Long Term EU Visa for Motorhomers/Campervanners 2022
How can British citizens stay in the EU for longer than 90 days after Brexit? That’s a question that has been asked often since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 . We officially left the trading bloc on 31 January 2020, however, both sides agreed to keep many things the same until 31 December 2020, to allow enough time to agree to the terms of a new trade deal. From 1 January 2021, a number of changes came into effect, and one which has caused a large amount of discussion in the UK is the restriction of Visa free unlimited movement within the EU. From 2021, UK citizens can only spend 90 days in every 180 days within the Schengen area.
Obviously this has no impact on two week UK holidaymakers travelling to Europe, but it causes problems for those wanting to travel within Europe for a longer period, and that group includes motorhome and campervan owners wanting to embark on a multi-month tour of Europe.
The 90/120 day rule is a rolling timeline, so with some planning, and potentially exiting the Schengen zone and entering non-Schengen countries such as Morocco or Croatia for a period, it is still possible to spend longer than 90 days on the European continent. There are a number of online calculators and smart phone apps which help you plan your stay to ensure you stay within the rules. A Google search for ‘UK Schengen calculator’ will bring up a number of options.
However, it is possible to obtain a Visa which will allow UK citizens to travel within the Schengen zone for 6 months /180 days.
I planned to visit Europe in my motorhome in May 2022 so researched the possibility of obtaining a long term visa which would allow me to spend up to 180 days in the EU. My investigations, and my proposed route, led me towards Visas issued by Spain and France. Spain offer a ‘non lucrative long term visa’ which comes with a processing cost of £516 . The French equivalent costs around £110 so I opted to apply for a French Visa, and this post will explain the process for that.
French Long Term Visa
Before reading further, its probably worth me highlighting the key points and requirements of the Visa-
- Allows travel within France and Schengen zone for between 90 and 180 days.
- There are various classes of long term visa, eg student, business, join family member or tourism.
- The tourist visa prevents the applicant from working. You will be required to demonstrate that you have the economic means to support yourself for the duration of your stay.
- You will need to appear in person at one of the Visa processing centres in London, Manchester or Edinburgh and submit your passport which is then sent to the French consul. At present,(March 22) there is no facility to return the passport by courier though in the past this has been available at a cost of £16. Therefore, at the moment, you will need to visit the processing centre twice.
Applying for a French Long Term Visa
The process isn’t particularly simple and involves registering an account for each applicant on two separate websites- the French Consulate site and also the site of TLS Contact who are the third party company who check and process the visa requests. Step by step process is summarised below-
- Visit the French consul website https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en and set up an account.
- Visit the website of TLS, the outsourced company who process the Visa applications for the French Consul, and set up an account there too. It’s important that you set up an account at the relevant office you intend to attend in person -London, Manchester or Edinburgh.
Once your accounts are set up, you can begin to complete your application
STEP 1 -French Consul website – Gather information on your situation
There is an online visa wizard to help decide which Visa you qualify for and the visa requirements to which you are subject, as well as the submission fee and required supporting documents.
STEP 2 – French Consul website – Set up your online application
Fill out the visa application form online
To submit a visa application, you must provide at least the following :
A passport, issued less than 10 years ago, with at least two blank pages, which is valid for at least three months after the date on which you have planned to leave the Schengen Area
2 recent passport photos
The supporting documents depending on your situation and your plan- See below.
Print off the application form
STEP 3 – TLS Website – Book your appointment
Arrange an appointment with the visa application centre -This is the TLS Contact centre and requirements are covered in more detail below.
When I arranged my appointment, appointments were being released daily, 30 days in advance of the earliest appointment. You then need to begin trying to book an appointment at least 2 months before you intend to travel.
STEP 4 – TLS Office – Submit your file
All applicants must attend their appointment in person with all the required documents. Also bring a copy of each document, including the passport and its ID and visa stamp pages.
All visas issued by France are biometric visas. And the following biometric data is gathered at your appointment- a photo (scanned or taken during your appointment), and ten individually-taken fingerprints.
Visa application fees are paid at the appointment and are composed of the administrative costs incurred for the processing of your application by the French consul which are currently 99 Euros, plus a charge payable to TLS. When I applied in March 2022, the total cost was £112 per Visa.
It’s worth noting that the fees are applicable whether you are granted a visa or not and you will not be aware of the outcome at your appointment. A timescale of approx. 3 weeks is currently being quoted for the return of your passport with the visa or the rejected application.
You will be notified when your passport is ready for collection from the visa centre where you applied.
Guidance for Motorhome/Campervan travellers applying for a French Long Term Visa
I had a number of telephone conversations with the TLS Helpdesk +44 20 30 40 04 60 (Monday to Friday, 08:30 to 16:30) and their email firstname.lastname@example.org to ensure we had the necessary documentation before our appointment. It became apparent that our request was somewhat beyond the norm, one advisor described it as ‘extraordinary’. I therefore pieced together requirements via a number of sources, rather than relying on a single TLS agent’s view. Our application was successful, so I will advise what information we provided, though obviously this doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in every case. Policy may change or the decision could be based on the whim of the embassy staff member processing the application. However, this is what we took to our appointment and was definitely required–
1.Printed application forms from the consul website
2.Passports and copies of the ID Page plus every page with a visa stamp on.
