Retiring to France

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What you should know when Retiring to France

If you are reading this article, you almost certainly seeking to live in France or intend to retire in France and you want to understand what this means for British pensioners looking to retire in France, with the UK no longer part of the EU.

Will you need a visa, and will you still be able to access French healthcare using an S1?

Our expertise is in the treatment of British pensions in France or QROPS from Malta, as you really do not need an unwelcome tax bill. However, on this page we will securing your future in France, from pensions to healthcare.

Let us start with Brexit and how this has impacted

Were you resident in France before January 1st, 2021; if you were then your rights as a French Resident are protected under the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU (link to a page of ours). You should now be in possession of a French Residency Card (Carte de Séjour), and this card will grant you the full rights of any other EU citizen.

For British expatriates across the EU the rules are the same, and for France in particular it is:

  1. Permanent residency in France for the rest of your life
  2. Continued access to French healthcare via your S1 form (if applicable). This includes those who qualify for an S1 and are yet to reach pensionable age and those whose S1 forms are renewable.
  3. No changes regarding receiving your UK state pension

Retiring to France after Brexit: Your Rights

If you wish to retire to France now or in the future and did not qualify as above, then the first thing to understand is that a British citizen no longer have the unequivocal right to residency in France.

Post-Brexit Obtaining Residency in France

Since the UK left the EU, British citizens seeking residency in France fall under the same rules as all ‘third country’ applicants.

In order to seek residency in France, you will need to first apply for a long-stay visitor visa in France, followed by a Carte de Séjour.

There is where healthcare coverage comes in as you will need to prove you have it, and show proof of sufficient income. If you cannot prove that you have the means to support yourself throughout your retirement in France, it is likely your residency will NOT be approved. Every application of every individual is considered on an individual basis.

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Receiving a British Pension in France after Brexit

If you have a British pension, while living in France, you really do not need to later discover that you are paying tax that you  did not expect to have to pay. For example, did you know that when you access your pension lump sum in France that it is NOT tax free. That is why professional advisers call this lump sum element the Pension Commencement Lump Sum (PCLS), because they know that it can be taxed in many countries.

You can continue to receive your British state or government pension if you move to France after Brexit, and workplace pensions may also be paid to EU expats. Most importantly, British state pensions will continue to benefit from the current system of uprating – the ‘triple-lock’ agreement by which anyone who retires to a country within the European Economic Area sees their UK state pension rise in line with inflation, earnings, or by 2.5% – whichever is highest.

‘Pension aggregation’ also continues, meaning that British retirees who have worked in different EU states and contributed to different social security schemes will have these periods accounted for when calculating their state pension.

How you can receive post- Brexit pension advice about British pensions in France?

You will be pleased to find out there are multiple regulated solutions available for you. The most surprising one is that, not only can you speak with your current UK pension adviser post-Brexit provided their Professional Indemnity Insurers allow this, but there are a range of specialists who focus on British pensions, even in France. You just need to ensure you are talking to the “real thing” and not someone claiming to be a “wealth manager” or “pension expert”; often, they are nothing of the kind as there is no regulation on the terms that people use to describe themselves or their unregulated companies.

So, the first rule?

Ask these questions of your adviser whether they are in France or not:

  1. Does their PI cover specifically cover British pensions advice (for example some in the European Union do NOT cover pensions from other countries)?
  2. You should ask to see their certificate of qualification for pensions advice (never do business with an adviser who does not have an authorised certificate in their own name)?
  3. Does their regulated company hold terms of business with your current pension provider (most EU based advisers will not hold terms, and thus they force you to transfer your pension even when it is not necessary to do so, and often to more expensive pension products such as QROPS or SIPPs)?

See our NOTES section at the end for more comprehensive details on these matters.

The second rule of receiving pensions advice

It is not about the pension!

It is about what your goals and ambitions are, along with your attitude to risk, and you need to consider your investments as well as your pensions; this was true pre and Post Brexit living in France or moving to France.

