France has always been a popular holiday destination for Europeans, and especially for the British. France had better weather, quieter roads, beautiful beaches, stunning scenery and all those chateaux! It is very easy to get to France by ferry or by using one of the low cost airlines which frequent all the major cities.
Many people have moved to France, either having a second home there, or moving permanently. Rural France is seen as having a quieter more laid back lifestyle. The weather is consistently warm and dry, and winters are mild particularly in the South of France. Of course the excellent cuisine and fine wines for which France is so famous are another big attraction. House prices are ridiculously cheap compared to England mainly because most French families choose to rent rather than to own their own homes. People who work from home on the internet; writers and retirees are all drawn to France for these reasons.
The cost of living in France is generally lower than in the UK, but higher than in the USA. Clothing is expensive but food and wine are generally cheap, fresh and high quality. Eating out is similarly a little cheaper than in England, but much more expensive than in America. Utility bills and property taxes are quite low, so overall living in France is cheaper than in the UK.
Living in a new culture with a strange language can be daunting. It is wise to learn some French before moving to the country in order to understand at least some of your new surroundings. Outside the tourist areas, French is generally the only language spoken and understood. You may be able to enroll in a language school or get private tuition to help you learn the language and pronunciation quickly.
Buying a property in France is somewhat different to buying real estate in other countries. You will definitely need the services of an estate agent (realtor) who will guide you through the delicate negotiations which often involve approval by the local mayor. There are no multiple listing services so you need to look at all the agent’s boards. Make sure that you use someone who is a member of FNAIM or SNPI. Also be aware that there are no disclosure laws in France – it is up to you to make all necessary checks. Expect to pay about 12% of the property’s value in purchase fees and taxes. An international mover will also need to be consulted as you move your possessions and they will deal with all the import rules and regulations on your behalf.
Healthcare in France is to a very high standard, with none of the usual waiting lists experienced by other nationally provided services such as the NHS. Social insurance premiums are deducted from wage earners and in addition, fees are payable at the point of treatment. However these fees may be waived for low-income families, or claimed back from insurance policies. The result is a good standard of service, a choice of provider and much lower costs than US health care policies.
The French do love bureaucracy and paperwork, and even though you may be moving between member states of the European Union, France will still require that you apply for permanent residence status. A Sécurité Sociale must also be applied for if you are a permanent resident or if you are working in France. It is very simple for a member of the European Union to move to France, but there are still some differences to be aware of. For example inheritance laws are very different in France and could leave you with unforeseen problems should the worst happen. For example, if a man dies without leaving a will, his property will not pass to his wife, even if it is jointly owned, it will pass to the children. Check very carefully on other unexpected differences in the law and get legal assistance from a French lawyer on these important issues. Tax liabilities are quite high if you are still earning money or have substantial assets in your home country, so check these facts with a tax specialist.
Outside of the cities there is very little public transport. A car is essential for getting around. If you have a driving license from any other EU country, this is acceptable to use in France, otherwise you will need to take a driving test which is fairly simple to do.
Generally French residents in the larger cities are far more aloof, polished, private and reserved than their rural cousins. Village communities generally are happy to welcome newcomers and will happily converse with you. However, you will never actually be considered ‘local’ even after many years. Joining the local church and assisting with community events will help, as well as being a tolerant and easy-going neighbor. If you have school-age children this will also help integrate you in the community more quickly. Registering children with the local French school is easy. You will need to show passports and birth certificates and various immunizations must be given. You will also need to buy a school insurance policy which is just a few euros. French schooling is to a high standard and has a high emphasis on the arts subjects. It is also the best way for your children to learn the French language, and will soon leave you behind!
Whether you move to France permanently or for a short period of time, your life will certainly be enriched by the experience. France is beautiful, the lifestyle is laid back and generally easy-going outside the cities, and the culture is rich. City life is faster and more upbeat, but again the cultural heritage is rich and is to be enjoyed and learnt from.