France is suddenly topping various charts and surveys, and coming out on top with Britons looking for a place to live, work , retire, pay less tax and holiday abroad. It’s even appealing from a property point of view as well, if you believe some recent headlines.
So is France really the best place to live abroad at the moment? It certainly has a great deal in its favour as we will now detail; however, there are certain downsides to this stunning nation that we would be amiss if we failed to highlight too!
If you’re looking to escape Blighty’s gloomy skies and dismal economic outlook, France could be worthy of your consideration – but heed the cons as well as the pros before you make a firm commitment to relocate across the Channel for a new life in France.
Because of the ash cloud disruption to travel that affected the whole of Europe last year, and following on from similar scares we’ve already experienced this year in the UK, holidaymakers from the UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany and France itself have their sights set on France because it is so easily accessible.
According to Holiday Lettings and Owners Direct, bookings of French properties to rent are up by as much as 30% this year already.
For Britons we have ferries and trains, we can take our cars or if we want to we can fly to France – travel options are excellent, and the costs of getting across the Channel are not exorbitant at the current time. Once in mainland France the exceptional road network locally means it’s easy to get to your destination of choice…and the further south you go, the more likely you are to experience excellent summer weather.
France offers such a 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 at this time of the year – or you can head to the Med and be soaking up the sun whilst the UK suffers under heavy grey skies.
In the winter France has some of the best snow-sports resorts in the whole of Europe, and 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 about this nation. You can while away your entire day sipping coffee at cafes and sitting outside whilst watching the world go by. You will be assured of fine cuisine, excellent shopping, and if you make the effort to speak French you will find you’re more welcome than if you arrogantly assume everyone speaks English!
However, this romanticised view of France that we can all experience if we holiday on the other side of La Manche doesn’t always translate easily if you move to settle permanently in France. Many Britons have come unstuck when attempting to make a new life across the Channel, as they have been struck by how difficult it is to make a living in France, how taxing the bureaucracy is, and how unwelcome they are as permanent incomers.
The Best Bits About Moving to France
On the plus side you have the fact that France is close to the UK so you don’t have to leave family and friends too far behind. Also, as mentioned above, France is easy to get to from the UK with many and varied travel options making it accessible even if we have to live under a permanent ash cloud.
Whilst France is over twice the size of the UK, its population is only a little bigger than our own which means the country does not exactly suffer from over crowding issues! This has been one reason why rural property has remained relatively attractively priced in some areas – despite the strength of the euro compared to the pound.
This means Britons can fulfil their desire to own their own home if they move to France, and property ownership rules and laws are strong and relatively transparently documented and adhered to – compared to some countries such as Cyprus and Turkey for example!
The wealth tax threshold has been extended from 790,000 EUR to a whopping 1.3 million which can really advantage some retirees. Income tax rates are lower in France than the UK, and according to the Telegraph: “Benefits apportioned to family members are attractive, including the recent tripling of the inheritance-tax (IHT) threshold for children to €160,000 (£142,000).”
Dividends may be taxed less, the British state pension is still index linked if you retire to France and the cost of living is comparable to ours in Briton, with some Brits finding that they can offset the weaker pound because they live in southern France where locally grown produce keeps food prices lower, and the better weather keeps their annual fuel costs down.
Living in France Isn’t Always Easy
The trouble with France is its appeal – as ironic as that sounds. It is a country that many Britons warm to when they holiday there; so much so that a strong percentage believe they could set up a permanent home in France easily.
The truth of the matter is France is a very good place to holiday, but a surprisingly hard place to call home. If your dream is to live in rural France don’t be surprised to find nothing to do, no services to speak of, no public transportation infrastructure and limited opportunities to get out and meet people.
The dream of starting a new life can turn into a nightmare for Britons who find themselves isolated and basically bored! Those who relocate with children can suffer most when their children find the local schools perhaps fail them, and it’s really hard to get out and about to take part in extra curricular activities in order to make friends for example.