In other words, you need a review, and ideally you should be seeking that review with advisers that are qualified and regulated in both territories (you need the local advice about what is available just like you need the specialist advice from the UK side. The Aisa Group have advisers in both the UK and France, qualified to both UK and French standards. Who better to contact about your UK pensions in France and investment Post Brexit?

The firms in France and in the UK operate under both regulatory setups and they have access to a securities Portfolio Manager which is part of the same group and passports within the EEA.

What is EU passporting?

EU passporting enables financial firms in the EU/EEA to provide services to investors in other EU/EEA countries.

What changed after Brexit?

UK financial firms cannot sell their services into France unless they obtain local licences in an EU/EEA country. We hold licences in France.

Does the Aisa Group have licences within the EU/EEA?

Yes. However, most EU countries require an insurance licence (IDD) and so we are of the opinion that any firm operating in the EU should have both of they cannot demonstrate suitable investment proficiency. We also hold licences in France.

What about advice on UK pensions for residents in EU/EEA states going forward?

MiFID rules for the EU do not actually cover pensions at all- a myth further exploited by EU based advisers looking for business by moving UK pensions. In fact, given the UK requirement to achieve a professional level standard of qualifications it is far more likely that a UK based firm will be better placed to understand your UK pensions and advise you accordingly.

What is the Overseas Transfer Charge?

The OTC is a 25% charge on transfers from UK registered pensions to QROPS if the investor is not resident in the EU/EEA or not resident where the pension is being transferred to(there are different rules for offshore employer schemes). This also applies if you leave the EU/EEA within 5 years of a transfer.

However, now that EU regulations are no longer in place, there is a possibility that the UK government could opt to extend this OTC charges to EU transfers in the future.

Can I still pay into my UK pension if I live abroad?

You may be able to do this for up to 5 years, but they would need to be to a pension you were already a member of before moving abroad. The amount will depend if you have relevant UK earnings or, if not, it is capped at £3,600 pa.

What if I access my UK pension and return to the UK, can I still pay into the pension?

You should be very careful about accessing your UK pension if your intention is to return to the UK and contribute in future. You may be restricted by the MPAA to £4,000 pa contributions.

What are QROPS and are they a good idea in France?

QROPS are recognised overseas pension schemes that can accept transfers from UK registered pensions? However, most are created using trusts. Trusts are not recognised in France and so additional tax advice should be taken before considering a transfer.

Should I transfer to a QROPS if I move abroad?

In the majority of cases, it is unlikely that a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) will be a suitable option. However, there may be circumstances where this is considering- depending on Double Tax Treaties, the Lifetime Allowance and the pension rules where you currently reside.

However, it is true that retirees in France still have the option of transferring UK private pension funds into a QROPS. Currently, transfers to EU/EEA-based QROPS remain tax-free, as there is no OTC.

Lifetime Allowance(LTA)- What is it?

There is a limit as to how much you can hold in a UK pension without being taxed on a transfer abroad or when you access the pension.

What is the LTA limit?

It is currently £1,073,100 (2022-23), though there are previous protections that may provide for a larger LTA.

Can I move a QROPS back to a UK pension and is it a good idea?

Yes, and many are doing so where their plans have changed or where the initial transfer to a QROPS was found to be inappropriate.

Healthcare Rights for Retirees in France After Brexit

Retirees in receipt of a UK state pension can continue to request an S1 form from the UK in order to cover state healthcare costs in France. This alleviates the need to pay social charges (which can be up to 9.1%) on your UK pension in France. However, there are some changes to certain UK benefits that previously afforded the right to an S1 form.

Note that you will likely be required to take out a 1-year private international health insurance policy in order to meet the requirements for your initial visa. Read our guide Healthcare for Retirees in France – Your Options.

Retiring to France After Brexit: Long Term Changes

It is important to note that much of the information above is subject to change from 2023 onwards. While uprated pensions and healthcare coverage are protected for British retirees in France before 2021 (and these are protected for life under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement), there is no guarantee that the British government will continue this. It is important to stay up-to-date with any changes regarding pensions and healthcare in the future.

