ASK THE EXPERTS
Whether you’re planning your move to France, or are already living there, our panel of professionals aims to keep you fully informed with the best advice for every eventuality
Our experts answer your questions, including settling a child into French school and buying commercial premises
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
QMy wife and I are moving to France and are looking for commercial premises as we plan to open a restaurant. What do we need to know in terms of obtaining the relevant permissions (not all of the properties we’re considering are currently used for this purpose so would we need a change of use?), and what should we know about health and safety requirements, fire safety, disabled access etc? Brian Weston
AIf the property is currently being used as a restaurant, then permits are required for any changes to the internal layout or external appearance, but no change of use will be needed. However, you will need to check if the licence to sell alcohol is still valid if the premises are closed and not trading, pending a sale. As a rule, the licence will remain valid for up to three years following closure.
Layout changes and upgrades to the property will require planning approval. Conformity with fire and disabled access regulations will also be the subject of a verification process. In France, any business which is open to the public is known as an ‘ERP’ ( établissement recevant du public), and there are specific approval processes to follow. One of the most important factors is disabled access, including WC facilities. Many businesses of this type have closed in France in recent years because they do not conform to requirements, so take account of this in your research for a suitable property, or ensure you have adequate funds for any conversion/renovation works to bring the property up to standard.
As owners of the business, you will need to attend a course in order to obtain either the transfer of any existing liquor licence or a new licence if none exists already. This is usually three days or so, and is conducted in French. A good level of French is required in order to understand the content, and there is a test at the end.
All of the above apply also where the property does not currently have commercial status, but in addition, a change of use will be required and is not guaranteed (each application is dealt with on its own merit and subject to local planning regulations). ARTHUR CUTLER
SETTLING INTO SCHOOL
QI’m in the process of moving my whole family to Dordogne and I’m worried about schooling for my eldest child, Charlie. He’s nearly four and like all three year olds, he can be difficult at times – we have tantrums, he struggles to share and is generally very boisterous. From everything I’ve heard about the French school system, I’ve got the impression that French children are generally perfect! Are they?! I’m worried how Charlie will adjust to a French school and how they would handle him. What if he never fits in? Any advice from other expat families who’ve made the move to France would be much appreciated. Leanne Bradley
AIt’s easy to buy in to the perfect picture of French children painted in the media. It’s true that French children are often very well behaved, particularly in public places such as restaurants. However, they are still children and enjoy running, being boisterous and aren’t immune to the odd scrap either.
Having said that, I know how you feel. Despite the fact that my twins, Tim and Joe (who turned four in March) had been attending a local crèche one day a week before they started in their local maternelle (nursery school) last September, I was very concerned about how they might cope – especially Joe, who by the sounds of it would get on very well with your Charlie!
However, the teachers in my local maternelle school are kind, relate really well to the children and, despite a few tears at first, the boys have both adapted to school very well. At first, Joe had a few problems with his concentration, but he is now a different boy – he’s still happy and high-spirited, but with a greater understanding of how to conduct himself in more formal situations.
In my opinion, the French maternelle schools offer an ideal start for children. Rather than leap straight in to heavy schoolwork, they learn about their place in the school, how to conduct themselves and build valuable relationships with other children. The work seems fairly straightforward, but provides a great foundation on which they can then build. In this way, although three years old seems an awfully young age to start school, children are given a gentle start to their education.
I suspect your Charlie may feel a little out of sorts at first, having not been exposed to French before, but if your maternelle school is anything like the one my children attend, the teacher and assistant will have the experience and patience to give him a great start to his schooling. Good luck with your move and try not to worry! GILLIAN HARVEY
IN IT TOGETHER
QI’m buying a property in France with my partner and understand that there are several options for joint ownership. What are the differences between ‘en indivision’ and ‘en tontine’ and what are the advantages/disadvantages of each? How do we know which one would be most suitable for us?
Buying en indivision or en tontine are the two usual arrangements under which property can be jointly purchased in France. Which method to use will generally depend on whether you both wish the surviving partner to inherit the whole property.
In very simple terms, en indivision is similar to buying a property in the UK under a tenancy in common arrangement. Each joint owner, known as indivisaires, owns a distinct share of the property. The actual share that each partner would own in the property is normally representative of your contribution to the purchase price.
However, this can be modified by signing a shared ownership agreement drawn up by your notaire. The agreement can also make provision regarding the maintenance obligations of each owner and the circumstances when the property might be sold. Without such an agreement, one partner can force a sale. This circumstance might arise if the relationship breaks down, or if one of you dies and the partner’s beneficiaries want to sell the property.
On death, each partner’s share of the property will pass under their wills, or under the French intestacy rules. Therefore, if you are not married it could result in complications for the surviving partner if the share in the property has to pass to a child, or if you fail to make a will, to their family under the French intestacy rules. These issues can be mitigated by making a will and taking advantage of the new EU succession rules which came into effect last August, if you are a UK national.
Conversely, en tontine is similar to a joint tenancy arrangement in the UK. To take advantage of this arrangement you would have to specifically ask the notaire to include the tontine clause in the purchase contract. If you have already purchased the property it is too late to take advantage of this method. It works as a contractual arrangement between each owner so that when the first partner dies, the survivor automatically inherits the whole property. This is even the case where the joint owners are not married and despite the provisions in the partner’s will or intestacy rules.
It can simplify the succession process but it does not affect the succession tax liabilities, which can be as much as 60%.
If the partner who dies first has children from a different relationship, the tontine arrangement can be challenged on death. It can be difficult for a child to be successful in a claim but not impossible, as under French law it is seen as circumventing the forced heirship rules.
As a prudent measure, each partner may also wish to write a will electing a choice of English law to ensure the property passes to the surviving partner, if the tontine arrangement is vulnerable to challenge from stepchildren.
During the period of ownership all desicions must be agreed upon and made jointly. If there is a disagreement, the tontine clause can be cancelled so that one partner may choose to buy the other out. SIMON LOFTHOUSE