Reasons NOT to Move to France:
If you were to notionally divide your plans to buy a French property and move to France into two “boxes”, a “reality” box and a “dream” box, then this is the “reality” box.
Bureaucracy: If you thought bureaucracy was bad in the UK, wait until you get to France. The French have red tape down to an art form. Bureaucracy ranks as the number one complaint among all people I spoke to in compiling this web site. Whereas in the UK it is possible to run a small business without too many burdens imposed by the government (although this is debatable), in France this is not the case. Employing people is particularly onerous and expensive (their equivalent of National Insurance is particularly burdensome for small businesses).
Capital Gains Tax (CGT): You may be exposed to CGT on the sale of your French property. This may present problems for people who try France and then decide they want to sell up and move back to the UK. I suggest you take advice from a French tax expert for the most up-to-date best course of action regarding CGT.
France is Different and the French are Different. It can take years for an outsider to fathom the French and until the penny drops, the foreigner may continue to be confounded, frustrated and infuriated. The best selling book Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong-… says a lot about the difference and is worth a read. This book explains why the French are as they are. What the authors manage to explain is that the French are not just superficially different, they are fundamentally different.
Economic Uncertainty: large private sector enterprises receive massive subsidies from the government. This is not sustainable and when it comes to an end there will be widespread unrest and a lot of people will be worse off. The French government spends like a teenager with his first credit card – the party will have to come to an end eventually.
Education and Schools: For many Brits with young families a major reason for moving to France is, what they perceive to be, the excellent state education system. Many people have contacted us saying they regret deeply having moved their kids into the French school system. We also have to question what people hope to gain by moving their children into a completely different system, a move that would be traumatic enough, even if the taught language were English. Why do parents put their kids through the hell of such a move? A move that is made even worse where there is resentment towards the British; for example, in Brittany.
French Property Exhibitions and Web Sites: We attended several French property exhibitions and visited many web sites and you will not be surprised when I say that there is scant reference to reasons not to move to France. Why? Because they don’t want you to know the pitfalls of moving to France. Exacerbated by the fact that the only work many Brits can find is in real estate – selling to other Brits. The emperor’s clothes.
Gites: the great gite myth: It sounds great. Sell your house in the UK, move to France and buy a few gites. You’ll be able to live a simple, but good life without having to do much work. Forget it. In many parts of France popular with the foreigners, there is such oversupply that competition is making it hard to fill vacancies and is driving down prices. Furthermore, it is a lot of work for relatively little return. It might provide very handy supplemental income, but don’t rely on it as a sole source. What’s more, it means you have to be “on-call” just when you too want to be on holiday. Read the fine print on government incentives to develop gites, they tend to give with one hand and take with the other.
Healthcare: If you are not employed by a French company you may not have access to the free French health system. You may need to take out additional “top-up” health insurance. The French healthcare system is teetering on going bust.
The Holiday Season Effect: Villages that are busy during the holiday season and then empty during the winter. It can be very lonely living in a village that is empty for nine months of the year, especially if your French isn’t very good.
Isolated Rural Houses: That rural idyll that you saw in its glory in mid-summer, could turn into a lonely isolated prison in winter. Especially if your French isn’t very good and you live miles from the nearest village. Getting snowed-in in a village could be fun. Getting snowed-in in an isolated rural house could mean complete separation for days, or even longer, from people, shops and fresh food .
Language: French is a difficult language to learn and very difficult to learn well. Without good French language skills you are at an immediate disadvantage. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has to deal with someone who can’t speak your language in your country.
State Pensions: The French rely on state pensions rather than private pensions. France will not be able to support its baby-boomers in their old age.
Renovation Costs: That cheap hulk of a barn may cost peanuts, but it will cost a small fortune to renovate. Get someone in-the-know to explain in detail the bureaucracy involved in getting new windows (you have to have the approval of your neighbours – who will probably be very charming up to this point), or a pool installed (I hope you are on good terms with the mayor (and you better be sure you bought the pool from his brother rather than the cheaper guy down the road)). The inflated Prix Anglaise is a sobering notion for those thinking of buying a French property.
Rent Before You Sell: Forget “rent before you buy”. The received wisdom is that you would be stark raving mad to even sell your house in Britain before you have rented in France for a year or so. It is far easier to extract you and your family from France if you are renting than if you have sold your house in the UK and bought a property in France.
Resentment to Foreigners: Many French people don’t want foreigners taking over their countryside (sound familiar?). There is simmering resentment among some French about the effects of people from outside pushing up property prices and coming into their community without even bothering to learn the language. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel under the same circumstances?
Rugby: France may exhibit great flair from time-to-time and be the winners of the Six Nations once-in-a-blue-moon, but they are bad sports, they play dirty rugby and the French team is usually comprised of 15 individuals rather than one team. Proficiency in eye gouging seems to be a requirement to get on any team (yes, I am joking …).
Rural Villages Dying: Cheaper French properties may often be found in villages that are dying. There has been a movement away from the country into towns and cities. In many cases this has meant that rural villages have a declining population, an older population (implications for schools), no markets or shops, or if they do then they are teetering on closing down. Dying villages often have a shabby appearance about them as opposed to some villages that seem to be bustling with activity and life, and are well kempt.
Tax: The French are among the most highly taxed people in the world. French tax and social contributions (NI) are considerably higher than taxes in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. French taxes are different to e.g. British taxes. Banal as this sounds, lots of people buying French property and moving to France from Britain don’t realise or choose to ignore this fact to their peril. French government may be sluggish and inefficient, but the tax collection system is ruthlessly efficient and uncompromising. If you move to France, you should expect to work seven months of the year to pay your taxes and social contributions – even if you earn a relatively normal income. People told me you are better off earning little or nothing and taking advantage of the generous welfare system. Why bother to work hard, when most of what you earn will be paid to the taxman? You certainly wouldn’t want to employ anyone or run a small business. This might suit people looking to “downsize” and live life at a different pace; but remember, you can’t eat a view, or fix a washing machine on thin air.
Television: French television is dire.
Traffic Accidents: While changes to laws have improved things, the French are a dangerous bunch on the roads; especially when driving sober – which can be the exception to the rule. You are more than twice as likely to die on the road in France than in Britain.
Weather: Don’t be fooled by the charms of French summer weather. Brittany and Normandy have much the same weather as the south of England (only a few hours earlier). The south can be extremely windy in summer. In many areas the winters are much colder than we are used to. The south west gets a lot of rain. When it gets hot in the south, it can get very hot and dry – plants and dogs die if left in the sun. Older French properties can be very cold in winter and very hot in summer.
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