If you are a British national – this post recounts the start of our experiences two years ago and does not reflect the current system. See below for information.
If you’re not British – you don’t need to bother about all this, but you may want to have a read and a good giggle at the total mess the UK is making of everything.
Please see my next post, Warp Factor 2, to find out more about the current process for applying for residency. And if you need info quickly, visit the excellent RIFT (Remain in France Together) website at https://www.remaininfrance.fr/
When we first decided to move over to France permanently, I had spent a lot of time and energy putting in place the various administrative changes that had time limits within which needed to be done
- Setting up our businesses
- Health care
- Getting our tax situation updated
- Registering the car and van in France
- Sorting out home and motor insurance
Once all that was in place we started to think about residency. Now, I know a lot of people get confused when they hear the word ‘residency’. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about ‘citizenship’ (or naturalisation) which is getting French nationality, having a French passport, becoming officially French. Residency is being a foreigner in France who is legally allowed to live and work here. It also means that you declare all your worldwide income to the tax authorities in France and pay any taxes due here.
We British probably find it harder to get our heads around this because for many years Britain was part of the European Union and as such, we had an automatic right to travel freely within the EU; to live, work, study, travel in any EU country without any of the red tape, restrictions or cost that other, ‘third country’ (ie not from EU or EEA) nationals are required to go through.
When we first moved to France, Britain had just held a referendum in which a ‘majority’ had voted to leave the EU, but it was still early days and the actual date and terms of departure were still unknown.
Having looked into the question of obtaining a titre de séjour, residence permit, I discovered that, technically we didn’t need one as EU citizens, as we still were at the time, but that we were entitled to ask for one if we so wished. Many French préfectures had been actively discouraging, even refusing applications from Brits – they probably felt they had enough work to do processing applications from other countries, without having to bother with people who weren’t actually legally required to have one.
But with too many question marks hanging over the future situation, thanks to Brexit, we decided we would apply anyway.
I looked on the website of our préfecture and discovered that we had to apply in person at the Accueil des Etrangers, literally Foreigners’ Reception, at the préfecture for the Sarthe, in Le Mans.
Le Mans is an hour’s drive from us so we got up bright and early one morning and headed off to find the prefecture, armed with all the documents I anticipated we might possibly need.
Once through security we checked in at the main reception (where we were informed that we didn’t need titres de séjour because we were EU citizens but OK, if we insisted…) and were directed to the Accueil des Etrangers. There were people standing round and waiting, queuing at various desks and generally milling about everywhere. After waiting in line to see a young man at the information desk we were told that we had to make an appointment online and come back another day. I mentioned that their website clearly stated that we should apply in person, to which he replied that the system had probably changed. He handed me a scrap of paper with a hastily scrawled web address and turned his attention to the person behind us. Utterly deflated after revving myself up to answer all the questions I’d carefully rehearsed in French, we left the imposing building and found a nearby café in which to drown our sorrows in a strong black coffee. As we sipped, I tapped the URL the guy had scrawled on the paper into my phone. It was the online appointment booking site for third country nationals.
Having driven that far we decided that the least we should do was go back to the préfecture and try again, so once again we ran the gauntlet of security guards on the gate, by-passed the main reception (as we now knew where we were going), and moved through the now packed corridors to the Accueil des Etrangers. This time we ignored the information desk and walked on until we found a waiting room with a ticket system. A sign informed us that we should take a ticket and wait until called through to one of the windows, where we would be dealt with. By now it was 11 am and we knew that everything would close at midday. There were 19 people in front of us and as we waited patiently, I calculated that at the rate people were being called through, there would still be 7 to go at midday!
Our luck was in. As the clock ticked round towards 12, several people obviously having also done the maths, got fed up of waiting and left and at 11:55 we were called through to a little glass booth where a friendly and efficient lady asked several questions about our situation then talked us through a long list of documents we needed to send, in duplicate, by post only, to the address at the bottom of the list.
Elated that we were making progress, we returned home and I started straight away – downloading, photocopying, printing, organising the two humongous dossiers. (it took me a full week to get everything together). The two separate bundles were then carted down to our village post office, from whence I emerged 30 € lighter but confident that our applications were winging their way by registered post to the préfecture. Two days later I received the notification that they had arrived.
Then we waited. And waited.
After months of hearing nothing I tried emailing to ask where our applications were in the process. I received an automated reply several days later informing me that as there was no way of validating that I was who I claimed to be, for reasons of data protection they would not discuss the matter.
I tried phoning, many times, but no one picked up.
A few months later (and still no news), while shopping in La Flèche, a local town and a sub-préfecture for the Sarthe we tried dropping into the sub-prefecture offices (a tiny, two-roomed affair in a narrow back street) and explained the problems we had been having. “Oh, they’re useless,” said the man behind the counter. “They don’t even answer the phone to us! They are only open for two hours a week – here, try this number”. He was right. They never answered that number either.
By now the situation with Brexit in the UK was becoming farcical. Prime Minister Theresa May had had been trying for months to get parliamentary approval for the various versions of the Withdrawal Agreement that she had negotiated with the EU. The Brexit deadline had been put back several times. PM May stepped down as leader of the ruling Conservative Party in the summer of 2019 and the party chose Boris Johnson as their new leader and Prime Minister. Johnson, it seemed, was intent on driving the UK to exiting the EU, with or without an agreement by October 31st.
To protect the status of British citizens living in France if the UK did indeed crash out of the EU with no agreements in place, the French government quickly launched a new website specifically for Brits to apply for a titre de séjour, as non-EU citizens. There was a certain hesitancy to leap in and apply straight away, mainly as the recently introduced ANTS website (designed to centralise many of the functions previously carried out at local Mairies) and the new driving licence system had suffered from many technical bugs and administrative hiccups in the early days, causing loooong delays.
Just as we felt it might be Ok to try submitting another application on the new ‘no deal’ system, the EU offered the UK another ‘flextension’ and the Withdrawal Agreement was finally signed in January 2020. The French government took down their No Deal application website and we were back to square one. It was clear that other prefectures in France went back to processing the applications that had already been submitted under the old system, but apparently Le Mans wasn’t one of them.
At midnight on 31st January 2020 Britain officially left the European Union and entered a ‘transition period’ during which all our rights as EU citizens would continue (apart from the fact that we could no longer vote in France) until December 31st 2020.
The French government announced that they would be relaunching the titre de séjour online application system in July, which then got put back to October. This is now the only way to apply and it is mandatory for all British citizens living in France to apply for a new titre de séjour, known as the Withdrawal Agreement Residence Permit or WARP (I know!), even if they already hold a titre de séjour, and even if it is a permanent one. (This is because that permission is now granted on the basis of the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and not EU citizenship.)
The new WARP guarantees that if you are a British national who is resident – that is, actually living in France, not just with a holiday home here, before the end of the Brexit transition period (ie 31st December 2020) most of your EU citizen’s rights that allowed you to come and live here in the first place, will be protected.
If you are reading this and you know British people who live in France, maybe your parents or grandparents, who may not have heard about this new requirement, please make sure they know and apply.
This blog post is getting very long, so I will tell you more about our eventual applications in more detail in the next post. In the meantime, can I suggest that if you want more information you visit the excellent RIFT (Remain in France Together) website at https://www.remaininfrance.fr/