Living In France – The Expat’s Guide
A detailed guide on how to move to and settle down in France: includes day-to-day essentials like paperwork, doctors, bank accounts, utilities, and more important things like housing and residency.
France has absolutely everything anyone could want from the perfect overseas retirement destination: a fabulous climate, dramatic landscapes with incredible contrasts, affordable property, accessible healthcare and arguably some of the best cuisine and wine in the world.
No wonder so many Britons consider living in France.
In part, France’s appeal comes from the nation’s accessibility from the UK, and in part, because while geographically close, France is uniquely different from the UK in almost every way.
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The existing rules, agreements, and arrangements between France and the UK will be changing. The UK government advises you to register as a resident, register for healthcare and exchange your UK driving licence.
For full details, please refer to our Living in Europe after Brexit article, which will be kept updated with country-by-country information as well as EU-wide news.
So is France really the best place to live abroad at the moment?
It certainly has a great deal in its favour. However, there are certain downsides to this stunning country. It’s worth knowing the cons as well as pros before you make a firm commitment to relocate across the Channel for a new life in France.
On the plus side:
France is probably the easiest destination for Brits when it comes to travelling. Both ferry and plane take about 1.5 hours and a high-speed Eurostar takes you from London to Paris in under 2.5 hours.
Travel options are excellent, and the costs of getting across the Channel are currently not exorbitant.
Once in mainland France, the exceptional road network means it’s easy to get to your destination of choice. The further south you go, the more likely you are to experience excellent summer weather.
France offers such diversity in terms of landscape and climate that you can find a place to holiday no matter what you want to do and see, and no matter when you want to go.
You can mountaineer in the Alps and experience snow and ice even in summer. Alternatively, you can head to the Med and be soaking up the sun while the UK suffers under heavy grey skies.
In winter, France has some of the best snow-sports resorts in the whole of Europe.
No matter when you travel to France you can soak up the exceptionally rich cultural heritage and history and immerse yourself in all the best bits of this nation.
There is everything for everyone in France: lovely beaches and resorts for seaside retirement, stunning mountains and valleys for hikers, an ideal climate for devoted gardeners – all you need for an active and healthy life in retirement.
Add to this fine cuisine and great wine in abundance, is it not a dream lifestyle?
While France is over twice the size of the UK, its population is only a little bigger. The country does not exactly suffer from overcrowding issues.
This is one reason why rural properties have remained reasonably priced in some areas despite the strength of the euro compared to the pound.
Cheaper properties mean you can fulfil your desire to own a home if you move to France.
If you love a bit more space and are prepared to go rural, there are some bargains to be had when it comes to buying a house. You can buy an old house in need of renovation for about €55,000 (£50,000) or less, and turn it into your perfect pad in the sun.
On the downside:
Cost of living is close to the UK’s
On average, France is only seven percent cheaper than the UK, with rent included.
Compared to Portugal, Cyprus or Spain, France is not the best value-for-money retirement destination. However, its distinct lifestyle and very convenient proximity to the UK offset the relatively high cost of living.
Besides, if you are after a quiet retirement in a rural area, you will find that both renting and buying a property will cost you much less than in the UK, and day-to-day living expenses will be a pleasant surprise.
The best things in France, such as the weather and nature, come free anyway.
Dealing with bureaucracy
Paperwork can get a little complicated in France and the bureaucracy is sometimes overly complex.
However, it’s mostly the settling down period that is affected. It’s naturally overwhelming when you have to do everything at once: getting residency, sorting out accommodation, registering with a doctor, connecting utilities, buying a car, etc. And all this is done in a foreign language.
Which very naturally takes us to the next issue:
Learning the language
To have a good life in France you do need to learn the language.
As difficult as it might seem, learning French will make everything easier for you. If you are anywhere in France for more than a few weeks, it will really help if you can learn a bit more than your basic school French. There are various tips all over the web on how to learn French, so be brave and determined and you will succeed.
Once you have mastered some key phrases and learn to pronounce them properly, it will be enough to get you through day-to-day situations. Then you will see what an advantage it is to be able to speak a local language – and further learning will be more enjoyable.
Do you have an exact location in mind? Do you know it well enough to be confident it will make the perfect home for you? Research is key to your successful relocation.
