What’s it really like to live in France?

Written by on May 14, 2018 in Living in France

We’ve all heard about the high quality of life, superb climate and low crime rate. Joanna Leggett of Leggett Immobilier looks more closely at the practical issues.

The golden rule: You get out what you put in

Even if your French is basic, your efforts to communicate will be appreciated. Try to learn the language. Introduce yourself to your neighbours and visit your Mairie.

Establishing contact with the Mairie staff will be useful when you need advice, and making friends with your neighbours will enhance your French life. You can even join the Comité des Fêtes: if you take part in community events, you’ll meet the locals and become accepted.

Keep it local

Use local workmen for renovation work. Importing a team of craftsmen won’t endear you to your neighbours. French artisans are used to working with local materials, meeting regulatory standards and handling the necessary paperwork.

Healthcare in France

According to the World Health Organisation, France has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. All workers in France pay 20% of their salaries into the state system, and French residents have access to it. The state pays part – sometimes all – of their medical costs.

EU expats arriving in France need an S1 form to apply for state healthcare. When you register into the system, you receive a medical identity card – the green Carte Vitale. The health specialist logs it into a central computer whenever you pay medical expenses.

You need to register with a GP (Médecin Traitant). Each visit requires an immediate payment, but the state reimburses 70%. Many people choose a ‘top-up’ insurance – a Mutuelle – to cover the rest of the costs.

Taxes in France

The French tax year runs from 1 January to 31 December. You must declare all your earnings from the date of your arrival, which you do in the annual Déclaration des Reve-nus form available at your local tax office. The declaration deadline is around 20 May.

Everyone with property in France must pay two additional taxes. The Taxe d’Habitation is the tax for living here, and the Taxe Foncière is the property tax. Invoices for both are usually sent to you in September.

As everyone’s financial circumstances are different, it is best to consult a tax specialist for advice.

Education in France

If you move here with school-age children, they will integrate far more easily than you! Initially, you should enrol them at the Mairie.

School isn’t compulsory before the age of six, but most French children begin Ecole Maternelle at three years old. Ecole Elémentaire then takes them from 6 to 11 years of age. From there, they move to Collège (11 to 15 years old) and then Lycée (15 to 18). Boarding accommodation is often offered from Monday to Friday for rural Lycée students. Although pupils can leave school at 16 years old, 94% choose further education. The only entrance requirement to a French university is the appropriate baccalaureate. Students do not pay tuition fees.

Schoolchildren have five holidays each year: two weeks in October, at Christmas, in February and in April – and most of July and August.

Driving in France

English cars are usually covered by their UK insurance at first. However, you’ll need to change to French registration within six months. If you choose to keep English registration and insurance, this will require regular return trips to the UK. You can drive on your English licence until it expires, at which stage you must obtain a French driving licence from a Prefecture or Sous-Prefecture. Considerable paperwork is involved. You’ll need photocopies of your birth certificate, passport and proof of a French address.

Acquiring French registration is comp-licated. First, get a Certificate of Conformity from the garage representing your car’s manufacturer. Then change your head-lights and pass the Contrôle Technique – the French version of the MOT. After this, ask for the tax certificate, or Quitas Fiscal, from your local Centre des Impôts.

You can then apply for your French log book – the Carte Grise – from your local Prefecture or Sous-Prefecture. Take all your paperwork with you, plus your French chequebook. They will give you an exportation slip, which you must send to the DVLA immediately.

Your new Carte Grise will arrive by registered post  within a fortnight. You can then change your English car registration plates to French ones.

Consider your income carefully

If you are on a fixed income or pension from the UK, remember that conversion rates fluctuate. It is useful to establish a relationship with a good currency exchange company. Don’t make the mistake of calculating your income when the euro is high.

A final word

Regulations may differ by département, so it’s always worth seeking expert advice, especially for financial questions.

See Leggett Immobilier website for more helpful advice

Related Articles

The good life for expats in Riberac Dordgone

We talk to British expat Linda James who with her husband Alex runs Le Pommier gites and a cake making business in Riberac, Dordogne department, Aquitaine, south west France. What inspired you to move to Riberac? Coming here on holiday, I fell in love with the sunny weather, the stunning countryside, being able to swim […]

Continue Reading

Real life Escape to the Chateau properties for sale in France

Half of Britain it seems, is glued to the TV series Escape to the Chateau featuring the lovely Angel and Dick who bought a castle and have been doing it up before our eyes. They’ve also taken starring roles in Escape to the Chateau DIY, a TV series in which we get to see the […]

Continue Reading

The expat good life in Vienne

We talk to Sébastien Martin-O’Driscoll about expat life in the Vienne department, Poitou-Charentes, France. Can you tell us a little about you and where you are from? I was born in France, in the Auvergne, and emigrated to the UK in my early 20’s. I met my husband Fox, with whom I work as a […]

Continue Reading

The Good Life for expats in the Loire Valley

Charlotte Field from the UK talks about life as an expat in charming Chinon, Loire Valley where she has lived for eight years and works as a local agent for Leggett Immobillier, the award winning French Estate Agency… Where are you from and how did you come to be living in France? I was brought […]

Continue Reading

How house sitters can help home owners in France

We speak to expert house sitter and owner of HouseSit Match Lamia Walker to get the low down on why home owners in France should consider house sitters for all sorts of reasons. How can house sitters benefit home owners in France? Minimise stress for pets: If you’re a pet owner, when you’re on holiday, keeping […]

Continue Reading


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.