But just because you have a smattering of French learnt at school, and have always enjoyed your holidays there, does not mean it will be plain sailing. Take plenty of time to research and plan so that you don’t arrive in the expectation that real life day to day will be the same as the carefree holidays you remember.
France is big
We all know this of course, but it does mean that there is a lot of choice about where to settle. France has masses of beautiful coastline, vast and varied rural interiors, busy cities, bustling market towns and sleepy little villages. It has beaches and mountains and vineyards. Each ‘departement’ in France will have its own landscape, cuisine and dialect. You would be ill advised to move before deciding what you are looking for and thoroughly investigating the area in person.
If you have only ever visited France in the summer holidays it might be easy to assume that the days are always long and sunny. The south does get more than its fair share of sun, though even here, the Mistral, a cold wind, can dramatically lower the temperature. Naturally, the mountainous areas of the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Massif Central experience heavy snowfall in winter. The Atlantic Coast tends to have mild temperatures without extremes of heat or cold.
How is your French?
Most of us can manage a smattering of French gleaned at school, but although English is widely spoken in France, resistance remains, and a good working knowledge of French will pay dividends not only in dealing with the bureaucracy with which you will be faced, but also in making friends. Needless to say, good French is also essential for most jobs. Consider improving your language skills with an evening class or an audio or online course.
Do you need an income?
Unless you are on a pension you will probably need a job or a business to provide an income. As an EU citizen you are entitled to work in France, but finding something can be very hard. It’s preferable to get things lined up before you go, but if you don’t do this, do make sure you have enough money to live for at least six months while you find a job or establish your new venture. Use personal contacts, check the various websites offering jobs, or the French equivalent of the jobcentre: http://www.pole-emploi.fr/accueil/
France has an excellent national health service to which you are entitled if you are an EU resident and pay your contributions (cotisations). You’ll need to take an EHIC card (apply here www.ehic.org.uk)
However the system does not cover the full cost of treatment (and often requires you to pay up front and then claim back). You may wish to take out private health insurance through a mutuelle to cover the balance.
Buying property in France
It’s a good idea to rent in the area you have chosen, and look at properties locally, as those advertised specifically to foreigners are often overpriced. Remember that in France property is sold en l’etat (as is) and there will be no recourse if defects are discovered later on. If you plan significant renovations, leave plenty of time: you will need to get a building permit, for which you will have (unless the property is very small) to submit copious documents from a registered architect or building supervisor (maitre d’oeuvre) to the local town hall (the Mairie).
Residential and tax status
If you are going to be spending 183 days a year or more in France then you will be officially fiscally resident there, and will thus become a French taxpayer. You will also be subject to French jurisdiction in the event of your death, which means that your estate will be divided according to French inheritance laws which stipulate an equal distribution among your direct heirs. You cannot leave everything to one child and nothing to another, and you can only leave it all to charity if you have no direct heirs. Check the situation regarding your leaving your entire estate to your spouse in your will. French inheritance law works differently to that of the UK, and you may find half of your estate is apportioned to your children, potentially leaving your spouse vulnerable.
Get a notaire
In France, the notaire (of which there are about 7,500, and about 40,000 assistants) has a virtual monopoly in administering contracts of all kinds, relating to marriage, inheritance, property and so on. He helps in matters of property valuation and in arbitrating in disputes, he can form companies, prepare leases and so on. You will certainly come across one when buying a property. However he is also an excellent source of information when searching for property as, despite the rise of estate agents, most properties are still sold by notaires. He will be a mine of related information, such as whether a motorway is planned nearby. Bear in mind that you can choose your own notaire.
Remember to budget for all the charges and taxes on top of the property price itself. This will include the fees for the notaire, legal costs in preparing the deed and VAT.
Moving your worldly goods
If you are moving more or less permanently, you’re likely to want to take a lot of your things with you, especially if you are relocating as a family. You’ll need to find an international removals company which is experienced in international relocations. They will be familiar with local customs and duty regulations and be able to advise you on any restrictions and on what documentation is required. Personal items and personal household goods being moved from the UK to France are exempt of duty provided the VAT has been paid in the EU. There are certain items that are illegal to relocate into France such as firearms, ammunition, meat, dairy products, plants, narcotics, psychotropic substances and wild animals. Check with the French Consulate in London on the full list. This website will also give you the relevant information on long stay visas and documentation required to live in France over three months.
If you have a large number of possessions and furnishings to move to France, we would recommend using an international removals firm that is registered with FIDI (http://www.fidi.com/about) which is the leading international association of independent international removal companies. FIDI members must adhere to strict international moving protocols and will have excellent experience in moving your possessions to France.
Get quotes for moving to France from reallymoving.com
Make sure that you have a credit card that works in France (Visa is more readily accepted than Mastercard or Amex) and bear in mind that it can take about three weeks to open a bank account. There is lots of paperwork and the bank will carry out extensive identity checks. Since you will need a French account before you can get a local mobile or internet subscription, this is something you will want to sort out as soon as possible.
Taking your car
This is not as straightforward as you might think. Firstly, you will need to notify the DVLA that you are moving to France and get the relevant import certificate. You’ll need a carte grise, for which you will need to compile a dossier containing several documents before you apply at your local prefecture.
If your car is over 4 years old, you will need a controle technique de vehicule just search the French Yellow Pages to locate a centre close to you for this. Finally, you will also need a Certificate of Conformity to show your car meets EU safety standards. These are usually obtained from the car’s manufacturer who will probably charge you for the certificate. You will then need to head up to your local Prefecture or Sous-Prefecture with these documents, together with your passport, proof of residency, utility bill and check whether any other documents are also required!
Do your research
With the vast numbers of Brits who have relocated to France with varying degrees of success, there is an abundance of information and advice online. Make sure you do your research before you commit.