When we think of downshifting to France, we generally contemplate a change from a financially rewarding but stressful career or lifestyle for a less pressured and less highly paid but more fulfilling one. Sarah an agent commercial, in the Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrénées regions of southwest France, moved with her family to France in 2011.
FrenchEntrée had a very interesting chat over coffee and croissants and Sarah disclosed some of the most commonly asked questions by people looking at the possibility of downshifting to France.
Can you give me a rough idea of the cost of living for a family of 4?
This is a difficult question to answer, because the cost of living is relative to your lifestyle and people do have varying levels of expectation. The government states a minimum requirement is approximately 12,000 euros per person per annum [the ONPES estimates a minimum of €3,284 per month for a couple with two school-age children in 2015] . This should cover food, accommodation and utilities, but living very frugally! It is worth remembering, if you are serious about downshifting, you will probably be cutting some material luxuries from your life and replacing them with free alternatives anyway.
Was your grocery bill much cheaper than in the UK?
This depends upon where you shop.The best advice is to hunt around and see what the local market and supermarkets offer. One of the best things about a downshifting move is that you should have more time to do so. Stores like Lidl, Leader Price, Aldi, Netto, etc can offer exceptionally good value for money for your basic needs. You can buy brand name products at the larger stores like E.Leclerc, Auchan, etc, but you will pay through the nose for them.
Could you give me a rough idea for moving costs for a family of 4?
Moving really is going to be one of your largest expenses. This is perhaps a good time to consider… do you really need all those nicknacks? Also ponder that your old furniture might not necessarily “go” in your 200 year old farmhouse. It could be the ideal time to think about selling up, saving huge moving costs and buying your new/old replacements at local brocantes/vide greniers/depot de ventes/trocs. A rough guide for moving costs from the UK are £60 per cubic metre. Be sure that your goods are really worth shipping, on an emotional and financial level. Another point to consider, is the cost of putting furniture into storage while you look for your ultimate dream house, which can be very expensive.
How does being married (and having children) affect buying a property?
The implications of marriage (and children) are very important when buying a house and not so straightforward to answer. Here goes. If you got married in the UK but without a pre-nuptial agreement, then according to French law, you each have your own possessions. If you own a house in France and one of you dies, there may be an inheritance tax for the remaining partner to pay. However, if you married under the French system, your goods are considered to be shared. This means, in the event of one of you dying, the goods automatically get passed to the other partner, you have not inherited anything and are therefore not liable for tax.
This does not mean you all have to rush out and get re-married in France to benefit from this system! Your Notaire can arrange this for you at the time of signing for the house, or beforehand if you wish. If you have children, you must make yourself aware of the process of inheritance for your surviving partner and for the children. These are very important issues and I advise you to take the matter up with your Notaire as soon as possible once you have decided to purchase a property, for the most up to date advice.
What is the best way to move my money from the UK to France?
Some of the UK banks are making it very easy – however, many are not. The best thing to do is shop around. There are also a few specialist companies where you can buy your money at an agreed exchange rate. This is a good idea if you believe the exchange rate will change or if you want to be certain of your final equity to move to France. For us, personally, sending a sterling cheque by post to the French bank has, on the whole, been most successful as the fees are very modest on large transactions and you appear to get the interbank rate. Do keep checking and chasing your UK bank to ensure the funds are moving – this has been a problem for a few of my clients. Despite the above, we do not recommend cash in a suitcase – it is against the law.
Should I bring my car over?
Let’s start on a safety point – if you bring a car from the UK, you will of course be driving on the wrong side of the car, so for overtaking, going through toll booths and parking ticket dispensers, you are at a disadvantage.
Consider also, the eventual resale value of your car here is going to be far less than selling it in the UK. New cars seem to be cheaper to buy in France. Older, second hand vehicles tend to be more expensive by comparison. The good thing about second hand cars in France, is they do hold their value quite well, so when you come to selling and buying a new/old car, you should get a good deal.
Ponder the option of selling your vehicle in the UK and purchasing a left hand drive in the UK. There are a few out there. However, if you have a good old workhorse of a car, you can get it into the French system fairly easily – change headlights, new registration etc, it all boils down to your personal choice and the state of your current vehicle.
Can you throw some light on renovation costs? I am looking to buy an old place and “do it up”.
Probably one of the most frequently asked questions of all estate agents in France. Points to consider – firstly, are you a builder? No….hmm…this answer has much ground to cover…
Ok, let’s start with general building material and labour costs – they are very similar to UK prices. However, if you are looking to undertake most/all of the work yourself, you are, of course, going to save at least 1/2, if not more.
Be aware that lots of people think they are capable of renovating, when in truth, they are just good decorators. There is a big difference. Do not be disheartened by the challenge, but bear in mind you will need lots of advice and help and probably most importantly, you will need a good command of the language to translate and understand the advice given to you by local artisans and guys that work in the local Brico Depot. I urge you to make a start with the language as soon as possible.
Remember,, Rome was not built in a day and whatever time and cost budgets you set, you can almost guarantee to exceed them both. Another excellent source of information are friends and neighbours who have undertaken similar projects and have gone through the pain threshold. If you have to use local artisans your costs might come as a bit of a shock.
I think the fairest way of estimating time and costs, is to budget them to the best of your ability, is to surf through ‘brico’ web sites, current price lists and other peoples stories, then double it. You will not be far off the mark.
Do remember, you can do anything if you truly set your mind to it, but perhaps not as quickly as you might have liked.
What about you?
Have you downshifted to France? Do you have any advice on what to do –or not to do– for people considering this option in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments area below.
• With thanks to Sarah, who downshifted in 2011 with her husband and three young children and has been successfully introducing clients to the Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees, and thanks to Tracey, founder of www.downshiftingweek.com, promoting a slower and more balanced lifestyle.