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Retiring to France: The things you need to consider

Retiring to France isn't all sunbathing
Retiring to France isn't all sunbathing. Photo: Frank Perry/AFP
For many this is a lifelong dream, but there are some practical issues to be addressed before you can begin your retirement in France.

Long, lazy afternoons in the sun, picking fresh figs off the tree and then opening a bottle of rosé? Sure, retirement to France can involve all these things and much more, but first you need to think about boring but important things like residency permits, pensions and health insurance.

Immigration

Starting at the beginning, you need to ensure that you are living legally in France. For EU citizens this is fairly straightforward, but non-EU citizens (including Brits) will need a visa in order to start a new life in France.

If you’re retiring and therefore don’t intend to work in France, you probably want a visitor visa.

This requires proving you have sufficient financial means – either savings or an income such as a pension, rental income or investments – giving an undertaking that you won’t work in France and there’s also a fairly hefty stack of paperwork to assemble. Full details on the process HERE.

Once you get your visa and arrive in France that doesn’t mean that the admin is over, you will still have to register for residency once you get here.

Pensions

Once here, you will need to make sure you have enough money to pay for Cognac and baguettes, and for many that will be a pension. People who move abroad once their pension has already begun to pay out can generally have it transferred to their new address with few problems, although if your pension is not paid in euros, remember that currency fluctuations can have quite a drastic effect on your monthly income.

If, however, you take early retirement and move abroad before your pension begins to pay out, check carefully that this will not affect your payouts.

Countries need to have international social security arrangements in order for you to begin claiming a state pension from another country. For EU citizens this is covered by Bloc-wide pension arrangements, but other countries need bilateral treaties, and the lack of one between France and Australia has seen many Australians in France forced to move back in order to become eligible for their pension.

While Brits who were living in France before the end of the Brexit transition period kept their existing pension rights, those who move now no longer benefit from joined-up EU pensions, if they have worked in more than one country.

Taxes

Once you are resident in France you will need to fill in the annual tax declaration – even if you are not earning in France. If all your income (eg a pension) comes from abroad and you come from a country that has a double taxation agreement with France (including the USA, UK, EU and Australia) then you won’t have to actually pay any income tax in France, but you still have to complete the annual declaration.

There are also property taxes and the TV licence to consider.

READ ALSO The hidden costs of owning property in France

Healthcare

Everyone will need healthcare sooner or later, but the rules here can be different for foreigners who worked in France before retiring than for those who have never ‘paid in’ to the French system.

In most cases if you move here on a visa, you will need to show proof of private health insurance for your first year.

Once you move, you can register within the French health system, but who pays your bills may depend on whether you are already in receipt of a state pension and whether your home country has an agreement with France.

While waiting for registration, EU citizens can use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) while Brits can use the new UK-specific version, the GHIC, although this does not cover everything and should not be used as long-term health cover.

READ ALSO Health insurance: What are the rules for new arrivals in France

Transport

You’ll also have to keep in mind how you will get around, and if you live in a rural area that will almost certainly mean a car.

If you’re an EU or UK licence holder you can swap your licence for a French one, but if your licence is from the USA then the State in which you obtained it is crucial – not all US states have reciprocal agreements on swapping driving licences with France and if you’re unlucky enough to come from one of those, you face taking a French driving test before being allowed behind the wheel.

In better news, once you get your French driving licence there is no upper age limit or obligation to renew it once you hit a certain age, although the local Préfet can order a medical examination in cases where there is some doubt about the driver’s fitness to be behind the wheel. This usually follows an accident.

More good news if you’re going by train, as there are discount cards available to over 60s, while the Paris region also provides a free monthly travel pass for over 65s.

Old-age care

While you may be fit and active when you move to France, at some point you may become ill or infirm and need extra help.

France has a strong system of home-care to enable people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, but there are also residential care homes for those who need them.

There are no limits to foreigners accessing care but who pays for it can vary depending on your home country and whether you have ever worked in France. Full details here.

Reader question: Can I move into a French care home as a foreigner

Language

It might sound obvious, but you will have more fun in France if you speak the language. While it is possible to interact only with English speakers in certain areas of France, official functions generally have to be done in French.

Plus, the whole experience of moving abroad will be a lot richer if you can chat to the locals and understand the culture, so if you have long-term plans to retire to France, start now with learning the language.

READ ALSO How easy is it to move to France if you don’t speak French?

Social 

Consider also the social aspect of your new life.

At The Local we’re obviously big fans of moving abroad, but we would never deny that it can at times be difficult and lonely, and if you’re not working it can be harder to make friends.

So think in advance of how you will meet people and just how isolated your new place is – and if you’re moving to rural France, always make sure you have visited the area in the winter as well as the summer.

READ ALSO How to make French friends in France


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