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MOVING TO FRANCE

10 things to think about before moving to France

It can be hard to know where to start when moving countries, so here are our tips for the things you need to think about before making the move, and to smooth your path once you're here.

Map of France
Being able to locate France on a map is a good start. Photo by Danielle Rice on Unsplash

Learn French

There are some countries that you can live in without ever learning the language, but France isn’t one of them unless you are prepared to miss out on a lot and you have a very patient French-speaking friend/partner/family member who is willing to do all your admin tasks for you.

READ ALSO How easy is it to move to France without speaking French?

That doesn’t mean you need to be fluent when you arrive, but learning at least some French before moving is a good idea and be prepared to keep working at it once you arrive.

Yes, we said work – a few gifted linguists might just ‘pick it up’ once they arrive, but for most people learning French involves classes, sweating over grammar books and regularly making excruciatingly embarrassing mistakes – the French language has many traps for the unwary foreigner.

Beautiful butts and condom-free baguettes: Readers reveal their most embarrassing French mistakes

Be legal

It’s boring but also important to make sure that you are in France legally. For non-EU citizens this will usually involve a visa and if you intend to work you may also need a work permit.

EXPLAINED How to apply for a French visa

It’s important to get these things sorted before you move and you need to have at least looked into the practicalities before you consider buying property. Contrary to what many people believe, owning a house in France does not give any special privileges within the visa system.  

READ ALSO Moving to France: What should I do first, residency, healthcare or driving licence?

Visit in the winter

Many people fall in love with France through holidaying here, but living in a country is a very different thing.

If you intend to live in a rural area you should visit in the winter as well as the summer to see if you still like it when it’s cold, damp and largely deserted. Conversely, not many people have written songs about Paris in August when it’s brutally hot, crammed with tourists and most of the good shops are closed.  

Cost of living 

Another deeply unromantic one, but do make sure your sums stack up and you have enough to live on, especially if you don’t intend to work in France.

If you want to be in Paris be aware that it regularly tops league tables for the world’s most expensive cities, while country living comes with its own expenses such as having to run a car in many places because of the lack of public transport.

Those French taxes also add up and if you’re relying on an income in another currency (such as a pension from your home country) remember that currency market fluctuations can have a dramatic impact on the money that ends up in your pocket.

Zen and the art of waiting

Be prepared for the fact that some processes might be slower than you are used to. French bureaucracy moves at its own pace and a good rule of thumb is to expect it to take six months to get all your administrative affairs in order after you move.

Railing at the system won’t make things move any faster and railing at bureaucrats is more likely to get your file ‘accidentally’ shredded, so practice the art of acceptance.

Internet connections

It sounds obvious, but if you intend to work from home in your French property then do make sure in advance that it has a good internet connection and, if necessary, your phone can get a signal.

Things are improving but many rural areas of France still have very patchy internet connections and buying extra signal boosters doesn’t always solve the problem.

Also, don’t believe anyone who tells you that high-speed fibre connections are coming ‘soon’ to the area, various companies have been making this promise for years.

READ ALSO Remote working in France – what are the rules for foreigners?

Making friends

Think about your social circle too. Moving to a new country can be lonely and making French friends might not be as easy as you think.

It’s not impossible of course, but give some thought to who you will socialise with and research in advance ways you might be able to meet people, whether it’s getting involved in village activities, joining a yoga class or setting up a conversation exchange group where you can improve your French and help others to improve their English.

READ ALSO Why finding French friends in France might be trickier than you think

Have documents ready

Most administrative tasks in France require a dossier – a file of documents – and you will save yourself much time and frustration if you get this ready in advance.

Expect to be regularly asked for your (full) birth certificate and if applicable marriage/divorce certificates, passport (and visa/residency card if necessary), bank account details, proof of address such as a rental contract or utility bills, proof of income such as payslips or pension details and proof of health cover. It’s a good idea to have some passport-sized photos ready as these are also often required. 

READ ALSO The essential documents you will always need in France

Be prepared for problems 

As well as practical matters, it’s important to be emotionally prepared for your move and any problems that come along.

Sooner or later you will hit a problem, particularly with the bureaucracy which is not always user-friendly, and if you have been imagining that every moment of your new life in France will be a paradise then this can be emotionally difficult.

There are few newcomers to France who haven’t cried at least once while trying to sort out everything that moving countries involves so expect problems to occur, but also know that they will be resolved eventually.

But remember to enjoy it

Hopefully this list doesn’t sound overly negative – it’s more about being prepared than putting you off France – but also take time to enjoy the small things (and the big things) about living in France.

From unexpected days off on obscure Catholic holidays to giggling like a child at French brand names that sound like rude words in English, there are all sorts of small pleasures to moving country.

And that’s before we get to the things that people move for in the first place – the more relaxed pace of life, the stunning countryside, the beautiful cities, the gastronomy, the wine, the culture, the cheese and did we mention the wine?  

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PROPERTY

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.

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