What would leaving the EU mean for Britons with property in France?


Britain joined the European Union in 1973 and, since then, hundreds of thousands of Britons have chosen not merely to holiday in Europe but to buy property or make our homes here. Higher disposable incomes, more flexible working practices and cheaper travel have encouraged this trend but so indeed have successive European agreements covering banking, tax, insurance, health care and travel, all of which could presumably change if Britain were to leave the EU.

According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, current British expats in Europe have ‘acquired rights’ in their adopted home countries which should still be the case should Britain vote to leave the EU. Certainly precedent suggests that British expats should retain their free movement and all their rights within Europe following any withdrawal as was the case when Greenland withdrew from the EU in 1985 so it can be safely assumed that the same would apply to a Brexit.

The most obvious problem therefore would not be Britons already living in France but those wanting to move abroad if Britain leaves the EU. What might Brexit mean for those thinking of buying homes in France in the future? The truth is that nobody knows for sure but here are a few possible outcomes:

  • The return of the ‘Carte de Séjour’. These were required for British nationals living in France before 1973 (and for a long time afterwards in fact) and could be introduced again as could travel visas such as those required for the US (where numerous Brits also own property). So more paperwork and red tape but really nothing insurmountable.
  • British buyers might find it harder to get a property loan in France if Britain withdraws from the EU – or at least they might find themselves paying higher mortgage rates than EU members. Banks in EU countries view non-members differently and Americans or Australians are typically unable to borrow as much as Europeans and often at a higher interest rate. The minimum deposit required for a mortgage in France is usually around 20% for European buyers whereas it can be as much as 50% for non EU citizens.
  • Tax changes are possible in the case of a Brexit because EU citizenship comes with tax perks particularly in relation to property. When it comes to property taxes, being an EU national brings with it a certain level of protection whereas France is notoriously tough on non-EU citizens, imposing a capital-gains tax of 49%. Residents of any EU or European Economic Area country pay 19% capital gains tax at the moment. However, everything points to the fact that, if Britain leaves the EU but remains in the single market, the current tax agreements should remain. Crucially, the double tax treaties that Britain has agreed with EU countries will remain unaffected. This is because the agreements to ensure people aren’t taxed twice on the same money are made individually with each country.
  • Under current EU regulation, Britons can visit any EU country and expect to receive the same health services at the price a local would pay. In the case of a Brexit, this would only continue if the exit agreement includes reciprocal health care.

At the moment, all we have is uncertainty which is not good for anyone and nobody can accurately predict what the actual economic or social fall-out will be should Britain vote to leave the EU. What are the actual reasons for leaving anyway? Personally, I have yet to hear any clear argument. Of course there are plenty of things wrong with the EU but, equally, there are many things that work very well. The only person I have heard so far who has really hit the nail on the head (as he always seems to manage) is George Monbiot in the Guardian so I will leave him to have the last word on the subject: ‘The EU is like democracy, diplomacy and old age: there is only one thing to be said for it – it is not as bad as the alternative’.


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