RETIRING IN FRANCE
Good weather, fine gastronomy and varied landscapes are just some of the reasons so many of us choose to retire in France. Kate McNally reveals what you need to consider if you’re planning on making the move
Cover story Our essential guide for those wanting to spend their golden years in France
With the EU referendum taking place in June, many people may be holding off on their dream to retire to France, preferring to wait for greater clarity on the implications for UK expats living in France, should the British public vote to leave the European Union. That said, with so many UK residents in France and the growing numbers of young French nationals moving across the Channel to work in the UK, it could be hoped that in the event of a ‘Brexit’, the two countries’ governments would still cooperate to maintain an entente cordiale in terms of reciprocating residency and employment options. Whatever happens, the dream can still come true, you might just need to approach the move differently – and take more legal advice before heading off!
France continues to be a key destination of choice for UK retired expats despite higher costs and taxes than many other potential retirement destinations. The good weather, food and wine coupled with an endless choice of beautiful regions and, in general, good connections back to the UK, means la douce France will always pack a powerful punch when it comes to luring us English to spend our twilight years in her hexagonal hug.
So, decision made, what are the key areas to consider when planning to retire in France?
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!
Most Francophiles have a favourite part of France and it is often here that they see themselves retiring in a euphoric bubble of sunshine and rosé. But even if you know a place well, it pays to do some real homework on the area and also to consider alternatives – there is nothing like a comparison to help confirm your choice or to start questioning it. If possible, spend a month or two actually living in the area prior to making any commitments, because the quaint village full of pretty flowers and lively restaurants on your summer holiday can be less enticing when grey and half-deserted in winter!
Find out about the local population (who are they; are there many people of retirement age for instance?) and the local area – what activities are on offer year-round, what facilities are there in terms of healthcare, restaurants and public amenities, how far away is the nearest supermarket? Check out transport connections too – can you easily get to other parts of France where perhaps you have friends or family, and most importantly, is it relatively straightforward, and not too expensive, to get back to the UK regularly?
Also consider if it is important to you to mix with other English-speaking expats, and if so, look at areas popular with foreign residents – for example, Dordogne, Brittany and Provence have quite large contingents of British inhabitants. Equally, if you intend to top-up your retirement income with part-time work, what employment opportunities are there in the area, or will the location attract tourists if you set up a chambres d’hôtes or holiday gîtes for example?
LEARN THE LINGO
It might seem like stating the obvious, but the better your French, the better your life in France will be. Friendships are forged more readily, the dreaded French administration is negotiated with less difficulty (and less frustration), French culture and media can be appreciated more fully, and, most importantly, you will feel considerably less vulnerable as the years tick by when the little things in life go wrong.
Pensions At the moment, the UK and France have a reciprocal arrangement for pensions and a UK pension can be paid direct in euros into a French bank account. Equally, for those who have lived and worked for a period in France prior to retirement, there is currently a system in place to effectively combine the two state pensions. If you receive the UK state pension, take your S1 Form* with you as this will exempt you from paying the French social charges levied on pension income. If you are already retired in France, check out last year’s changes to UK pension regulations allowing early drawdown or a lump-sum retrieval as French tax laws might work in your favour.
Of course, all this could be subject to change in the case of a Brexit, but whatever happens, make sure you seek advice from an international pensions expert so you know you are putting the right measures in place for your particular situation.
Healthcare cover Again, if you receive the UK state pension, then show the S1 Form to the local French health authority (CPAM – Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie) in order to be registered as eligible for state healthcare in France under EU reciprocal arrangements.
Early retirees are no longer eligible for the S1 Form, however they are eligible, after three months living in France, for state healthcare cover known as PUMA – La Protection Universelle Maladie (apply at the local CPAM). Should you decide to work part-time to top-up funds, you will contribute to the French social security systems through the cotisations sociales taxed on earnings, and you are thereby automatically covered by the French healthcare system.
Be mindful, however, that healthcare is not free in France – there is always a percentage charged to the patient and most French people take out additional private health insurance cover, in the form of a mutuelle, which covers, to a greater or lesser degree, the amount charged to them.
Wills and testaments Revised EU legislation passed last year has made it possible for European nationals living abroad to opt for either the inheritance laws in their country of birth or in their country of permanent residency. This makes the situation much less opaque (French inheritance laws are different and stricter than UK laws) but you must have stated clearly in your UK will that you wish to choose UK inheritance laws, otherwise the process could still prove a minefield for inheritors of your estate.
Again, it’s always good to use solicitors experienced in drawing up wills for clients who live abroad.
* The SI Form proves that you have reached retirement age, have paid the required number of social security contributions and are receiving a state pension.
GET A LIFE… IN FRANCE
Many people seek out a range of activities in retirement to keep active, but also to maintain regular contact with the world beyond the front door. As in the UK, most local communities in France run various clubs and associations, from pétanque or Pilates to walking groups or bridge clubs. Ask at the mairie or the communauté d’agglomération for details.
Thanks to continued strong family links in France, the older generation is held in high esteem. Given that they generally also have more spare time, their assistance and experience is often sought after when it comes to officiating roles in municipal life.
Once you have become more integrated into the local community and if you have a reasonable level of French, you may also want to consider pursuing more serious involvement in local politics and affairs by seeking election as a voluntary official ( élu) – some French communities have even been known to have a British mayor!
Even if you opt for a more go-slow retirement, be sure to stop regularly for a coffee or beer whenever you go to the boulangerie or the weekly market. As well as being the beating heart of many a community, the local bar is the de facto Time Out magazine for what’s on, as well as to what’s going on around you!
Even though you’ve taken the decision to live across the Channel, the chances are you would like to take a little bit of home with you, whether it’s your favourite radio station, daily newspaper or perhaps your best friend.
In the modern digital, satellite and cable world, all of this is a simple connection away – all you have to do is choose your supplier and package wisely on arrival in France.
Big players include Orange (formerly France Télécom) for internet, television and phone packages and Canal+ for satellite TV which has a range of English-speaking channels, but as everywhere, the playing field is getting bigger and bigger.
Also, more and more foreign programmes, including British ones, are being included in the French TV scheduling, and can be accessed in version original ( VO), i.e. in the original language.
Most local communities in France run various clubs and associations