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‘Not all gin-swilling pensioners’ – What are Brits in France really doing?

The popular stereotype of 'Brits in France' is retirees, often wealthy, frequently swigging a gin and tonic. But the latest immigration data suggests that the real picture of the British community is a very different one.

'Not all gin-swilling pensioners' - What are Brits in France really doing?
Photo by Denis CHARLET / AFP

The most recent data from the EU data agency Eurostat is out, and it gives an insight into how many Brits moved to France in 2022 – and what they’re all doing here.

The Eurostat data compares first-time residency permits granted to UK nationals across different EU countries.

Pre-Brexit, Brits in France did not need any kind of visa or residency permit – but those arriving in the country since 2021 need to complete immigration formalities which, among other things, requires them to state their purpose for coming to France.

Eurostat breaks this down into four categories; work, study, family reunification or ‘other’ – which includes retirees and others who don’t intend to work or study in France.

In total 7,927 UK nationals were granted a first-time residency permit in France in 2022 and by far the biggest single group – 3,182 – came here to work. That figure includes both employees and those who came to either set up their own business or work as a freelancer or contractor. 

While France has often earned itself a reputation as a place where getting a job or setting up a business is complicated, Emmanuel Macron’s government has brought in a series of measures aimed at loosening restrictions around setting up or expanding a business – this includes the ‘talent passport’ which is intended to help companies recruit foreign talent.

There has also been a concerted effort to lure certain sectors – including finance, gaming and tech – to France in the post-Brexit environment, including English language assistance for anyone moving a business here. 

The next biggest group is students – 1,901 came to study in 2022.

France has been working hard to market itself as an international study destination and around 400,000 foreign students come here each year. It is the fourth most popular country for foreign students – and the top non-English speaking country.

Although Brexit has made studying in France more complicated for British students, the fact that French is still widely taught in British schools makes it a natural destination for those who want to study abroad.

The third biggest group of Brits was the ‘other’ category which includes retirees and had 1,760 people. Finally, 1,084 people came via family reunification – ie joining a spouse, partner or parents already resident in France.

This data represents only a single year, of course, but broadly tracks with pre-Brexit data which suggested that only around 22 percent of Brits living in France were retired – the rest were either working, looking for work or studying. 

Prior to the end of the Brexit transition period, Brits were not required to have residency documents in France, so data on how many moved here and what they were all doing is a lot less detailed. Eurostat data from 2020 and 2021 carries the caveat that it is likely to be atypical due to Covid-19 and ensuing travel restrictions – so the data from 2022 provides the first detailed snapshot of why Brits move to France.

While there are undoubtedly a lot of British retirees in France – many of whom probably enjoy a G&T from time to time – it might be time to put to bed the myth that Brits only come to France to retire. 

Member comments

  1. I came to France in 2004 for love, having re-met a French woman who I had first known in the early 1970s. At the time, retirement wasn’t a motive although a combination of EU citizenship and being self-employed helped make the move possible. Now in my late 70s, I am retired and busy with my personal stuff, with no time for a ‘G&T life’. Most of the Brits I know here in the Var are living similar lives. I was once asked by a New Zealander if I was here for the ‘life style’ He got short shrift.

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French MPs reject bid to ease visa rules for British second-home owners

France's parliament has thrown out a proposal by Senators to relax visa rules for British second-home owners, which had been added as an amendment to the country's new Immigration Bill.

French MPs reject bid to ease visa rules for British second-home owners

France’s controversial Immigration Bill is currently at the committee stage in the Assemblée nationale and already MPs have thrown out several of the headline-grabbing amendments that their colleagues in the Senate added last month.

Among them is a bid to relax visa rules for Brits who own property in France.

The Senate had considered three amendments relating to second-home owners, including one that proposed creating a special visa for all second-home owners (not just Brits).

But in the end it adopted a vaguely-worded motion to exempt British second-home owners from the requirement to either have a visa or abide by the 90-day rule.

In essence, it would have restored pre-Brexit travel conditions to Brits who own property in France, although the amendment added that “The conditions for the application of this article shall be specified by decree in the Conseil d’Etat”.

However, MPs on the Commission des lois (law committee) of the Assemblée nationale have now junked the amendment, meaning that the current rules will remain in place for British second-home owners in France.

The application to cancel the amendment stated that: “The automatic granting of a long-stay visa based solely on property ownership could be perceived as favouring a category of people because of their financial situation, creating inequality in relation to other foreign nationals who have to follow a more rigorous procedure to obtain such a visa.”

A second amendment on the same topic added: “Nothing justifies this exemption, British citizens made a sovereign choice to leave the European Union and renounce the advantages that come with it. The simple fact of owning a second property is not sufficient grounds to justify exemption from visa requirements.”

It added that the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement already contains measures that allow British nationals to get visas or residency cards relevant to their status.

Since Brexit, British visitors have had to follow the same rules as other non-EU nationals like Americans and Canadians – either limiting their visits to 90 days in every 180 or getting a short-stay visa. 

In France, it is the Assemblée nationale that has the final say on laws, so this signifies the end of the road for this particular attempt to ease travel conditions for British second-home owners (although others may follow).

The Immigration bill is the flagship piece of legislation for this parliamentary term, and has already stoked plenty of controversy.

As it passed through the Senate, many senators took the opportunity to add attention-grabbing amendments such as the withdrawal of medical cover for undocumented workers.

The Assemblée’s law committee has already cancelled several of these and looks likely to cancel more as hearings continue.

The full debate on the bill before parliament is scheduled to begin on December 11th. 

Calendar: What happens next with France’s immigration bill?

Other potentially significant parts of the bill, such as the introduction of language tests for certain types of residency card, remain in place.

READ ALSO What would change for foreigners in France under the new Immigration bill?