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Brexit: What the 31 March means for British nationals in France

Updated: Apr 16

March 31 is yet another important date to mark in the Brexit deadline calendar and a halfway point between two other milestones.

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

The last day of March marks 90 days since the end of the transition period when the UK officially left the European Union on January 1. That makes it the last day that British nationals who were here on that date can stay in the Schengen area without becoming or having applied for legal residency.

Those who have spent the first three months of the year in France, even if living in a second home, without legal residency must leave in the next few days. If you do not want to leave, you can apply for a residence card under the Withdrawal Agreement, which covers you if you were in France before 31 December 2020.

Not following these rules and thus overstaying the permitted 90 days can have serious consequences. Overstaying turns your status into an undocumented immigrant and comes with penalties ranging from fines, deportation, entry bans and difficulties at the border the next time you want to return to the Schengen zone.

Even if you arrived in France before 31 December and therefore did not have your passport physically stamped, the scanning machines will have registered the date you arrived and so it will be picked up on when you try to leave.

If you cannot travel before 31 March due to a serious health problem such as being infected by Covid-19, you should contact national authorities to request an extension to the legal length of your stay. It is important to note that even though Covid-19 restrictions currently make travel more difficult, this is not considered a valid reason to overstay as travel is still possible.

British nationals who arrived in France after 1 January under these circumstances should calculate when their 90 days in the Schengen zone ends, and follow the same rules. This Schengen stay calculator is useful in making sure you stick to your time limit.

In Britain’s relationship with the EU going forward, stays in the Schengen area will follow the 90/180 rule - third-country nationals (now the status of Brits) can stay in the Schengen area for 90 days of every 180. That means when you go home to Britain after your 90 days is up, you cannot return to the Schengen area for another 90 days.

Applying for residency

The deadline to apply for a Withdrawal Agreement residence permit is 30 June - exactly 90 days from the date of 31 March. It is vital not to miss this application date, as unless you have a ‘good reason’, you will no longer be able to claim residency under the terms of this agreement.

It may also be possible to apply for a long stay Visa. Often, however, this can be a much more difficult and complex process, and it should be kept in mind that 30 June would represent a legal break in your residency.

A residency permit will officially be obligatory for all British adults in France from 1 October, even those married or in a civil partnership with a French or other European national. An EU residency permit/carte de séjour alone will no longer be sufficient.

British nationals who have lived in France for over five years will be entitled to permanent residency and a 10-year renewable residency permit. Those who have been here for fewer than five years will be eligible for a card with five years of validity.

The French Government website provides flow charts detailing all the documents you will be required to provide for your application depending on your situation.

One group who do not need to apply are those who already completed an application on the previous ‘no deal’ website. These will be processed by 1 October. However, there is one caveat - if you have moved Departement since then, you must apply again.

- Kimberley Mannion