- the connoisseur's guide to France
- Travel in France
- Where to go
What to see and do
Many dream of starting a new life
in France, and many make a success of it. But moving to
live in a new country is a big lifestyle change and should not be done
on a whim.
UPS and DOWNS, and DOs and DON'Ts
residency, working and retiring to France
majority of British
voters voted for Brexit, and the UK has now left the EU - much to the
despair of many others in Britain, and to the European Union. But
"leave" has meant "leave", and UK residents in
France have lost many of
the rights associated with being citizens of the European Union. These
include residency rights, health care rights, work rights, and rights
to other social services.
However expulsion from France is highly unlikely,
Britons who are not going to be a burden on the French social security
system are likely to remain welcome in France.
UK nationals who were resident in France before the end of
transition period can apply for the French equivalent of "settled
status", a process that can be done online and at minimal cost. For new
arrivals and part-time residents, the situation is less clear. In
theory those without residence status can only remain for 90 days in
any six month period; beyond that they now need to apply for residency
in the same way as nationals of other "third" countries.
nationalities, including Americans
wanting to move to France, the difficulty or ease of moving
France depends on whether you plan to seek employment, take up a job
offered to you, create a business, or just live without working, for
instance retire to France.
While the paperwork is sometimes
daunting (as it often is in the expat world), those wishing to retire
to France, set up a business in France, or take up a job offer, should
not find it too hard. Those wanting to retire to France will need to
demonstrate that they have a pension and a health-care plan that will
allow them to live in France a nd receive necessary medical care
claiming assistance from French social security, to which they
In 2017, official estimates put the
number of Britons living in France at around 300,000. The real
figure, taking account of second-home owners who are only part-time
residents and are not registered in France for tax purposes, is assumed
to be considerably higher. It is less than the number in Spain; but it
is a different population too. France and Spain attract different kinds
of expats. In Spain, the vast majority of expats, whether from Britain
or other EU countries, live along the Mediterranean coast. In France,
they are spread across much of the country, not only along the coasts.
Though the flow of Britons coming to
live in France has ebbed from its peak of some
20,000 a year, many are
still packing up and moving out of the overcrowded Brexit Britain in
search of more elbow
room in the the country just over the water, France. But it has always
been the case that up to half of those who decide to
move "permanently" to France do not stay more than a year or two, or
else give up the "permanent" notion, and become seasonal migrants. The
truth of the matter is stark; moving to live in another country can be
a traumatic experience for some, so it is essential to take good advice
before taking the plunge.
Moving house to live in a new
country, especially one whose language
one does not speak properly, is a major event in anyone's life. And for
this reason, it is never advisable to decide to move to France on a
whim, on the basis of a happy holiday with great weather and plenty of
barbecues and life round the swimming pool. µ
The outdoor swimming-poool may be great from June to
but for the rest of the year it is likely to remain unused and
unwanted. Even in the warmest bits of
France, on the Mediterranean coast, winter is a reality, just
like snow and rain are. Life in France may be different from life in
the UK, but it is still full of the everyday chores, hassles and
problems that life can bring anywhere. Those who emigrate to France
imagining that they will entirely escape the nitty gritty of life are
under a serious delusion, and are among those who are the first to head
back home again. UK specialists operating removals
do not run one-way operations only.
are two fundamental aspects that need careful consideration
before you even think of setting up home in France.
Most Brits who think of moving to France have a very poor mastery of
GCSE or "O" Level French doesn't get you very far, especially when your
French-learning days are lost in the hazy mists of a dim and distant
childhood. Anyone who is even thinking of moving to France, let alone working
should make a serious effort at learning the language with a reasonable
degree of proficiency before looking for property. Of course, the
French learned in evening classes or at a language school will not
prepare you for all the situations that you will find yourself in once
you get round to renting or buying property in France; but at least it
will give you a basis on which to work. "Social French" will at least
help you enjoy a coffee or a drink with your neighbours, or in the
local café, which is a start; but it will not get
with the lawyer or the builder - not to mention the tax authorities.
Of course, the better you speak French,
it will be to integrate into local society and communities - not to
mention getting by with local suppliers, local professionals such as
the doctor or the lawyer, and local bureaucracy which is something that
even the French often find incredibly fastidious and a big hassle. In
short, if you want to make a success of your life in France, speaking
French is an essential skill to master. And to master well.
Many dream of a
place with space and sunshine....
As for "culture
this is even more important. A lot of Brits on holiday abroad
seem to fail to understand that people in foreign countries are not
just British who happen to live in another country, speak
language, and call themselves by another name. They are different, they
think differently, they have a different cultural background, they
prioritize differently, they have different values, and different ways
of doing things. The worst thing that an incoming Briton can
is to imagine that his way or her way is best, or indeed is the only
proper way to do things, and go round giving advice to the French. This
is cultural imperialism, and while it may have worked for a couple of
centuries in the days of the British empire, when the British (just
like the French) imposed their way of doing things and thinking over a
sizeable part of the world, it does not
work in the context of modern Europe.
