France is a beautiful nation of amazing contrasts, with a great climate and a fantastic lifestyle. What’s more, it has a world class healthcare system and it’s a perfect place for retirement abroad.
France has absolutely everything anyone could want from the perfect retirement destination: a fabulous climate, a dramatic landscape of huge contrasts, affordable property, accessible healthcare and arguably the best cuisine and wine in the world!
France has long been one of the most popular overseas destinations for Britons wanting to live abroad. In part this comes from the nation’s accessibility from the UK, and in part because at the same time as being geographically close, France is uniquely different to the UK in almost every way.
France offers those seeking a fabulous retirement in a brand new lifestyle destination great choice. In addition it can also offer some tax advantages to retiring Brits, a fantastic quality healthcare environment, and a very easy immigration policy.
If you’re looking for a home abroad in a country where your pension may go further with careful planning, where the lifestyle is excellent, and the standard of living is very high indeed, give France a close look.
Inside This Guide:
French Residency and Relocation
With Brexit looming, immigration procedures for British retirees are most likely to change. Already many Brits resident 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 how exactly immigration will work after Brexit, so keep an eye on our guides for updates.
For now if you’re British and retiring to France in theory 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, 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.
Whilst 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.
Many expats bemoan the red tape that exists, despite the fact that for Britons retiring in France there should be very little! However it really pays to keep in mind two things:
- What you’re gaining in terms of a fantastic new life abroad in a generally welcoming and certainly stunning nation and:
- How much red tape you would have to face if you were a French national relocating to Britain!
Benefits of Retiring to France
The benefits of choosing France as a retirement destination certainly outweigh any concerns: –
- The whole of France is cheaply and easily accessible from the whole of the UK. You can get to France by car, plane, boat or train. A short hop across the channel and here you are enjoying a wonderful sunshine in Normandy. It’s easy for you to visit your family and friends in the UK, and for them – to come and see you
- From France you can access the entire European continent easily and relatively affordably. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to nip to Germany during Oktoberfest or explore fantastic Christmas markets in Belgium, or venture skiing in the Alps
- France has excellent infrastructure: it’s transport network is one of the best in the world
- France has a first world healthcare system; Britons who retire in France can rest assured that with proper planning their health will be well looked after
- The lifestyle in France is at least on a par with that in Great Britain: many would actually consider the lifestyle to be superior
- The choice of property available and the cost is as wide as the country is vast, meaning that home ownership can be achieved even by those on a modest budget, if that’s your ambition
- French culture is world renowned; and the cultural offering in France is exceptional
In fact, the list of benefits of France as a retirement destination certainly outweigh any downsides; of which there are really only 3 of major concern to Britons.
The first is of course the language barrier – but as French is taught in most schools in Britain at some point, most Britons have at least a very basic awareness of some French!
There is nothing like complete submersion to enable language learning – meaning that even if you don’t speak a word of French you should not be put off France as a great place to live. Just be open to the language and to learning it, and you should make headway.
The very good news is that many French people speak or understand at least some English, and many Britons have relocated to France already and can likely pave the way for you with language help. Reach out to other expats in your community to start with…but ensure you’re committed to learning French in order to get the most out of your new life in France.
The second concern is taxation: the red tape and reporting relating to this aspect of life in France can be challenging. We cover this in more depth in our Money section. What’s more, there are many professionals available to help you get your reporting right.
Furthermore, there is a way that a Briton accessing their pension post-April 2015 could save significantly on taxation by moving to France; so don’t let tax be a reason not to move to France.
The final concern is the overall financial one. The cost of living in France is on a par with Britain when you factor in essentials such as amenities and groceries…but a great difference can be wrought depending on the lifestyle you aspire to.
For example, if you want convenience in terms of grocery shopping, you’ll pay for it: but if you want to be self sufficient, or you want to use a little of the extra time you may have on your hands in retirement to shop at markets, eat in season or buy locally, you can make a significant difference to your household budget each month.
To see France as a cheap place to live abroad in retirement isn’t necessarily as realistic as it once was. But France needn’t be inaccessible or unobtainable financially speaking.
Other benefits of living in France include the fact that the climate in France can be 100 times better than in Britain! Depending on where you choose to live you could enjoy the absolute best of a Mediterranean climate in France, just a couple of hour’s flight time from the UK.
Finally, because France is such a fantastic nation on so many levels it is a magnet for international citizens. This may well mean that when conducting your own research about where to live in France you will identify others from your own country and even your own town who have already made France their home overseas. This should lead to you finding at least useful advice to help with your own relocation, if not making connections before you move to France.
As France covers such a vast geographical area and offers all types of landscape from the highest mountain peaks to the most stunning sun drenched beaches.
