France has been a big part of our lives for over twenty years. We holidayed here as a couple, then as a family, and have lived here since 2004, and we love it. We often get asked why we moved here and the French are as interested in the answer as are our friends and family. Everyone has their own reasons for chasing the dream and for us it was about having more time to spend together as a family and not having the financial pressures we had in the UK. It was not a rash decision after a bottle of French wine whilst watching one of the many UK TV programmes about Brits moving to the sun; it was something we thought carefully about for at least three years before making the move.
I think planning is key for a move to be successful and I still have the old spreadsheets comparing living costs and income in UK and France (circa 2004), including our old weekly UK food shop that we had carefully converted into Euros - once an accountant always an accountant. I often get asked for advice from people thinking of moving here, so here is a list of things to consider. Please note this is by no means an exhaustive list, just my opinion based on our experience.
• Learn the language; you will get so much more out of your new life if you can communicate in French. We have found Coffee Break French and One Thing in a French Day very helpful.
• Research your living costs; don’t forget personal bank accounts are not free like in the UK, wine may be cheap, but food can be pricey. It gets very cold here in winter and heating costs are likely to be as high or higher than in the UK; old French houses can be draughty and take quite a bit of heating.
• Think about your income; the capital from selling your UK home will not go nearly as far as you think and in rural France especially, finding work will not be easy.
• If you want to run your own business, you will pay about 40% in tax/social charges no matter what level your earnings are, and the French system can be a complex one to understand.
• When deciding where you want to live; in the countryside or a town, remember unless you are in a large town or very popular area like the Riviera, France closes over winter. Also, not all French villages are equal in terms of amenities and social life.
• Think very carefully about your current social life/time spent with your family and friends, and how you would cope without seeing them regularly.
• Lots of flights to the UK are summer only, so it is important to consider how long will it take you to drive back in an emergency.
• The healthcare system is different to the UK as you must pay for each appointment before being reimbursed, and a ‘top up’ health insurance policy is advisable. If you are not ‘in’ the system, then you will get nothing reimbursed.
• Children will pick up the language fairly quickly at school, but for some, Ed included, it can be difficult to begin with and can take quite some time before they are totally happy to speak French.
We still love France, even if some of her ways can be very frustrating, but nothing in life is perfect and living here is not one long holiday. We have, just about, achieved our goal in that we do spend a lot more time together as a family. Without a mortgage and with an orchard, veggie garden and a frugal attitude to food, our expenses per month are very low, which is just as well as so is our monthly income! Following the UK Brexit referendum our future is less certain, but whatever happens we followed our dream and gave it our best shot.
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