application (extended from June 30th). It’s likely that applications will speed up as the deadline approaches, which will be a test of whether the system can process the volumes of applications in time.

It also seems likely that those who applied early are those who had their paperwork in order so we may not have seen yet how well the system deals with people in more marginal situations, or those who don’t fit into a clear category. 

(And let’s not spoil it by mentioning the ongoing fiasco over driving licences – although that’s not entirely France’s fault).

Head to our Dealing with Brexit section to find more info on what you need to do if you are a Brit living in France.


Member comments

  1. The simple answer is no. What happened to all this don’t worry you will still be EU citizens that was banded about by MEP’s.

    1. Agree with the majority comments — after a nightmare last year pre withdrawal agreement, the titre de séjour was a breeze. Macron delivered.

  2. Not everyone has to have an appointment at the Préfecture. Here in 66 if you have a cds from 2018 onwards they use the photo and fingerprints from that. Our new cards just turned up in the post after Xmas.

  3. Yes.
    The application was easy and the process uneventful (not quick but that’s fine). I fully expected to be asked for more documents (as I didn’t have Carte Vitale yet at the moment of application) but that never actually happened.

  4. Your respondents have all been lucky. We live in the Gard, we applied in October and have still heard nothing. We originally had an appointment at the prefecture under the old system before Brexit was delayed and because it was delayed the prefecture cancelled our appointment and said we had to wait for the new procedure. We applied the first month the website opened and still nothing. So it is not all as easy or simple as you may think. It is a postcode lottery.

  5. Despite applying immediately the WARP applications went online, we have heard nothing further from our prefecture ( Carcassonne ).
    We already have 10 year CdS so it should be quite straightforward but they seem to be taking a scattergun approach ! For example the wife but not the husband of some friends was called for rdv although they applied at the same time.

  6. Eventually we found that the process worked well and was simple enough. Unfortunately, my wife subsequently lost her card card wallet including the carte de sejour. There does not appear to be a process for replacing Brexit CdeS as the prefecture (Lot) do not allow this using the regulat process for “duplicato”. I did send an email to [email protected] but so far have received no reply. I think that last resort will be to apply again including copies of the card receipt and explanation. So, we have gone from serene to full of anxiety again! If anyone reads this and has any useful advice, it will be very welcome…

  7. I was amazed at how quickly and smoothly my Carte de Séjour process went. I say amazed because before the special website that was set up specifically for British citizens here I tried for about a year to get a Carte de Séjour myself. (It wasn’t clear for a long time how the French would go about it so I decided to get in first). Cue multiple trips to Cergy Prefecture, queueing from 7am, 6am, even 3am (really). Each time with everything I’d been asked for, only to be told by the gormless bureaucrat at the Prefecture that I lacked a document. When I’d go home to check I’d often find out that she was mistaken (she had confused KBis with URSSAF status, for example). Once Cergy Prefecture turned me away because I had not photocopied the BLANK SIDE of my birth certificate. That’s how petty and pig-headed French Prefecture bureaucrats are. No wonder everyone hates them.
    So hats off to Macron, the website was simple and they dispensed with the more pointless documentation. The appointment took 5 minutes, I queued for 10 minutes instead of 6 hours and I got the card in the post after a week.

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