Living In France – The Expats’ Essential Guide

A complete guide to moving to and settling down in France: the pros and cons, residency and healthcare, property and bank accounts, and much more.

Living in France - Expats

France has absolutely everything anyone could want: a fabulous climate, dramatic landscapes with incredible contrasts, affordable property, accessible healthcare and arguably some of the best cuisine and wine in the world.

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France is a popular expat destination for professionals, families and retirees alike. Britons are especially fond of France when it comes to retirement or semi-retirement.

In part, the appeal of living in France 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.

Living in France
The Dordogne Valley is home to stunning nature and picture-perfect typically French villages

Living in France after Brexit

The existing rules, agreements, and arrangements between France and the UK have changed and Britons no longer have automatic rights to come and live in France.

Residency in France after Brexit 

As a non-EU citizen, from now on you have to apply for a residency permit to live in France.

You can stay in France for up to 90 days in a 180-day period without any kind of visa. After this, however, you will need to apply for a short-stay visa if your trip is less than 12 months, and a long-stay visa if it’s up to three years.

Pet passports after Brexit

It’s worth noting that EU pet passports are no longer valid now the UK has left the EU. Instead, you’ll need to get an animal health certificate (AHC), which is valid for 4 months.

To get this, you’ll need to visit a vet, ensure your pet is microchipped and vaccinated against rabies. Check the UK government’s website for more specific information.

UK bank accounts for French residents after Brexit

Finally, due to changes in financial regulations, you might lose your UK bank account when becoming a French resident. Many banks have either ceased operations in the EU (such as Barclaycard) or have opened up an EU base of operations.

It’s best to contact your bank before making the move to see whether they will keep your account active. If not, it might be worth switching to a bank that does, or using an online money service.

UK driving licence in France after Brexit

British licence holders living in France can use their licence for up to 1 year of being in the country. If you exchange within this first year, you most likely won’t have to take a French test. However, after 1st January 2022, you might have to take a test regardless.

Currently, the only way to exchange your UK driver’s licence for a French one is through the Site Permis de conduire. You used to be able to do it at your local Mairie, but this is no longer allowed after the UK withdrew from the EU.

As it stands, the information you’ll need for this process is:

  • A colour photocopy of both sides of your licence
  • Proof of identity Proof of residency in France (such as your visa)
  • Proof of French address (utility bill or similar)
  • A new photo taken in a government-approved booth

You can find the most up-to-date information by contacting a relocation service. They are familiar with the new rules and will be able to guide you through the application process if your French language skills aren’t up to the task.

The pros and cons of living in France

So is France really the best place to live abroad at the moment? 

Living in France - Expats love the French lifestyle
Many expats fall in love with the French way of life

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:

Accessibility

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.

Diversity

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.

Lifestyle

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. 

Lifestyle living in France
France offers a unique and fulfilling lifestyle for expat retirees

There is everything for everyone living 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?

Reasonably populated

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.

Affordable property

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 in France is close to the UK’s living costs

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 broadest life experience while living 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.

Learning to speak French
Learning to speak French enables expats to truely embrace their new country

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.

Retiring to France from the UK after Brexit – visa and residency 

Now that Brexit has happened, anyone planning on retiring to France from the UK will need to apply for a long-stay visa. It covers any trips longer than 90 days in a 180-day period and is linked to work or personal reasons.

You’ll need plenty of supporting evidence for your visa application, particularly if you want to become a permanent resident.

Living in France
If you are a beach lover, the south of France is where you want to be. A beach in Cannes, the celebrity-studded star of France.

France has several different kinds of long-stay visa.

According to the government’s advice, those who are officially retiring to France will need a visitor visa. This type means you formally agree not to engage in any form of paid work while living in France.

However, those planning “halfway retirement”, such as setting up a B&B or other small business, will still need a working visa. You’ll need to supply plenty of information about the financial viability of your proposed business, and there’s a greater chance of rejection.

You must apply for the visa in the UK before moving to France, as you won’t be allowed in the country for more than 90 days without one. A long-stay visa lasts between 90 days and a year.

