We have holidayed here as a couple, then as a family, since 1996 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 spending more time 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 we thought carefully about for at least three years before moving. For a move to be successful I think planning is key and every now and then I come across an old spreadsheet on the computer comparing living costs and income in UK and France, there is even one showing our old weekly UK food shop that we had carefully priced in Euros too - once an accountant always an accountant. I often get asked for advice from people thinking of moving here too so have come up with the following things to consider. Please note this is by no means an exhaustive list, just my opinion based on our experience.
- Do your research especially on living costs; don’t forget personal bank accounts cost you each month, wine may be cheap but food can be pricey, it does get very cold here in winter and heating costs are likely to be as high or higher than in the UK. Large old French houses can be very draughty and take quite a bit of heating.
- Think carefully about how you are going to earn money to live - in rural France where there is already high unemployment it will be very difficult for you to get a part time job. The capital from selling your UK home will not go nearly as far as you think.
- Check out some of the online expat sites eg Survive France and French Entree these can be valuable sources of information.
- Think very carefully about your current social life/time spent with your family and friends and how you would cope without them.
- Where do 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 does shut over winter.
- Think about the transport links back to UK - lots of flights are summer only, how long will it take you to drive back in an emergency?
- If you want to own a business realise that you will pay about 40% in tax/social no matter what level your earnings are at and be very careful about going into a business that you have no previous experience in. The small bar in our village had been owned by four different people in six years and has now been closed for over two years.
- The healthcare system is very different to the UK, even once you are ‘in’ the system you have to pay for each appointment before being reimbursed, and you will need a ‘top up’ health insurance policy. If you are not ‘in’ the system, then you will get nothing reimbursed.
- Children will pick up the language fairly quickly, but it will be very difficult for them to begin with and can take up to 18 months before they are totally happy in school and the older they are the more difficult it can be for them.
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 goals in that we do spend a lot more time together as a family, without a mortgage and with an orchard and veggie garden our expenses per month are very low. This is just as well as so is our monthly income! But, whatever happens in the future we followed our dream and gave it our best shot and there are not too many 12 year olds who have been lucky enough to have their Mum and Dad at home for the full two months of school summer holidays since they were 4. I would never discourage anyone from making the move, but I would warn them to plan it well.