It’s a fairly well documented reality for some Britons who have attempted to make a new life in France. Others who move to more urban areas and who intend to work in France can come unstuck when they realise how hard it is for foreign nationals to find employment. And all Brits find the taxation system complex and the bureaucracy overly complex.
Finally it’s unavoidable but…we need to mention the racism issue. Some Britons have faced this issue directly and it is very shocking coming from a nation’s people with whom we believe we so closely relate. I cannot say where it stems from or why, but perhaps it is more of an issue in communities that feel at threat from a strong influx of Britons or foreign nationals in general.
This is a point that will be rejected by many reading this article…but until you have experienced it you may indeed find it hard to believe. As someone who has lived in France I can assure you it’s a real problem.
Nowhere in the world is perfect – even places that look like paradise on earth such as parts of Australia or Switzerland to name but two beautiful and diverse examples, have their own problems. So the fact that France has issues to overcome and problems to factor in does not mean that it can’t be your perfect place to live abroad.
It is just important to remove your rose tinted glasses when looking closely at what the country can offer you in terms of your lifestyle desires, and then accept that France can be a tough country to crack. Get it right and you can live the dream…get it wrong and you may be facing a real nightmare.
Wed, October 05, 2011 at 12:14 PM
I have lived here since 1972 and have a French mother. I do actually agree with your comment on racism and was thinking that the other day:: it’s not just “les Arabes”, “les noirs”, etc. but there is definitely something about anyone who is not French.
Nonetheless, I still live here after so many years, am about to retire after a whole career in France, and have many lovely French friends!
Mon, December 12, 2011 at 09:13 PM
I moved to France and lived in Paris for six years. Went back to the UK to finish a Master’s degree and returned to West Africa to work. Two years later, I married my French boyfriend of three years and moved back to France to the countryside in Brittany and it has been five months and I must say I have and I am still suffering from culture shock, isolation and pure frustration. Nothing really prepared me for this. Paris is definitely NOT Rennes but what changed?
Well before I was a student, a semi-adult, studying in a non-French university and now as a married woman having left my well-paid job in Africa to be with my husband, I am unemployed and French bureaucracy is appalling. I have to explain and re-explain and I have to queue at Pole Emploi to register as an unemployed person because without this status there are certain jobs I can’t access. I explain, I only want a job and do not want or need benefits, the lady basically forces me to accept that I i will receive benefits. I realise she is not doing it for me but she must have some kind of quota to meet and that’s that.
De plus, I came to France on a spousal visa, the visa started in March but I landed in France in September. This document is pretty much complicated for foreigners and cheap (310 euro!). It says it is valid for 12 months but in fact it is only valid for 10 months. I tried to find a job could not, so I signed up for a technical course. I got offered a place but then I was rejected. Why? my visa expires in March the following year and as far as they are concerned I am not ‘stable’. I explain that I can only ask for a renewal 2 months before it expires (in January) and unfortunately I will only get the actual visa 2 months after but there is no guarantee that I will get it… (C’est vraiment vivre dans le doute tout ca)
Finally the best part of it all, for each renewal my husband must accompany me and sign some document and I must agree to part with 110 euro.
In short, I have a spousal visa that allows me to work, but I cannot find a job and even schools have rejected my application. I am a highly skilled migrant but what does that mean to France. Rien. Oh yes, I have a very foreign African sounding name and I am African with no European nationalities. I lived 9 years in the UK and I discovered this difference in France as a worker, four months ago. hahaha!
Anyway, I am going back home after Christmas, my job is till waiting for me. The husband will have to join me or move to the UK. Sorry about the rant but all this to say, I feel very sorry for immigrants who come to the country on a spousal visa (especially) and don’t have a choice. It is the best way to push people to work illegally, the best way to show them they are not welcome and the best way too to ensure higher divorce rates amongst bi-national couples.
So your question: Is France the best place to live abroad? Honestly, France is not what I would consider to be abroad. I love London, maybe after London one should try tiny countries like The Gambia or Cape Verde! The landscape is beautiful the people are interesting. Istanbul, Turkey seems quite enticing too… Am thinking anything BUT the Euro zone right now.