Dreaming of retiring in France? It’s a popular destination for UK expats, with more than 177,000 living there according to 2019 data¹. It’s easy to see why, as France boasts fabulous food and a great quality of life, all just a short hop from friends and family back in the UK.
If you’re starting to plan your overseas retirement, read on. We’ve put together a handy guide on how to retire in France, covering everything from visas and money to healthcare and pensions. Plus, the best places to live in France as a UK retiree.
We’ll even throw in a handy tip for managing your money across borders. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can whizz money between the UK and France for low fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. When it comes to covering relocation costs, receiving UK pension income and other everyday expenses, Wise could be much cheaper than using your bank.
But more on that later. Let’s start with some of the many reasons why you may want to retire in France in the first place.
There are many persuasive reasons to choose France for your post-work years, but what’s at the top of your list of priorities? Let’s take a look at why France is such a good bet for UK retirees and expats:
Cost of living². While some things in France may be more expensive than the UK, such as eating out and clothing, the cost of living can be lower if you pick the right town or city. For example, rent for a one-bed city centre apartment is approx. £587 in France, compared to £750 in the UK. Public transport is generally cheaper too, with a monthly travel pass costing around £44 compared to £65 in the UK.
Exceptional healthcare. The French healthcare system was once ranked best in the world by the World Health Organisation³, and now regularly appears in the top 10⁴ for overall performance and efficiency.
Excellent transport system. The French rail system is excellent, and there are great discounts for people over 60 years old⁵ (the retirement age in France is 62⁶). This makes it easy to get around and explore the country, and connect to international transport links too.
Food and drink. France of course is known for its exceptional culinary tradition, and it’s home to some of the world’s best restaurants. Along with its Michelin-starred eateries, France is also famous for wine regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhône, Loire Valley and of course, Champagne. So if you’re a foodie, France represents gastronomic heaven.
Weather. France has a mostly mild climate, but if you’re looking to escape cold British winters - head to the hot southern regions for simply beautiful sunshine.
Close to the UK. One of the main attractions of France for retirees with family and friends in the UK is that it’s just across the channel. After a short journey via Eurostar, ferry or flight, you’ll be back on home soil. This makes it easy to have loved ones over for holidays, and visit back home whenever you like.
Now, where will you choose to settle for your new life in France? Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular places in France for UK expats:
The nation’s capital may not offer the best value for money, as Paris is more expensive than other parts of France. But this romantic, metropolitan city is one of the world’s greatest cities, boasting fabulous food, art, culture and history in abundance. It could be an exciting place to make new memories once you retire.
Historic Brittany is a popular choice with British expats, mainly because it’s just across the channel. The region is so easy to get to, but there’s much more on offer here than a convenient location. It has fun, vibrant cities filled with restaurants, shops, events and festivals, along with a dramatic coastline perfect for dreamy seaside summers. Plus, property is known to be cheaper here than other parts of France.
If the sunny French weather is one of the main reasons you’re considering France for your retirement, the Côte d’Azur is the place for you. The French Riviera in the southeast of France is a breathtakingly beautiful region known for its sparkling blue seas and Mediterranean coastline. The city of Nice is one of the best cities for expats, at least according to the InterNations Expat City Ranking 2020⁷.
There are so many Brits living in the Dordogne, in the region of Aquitaine in southwest France, that the area is often nicknamed ‘Dordogneshire’. So, if you want to join an established expat community, this is the place for you.
There are other reasons to move here though. It has beautiful rural scenery, a laid-back pace of life and cheap property too, especially in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine area of Creuse which has some of the lowest property prices in France⁸.
This scenic region attracts a large number of UK expats, who flock there for its gorgeous countryside, pleasant weather and pretty historic towns, including La Rochelle and Cognac. Not everyone has heard of Poitou-Charentes, but you could find it an extremely attractive prospect once you start doing some research.
You’ll have a long list of things to do before your big move. To help your preparations, here are some crucial things you’ll need to know about retiring in France:
Pensions. You can claim your UK state pension in France, but you are likely to be taxed on any income coming from the UK. The UK and France have a double taxation agreement⁹, so you won’t be taxed twice. But once you move to France, the French authorities will be assessing your liability for income tax. You can also choose to transfer your personal pensions over to France from the UK. Just make sure you opt for a qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme (QROPS) in France, otherwise you could face an eye-watering tax bill. More info is available on the Government’s website.