If you’re considering this great and beautiful land as a place to call home, here is a review of the four most popular regions among expats.
Surely Burgundy is all about the food and the wine, right?
If you’re living in Burgundy, you’re within reach of the finest vineyards in the world, a stone’s throw away from the best Charolais beef cattle, and you are in fruit growing country where cheese and honey, chicken, and of course Dijon mustard are all produced in vast quantities and at fantastic quality.
So, Burgundy is all about living the good life in France. The quality of life in this region is exceptional, and it’s the best place to be if you’re a true foodie and are really into fine wining and dining!
Possibly the most beautiful region in France, the Loire Valley is, of course, famous for its fabulous chateaux and its fascinating history.
This is a great part of France to live in if you want to feel the majesty of the nation and enjoy the dramatic backdrop of almost fairy-tale castles and the mighty river Loire.
The Loire Valley is also blessed with handsome rolling countryside, pretty limestone villages and of course fabulous weather – making it expats’ favourite paradise in France.
The Alsace is quite possibly one of the most interesting regions in France because it boasts the best of Germany whilst still being French.
What’s more, Alsace is little explored by tourists.
In Alsace you have everything – castles and mountains, plains and forests, rivers and a fabulous city called Strasbourg.
You have the best French and German cuisine, fabulously robust wines and a great continental climate all rolled into a package that also includes half-timbered houses, summer festivals, open and friendly people and good quality affordable living.
Well, what good would a guide to living in France be without a mention of Provence? This region is quite possibly the embodiment of all our hopes and dreams of a perfect life in France!
It’s beautiful, it’s cultured, it’s romantic, and it’s got the best food in France (yes, actually, in our book it even beats Burgundy because of the olive oil and the fresh fruit and veg!).
It’s got the Mediterranean for goodness sake and it also has Saint Tropez. Who could want for more?
The way of life in Provence is what you make of it – you can embrace the glamour of the Saint Tropez set and live a fast-paced, glitzy life (if you have the money!) or you can take a more laid back approach and embrace the Mediterranean way of life, where you enjoy the finer pleasures in lazy moderation.
For those who want to narrow down the choice to exact locations, our Best Places to Live in France guide will make an excellent starting point.
EU citizens moving to and living in France don’t need any special visa to do so. If you’re British moving to live in France, you can do so as long as you have a valid passport.
However, you should register your presence with the local Préfecture in the department of your place of residence in France.
The Préfecture is an administrative office belonging to the Ministry of the Interior, and is in charge of things like identity cards, driving licenses, passports, residency and work permits for foreigners, etc.
Each of the 101 departments in France has one, and it is the place to go to manage everything from establishing your residency to registering your driving licence.
While requirements and standards should be universal across France for registering your presence, subtle differences in interpretations of the rules are present. Approach your local Préfecture with an open mind, and ask for details of what you need to do to legitimise your presence in France.
With Brexit looming, immigration procedures for British retirees are most likely going to change. Already many Brits living in France are trying to secure permanent residence to be able to stay in the country after the UK exits the EU. However, for now, no one can clearly predict exactly how immigration will work after Brexit, so keep an eye on our guides for updates.
Buying property in France is a straightforward process. However, the process is not cheap, therefore it’s a good idea to rent property in retirement in France before committing to a purchase.
France is such a vast country of stunning contrasts, offering a great choice of lifestyle, scenery, climate and even the cost of living, so it makes immense sense to rent a property in France before committing to buying a home.
This is because there is so much choice, you don’t want to buy the first home you see in the first town or region, and later decide you prefer an entirely different area of France.
There are no surprises in terms of the renting process: it’s normal to produce vetting documentation, such as proof of earnings (or pension income), previous address details and a reference, especially if you’re already in rented accommodation.
What’s more, it’s standard to pay a security deposit as well as one month’s rent in advance. Your tenancy agreement is called a bail or “contrat de location“.
The main difference Britons will note is that the minimum duration for a tenancy is three years for an unfurnished home and a year for a furnished property.
Agreements for only a year for an unfurnished home can be established in some circumstances. It is really important to know what you’re signing up for, to discuss it in advance with your landlord, and to understand under what criteria you can break the contract if you decide to move on or buy your own home.
