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'Not all gin-swilling pensioners' - What are Brits in France really doing?

The Local France
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'Not all gin-swilling pensioners' - What are Brits in France really doing?
Photo by Denis CHARLET / AFP

The popular stereotype of 'Brits in France' is retirees, often wealthy, frequently swigging a gin and tonic. But the latest immigration data suggests that the real picture of the British community is a very different one.


The most recent data from the EU data agency Eurostat is out, and it gives an insight into how many Brits moved to France in 2022 - and what they're all doing here.

The Eurostat data compares first-time residency permits granted to UK nationals across different EU countries.

Pre-Brexit, Brits in France did not need any kind of visa or residency permit - but those arriving in the country since 2021 need to complete immigration formalities which, among other things, requires them to state their purpose for coming to France.


Eurostat breaks this down into four categories; work, study, family reunification or 'other' - which includes retirees and others who don't intend to work or study in France.

In total 7,927 UK nationals were granted a first-time residency permit in France in 2022 and by far the biggest single group - 3,182 - came here to work. That figure includes both employees and those who came to either set up their own business or work as a freelancer or contractor. 

While France has often earned itself a reputation as a place where getting a job or setting up a business is complicated, Emmanuel Macron's government has brought in a series of measures aimed at loosening restrictions around setting up or expanding a business - this includes the 'talent passport' which is intended to help companies recruit foreign talent.

There has also been a concerted effort to lure certain sectors - including finance, gaming and tech - to France in the post-Brexit environment, including English language assistance for anyone moving a business here. 

The next biggest group is students - 1,901 came to study in 2022.

France has been working hard to market itself as an international study destination and around 400,000 foreign students come here each year. It is the fourth most popular country for foreign students - and the top non-English speaking country.

Although Brexit has made studying in France more complicated for British students, the fact that French is still widely taught in British schools makes it a natural destination for those who want to study abroad.

The third biggest group of Brits was the 'other' category which includes retirees and had 1,760 people. Finally, 1,084 people came via family reunification - ie joining a spouse, partner or parents already resident in France.

This data represents only a single year, of course, but broadly tracks with pre-Brexit data which suggested that only around 22 percent of Brits living in France were retired - the rest were either working, looking for work or studying. 


Prior to the end of the Brexit transition period, Brits were not required to have residency documents in France, so data on how many moved here and what they were all doing is a lot less detailed. Eurostat data from 2020 and 2021 carries the caveat that it is likely to be atypical due to Covid-19 and ensuing travel restrictions - so the data from 2022 provides the first detailed snapshot of why Brits move to France.

While there are undoubtedly a lot of British retirees in France - many of whom probably enjoy a G&T from time to time - it might be time to put to bed the myth that Brits only come to France to retire. 


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Paul Griffiths 2023/08/15 15:53
I came to France in 2004 for love, having re-met a French woman who I had first known in the early 1970s. At the time, retirement wasn't a motive although a combination of EU citizenship and being self-employed helped make the move possible. Now in my late 70s, I am retired and busy with my personal stuff, with no time for a 'G&T life'. Most of the Brits I know here in the Var are living similar lives. I was once asked by a New Zealander if I was here for the 'life style' He got short shrift.

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