Every day this week I will post one of my top five tips on moving to France. This is based on my own experience of moving to France with my family in 2010, as documented in more detail in A French Renaissance?
Tîp 1. Think carefully about where you want to live
If you want to live by the coast then you should not be property hunting in the Dordogne or the Auvergne. Choose your region carefully, taking account of your budget, interests, goals and expectations, especially in terms of climate, but also in terms of other factors such as accessibility, amenities, and employment or income prospects. We decided on a region that is far enough south to have a good climate (in theory!), where property prices were not exorbitant, but access is definitely a weakness and something we did not give enough consideration to.Once you have decided on a region or regions, then you also need to think about the kind of locality you are looking for. Many people are looking for something within walking distance of a village (but not in the village) where there is a bakery and a café, and near enough to a larger town or city, with supermarkets and other services. If this is what you’re looking for, remember, there are only so many such places in France and you may not find something that meets all of your other criteria in such a location. We found a nice house, within walking distance of a village, near a big town with supermarkets and all other essential services, but there is no bakery or café in our village. It was a compromise we would have preferred not to have had to make, but still necessary, so you have to be prepared, and know your limits.
Tip 2: Rent before you buy
It is very difficult to property search when you live far away from the area you plan to move to. Mostly, you’re restricted to looking at websites, which often only advertise the properties that are more difficult to shift. The real gems are snapped up quickly and often never make it to these websites, so it is important to be on the ground and available to view properties at short notice and maybe even to hear about properties before they come on the market.
Probably the best time to view properties in France is outside the main tourist season and in general tourist accommodation (especially gites) can be rented at very reasonable prices in this period. Rent on other types of long term rentals can also be good value, especially in the more rural areas, so take advantage of this to spend time in the area and explore the property market up close before taking the plunge!
Tip 3: Think long and hard about what kind of property you want/need
You will obviously have some essential requirements, but also certain desirable but non-essential criteria. Identify these and be sure you know the difference between the two, as it is almost impossible to find the absolute dream property, so you will need some inbuilt flexibility. If the property that catches your eye includes some of your non-essential features, or if, as is often the case, it includes features that you hadn’t even considered, be careful – additional land or a bigger house than you expected seems great in principle, but in practice you need to think through the implications of this. What will it mean in terms of the additional workload to maintain the land or the additional rooms, or what additional costs will you incur for heating, fencing and other ongoing costs, and how much more property tax will you have to pay? You may find that these additional features are more trouble than they’re worth.
Tip 4: Learn the language
This might seem obvious but I am continually amazed at the amount of people I meet who are living in France and barely speak a word of French. If you want a reasonable chance of integrating and managing your day to day life without the constant need for someone to speak on your behalf then you need to speak French. Even if you don’t attain fluency, try to have a reasonable grasp of the language before you move. By this I mean you should be able to understand people who make an effort to speak to you slowly and clearly, and be able to hold a basic conversation. This will help you to integrate, to negotiate officialdom and, importantly, will provide a basis to further improve your language skills once you are in-situ.
Tip 5: Don’t underestimate the financial requirements
Be sure you have enough money for the move and for any renovations or other work you need to undertake. Get quotes from local people and allow for unpleasant surprises, as they always materialize. On top of this, you need to know where your ongoing income is going to come from, and be realistic, not only in terms of your income estimates, but also in calculating what you will need to live on. France is more expensive that you might imagine! So, once you have identified where the initial investment is going to come from, and your source or sources of ongoing income, you’re pretty much sorted, right? Wrong, chances are you have still underestimated the investment needed and overestimated your earning capacity, so you need a contingency – a back-up plan in case, as is likely, things don’t materialize as you expect.
Our contingency was the possibility of me being able to work from home, so at least we had a fall-back position when the renovations costs escalated and when it took longer than expected to get our gite business up and running. But this was not part of the master plan. I was supposed to scale back my work. Looking back now I can see that we probably overinvested in living space and underinvested in income-generating space and because of this, attaining our financial or income goals was set back by at least three to four years. If I hadn’t had a job I could carry-on from home, then our plans would have been in disarray.
One last work, and maybe this should be treated as a separate tip, but I’ll include it here anyway – don’t lose sight of the important things in life, like relationships. Since we moved to France I have been stunned by the amount of people I have met who are separated or divorced and who put their relationship problems down to the stress of the move. Moving to another country puts enormous strain on any relationship so try to minimize this by taking heed of these five tips and also by making time for family and relationships.
Otherwise, don’t go!
If you haven’t adequately addressed each of these five issues, my advice would be, don’t move to France. The highways and byways of rural France are littered with the shattered dreams of overzealous expats who misjudged, miscalculated or never really considered the complexities of living in a foreign country.
If the fundamentals are right: if your relationship is strong, if you have enough money, and decent language skills, you have a good chance of succeeding. If not, well, don’t give up on the dream but maybe think about how to you can sort these things out before you cut loose.