If you want to buy a property in France, the process is relatively straightforward; although it is said that if you have a basic knowledge of French, you’re in a more vulnerable position than if you have no French at all.
Since the adoption of the euro, Britons living in France have enjoyed an excellent exchange rate against the pound, and a diabolical one – and everything in between.
You have to consider currency conversion and fluctuations when transferring money from your British bank to your French bank account.
It is possible to forward fix your exchange rate using a forward contract if you’re making a big purchase or a large movement of money – like buying a house.
It is also possible to have a regular contract for currency movement if you want to move your income from the UK to France once every month or quarter.
If you don’t need your money transferred by the exact date, you can use what is called a market order.
You tell your chosen money transfer company the rate you would be happy with, and when the exchange rates reach your target, the company will transfer the money.
Make sure to ask your provider whether this service is free. Some of them can charge you for this.
If transferring a large sum and are in doubt, consult a foreign exchange specialist. They can usually help you with the whole process while saving you up to 4 percent on your transfer.
In France, there is theoretically the option of taking your entire British pension out in one lump sum and only paying a 7.5 percent tax on it. For those for whom an entire pension withdrawal will mean they are pushed into the highest tax bracket, this makes incredible sense.
In France, lump sums from pensions are not taxed at marginal rates, but are only subject to a 7.5 percent income tax charge, no matter how big the withdrawal is.
To qualify you would have to establish tax residency in France before taking your lump sum, and you would have to take expert advice to ensure your understanding of the rules and that they apply in your case.
When you move permanently to France, you become a French tax resident. It means your worldwide income has to be declared in France and is potentially taxable in France.
In other words, whether you receive a state pension, a private-sector pension or an annuity from the UK, it is all taxable in France.
When you first move, you will find your British state pension is taxed at source by HM Revenue and Customs. You will need to make an application to be taxed in France and to receive a rebate of tax paid in the UK.
Government service pensions are taxed at source in the UK.
You will have to declare your gross income on your French income tax return.
Income tax in France is charged on a progressive scale. As a retiree in France, you can avoid the payment of social security contributions on your pension.
It’s possible to open a French bank account even before you become a resident in France, although it’s definitely easier to do so once you have established residency.
If you open an account pre-residency then you will have less choice of banks willing to accommodate you, and you will have to abide by tougher criteria, such as minimum account balance.
So, if you need a French bank account before you move, you have two options:
Look for French banks which offer non-resident accounts (compte non-resident);
Check whether your UK bank has a branch in France, as it might be easier to open an account with them and transfer money.
When opening a resident bank account, make sure you know the charges.
It is becoming more common for French banks to charge for accounts, and certainly to charge for various types of services and transactions. Ask about the charges you will incur on a current account with debit card access in advance before opening an account.
The healthcare environment in France is world-class. It is funded by social contributions and co-payment at the point of contact.
Britons of retirement age in receipt of the state pension can access healthcare in France at a very low cost.
The healthcare system (l’Assurance Maladie) is primarily funded via the health insurance scheme Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA).
PUMA grants an automatic and continuous right to healthcare in France to all legal residents in the country.
Joining PUMA is almost unavoidable when you become a resident in France. If you are eligible for a UK issued S1 form, you will join PUMA for no charge purely for an administrative reason.
If you are not eligible for an S1 form, you can take out private health insurance. Joining PUMA in these circumstances can be a bit complicated, as there’s a failure point in the existing French law.
According to the law, any legal resident can join PUMA after 3 months of living in France, however, it is 5 years for early retirees.
Telephone, mobile, internet and TV are all vital ingredients of the modern lifestyle.
In France, there are a few big companies providing phone and internet services. The biggest are Orange (formerly France Telecom), Bouygues Telecom, Free Mobile and SFR.
If you want, you can get all four services (landline, internet, a mobile plan, and TV) from one provider, which makes managing those services easier.
It also makes sense to have a look at Free. The company offers fixed, mobile and Internet services with low rates for international calls.
When getting your landline, you will need to provide the following:
If broadband is very important for you, make sure you run a remote test before you sign up for any offers. buy. You can use Degroup Test site for testing.
Moving abroad is a big step. Moving to France might seem easy though, as it is just a short journey across the channel. But France can be a tough country to crack. If you plan well, you will get it right and you can live the dream.