Just a short hop across the Channel and you could be enjoying a slower pace of life, good food, cheap wine and living in a house that is bigger and with more land than you ever imagined.
Moving to and living in France is certainly not something you should undertake without ‘doing your homework’ because although many Brits do make the move and make a success of it, there are a number that regret relocating and within a couple of years head back to the familiarity of the UK.
Statistics from 2017 show that there are 300,000 Brits living in France, but there are many more who do not declare tax in France or split their time between the UK and France and are 'seasonal residents'. At one stage, 20,000 Brits were making the move each year but this number has dropped significantly with all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
There are definitely a number of aspects that are worth considering if you are tempted by the land of baguettes, croissants and really good coffee! If you’re relocating to another country, and you want to sell your house fast, House Buy Fast have 57 tips & tricks on how to sell your property quickly.
How Good Is Your French?
Even though all French schoolchildren have been learning English for a number of years, most French people are reluctant to speak English and this is particularly so in rural areas. It is essential that you speak good French – not just conversational French, but that you have enough vocabulary and understanding that you will be able to talk with lawyers, builders and doctors.
If you want to work in France, it is essential that you speak really good French as it really is the language used for all business too.
Embrace the Culture!
The French culture is very different to the British and this fact is very apparent in rural France. Shops still close on a Monday and many still shut for a lunch hour and a half! 'Late night' for supermarkets usually means 8.00 pm. and only half of them open on a Sunday morning. If you are looking for British foods in them, you will be disappointed – French supermarkets don't do 'foreign'. You will find a very limited range of Indian and Chinese foods but you will find plenty of pizzas as the French eat more pizzas than the Italians! Food prices are definitely higher for many products.
On the flip side, the traditional markets are fun and the selection of wines and French brandies is impressive. Eating out can be pricey, but many restaurants offer lunchtime set menus (often with wine included) at amazingly good prices. There are fetes celebrating the different fruit harvests which are fun and of course if you are in one of the wine producing areas there are celebrations as new wines are launched. If you enjoy browsing for a bargain the vide greniers held in the summer months are fun. These table top sales are held in most towns and villages and are very popular – often with food stands and beer tents too.
Broadband and internet can be a challenge depending on where you live. Mobile phone contracts are good and several include unlimited calls to UK landlines. French television is just that but UK channels are available by satellite. Cinemas occasionally show new releases in English with French subtitles. English newspapers are available in the larger towns but are usually on sale a day after publication. The monthly Connexion newspaper is aimed at British expats and there are a number of regional magazines and websites run by ex-pats for ex pats.
One point to remember is that by living in France you will be subject to French law and in the event of your death, this will include Inheritance Law which does vary from the UK in the fact that your estate will be divided equally among your children and cannot be divided unequally and leaving all of your money to a charity is not possible unless you have no dependents.
Health Care in France
The French health service is very good and once you have your Carte Vitale you will receive a 70% refund on all in and outpatient medical treatments and medicines. The scheme is straight forward. You settle the bill on the day of the appointment and you will receive your refund promptly – usually within a fortnight. Hospital waiting lists are usually short and treatment is excellent, but for the first time, there are now waiting lists for some specialist appointments. It is recommended that everyone takes out a 'top up' health insurance to cover even the largest medical bills.
France is a large country but is well served by an excellent train network. The trains are fast, comfortable and efficient. The TGV completes the journey from Paris to Bordeaux in just over two hours! There is a good internal flight network using many provincial airports and the selection of flights available to the UK using such carriers as easyJet is excellent. The flight from Bordeaux to London Gatwick takes just 75 minutes and a single costs as little as £20.
For many Brits living in France, a trip to the UK via the Channel Tunnel is the one way to stock up on all they miss from home! Those in the know also stock up on gardening equipment and household paint as both are pricey in France.
The usual way of getting around is by car and French cars are left hand drive and driving is on the left. French makes of car dominate the roads. It has to be said that the driving in France is very poor and although President Macron recently lowered the speed limit on the roads, this does not seem to have had much of an impact! Fuel prices are higher than in the UK too.
What Is the French Property Market Like?
Property prices in France are lower than in many places in the UK and you definitely get more house and land for your money! It is not unusual for a property to be sold with its own field or wood. There are some bargains on the market if you are happy to tackle some renovation work. Beware though, there are some dubious estate agents wanting to extract far too much money for some properties from non-French speaking buyers.
Take your time and get to know the prices on the local market. Interestingly, the French property market isn't as well organized as the British one so finding out all the properties on the market in an area can be a challenge. It is well worth driving around as a surprising number of house owners sell privately and the only way to find these is by the sign on the gate saying 'A Vendre' or even just 'AV'!
There are British families living in many parts of France. The cities like Paris, Bordeaux and Nice are popular with younger working singles, couples and families. Retirees favour
Brittany as it is conveniently just across the Channel. The south west is popular too- especially the Dordogne which has the nickname 'Dordogneshire' because of the large number of expats. Other popular areas include Midi-Pyrénées and the Rhône-Alps.
Once you have decided on a particular area, it is best to rent there for a year to see how well it suits you and to see if the climate suits you. The summer temperatures are pleasant for living in France, but the winters can be extremely cold and wet.
The Costs Involved
Once you have found the property of your dreams, it is essential to check exactly what the total cost will be. The asking price can of course be negotiated and usually does include the agents' fees but it is essential to check as otherwise this could add another 20% to the price tag.
The price of the property will not include the Notaire's (solicitor) fees and these include taxes for buying the property which are usually 6-8% of its total value. The charges made by the Notaire for their work are on a sliding scale fixed by French law. The fees comprise of 5.8% for the French equivalent of Stamp Duty, land registration and disbursements. If the property you are buying is 150,000 euros the charge is 7.39% (11,085 euros) and a property selling at 300,000 euros will incur charges of 6.69% (20,070 euros)
Other costs to take into consideration are currency exchange and moving all your possessions to France. A point of caution – surveys are not undertaken on properties so it is really important that you examine all aspects of the property before you agree to buy it – get a friend who knows about building to go along with you.
And What Are the Implications of Brexit?
At present, no one knows exactly how Brexit will impact the British living in France - much of it will depend on the requirements made on the French living in Britain. Certainly the use of the French health services and the ability to work in France could be impacted. There are naturally many concerns and much discussion among the British who have made France their home. A huge number of British people have recently applied for their Carte de Séjour – the official residency card – to safeguard their future in France.