One word of warning
in recent years, book publishers have tumbled over each other in the
rush to bring out books about Brits in France; some of these are
written by expats who imagine themselves to be experts on French living
because they have lived for two years in the country... or
At worst these books are opinionated and superficial, if not downright
patronising; and even some of the better ones tend to view France
either as through rosy-tinted nostalgia for a bygone lifestyle
(rural idylls with charming locals in Dordogneshire) or from
standpoint of the wine-swilling yuppy. For a more balanced view of
modern France, it is preferable to read something far more informed and
better researched, such as Cook & Davie's "Modern France".
Some good books
about France ....
There are dozens of books written by British
expats or visitors to France; many of them are not worth reading; but
some are. One excellent
analysis of the life and ways of France is "Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be
by Canadian journalists Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow. It's a
chunky book, it does not cover all aspects of living in France, but it
should be obligatory reading for anyone thinking of emigrating to
Another top rate book is "The discovery of France
by Graham Robb. Though it is as detailed and researched as a good PhD
thesis, with the notes and bibliography to go with it, this is a highly
readable analysis of rural France, since the eighteenth century, a book
that blows apart all those romantic myths about the charm of the old
ways and olden days.
Anyone who thinks of
moving to live successfully in France, particularly in a rural
area, must be willing to adapt to local ways and work with
local system, to change at least some attitudes and preconceptions, and
where necessary "go native". When in Rome, do as the Romans.
Unless you want to remain largely detached from the local community, or
attached just to some diffuse local community of "expats", the best
advice is to adapt to local life, and even better, participate in it.
It is unfortunate that a proportion of British immigrants living in
France have not understood this.
Above all, it is vital to avoid seeming
be condescending towards local customs, habits or slowness.
if you think some things were done better back in the UK, don't say so
- or at least not until you have become a fully accepted member of the
local community. It is not just foreigners landing in out-of-the-way
parts of France who can make themselves disliked for this reason;
whether you are British, Dutch or even just Parisian makes no
difference. I know of a small area of France where about a third of the
population is now "outsiders" - including a number of Parisians; and
for many of the locals, Parisians, Brits, Dutch and other incomers are
all bagged together as "outsiders". As an
outsider, you must adapt to local ways; do not expect local ways to
adapt to you.
Residential and tax
According to at least one French property site, "taxes are
in France. Taken across the board, this affirmation is complete
cobblers. Yes, certain taxes are lower in France, but in overall terms
France has one of the highest tax rates in Europe. For example,
ostensibly low income tax rates are disguised by the existence of other
taxes on income that are not called income tax, but have to be paid on
all income. See following paragraph. The downside of high taxes is that
generally speaking public services are good, and in many cases free.
If you plan to live 183 days per year or more in
France, you will be
officially fiscally resident in France. You should thus
become a full
income. This concerns your income wherever it may be - including
pensions, dividends, unearned income or earned income of any sort from
any source in any country of the world. You
will not necessarily be worse off in France,
have a very
high income. If you have a low income, your actual "income tax" in
liable to be less than in the UK. Half the population of France pay no
"income tax" at all. However, French "income tax" does not
the additional "CSG" and "CRDS" taxes, which in everything
name constitute a second flat rate income tax, currently amounting
to 11% on all
income, including dividends and savings accounts – in
addition to the income tax you pay or do not pay.
If you are fiscally resident in France,
also by default be subject to French jurisdiction in the event of
estate, including all assets in any other country except property ,
must be divided up among your heirs in compliance with French
inheritance laws, which impose an equal distribution among your direct
heirs (children) of the major part of your estate - two thirds of it if
you have two direct heirs, three quarters if you have three, etc.. It
is impossible, under French law, to leave all your estate to one child,
and none to another - whatever mitigating circumstances there may be.
As for leaving it all to a home for stray pussy cats or the RSPCA, you
can only do
that if you have no direct heirs at all.
However since 2015, in line with an EU ruling, all foreign
nationals living in France may elect to have their
estate distributed to their beneficiaries according to the
inheritance laws of their own country. The rules are slightly different
for residents with dual nationality, and whatever the situation,
residents are advised to check the practicalities out with a notaire
resident with an EU citizenship, you can vote in municipal elections
and European elections. You can also be elected to the local council,
but you cannot become mayor. You also have access to the French health care system
Doing up old property in France
Information from About-France.com on buying and renovating
property is completely objective. This website has no vested interest
anyone's buying or renovating property. About-France.com has no links
with any property companies or estate agents.
If you plan to buy a place to live in France, this is probably the best
argument of all for learning French first. There are hundreds of French
property sites in English on the Internet....... but there are
thousands of estate agencies and "notaires" (solicitors) who
the Internet, or at least not in English. Click for further information
on buying and selling property in
If a French property is advertised by
international or UK-based estate agent, it is almost certainly being
offered at above-market prices. Sometimes at considerably
the market price for the area. While there are plenty of honest estate
agents, there are plenty more whose main aim is to get the best price
possible, and if this means pulling the wool over they eyes of
unsuspecting buyers from abroad, that is what they'll do.... with glee.
