Concept United Kingdom and European Union flags combined for the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK

Finding out what will happen to the rights and privileges we have enjoyed as EU citizens is a waiting game. There are, however, steps you can take now to protect yourself.

In Britain, UK nationals are scrambling to discover if they have any European heritage – Irish, French, Spanish, Portuguese? The very wealthy can even “buy” EU citizenship by investing heavily in Malta or Cyprus. The message is: if you have any chance of getting European nationality, apply now.

Similarly, although Britain could agree continued residency and work rights for the 1.2m British expatriates living in EU countries in its exit negotiations, British expats in France are equally reluctant to “wait and see”.  So what steps can British citizens in France take now?

Mairies across the country are reporting a dramatic increase in the number of UK citizens enquiring about both permanent residence and French citizenship. If you have been in France, legally – in other words made your tax declarations in France – for five years or more you can apply for either permanent European residence or French nationality.

The first is your right whereas nationality, French authorities make clear, is a favour, and is not guaranteed.

And while your UK driving licence remains legal in France so long as we are still in the EU, this could change post-Brexit. The British licence, as an EU licence, can be exchanged for a French licence whereas some non-EU citizens have to retake their tests so it is worth changing your licence now to be on the safe side. Another advantage of a French licence, especially for retirees, is that unlike the British licence, the French one does not need renewing when you reach 70.

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