Therefore it’s fairly safe to say that no matter what type of place you want to call home, France can offer it.
There are pockets of France that have been all but colonised by Britons: think the Dordogne, Provençal regions, the Riviera and Brittany to name but a few – and choosing an area where there are strong international communities can make sense for those looking for the fastest and easiest path to integration.
Narrowing down to a region is of course the place to start, and only when you have an area of France in mind can you choose the exact location to call home.
It’s really important to spend time travelling in any region you identify as offering everything you’re seeking in retirement. Amenities, infrastructure, even the pace of life can differ hugely between one town and the next in the same region.
It’s also another reason to rent a home in France before committing to buying a property in France, if that’s even on your personal agenda. Because there is so much choice and because very few areas of France are unsuitable for retirement, it’s really essential to have personal experience of the nation before committing to a location and buying a home there.
If you’re looking for inspiration we hope the following suggestions guide your research and choices. As stated, France is vast and offers so much, so the following are not necessarily the best places for retirement in France, but very good places to at least consider!
Bergerac and The Dordogne
The Greater Bergerac Area is located in Dordogne-Perigord, in the heart of the Aquitaine region in southwest France.
Bergerac Dordogne Périgord Airport serves the region well, and it offers direct flights back to British airports.
The greater Dordogne region is possible the most popular part of France with British retirees, and it’s unsurprising when you scratch the surface and discover just how much this part of France has to offer.
The scenery is stunning, you can enjoy the peaceful quiet life away from the hustle and bustle of Bergerac, and yet the city is easily accessible when you need it on great roads. And when you want or need to access the facilities, amenities and leisure offerings of Bergerac, it really won’t disappoint you.
There’s so much space available in France, and around Bergerac and in the Dordogne you can enjoy fabulous and uninterrupted natural landscapes and find homes to buy or rent that come with huge gardens with plenty of room for a pool of your own.
This southwest region enjoys some stunning architecture as well, and it has an abundance of history and culture. Around Le Pays des Bastides for example there are a total of 27 mediaeval villages! All are within easy reach of Bergerac, which is in easy reach of the UK with under a 2hour flight time.
The stunning climate is possibly the best in France – summers can last from March through October – and as a result the natural produce available is excellent, the cuisine available at cafes and restaurants is first class, and all in all you have all the ingredients for the best quality of life in retirement.
If you choose this part of France you will be opting for an under-developed area, unspoilt, and yet benefitting from first class amenities in the bustling heart of Bergerac.
This region of France is often overlooked in favour of the Alps, however not only does it boast incredible mountains suitable for climbing, skiing and even cycling if you’re as fit as a Tour de France rider, it boasts exceptionally breathtaking rural landscapes and a real chance to get off the beaten track.
Lying in the centre of the region is Toulouse – and it has been described as the oasis in the desert of the Midi Pyrenees, because the greater region is just so undeveloped!
The Midi Pyrenees is actually the largest region in France, reaching from the highlands of the Massif Central in the north, to the peaks of the Pyrenees and on down to the Spanish border in the south.
Expect scenery that contrasts between the drama of Alpine-like landscapes to unspoilt rolling countryside as far as the eye can see.
Property prices vary greatly across the region, but it is certainly home to some exceptionally well priced homes offering you spectacular scenery on your doorstep.
As a region of France easily accessible from the UK, Brittany is already beloved by many British retirees.
A top tip would be to head to the southwest of the region south of Quimper where the coastline is incredible. However, it’s worth spending time travelling the whole region to find the best place to call home.
Whilst Brittany doesn’t offer you the Mediterranean climate you’ll get in the south of France, it does boast a better climate than mainland Britain, and it comes with many additional benefits.
Watch out for harsh winters however, and the fact that few older properties come with anything like decent central heating! Expect to have to chop and carry the wood for your fires in the winter.
Prices for property in lesser known villages and towns away from the tourist hotspots is certainly affordable, the region has ferry and air access to the UK, there are fast links to Paris, and you can find the perfect lifestyle blend in Brittany of laidback day to day living, within reach of all of the amenities and facilities you could possibly need. All at a relatively affordable price.
Geographically this is a region and historical province in south eastern France, which extends from the left bank of the lower Rhône River on the west to the Italian border on the east, and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the south.
It largely corresponds with the modern administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and is possibly the most desirable part of France to live.
Property prices reflect the desirability of the region, however it is a region of contrasts with the likes of Nice and Cannes home to some of the most expensive property in the whole of France, and areas of Marseille basically no-go because of high crime, low unemployment and cultural disharmony.
