Buying property in France as an American

Gabriela Peratello
15.12.21
8 minute read

Whether you’re moving to France for work, to start a business or just to enjoy the French lifestyle, you’ve probably considered buying property to live in or as an investment.

While it seems like the French are missing out on investing in their own country — just 64.1% own their own property¹ — their reluctance to buy has left a wide market open for expats and foreign investors. And despite some tricky laws and a load of taxes, many non-residents have taken the opportunity to buy into the European country.

So if you’ve decided to buy property, what should you know in advance? This guide will walk you through the steps and key points for buying property in France.

📑 Table of Contents

What’s the property market like in France?

While the French economy has not been left scatter free during the Covid-19 pandemic, the housing market is starting to pick up again².

From the second half of 2020 to mid-2021, property sales in some areas of the country began to rise again. In terms of pricing, France faces the housing prices in 10 years, with a raise of 5.85% during the first half of 2021 (4.41% when adjusted for inflation).

The tendency is that the French property market keeps strong — which brings opportunities for foreigner investors looking to buy a home in the country.

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Can an American buy a house in France?

Yes — currently there aren’t any restrictions on foreigners buying property in France³. Though for non-EU residents, such as Americans, the amount of time you will be able to spend in your new home will vary according to your residency or visa status.

Getting a home in France is, naturally, a little more difficult as a non-resident — so be aware that a lot of paperwork and due diligence will need to be done.

If you’re working with a real estate agent the process is likely to be relatively straightforward. Though it’s always a good idea to make sure you know what taxes and fees you’ll have to pay, as well as any visas you might need to enjoy your French house.

Can foreigners buy land in France?

The short answer to this question is: yes. Much like purchasing property, buying land in France as a foreigner is also an possible⁴.

Since it’s likely you’ll be building your own house from scratch, you might need to look into working alongside a local — as a closer overlook might be needed directly at the construction site.

Make sure to do thorough research on the place you wish to purchase your plot of land, as there are a lot of types of soil and terrain in France.

How to buy a house in France as an American: step by step

alley-in-france

Picking a region to live in and doing the market research to find a French home that fits your budget are great starting points to find your dream house.

But, what else do you need to do in order to turn this dream into a reality? Read along for all the steps of buying a house in France as an American³.


Step 1. Choose the region and house you wish to acquire

Step 2. Visit the property, preferably with an agent so you don’t forget to check anything

Step 3. Make your offer, verbally and via email

Step 4. Have a compromis de vente — a preliminary agreement which locks both parties into the sale — drawn by the notaire (lawyer)

Step 5. Pay for the deposit — usually 10% of the full amount of the property

Step 6. Make amendments to the contract and add clauses as needed — such as suspensives for work to be done before you move, or adding a financing option, etc.

Step 7. Pick a way to finance your property. You can opt to do it in loco with a French mortgage broker or by using an international mortgage lender in the US.

Step 8. Collect all the necessary documents, including the mortgage certificate and hand them to the notaire, so they can draw the deed

Step 9. Sign the acte authentique (sales contract) with the seller, in presence of the notaire — this is also the moment when keys are handed over and the remainder payments presented.

Step 10. Get the signatures for handing over other certificates, such as utility bills

Step 11. Wait for the land registry (cadastre)notaire - the copy of the purchase deed should be sent to you between 2-6 months after the purchase

Step 12. Enjoy your new French home 🎉


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Buying property in France: costs

Setting your budget is always an important step on any real estate purchase. To help you create realistic goals and find the region that best suits your wallet, take a look at the table below.

LocationPrice (sqft) in city centerPrice (sqft) outside of city center
Paris⁵1,358.05 USD1,001.91 USD
Marseille⁵333.32 USD278.63 USD
Lyon⁶531.23 USD357.04 USD
Aix-en-Provence⁶609.35 USD493.03 USD
Toulouse⁷473.49 USD318.44 USD
Annecy⁷716.11 USD436.44 USD
Nice⁸662.96 USD495.26 USD

Don’t forget that these are average prices and the full amount of property may vary by location within the city and it’s subject to market adjustments.

Wondering how much that would cost in EUR? Check the handy conversion tool below:

What kind of taxes and fees will you need to pay?

Another essential step for assessing your budget is knowing the fees and taxes you’ll have to pay for your new French home.

The most common fees include real estate agency, public registration and so on. But, in France, you also have the notaire (notary/lawyer) fees which are scaled by the government based on the total price of your property.