3.Proof of funds – Basically, you need to demonstrate that you can support yourself for the duration of your stay via copies of your previous 3 months bank statements showing funds available. I was told there is no fixed amount per day which is seen as acceptable. However, Spain class ‘sufficient funds’ as at least €2,260 per month you intend to spend in the country. I also saw a post which suggested that France requires €120 per day per person, which would equate to around €3600 per person per month. Further investigation revealed that to be the amount required for a person not staying with a family member or friend and therefore requiring daily hotel accommodation. That clearly doesn’t apply for motorhome/campervan owners, and that needs to be made clear, along with a projection of your anticipated costs- see next points.
4.Covering Letter – This is very important. The aim is to explain what TLS call ‘your project’. You need to make clear how you will be travelling, where you intend to stay (I would steer clear of mentioning wild camping if your budget allows that but obviously state that you won’t need hotels), your economic situation -whether working, retired etc, whether a home or business owner, why you want to travel in France and also that you promise not to undertake any paid employment in France. The aim is to sell yourself as a benefit to France rather than a liability. The best case is that you will tour the country and spend lots of money while travelling, then return home at the end of the visa. The worst case is that you disappear into the Schengen zone for years, can’t support yourself and resort to crime or black market work. You need to convince the consul that you aren’t a risk and fall into the first category.
5.Your plan – This may seem counter-intuitive to motorhomers/campervanners. Obviously the reason you want the long term visa is that it gives you the freedom to travel where you want, when you want, and make up your route as you go. However, it was made clear to me that my letter should be accompanied by a plan showing where I intend to visit. I did this at the level of naming towns, in order, but without dates. Therefore I showed that I had planned to a certain extent but not to any great level of detail. I also included a copy of an Excel spreadsheet showing my projected spend and that this falls within the amount of funds in the bank. I included an average figure per day for campsites/aires, petrol and tolls based on anticipated miles, and a daily spend to cover drinks, meals and shopping. I would say that you should attempt to push your proposed spend as close to your bank funds as possible- it may be that you intend to wild camp and get by on €10 per day but as per the point above, this won’t make you appear such an attractive proposition to the French Embassy.
6.Accomodation – This was my biggest concern at our TLS appointment. I had previously been told that I must provide at least one night’s accommodation so I booked a campsite for the first night and brought the booking confirmation. I was then asked for proof of where we would stay for the remaining nights. My reply that I didn’t have that and couldn’t provide it, caused some raised eyebrows and an escalation to the agent’s manager. After some debate, she agreed to accept our application but said she was unsure whether we’d be successful without an address covering our whole stay. Luckily, one night’s booking was deemed acceptable.
7.EHIC Health card – The EU Health card can still be used after Brexit up to its expiry date. After that, you will need to be covered by Travel health insurance. A copy of the card and the original should be taken to the appointment.
8.Travel insurance – I’m not sure why this is required given the above point but the agent took our policy documents and checked them, though he didn’t include them in the submission.
9.Copy of V5 ownership document for your motorhome/campervan and insurance documents showing you are covered in the EU. Also a copy of your driving licence and the original should be taken to the appointment.
All the above, excluding your EHIC card and driving licence are taken by TLS Contact and are submitted to the French consul in London, so you will be without your passport for around 3 weeks.
What happens at the TLS Appointment
The TLS website suggests that the appointment will take 20 minutes. That’s a big underestimate based on my experience in Manchester.
The office is in a business park at Salford Quays and upon arrival it was clear that TLS handle Visa applications for a number of countries. There was a queue outside the door of mainly Chinese students. We only waited around 5 minutes to be admitted and security was tight, with entry through a metal detector. Masks are compulsory, though UK Covid laws had been repealed at the time.
We were checked in by a friendly Frenchman who checked our appointments on the system and showed us through to a medical centre style waiting area. After about 20 minutes we were called forward for our ‘interview’, which is carried out standing at a desk like at passport control. Unfortunately, we drew the short straw and, of the six agents working, got one with the worst level of English which made it quite difficult to talk through our plans. He seemed unsure what a ‘motorhome’/camping car was and the process took around half an hour.
I understand that at this point around 20% of applications are rejected due to missing information or not meeting the required criteria. Luckily, ours was accepted and we paid our fee of £112 each.
We were then sent to a small sideroom for collection of our biometric data, which took about 5 minutes. All in all, the process took just over an hour and I felt was carried out quite efficiently.
Getting the Visa
Although a three week timescale is quoted I was told this is the maximum and I received an email to say that my passport was back at TLS after 7 working days. Unfortunately, there is currently no courier service so I had to return to TLS in Manchester. At this point, you have no idea whether your application has been accepted or not. It was with some trepidation therefore that I opened the envelope, to see that thankfully, the man from the French embassy, he said yes!
Hopefully the above information is useful. As I mentioned, it seems that we may have been the first motorhome/campervan travellers to apply for a long term visa, so it may be something of a test case. It’s quite hard work dealing with the red tape, and you need the necessary funds but we’ve proved that there is still a way post-Brexit to travel in Europe for longer than 90 days at a time.