Can I Live in France After Brexit?
You will need to apply for a suitable visa from the French embassy This may require proof or earnings or suitable employment, If you are covered under the Withdrawal Agreement, then you will automatically be allowed to continue to live in France.

Moving to France After Brexit – What Has Changed?
If you are retired and resident in France, health insurance coverage will continue to be provided by the UK if you are in receipt of a UK state pension. If you have recently moved to France to retire, you will need to register for healthcare cover by requesting an S1 form from your UK pension fund.

If you have a UK driving license and spend a lot of time, you will need to get extra documentation in order to continue driving with your license in France. You are not required to get an international driving permit as long as you have a translation of your UK driving license.If you plan to permanently relocate to France, you will be able to use your UK driving license for the 12 months but must exchange it for a French license during that time.

Any Brit who is not a dual national with an EU country will need a visa for stays in France of more than 90 days in every 180.

This applies to people who intend to move here and people who just want a holiday longer than three months.

The French government guidance says: “As of January 1st 2021, UK citizens will need a Long Stay visa if staying in France or in a French Overseas Territory for more than 90 days whatever the purpose of stay (work, studies, Au Pairing, passport talent, visitor, family reunification, family members of French nationals, etc).”

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See also on The Local:

Pre-Brexit, many British people bought property in France to use as a second home, with the intention of moving there permanently when they retire.

From now on second-home owners who want to spend more than 90 days in every 180 in their French bolthole will need a visa.

People intending to up sticks and move permanently will also need a visa, but probably a different type.

There are several different types of visa available, some linked to work, but people retiring to France will probably be looking at a visitor visa.

A visitor visa requires applicants to formally agree not to engage in any professional activity in France, so rules out the halfway-to-retirement option that some people previously took – retiring from their 9-5 job and setting up a small business in France such as running a gîte or B&B or continuing to work remotely from their French property.

If you intend to set up a business in France you need a working visa and will need to supply information about the financial viability of your proposed business. 

There are two types of visitor visa – the  temporary visitor visa is known as visa de long séjour temporaire visiteur. The French government says in its guidance for second home owners that this is the type of visa for people who intend to spend between three and six months of the year in their French property.

The permanent visa is a visa de long

There appears to be a misconception, particularly among French based advisers, that UK advisers cannot advise French residents on their UK/British pensions. It may be due to a lack of understanding or a deliberate attempt to encourage people to transfer their UK pensions to alternative arrangements for the purpose of generating commission for themselves.

The end of EU passporting services into France by UK advice firms means that UK advisers cannot market their services within France or travel to France to offer their services. It does not prevent those with UK pensions contacting their UK advisers in the UK to advise them about their current UK pensions- provided their Professional Indemnity Insurers allow this.

However, there are also firms in the UK that hold passported licences into the SEC and can advise in the USA quite legitimately – we are one of those firms.

In fact, given the UK requirement to achieve a professional level standard of qualifications it is far more likely that a UK based firm will be better placed to understand your UK pensions and advise you accordingly. Further, the MiFID rules for the FRENCH do not actually cover pensions at all- a myth further exploited by FRENCH based advisers looking for business by moving UK pensions and recommending QROPS which are largely completely unnecessary for 95% of people.

That being said, if you have pensions left in the UK- Post Brexit- you really ought to have a review of these, in conjunction with your other pensions and investments. The Aisa Group have advisers in both the UK and the France, qualified to both UK and FRENCH standards, and we have both UK and regulated French companies. Who better to contact about your UK pensions Post Brexit?

There’s no doubt that Brexit has made retiring to France considerably more difficult for British people, but it’s still possible.

From January 1st 2021, British citizens became Third Country Nationals and therefore anyone who moves to France after this date faces an immigration process like that already in place for other non-EU citizens like Americans, Canadians and Australians.

And of course plenty of them manage to retire to France, but they need to have patience to deal with the complicated paperwork, plus some not-insubstantial financial resources.

British people who moved to France before December 31st 2020 have a different process to follow.