Frequently, the owners are in on the game too, having discovered that
it is easy to rip off foreigners, who out of ignorance
will pay well over the going rate in their area.
One very good word of advice
if you think that moving to France really is for you; rent a property
for at least a month in an area that you do not already know, and start
looking for properties locally, just to see how you get by. No need to
buy one of course, this is just a dummy run.
In the UK, it is customary if not essential to have a property surveyed
before buying it. Not so in France,particularly with old rural
property. There are a number of obligatory certificates that the seller
has to provide, including an audit of the electrical system, asbestos,
and insulation; but with an old property one would expect the scores to
be low, and the audits are for information purposes only.
A surveyor's remit is to find as much wrong with a
as possible, so that he cannot therefore be sued subsequently for not
having noticed a defect. Old rural properties are full of defects, from
cracked walls, to sagging floors, damp, dry rot - and even
termites in southwest France. But there is a cure for everything,
especially when a building is being fully renovated. If the walls are
still standing after a century or two, there's unlikely to be
fundamental problem with them, unless the roof has gone.
The best advice is to check the place over very
survey it yourself, and if possible get a second opionion
someone with no financial interest in your purchase. If the property is
cheap, and you like it, buy it before someone else does; there's not
too much to lose. If it is not too cheap (and this is increasingly the
case), make the closest inspection possible before you sign anything!
Remember, a property in France is sold "as is" (French "en l'état"
, and once you've bought it, there is no recourse to be had if later on
you come across hidden defects that you had not noticed in time !
If you want to make substantial alterations to a house, such as
changing doors or windows or adding on bits, you have to get a building
permit (permis de
). This document can be obtained from the local
town hall (mairie
and must be returned, completed, with a sheaf of annexes, including
plans, photos, etc. If the whole property has a floorspace of less than
170 m², you can do the plans yourself. If its over 170 sq.m,
have to get them done or at least redone by a registered French
architect or building supervisor (maître
). It can take several months before a permis de construire
is approved - or sent back for modification.
If you just plan to make changes inside
building (changing partition walls, putting rooms into an old attic,
etc) then no building permit is needed. Or at least, it is not
customary to ask for one.
However, a word of
warning to do-it-yourselfers. If you buy a property in which the
electricity supply has been shut down for some time, you will not be
able to get reconnected until new wiring, compliant with the latest
standards, has been installed by a qualified electrician. That means an
electrician duly qualified to work in France. If the electricity supply
has not been formally disconnected, then you can just get it
reconnected in your name, whatever state it is in.
Unless you have already moved in, the best way to have your
property redone is to find a "maître d'oeuvre", a
whose job is to oversee progress on the site, do the paperwork, and
liaise with contractors. But make sure that you find a reliable
messages about house buying are
1) Preliminaries: Never
buy a property in France without first visiting the region carefully,
and checking out house prices with local estate agents and notaries.
there are a lot of people out there who are just after your money, and
will do all they can to get you to buy a place in France. They'll paint
a fantastic rosy picture of moving to France, hoping you'll swallow it.
So make sure you take advice from people who have no direct or
in your move, and be wary of advice from lawyers and banks, very wary
of encouragement from estate agents, property magazines, etc., and even
that "nice couple" you meet in a French village, who may well
have many reasons for wanting to bring in some British
- but are largely motivated by their
The better you speak
, the easier it will be.
Don't necessarily bother with a surveyor
all properties on the market must now come with an array of
attestations covering things like the state of the electrics, the
presence of asbestos, the risk from termites (if appropriate) the
energy efficiency (not terribly important if it's just a summer cottage
you are after... but useful if you plan to live permanently) and
more...but do check a property thoroughly before making an offer.
Don't forget that the price
you negociate does not include taxes and lawyers fees, which will add
between 5% and 10%.
Don't imagine that if you come to sell
your property, you will necessarily recoup your costs. If you paid over
the odds in the first place, you are very unlikely to get back your
If you think that you can make it, and
live in France as part of the community, having learned enough of the
language to get by with, do so! The writer of this page has
in France for all his working life, and has few regrets.
administrative red tape can get anyone down at times, and
sometimes you may find things infuriating, France is a great country,
with lots of great people. Property is generally cheaper, if not far
cheaper, than in most parts of the UK, and there is that great asset
that so many people are looking for, wide open countryside and space -
room to move in.
But there's the French
winter too, problems of misunderstanding, distance from friends and
family - possibly children or ageing parents. You'll find plenty of
cafés, but may miss the pub. If you don't have French health
you'll need to get yourself privately insured or else risk paying the
bills. Low-cost airlines serve many rural regions, but there's no
guarantee that they will continue to do so when oil hits $100 a
barrel.... and certainly not at the same low cost. There are lots of
things that people often fail to think of before making the move - and
that is why so many of them do not stay for long. But sum up
pros and the cons, and make a measured decision. If the answer is yes,
then go for it.