Is It Worth Moving To France From The UK?
If you're thinking about moving from the UK to France, here's what you need to know beforehand to help make your move a lot smoother.
When I first told my friends I would be moving to France, there were gasps of pleasure and jealousy. No doubt, the thought of strolling the Eiffel Tower while dining the finest French cuisine would cause anyone to turn green with envy.
However, getting swept up in the culture means any grievances about the difficulties of moving post-Brexit, and Covid are often side-lined – there were times when moving felt like a battle.
Despite the bonuses of French life, there have been times when the move feels like a battle.
So, if you’ve just moved to France from the UK or are currently deciding whether the move is worth it, check out this helpful guide with everything you need to know.
What’s it like?
First thing’s first, what are the benefits of moving across the English Channel?
Food is a reason in itself. France is famous for its rich diversity of cuisine.
Even though you can buy all the ingredients at your local supermarket, it’s customary to visit your nearby boulangerie for bread, especially baguettes.
And while you’re in the boulangerie, it is easy to let your eyes rest on the eclairs and fraisiers and be tempted to buy the lot.
The working culture is very different here. The French take long lunch breaks, while the British will happily eat lunch at their desks. In France, companies sometimes pay for your meal.
Work is more relaxed here – there is minimal pressure for punctuality or tight deadlines. At first, this can be a big culture shock, especially if we need paperwork to be completed quickly, but the joie de vivre is contagious – you’ll soon find yourself relaxed in no time.
Finally, what is it like to move to a country where brief communication is the norm but often considered terribly rude by Brits?
It’s surprising how kind and generous the French are despite that – they are much more relaxed and happier to take their time. People offer you to cut ahead of them in queues and take the utmost care to understand any broken French to help you.
Do they have good education and healthcare?
These are aspects of French life that you might not know much about. The state education system is free.
Universities cost under €200 a year for a bachelor's degree, which is a drop in the ocean compared to university fees in the UK.
Meanwhile, French healthcare has been ranked by the World Health Organisation as one of the best in the world.
The coverage is universal, and even though you have to pay a small portion for every doctor’s appointment, the government covers over 75% of the costs. Patients on low incomes or with long-term illnesses receive 100% coverage by state health insurance.
What has changed since Brexit?
As we all know, Britain left the EU on 31st January 2020, then the transition period ended 11 months later on 31st December.
Throughout 2020, while everything continued as normal – Brits were treated as EU citizens. They were offered freedom of movement and could come and go as they pleased, along with the legal right to live and work in France.
There were some minor changes. For example, British citizens in EU countries lost their voting and political rights. If you moved to France during this time, you are now protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.
On the other hand, if you arrived after 1st January 2021 or you plan to move in the future, your rights to legally live in EU countries have changed, and you are required to hold a visa. British citizens are now third-country nationals throughout the Schengen Area, which includes France.
Therefore, we are entitled to spend 90 days out of 180 in France without a visa. If you’re planning a holiday or a lengthy visit, this is reassuring.
British rights in Europe
What is the 90 days out of 180 rule?
After a 90 day to the Schengen area, travellers must leave and not return for another 90 days.
As the 180 days are rolling, you need to calculate your total days in France by counting backwards within the previous 180. It sounds confusing, but thankfully, there are handy calculators online!
If you arrive in France in 2021 without a visa, you can stay for 90 days. However, if you plan to stay permanently, you need to head back to the UK to apply for a long-stay visa.
What is the Withdrawal Agreement, and what does this mean for British ex-pats? The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) is the international arrangement between the UK and the EU regarding Brexit.
It explains the rights of all British ex-pats currently living in the EU and EU nationals who live in the UK. This agreement ensures that all British citizens are treated the same no matter which EU country they live in. However, each country will have different requirements and systems for granting residency.
The WA states that British citizens who lived in EU countries before 31st January 2020, and those who moved during the transition period, would retain their rights to live and work – but only in their host country. From here, it gets a bit complicated. As the transition period was lengthened by the pandemic, procedures have since been delayed. This has formed a backlog of unprocessed applications.
However, for people that moved to France before 1st January 2021, their citizenship status won't be affected - if they can prove they have a job or they're studying and have somewhere to call home. Furthermore, you would need these details to apply for the Withdrawal Agreement Residence Permit (WARP), which guarantees your right to live in France for the next five years.
Naturally, this is more complicated if you are self-employed. Here, you’d need to register on the URSSAF system, but to do that, you need a social security number which can take up to six months to arrive.
On the contrary, you can’t apply for a social security number until you have lived in France for three months! Unfortunately, the French immigration system is a huge catch 22 for some immigrants trying to apply for citizenship.
