In a blow to those estimated 86,000 UK nationals with holiday homes in France, a proposed amendment to French immigration laws that would allow British citizens with homes in France to stay in the country for longer than 90 days has been rejected by the French Constitutional Court. 

Post Brexit, UK citizens can visit France visa-free for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period (a total of 180 days a year). If UK citizens would like to stay in France for longer, they must apply for a "visa long-sejour" or a long-stay visa which lasts up to 6 months at a time. This limitation on visa free stays in France has had a particular impact on those with holiday homes there. UK citizens who overstay, could be banned from visiting France as well as the rest of the European Union.

Recognising the issues faced by the considerable number of British nationals with French properties, the French Senate had made a proposal as part of the Bill to Control Immigration and Improve Integration. Of the 86 Articles included in the proposed bill, 32 were scrapped by France's constitutional court. Article 16 would automatically have entitled British homeowners to a "visa long-sejour". The proposal was made on the basis that British citizens owning properties in France are subject to French taxes: the taxe fonciere (a French property tax); and taxe d'habitation (council tax). The Senate also acknowledged the contribution made by British homeowners in France to local economies and expressed a concern about increasing numbers of empty properties. Article 16 was rejected as "unconstitutional". The proposal was the subject of criticism because the visa exemption was specific to British homeowners in France and did not make any mention of those from other countries with properties in France who are facing similar restrictions. The French Constitutional Court is the highest constitutional authority in the country, so the decision made is final and there is no route of appeal. That said, it is possible that similar proposals are brought before the court under a different draft bill at some stage in the future.

It is undoubtedly a disappointing outcome for those who had been pinning their hopes on greater freedom to spend more time in France. For those who do have properties in France, the rules will stay the same for the time being. Irrespective of any future changes to visa rules, those with properties in France must take advice about how this impacts their personal estate planning position. Succession and tax rules that govern how property is dealt with on death are fundamentally different in France and in Scotland and can affect those with connections to both jurisdictions in surprising ways.

Our team regularly advises clients with interests in Scotland and France on their cross-border estate and succession planning. Please do get in touch with us for further discussions.