I’ve lived in France for 10 years now but I still watch UK television. I tried French TV for a few weeks and in French hotels, I still get a dose of it for a few hours and I’m afraid it just doesn’t do it for me. I think the last straw on the back of my camel was an episode of French Countdown, ‘Des Chiffres et des Lettres.’
Therefore, the next few weeks’ television will consist of debate after debate; news item after news item; documentary after documentary about the so-called Brexit. Most supporters of the exit will (quite wrongly, in my opinion) concentrate on the 3 B’s above. They are by far the most emotive words bandied about by mainstream and social media alike.
I suppose I have a vested interest that is somewhat different to those still living in the UK, in that I will still be living in Europe if the UK decides to leave. But I will still have a British passport and I will always have one; I have no intention of changing that.
I’m going to have a go at suggesting what it might mean for the current British expat; nobody is absolutely certain what it will actually mean. I won’t discuss the people who are thinking of becoming expats, nor for those giving up on the life and leaving France. The status of the former group is even less certain but for the latter group, they will be subject to the same benefits (no, not that word!) or problems of suddenly being outside Europe. I say suddenly but I’m fairly sure that the exit will not be immediate; I believe it could take up to 2 years to ‘leave the building.’
I suppose that those wishing to return right now may find it difficult to sell up. It depends on the type of property they are selling but potential buyers in the UK may be reluctant to take the plunge at this point in time. The same obviously doesn’t go for buyers from other EU countries. But bon chance if that is what you are trying to do at the moment.
I don’t know the exact number of British expats living in France but the number seems to be approaching the 200,000 mark. Let’s split up these numbers in terms of demographics; retirees and those of working age, with or without children. I am not going to attempt to give financial advice to anyone, I am nowhere near qualified; I’ll keep it as simple and as uncertain as it seems to me.
• When I say retirees, I really mean those receiving pensions – I feel it is a kinder word than pensioners. At the moment, the state pension can be paid into your UK or French bank account. If it is a UK bank, there will obviously be no change. The change may come if it is paid into your French account. It will still be possible but will bank charges be higher? Will exchange rates be better or worse?
• One partner is claiming a pension and the other still working and you are therefore paying income tax. There is currently a ‘Double Taxation Convention,’ an agreement between France and England which ensures you will only pay tax on income once. So if you are paying tax on your UK pension in the UK, there will be no more to pay in France. I know this seems obvious but the point is, you can choose the country in which to pay your tax at the moment and it is this that may change.
• You are employed or you have your own business in France. Scaremongers have said that this will not continue, expats will not be able to have a French business. Our value to the French economy means that this is highly unlikely. Similarly, I’m quite sure that employees of French companies are just as valuable to them.
In all cases though, we may have to revert to the old way of registering our French residency, the so-called carte de sejour. This ought not to be a great hardship, I know a few American citizens who need to go through this process at the moment.
I have not tackled the subject of reciprocal healthcare arrangements for those not working in France and for those in the French health system who fall ill when spending time in the UK. I’m assuming that there will have to be changes as the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is only valid in EU member countries. This is one of many current agreements that will have to be renegotiated.
To summarise then, a “Yes” to exit the EU will mean some changes, but I think that these will take some time and won’t be too drastic. I think. I hope!
For what it’s worth, and this is my personal view, not just from the point of view of an expat; I will be voting to stay in. I may well follow up this article with another, nearer the time, to explain why. What I need to do first is to fully research the real issues involved – ALL of them! I urge you all to do the same before you vote.
I will use this method: https://www.gov.uk/apply-vote-proxy.
Any British citizen who has lived outside the UK for less than 15 years can vote.
Another way is this: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-a-postal-vote.