Retiring in France is a dream many people have. After all, France is the most visited country in the world, with an astounding 89.4 million visitors per year. There is little not to love about France: From the sweet-sounding, if somewhat difficult to learn, language to the fabulous food, the superb wine, and the country itself. France offers everything from cosmopolitan cities, to coasts on three very different bodies of water, from mountains to endless countryside, and so much history. There are those tempting markets, the fashion, the joie de vivre, and did I mention the wine? And the champagne, which is actually affordable to drink in France?
So, it is not really a surprise that people from around the world dream of retirement in France. But there are, as with most destinations that are not your own home country, several hoops to jump through, bridges to cross, and things to be aware of.
Obviously, the exact immigration and retirement details differ from nationality to nationality. What is now the new post-Brexit reality for UK citizens, is different from that of American, Canadian, or Australian citizens. Rather than giving you a step-by-step guide on exactly how to retire in France, this is going to be a general selection of points to be aware of when you start looking closer at the possibility of perhaps making the move. Just a few points to bear in mind, but not to put you off. Having spent my last six years in Paris, trust me, I totally understand why people want to stay forever in this country. Go for it.
Learning The Language
Unless you live in the center of Paris, and even there, you will need to learn at least basic French to enjoy your retirement here. And while basic phrases allow you to say good morning, ask for directions, or check how much something costs — and understand the answer! — are a good start, the older generation in France will not open up to you unless they can converse with you in their language. That said, they do appreciate you trying, and once immersed, you’ll get the hang of it soon enough, even if your grammar might be slightly wrong.
There are easy apps such as Memrise https://www.memrise.com/ to start; all larger cities have language schools such as the Alliance Francaise, which offers slower as well as crash courses, and there are Meet-up Groups which will allow you to practice your French with other beginners, and at the same time meet like-minded people.
The better your French, the easier your other steps involved in moving to France will be.
How To Get The Right Visa
All third-country citizens, for example, Brits, Americans, and Australians, unless they happen to also hold an EU passport, need to apply for a visa if they intend to stay in France for more than 90 days out of every 180, be it for an extended holiday, staying with friends and family, work, or retirement. This rule also applies if you already own a second home in France.
There are two types of visas for visitors, the visa de long séjour temporaire visiteur, the temporary visa for people who want to spend up to 6 months of every year in France, and the visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour visiteur, for those who intend to spend more than 6 months of every year in France, such as full-time retirees.
Visas can be applied for via the French government website, and applications cannot be submitted more than 3 months before the start of your visit.
Once you have decided to enter France permanently and received your long-term visa, the next step will be applying for a carte de séjour.
Please note that you must begin your French residency process, if that is what you are going for, from your home country.
If you are planning to retire in France, but plan to run a small business to supplement your pension, such as a B&B, you cannot enter on a visitor’s visa but will need to apply for a business visa, provide a business plan, and prove that your idea is a viable one.
Even for long-stay visitor’s visas, you will need to prove that you will not be a burden to the French government while in France. If you have a regular income, it needs to be equivalent to the French minimum wage, which is reviewed regularly but stands at roughly 1,500 euros ($1,700) per month now. If your income falls below that, you will have to provide evidence of savings that will make up the shortfall.
Thinking Of Your Health
Between applying for the long-stay visa, and receiving the carte de séjour, after which you can apply to join the French health service, you will need proof of private health insurance. This is to tide you over until you qualify for France’s national health system. This system is not free like in the UK but is a lot cheaper than private healthcare.
And, if eventually things go a little downhill and you might need extra care, France has a very good system of home care assistants and residential care homes. But to qualify, you will need to be a legal resident and hold a carte de séjour. That said, even if you tick those boxes and have found a space in a home, there may still be a need to pay additional costs, depending on your individual situation.
Choosing The Right Location
Deciding to retire in France is a big step, but one of the most difficult decisions you will face is that of where in France you’d like to retire. France is so diverse that, unless you have one spot you are already in love with, it might take a long time to come to the final decision.
Things to consider are climate, which here ranges from warm Mediterranean to glacial alpine, from rugged and gusty English Channel weather to a bit of everything city weather. Then there is the cost of living, which, generally speaking, in France is cheap, unless you want to live in central Paris, in which case you will need a substantial nest egg.
There are connections to those back home to consider. France has several large international airports, but depending on where “home” is for you, you might want to be close or at least well connected to the most convenient one.
Are you thinking of working, or setting up a little vacation business? In which case, your location needs to be convenient for a commute, or popular with visitors, even if it may not be your personal favorite.
Or do you need a sense of community, plenty of things to do, constant activities, and thrills? In which case, choosing a suburb with good connections into a city might be for you rather than sitting in the middle of nowhere, never mind how pretty.
France’s public transport and national railway systems are superb, cheap (with a 25 percent discount for seniors), and well organized. Apart from when workers are on strike, which happens regularly, that is another part you will have to accept when living in France. Generally speaking, traveling around the country and Europe for that matter, is easy, and unless you live out in the country, there is hardly a need for having a car.
But if you would like to drive in France, bear in mind that if you’re an EU or UK license holder you can swap your license for a French one. However, if your license is from the U.S., then the individual state in which you obtained it is important, as not all U.S. states have reciprocal agreements on swapping driving licenses with France, and you might end up having to take a test.
Renting Or Buying?
Another big decision to make is whether to buy or rent in France. Both options have positive and negative points, from paying monthly but never owning the property to pass on to the next generation, to owning a property but potentially leaving it empty for long stretches of time. Obviously, a lot depends on your budget and income after retirement, but a good start is to browse websites such as French Property.com or SeLoger to have a look at what’s out there, for rent and to buy, in your chosen region, and get a feeling for prices.
If you decide to buy, choose an estate agent or realtor, called agent immobilier, but look out for the acronyms: FNAIM, SNPI, UNIS, or CNAB. These show that the company belongs to a registered organization and is not a fly-by-night operator. The process of buying is complex enough to warrant an entire article itself, but have a read of this step-by-step guide to get an initial idea.
Pro Tip: Before you make your final decision, sit down with an international tax advisor to clarify what taxes, and in which country, you would be liable for paying the taxes. The French tax system is notoriously complicated, and a professional will best know how to advise you.