If you’re planning to retire to France permanently, you’ll need to apply for a carte de séjour at your local préfecture. This process is much like the visa application, and will require much of the same information about your living and financial situations.

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Providing your application is successful, your first carte de séjour will last 5 years, after which you’ll need to apply for another one.

The process is currently all done on paper (France is famous for its bureaucratic processes), but the French government plans to move it online in the near future.

As mentioned, this process is carried out at your local 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.

If all of this sounds a bit confusing and long-winded, you’re not alone in your opinion. Luckily there are companies that offer ‘relocation services”. These are firms, based in France, that specialise in helping residents of other countries with the application process.

While it might seem like an extra cost, the price is more than justified in the amount of time and stress it will save you, particularly if you’re organising moving house alongside.

Alternative ways to residency in France

France currently offers two different business investor visa programmes. The first is the business investor talent passport, which requires an investment of €300,000 in French business. The other, the French residency programme, is aimed at high net-worth individuals and requires an investment of €10 million in French business.

French residency programme

The golden residency programme is aimed at those with significant business investment interests in France. By investing €10 million in either industrial or commercial assets, you gain a 10-year residency permit for you and your immediate family.

This entitles you to all the benefits that come with French residency status: access to healthcare, social welfare (not that you’d probably need it!), and visa-free travel within the EU. What’s more, the application process only takes two months.

France business investor talent programme

Perhaps the more realistic option is the business investor talent passport. This is a sub-group of the long-stay visa, meaning you still have to go through the same initial process as everyone else.

However, as part of the process, you make a direct investment of €300,000 in French business and commit to either protecting or creating jobs across a four-year period. You will then be able to gain a four-year residency permit that’s renewable based on reassessment.

This permit then grants you access to residency status. However, unlike the golden program, it doesn’t cover your immediate family. Instead, they will have to apply for a family residence permit alongside your application.

Whichever you choose, a business investor visa certainly speed up the process. The easier of the two options is the golden residency permit, but if you don’t have that kind of capital, the business investor talent passport will still grant you much quicker access than the standard application process.

How much money do I need to retire to France?

The amount of money you need to retire to France is based on the revenu de solidarité active (RSA), which is a monthly income of €564.74 for a single person and €847.17 for a couple. For over 65s, it’s based on the allocation de solidarité aux personnes âgées, which is €903.20 for a single person or €1402.22 for a couple.

Living in France
One of the oldest villages in Provence, Salon was home to the famous clairvoyant scholar Nostradamus.

Bear in mind, however, that this figure isn’t just based on your annual income – it also considers several other factors. These include your savings and whether you rent or own your property.

In short, the préfecture to which you’re applying for residency will take your overall financial picture into account when working on your application. To make this process easier, you should provide as much financial information as possible.

But this is only the amount of money you need to successfully apply for residency. When it comes to how much money you actually need, there are other factors to consider.

For example, renting or owning property is going to be the biggest expenditure. In the long run, buying a property will of course be cheaper, but you may want to try renting first to see whether an area is right for you.

A couple in retirement that need a one-bedroom apartment can expect to pay anywhere up to €1,200 a month depending on where they settle down.

Then of course is your choice of lifestyle. The more you plan on eating out and taking part in social activities, the more money you will need. For a retired couple wanting a good social life without any money worries, you’ll probably need a monthly income of around €2,000.

Enjoying a low tax pension living in France

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.

Can I transfer my UK pension to France?

The easiest way to transfer your UK pension to France is through a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS). A QROPS will allow you to combine several pensions, access them in your local currency, and protect them from changes to UK pension legislation. Currently, these schemes are unaffected by Brexit.

The current British tax legislation covers QROPS set up by British expats in the current country of residence. While the government changed their overseas tax rules in 2017, it was specified in the Brexit agreement that British expats would be exempt from these rules when living in the EU.

Bear in mind, however, that you can’t transfer your UK pension into a QROPS if it’s a public sector scheme, such as from the NHS. Also, you can only legally transfer into a QROPS once you reach the age of 55.