Taxes. When you retire in France, taxes will be due on your UK pension and other income. But that’s not all. Some retirees may also be subject to the French wealth tax. Also known as impôt de solidarité sur la fortune (ISF), this is a tax for people with assets over €1.3 million - if this is the case for you, you’ll have to pay tax on anything over the first €800,000¹⁰.
Healthcare⁹. If you live permanently in France, you can get a French social security card for healthcare, called a carte vitale. You can also apply to be covered by the French healthcare system (PUMA) once you’ve lived there for three months. As well as registering for healthcare, you’ll also need to get some form of top-up health insurance. But the good news for recipients of UK state pension benefits is that you may be entitled to state healthcare in France paid for by the UK. More information is available on the Government’s website.
Driving licence⁹. If you have a UK driving licence, you can use it to legally drive on French roads until the end of December 2021. But beyond that, you’ll need to keep an eye on the government’s website for confirmation of what happens next, as the post-Brexit rules for exchanging licences haven’t yet been confirmed.
Property. Looking for somewhere to live in France? Foreigners are allowed to buy property in France, but you’ll need to do some reading up on how the real estate market and property buying process works over there. Plus, you’ll also need to pay the relevant property taxes.
One of the most crucial things to get sorted before you can move to France is your visa. Now that the UK has left the EU, it’s necessary to get a long-stay visa if you want to remain in France for more than 3 months.
This ‘Type D’ visa lasts for up to a year and can be renewed. You’ll also need to apply for a residency permit. And once you’ve lived in France for five years, you’ll be eligible to apply for permanent residency⁹.
But first things first, here’s how to apply for your long-stay visa for France¹¹:
- Head to the French Consulate in London website to start the process
- Create a France-Visas account and complete the application using the online portal
- Upload your supporting documents, which will usually include the following:
- Valid passport
- ID photograph
- Proof of health insurance
- Proof of residency in France, such as a property title or rental agreement
- Proof of funds to support yourself during your stay, such as bank statements
- Pay the visa application fee and submit your application
- Track its progress on the online application portal, and wait for your visa to be processed.
Almost ready to make the big move over to France? Here are the key steps to complete to make sure you cover all bases:
Take out a health insurance policy. You’ll need evidence of this to complete your French visa application.
Find somewhere to live. This could involve a few trips out to get a sense of the area, and to scout out suitable property to rent or buy. And remember that you’ll need evidence of residency in order to apply for a visa.
Apply for your long stay visa. It’s recommended to do this at least three months before you plan to move to France, as application processing times can vary.
Arrange for your belongings and furniture to be shipped over to France. It’s worth getting a few different quotes to keep costs as low as possible.
Tell HMRC that you’re leaving the UK and apply to receive your UK state pension in France. This could also be a good time to look into transferring over other personal pensions - make sure you get expert pension or tax advice before you make any decisions.
Apply for a residency permit. You might also need to register with the local tax authorities.
Register for healthcare and get your carte vitale. To do this, you’ll need to register with your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM).
Consider opening a French bank account. This can make it much easier to manage daily expenses, but remember that a bank isn’t necessarily the cheapest option for any payments that cross borders. We’ll look at a better alternative for international transfers next.
So far, we’ve covered almost everything you need to know about retiring to France. But there’s one last important detail to explore, and that’s how you’ll manage your money between the UK and France.
Open a multi-currency account with Wise and you’ll have a quick, secure and low-fee way to cover your initial relocation expenses. You can send money to France for visa fees, rental deposits and other costs for just a small, transparent fee, and the mid-market exchange rate.
You can also swerve bank fees and poor exchange rates by using Wise to receive your UK pension payments in GBP. You can then convert them to EUR for lower fees and a fairer exchange rate, or spend from the moment you land using your contactless Wise debit card. It converts currency at the best exchange rate automatically, so there’s no need to change money or carry cash around with you.
And that’s pretty much it - all the essentials you’ll need to add to your ‘moving to France’ checklist. There’s a lot to get sorted and a decent amount of paperwork too, but it’ll all be worth it when you’re sipping a glass of red in your new French home. Good luck and enjoy your well-earned retirement!
Sources used for this article:
- UK and EU - how many British citizens live in the EU
- Numbeo - cost of living in France
- World Population Review - best healthcare in the world
- Commonwealth Fund - comparing health systems across countries
- International Living - retiring in France
- Cleiss.fr - the French social security system (retirement)
- Complete France - retire to Nice
- World First - how to retire to France
- Gov.uk - living in France
- Expatica - retiring in France
Sources checked on 30-April-2021.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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