As a result if you’re drawn to the region, it will quite literally pay you to spend time exploring it carefully. This will help you identify an area where you’re comfortable, and where you can afford to live.
Whilst its incredible coastline of course dominates the region, the interior can be equally spectacular in terms of the views it affords, and if you travel east you’ll be struck by the stunning Alps and the dramatic landscapes on offer there.
Coastal and Alp real estate is the highest prized and priced.
If you want to live as close to the Alps as possible but avoid the highest prices for property – which are inflated because of the demand for ski property, try the area of the Vercors Massif which is a range of plateaux and mountains straddling the départements of Isère and Drôme in the French Prealps.
The area lies west of the Dauphiné Alps, and it’s separated from them by the twin rivers of Drac and Isère, and it is in the Rhône alpes region of France.
Expect rugged terrain with dramatic peaks, valleys, gorges, cliffs and dales; and know that the entire area is a protected regional park.
The area is lesser explored by British expats than those discussed above, but if you want to be within easy reach of the Alps in a much more affordable area, consider Vercors Massif.
Another reason to consider Vercors is if you’re looking for a really outdoorsy lifestyle in retirement; popular pastimes include hiking, Nordic skiing, alpinism, and caving for example.
Your biggest regional city if you chose to live in this area is world fabulous and stunningly attractive Grenoble.
If you are interested in particular locations in detail, read The Best Places to Live in France, especially its second part dedicated to retirement destinations.
Buying Property in France
Buying property in France is a straightforward process, however the process is not cheap therefore it’s important to rent property in retirement in France before committing to purchase.
France is such a vast country of stunning contrasts, offering a great choice of lifestyle, scenery, climate and even cost of living, 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 rent one month 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. So it will be really important to know what you’re signing up for, discuss it in advance with your landlord, and 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! This is because the process is technically complex from a legal point of view, and it is better to have everything officially translated to ensure absolute understanding, rather than relying on an assumption that you think you know what you’re signing.
This is common sense really – but it underlines a requirement for any foreign buyer to have independent legal representation for the sale, and to have everything translated before signatures are offered. This adds a cost to a purchase, but it significantly reduces the overall risk of buying property in France.
How to Buy Property in France
- Property is advertised for sale through estate agents and notaries in France. Take recommendations for reputable individuals from other expat buyers if you can. Just as in any country in any profession, there are good and bad
- Ask whether an asking price includes any taxes and/or agents’ fees and if not, whether you as the purchaser will be liable for estate agent fees for example
- If you view a property you like you can make a verbal or written offer to buy – however, such an offer is legally binding so only make an offer with any required conditions laid out
- E.g., it’s sensible when making an offer to do so in writing (offre d’achat), and include a statement saying the sale is conditional on the preparation of a sale and purchase contract in which all the conditions will be elaborated upon
- Once your offer is accepted and the sale and purchase contract prepared, the law gives you a seven day cooling off period, during which you can withdraw from the contract without any penalty
- Do not pay any monies, not even a deposit, until this period has ended and certainly not when making an offer on a property
- The deposit is payable when, after the 7 day cooling off period, you sign the sale and purchase agreement
- In France having a ‘sold subject to survey’ clause in the contract is not the norm; what’s more, despite the fact the vendor has an obligation to supply the findings of multiple surveys as part of their role in the sale, if you want a building survey done you should do it before signing the contract to buy
- You will then either sign a Promesse de Vente or a Compromis de Vente – the compromis is increasingly being used, and is preferable as there’s a reciprocal obligation in the contract
- Ensure your contract contains all the conditional clauses you require like getting a mortgage, checking planning permissions, access, easements, etc.
- Once you have signed the contract you are obliged to buy the property, subject to any conditions that are included in the contract
- Be certain you want to go ahead and that the contract is correctly phrased including all your personal conditions before you sign
- In France there are certain obligatory surveys that the vendor has to have done and provide to you, these are collectively called the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT)
- These do not remove your own need to get surveys done, and as mentioned above you need to have them done before signing the contract
- Before you can complete your notaire will need to have all purchase funds in place. You can either transfer funds directly from your bank to the notaire’s client account, or pay by cheque
- Leave plenty of time for monies to be processed and cleared
- If you buy using a mortgage then your lender will arrange to transfer funds to the notaire
- Your sale contract will contain a clause stipulating a date by which completion should take place, when the deed of sale will be signed
- If this date passes without the signature of the deed of sale for some reason, then depending on the reason for the delay, the aggrieved party could in theory claim damages and even seek enforcement of the contract. Therefore be mindful to keep to the terms of the contract
- When the deed of sale is signed following transfer of funds the notaire will give you a certificate of purchase (called an attestation). You will need this to get utilities switched to your name for example
- You should also get a receipt for the money paid to the notaire and shortly after the transfer of the property you will receive your copy of the deed of sale, along with a statement of all fees and costs paid and incurred
Roundtrip real estate costs in France are high – at worst they reach 28.99%. As a buyer you’ll be liable for between 6.1 and 22.99% – the highest fees are paid to your notarie and are set in law. If possible ensure you agree and understand these in advance of even making an offer to buy. You have to be certain you can afford to buy your dream home before committing to it.
