The dream of buying a home abroad with a view to spending longer periods there when you retire is not going to disappear with Brexit.
For many people who have worked hard for 20-30 years, moving down a gear with a change of lifestyle whilst they are still very active and financially in peak shape is a very real aspiration. Maybe they hope to move to France one day.
So can this ideal still be realised? Yes, it can, if you enjoy a certain level of financial security.
There have been no changes to the process or cost of buying a property in France, but now, unless you have a visa/French residency, you can spend a maximum of 90 days in each 180 in Spain every year.
And this is where it gets a bit more complicated for the British couple who might have previously travelled backwards and forwards at ease to France, gradually lengthening their stays as they enjoy more flexible working or fewer hours.
How to semi-retire to France
You will need to carefully monitor your travel to France, and also in the wider Schengen zone. You might think you seek to enjoy a long stay in the spring, and then the summer, but you need to leave a gap between stays. So if you arrive in France on 1 March, you can stay here until the end of May. Then you must return to the UK for another three months before you can travel again, so you would not be able to return before September.
It’s worth noting that this time limitation applies to all Schengen countries – which means that if you were to visit another country for 30 days you would only be able to spend 60 days in France within that same 180 day period.
Beware of becoming tax resident too, once you stay more than 183 days in France, on a Short Stay or Long Stay Visa. If you want to stay in France for more than 90 days you will need to apply for a visa before you leave for France. This needs to be done through the French consulates in the UK, and might take up to three months once the process is started.
How long can you stay in France?
Make sure you choose the right type of visa as it not always easy or quick to change from one to another, for example, if you decide to try and set up a business. The French government have a dedicated visa website that will direct you to the right type of visa for you after a few questions.
For trips less than 90 days there is a Short Stay Visa. For any stay in France exceeding 90 days, you are required to apply in advance for a Long Stay Visa. Whatever the duration of your planned stay, the duration of your Long-Stay Visa must be between three months and one year. In order to extend your stay beyond the period of validity of your visa, you must apply for a residence permit at a prefecture (in France).
Depending on the type of Long Stay visa you apply for, then you must be able to prove that you have sufficient financial resources, but for non-working retirees this is around €1,200 per couple, per month. You will need proof of private medical insurance and bear in mind this will need to be in place at the time you apply, which might be a few weeks before you actually leave the UK whilst you await for the application to be processed.
Once you arrive in France with your visa, you must validate it within 90 days, and if you decide you want to extend your stay beyond the period of validity of your one-year visa, you must apply for a residence permit (carte de sejour) at a prefecture (in France) two months before it is due to expire.
Healthcare in France is not completely free, even for the French. The state covers 70 per cent and the rest is through private cover. But as mentioned above, you will need full private cover in place before you go, and during the first three months, at least.