Here you’ll find a breakdown of the property fees⁹:

FeeAmount (%)
Public Registration fees
    0.60% - 4.89%
Value Added Tax (VAT)
    20%
    Note: applicable only for properties with less than 7 years
Land Registry
    0.10%
Agency
    Between 1.50% - 5% + 20% VAT
Notary
    Between 3% - 10% + 20% VAT
Notaire¹⁰
    2.5-5% (calculated on a sliding scale)
Loan registration
    1-3%
    Note: if using a mortgage for property in France.
Exchange rate
    Variable
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How can you find real estate in France?

We’ve been through the steps you’ll have to take to buy your home in France, to the cost of properties and fees you need to pay. But how do you find the right property for you?

The most common options when going after your property are:

  • Purchasing directly from the owner
  • Going through a real estate agency or agent

For finding a home to buy directly from the owner, the best way to go is using a property search website and chatting with the person that is selling.

While it may cut down on costs, the second option, of going through an agency, can expand your options, as they have access to all the properties that are available.

It’s also important to note that some French homeowners inflate prices for expats, and working with an agent can help you ensure you’re getting the best deal.

That being said, it’s not uncommon for French agencies to take up to 8% of the total cost in fees, so if you’re on a budget trying to house hunt, doing it on your own may be the best course of action.

Below you can find some real estate websites and agencies to get started with your research:

Property websitesAgency websites

How to avoid scams

No matter where you’re buying property, there’s a chance you could get ripped off.

The best way to avoid scams is to thoroughly research your agent, the property, the market in the surrounding area and what you’re entitled to as a buyer. Some common scams include:

Outdated Diagnostic Reports
    In France, your agent is required to provide you with a diagnostic report of the property.
    This is because the agent acts on behalf of the seller, but the same fact means that pushing the sale through to you at the highest possible price is in their best interest.
    As such, real estate agents sometimes try to pass off old documents — from one to five years earlier — as current diagnostic reports.
Fake Owners
    While this scam is more common among rental properties, it does also happen with sale properties. In this instance, the scammer will have listed a house — that they may never have had access to, let alone owned — by scraping the listing from another page.
    Once they've engaged you in a conversation, they’ll say they’re unable to meet you at the property to exchange keys and deposits, asking you to join them somewhere offsite.
    At that point they hand over fake keys while you fork over cash, and you may not realize what's happened until you try to enter a property that’s already occupied or belongs to someone else entirely.
Property Investment Seminars
    If, like many prospective homebuyers, you’re hoping to use your purchase as an investment property, you may be curious about the market, what types of properties to look for and how to get started.
    As such, seminars and courses can seem like a really good idea — as long as you’re going to a legitimate one.
    Some scammers will charge high rates to get you into a seminar promising lots of valuable information; in the bst case, you’ll have overpaid for an informational course. In the worst case, you’ll learn very little and have paid a lot of cash.

While there are many other scams out there, you can avoid many of them by visiting the property, meeting the seller or agent in person, and refusing to hand over any money before you have a verifiably working key and title in your hand.

How to choose the right property

french-houses-facade

Property types

Realistically, the types of properties you’ll find across France vary significantly by location. While in Paris you may struggle to find any housing situation outside of an apartment, in the countryside you’ll be welcomed with plots of land, sprawling estates, villas, homes and townhouses.

What type of property you invest in will depend on where you want to buy, and what makes the most sense for your family.

Condition of the property

In France, it's the seller’s legal responsibility to provide you with an up to date diagnostic report. This should cover everything from the presence of lead, asbestos and parasites to the condition of the septic system, the Performance Energy Report and the natural disaster risk.

Before you agree to buy any property, make sure you’ve received this report and have gone over it thoroughly with your agent.


Now that we’ve been through all the information you need about buying a house in France as a foreigner, you’re ready to start finding your new home.

And, don’t forget, when paying for your fees overseas, make sure to try Wise as a quick, cheap and easy way to move your money across borders.

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Sources:

  1. Statista - House owners among population France
  2. Global Property Guide - Price history in France
  3. Proper Star - How to buy property in France as a foreigner
  4. Property Guides - Build your own home in France
  5. Numbeo - Compare prices: Paris and Marseille
  6. Numbeo - Compare prices: Lyon and Aix-en-Provence
  7. Numbeo - Compare prices: Annecy and Toulouse
  8. Numbeo - Property investment in Nice
  9. Global Property Guide - France buying guide
  10. Proper Star - France taxes and fees for property owners

Sources checked on 12.15.2021


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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