As France is in the euro it’s subject to the fluctuating fortunes of the common currency, which means anyone retiring in France from overseas should manage their money carefully to avoid currency fluctuations.
Managing Currency Exchange When Retiring to France
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. What this so clearly illustrates is it will be important to factor in currency conversion and fluctuations when working out how to access your pension or investment income cost effectively.
It is possible to forward fix your exchange rate if you’re making a big purchase or large movement of money – like buying a house. And it is possible to have a regular contract for currency movement if you want to move your income from your British bank to your French account once every month or quarter for instance.
But significant thought should be given to how and where you hold your money however, and there may be benefits to you of transferring a pension to a qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme (QROPS), or even accessing your entire pension in France as a lump sum and only paying 7.5% tax on it.
Enjoying a Low Tax Pension in France
In France there is theoretically the option of taking your entire British pension out in one lump sum and only paying 7.5% 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, they are only subject to a 7.5% income tax charge, no matter how big the withdrawal is. Note: France is not a tax friendly country for regular pension income – only for a qualifying lump sum withdrawal.
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.
Your French Tax Status
When you move permanently to France you become tax resident therein, your worldwide income has to be declared in France and is potentially taxable in France.
In other words, whether you receive the 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 and double taxation should be avoided through a form of tax credit for 100% of the French tax attributable to the proportion of total household income represented by the UK government pension.
Income tax is charged on a progressive scale and as a retiree in France you can avoid the payment of social security contributions on your pension, which should mean you will be paying less than a French national of the same age in receipt of the same amount of money.
Banking and Financial Advice for your Retirement 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 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 etc.
As in the UK 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 good news is that the British state pension is not frozen in France, and as France is in the EU it’s likely you will be able to find a reputable international financial advisor at least passported to give regulated advice in France on your entire financial situation, if not directly regulated in France.
Healthcare in France
The healthcare environment in France is world-class and funded by social contributions and payment at the point of contact. Britons of retirement age in receipt of the state pension can access healthcare in France at very low cost.
The healthcare environment in France is excellent; the national system is funded by contributions to a social security fund, which is made up of both insurance funds paid into by French residents, as well as by fees charged at the point of treatment.
The healthcare system (l’Assurance Maladie in French) is funded via various health insurance funds including the Couverture maladie universelle (CMU), which is an affiliate of the Régime Général and it’s the specific branch that includes membership for expatriates in France, including those retiring to live in France.
The very good news for those of retirement age is, if you’re receiving the state pension you’re eligible to join the CMU and you won’t have to pay any extra.
According to NHS England: “If you are living in [France] and you receive a UK State Pension or long-term Incapacity Benefit, you may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK. You’ll need to apply for a certificate of entitlement also known as an S1 form. You can apply for your form via the International Pension Centre on 0191 218 7777.
Once issued, register the S1 form with the relevant authority abroad [the CMU in France]. Often you need to do this before you can register with a GP surgery or obtain a medical card. Once you have registered your S1 you will be entitled to apply for and use a UK-issued EHIC to access state-funded necessary medical treatment when you visit other EEA countries.”
Note: it is wise to apply for your S1 form at least a month or two before you finalise your move to France and then register it immediately upon arrival. Don’t wait until you might need to see a doctor.
To join the CMU you will need to sign up at your local Caisse Primaire dAssurance Maladie (CPAM) office of which there are hundreds of local offices across France. Ask another expat or the local town hall for details.
Note, you will still have to pay top up fees for many services and treatments, and many of those who live in France choose to buy a voluntary insurance (assurance complémentaire santé) to cover the gap. You can get more advice from a financial advisor, insurance broker or via the Caisse Primaire dAssurance Maladie office.
Just as in the UK, almost every town of any significant size in France has its own network of doctors and dentists. You will need to engage in a process of trial and error to find good practitioners – or better still, take recommendations.
Make sure you obtain and retain receipts for any treatment or medicines paid for as you will likely be able to claim for at least partial reimbursement as long as you’ve followed the procedure to obtain your medical card in France, as detailed above.
The number for contacting emergency medical services in France is 15 – or you can dial the universal emergency number of 112.