Before taking any decision concerning your pension always seek specific guidance from a financial professional.

Where to live in France

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.

Burgundy

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. 

Burgundy in France. Top Expat Place to Live
Burgundy in France one of France’s top places for expats to live in

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!

Loire Valley

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. 

Loire Valley - France
Loire Valley – France – The famous medieval castle Sully Sur 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.

Alsace

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.

Colmar Town, Alsace, France
The beautiful historic old town of Colmar in the Alsace region of France

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.

Provence

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!).

Provence Region France - Expat's Love Living Here
Provence Region France – A place that many expats love to call home

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.

Where is the cheapest place to retire in France?

Currently, the cheapest place to live in France is tied between Franche-Comté and Limousin.

Both areas are quite sparsely populated comparatively, and you can pick up an inexpensive renovation project for as little as €20,000. Depending on the type and condition of the property, the price per square metre is roughly €1,300.

Of course, much of this decision will depend on the kind of lifestyle you’re looking for.

While these areas might be inexpensive when it comes to property, you might have to sacrifice the opportunity for extensive social life. After all, many smaller villages won’t have the same number of bars and restaurants as larger towns.

Similarly, an inexpensive renovation project might not be the kind of retirement you’re after. However, Limousin and Franche-Comté also offer affordable properties that are already liveable.

It’s always worth balancing the physical cost of living against other expenses, such as having a social life. Buying a cheap property is only worth so much if expensive living costs and large petrol bills cancel it out because you live in a remote village.

Property in France: rent or buy?

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.

Buying Property in France
Many expats are able to find their ideal retirement property in France for a good price

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. 

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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. 

Second home owners in France after Brexit

Those who own a second home in France are still restricted by new Brexit legislation. After Brexit, second home owners can only spend a maximum of 90 days out of every 180 in France without a visa. Trips longer than 90 days will require at least a visitor visa.

Many who own a second home in France aren’t necessarily looking for permanent residence. It’s fairly common to spend summer in France and winter in the UK, or vice versa.

However, now that the UK is no longer in the EU, the process for longer stays is the same regardless of whether you want to remain in France permanently, or just longer than 3 months.

Bear in mind, the current visa-free travel is for 90 days in every 180. This means that you can spend 6 months of every year in France, but only in 3-month blocks separated by 3 months in the UK. If you plan on any other kind of stay, you need a visa.

Providing you just want to stay in your second home for longer than 3 months at a time, you’ll likely just need a visitor/tourist visa. These are arguably the easiest to gain, as you don’t need to provide as much information.

But if you plan on moving to France permanently, you’ll need to begin the full process of residency application, as explained above.

Breaking these rules does have consequences, though. If you outstay your visa-free period, you’ll at the very least be fined. However, you could also be deported, and repeated violations will result in a temporary or permanent ban from the country.

It’s worth noting that, while travel might have changed, property rights have not. This means that UK-based French homeowners still have full rights to their property, even second homes, and there won’t be any reason to sell based on changes to the law after Brexit.

Also, from the end of 2022, all trips to the EU will require travel authorisation. Known as the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), this new law will cover short-term trips that don’t require a visa. This means that any time you want to visit your second home, even for trips less than 90 days, you’ll first need travel authorisation.

French and UK taxes for Britons living in France

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.

Banking and bank accounts in France

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.

Healthcare in France

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.

  • Healthcare In France For Expats – how to access the French healthcare system, registering your S1 form, other options, private health insurance in France and many more;

Getting connected in France

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:

  • Your ID;
  • Proof of address: a recent electricity bill, a tax bill or a rental contract.

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.

Final thoughts on living in France

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.

You might find useful:

  • The Best Places to Live in France – a detailed overview of France’s most popular locations for expats;
  • The Expat Guide To UK Pensions Abroad – understand what options you have regarding your UK pensions, what happens to your state pension and what you need to do to continue receiving your pension income without interruption when you move abroad.