There are also similar difficulties as a job seeker. Some banks expect you to have an income to open an account. Yet to search for jobs on the Pôle Emploi (the government agency to help the unemployed), you need bank details.
There are a few different types of visas:
• Short-stay visas for trips shorter than 90 days. • Long-stay visas for anything exceeding 90 days which you must apply for in advance.
With a long-stay visa, your visit can last between three months and one year.
There are two temporary long-stay visas:
• Long-term visa used as Residence Permit (VLS-TS) – issued for a maximum of one year but can be renewed. • Temporary long-term visa (VLS-T) – issued for anywhere between four months and a year and can’t be renewed. It doesn’t allow the holder to work but, studying and volunteering are accepted.
Applying for the visas can be completed online, at the French embassy, or the UK consulate. You need to provide proof of the reason for travel, income and necessary finances and health cover.
The VLS-TS acts as a residence permit for you to reside in France so, you are not required to apply for one at the local prefecture (the administration for the Ministry of the Interior). However, you must apply for a resident's permit if your stay is extended longer than your visa.
If you are moving to France for a job, you need a general long-stay visa.
Long-stay visas are allocated according to four different categories:
This can be for a job offer at a French company or for self-employment. To start a business, you need to share the economic viability of your business plan and prove you have sufficient funds.
The work visas are for highly skilled workers and their families, internal transfers to a French branch of a company, repeated seasonal workers, and long-term internships.
This visa is for students wishing to progress to higher education in France and includes a limited number of hours you can work for payment.
You can join family members in France with this visa. Although, it does depend on where your family is from! You can move to France if they are a:
o French national, and you are a spouse or dependent adult direct relative. o EU national, and you are a spouse or dependent adult direct relative. You would be required to apply for residency within three months. o Non-EU national, but only if they have lived in France for 18 months. o Extended private stay
Finally, this visa is for retirement relocation. You will need to prove you have suitable funds to support yourself instead of utilising the French system.
As the technicalities of these visas prove, it is no longer possible to move to France on a mere whim, so if you are considering it, you need to ensure you have the resources and documentation to stay.
What if I have a second home in France?
There are different circumstances for this. If you plan to spend between three and six months a year at your second home in France, you will not be considered as a resident, and you can apply for a temporary long-stay visa (VLS-T).
If you hope to spend six months to a year in France, then you'll qualify as a resident and must apply for the VLS-TS visa.
Once you’ve obtained your visa, you can apply for a residence permit at your prefecture.
How long does the visa application process take?
For a long-stay visa, it can take anywhere from two weeks to two months. However, because organising French visas for British citizens is new terrain, we don’t know how the French authorities will approach the applications.
Will my visa cover healthcare?
Unfortunately, no. You must prove you have private health cover for the duration of your stay in France to apply for the visa.
It can be travel medical insurance, but if it's private health insurance, it would only qualify if it's an international policy.
Further information on this can be found here.
Can I still use my EHIC card?
Yes, your EHIC card is valid until its expiry date. After that, you can apply for a GHIC card (Global Health Insurance Card). Neither card is a substitute for proper health insurance.
Both entitle you to state-provided medical treatment, including routine and emergency care.
Working in France
Should I work for a French company, or can I be self-employed?
Social security and healthcare in France are either arranged by you if you are self-employed or by your employer – so arriving in France with a job offer is incredibly beneficial!
Applying for social security is another example of the tiresome French immigration system. If you’re lucky, you can leave it to your company’s HR department, which is one less thing to worry about.
Furthermore, employees receive excellent benefits in France – 6 to 8 weeks holiday, commuting allowances, lunch, and education subsidies, plus the mutuelle top-up health insurance is often offered by employers.
Registering as a self-employed worker and declaring your tax is inherently more complicated. However, you are still eligible for France’s excellent healthcare, unemployment, and retirement benefits under the social security system.
To apply for social security, you will need to show a detailed birth certificate and a French translation. The translation must be certified by a legal translator recognised by the French government.
Can I become a French resident?
If you arrived before 1st January 2021, then yes, you must apply for the WARP to be allowed to stay with the same rights you had before Brexit. You must have this permit before 1st October 2021.
If you moved to France in 2021 using a long-stay visa, you can also apply for residency. The temporary VLS-TS acts as a residence permit for the year. A standard long-stay visa requires you to apply for a residence permit within the first two months of your arrival.
Most residence permits last for a year and can be renewed five times. From there, you would be eligible to apply for a ten-year long-term residence permit.
The Bottom Line
Moving abroad is never a simple task. All the administrative challenges you’ll face is part and parcel of the moving process. While we may curse the immigration system responsible for holding up the process, we also enjoy the lifestyle that it represents. Your move to France won’t be headache free, but once you are here and settled – everything will fall into place soon enough! The wait is well worth it.