Moving to a new country is a big change, and you need to have a real awareness of what you’re letting yourself in for. This is even more important when you are older and the changes are possibly greater.
Before you go
The older a person is, the more like they are to worry and to find new systems stressful and frustrating to deal with. So, to make retiring to France easier, try and sort out as much as you can before you go. This is particularly important when it comes to your finances. Don’t leave the organisation of these to when you are in France – make sure arrangements for your pension, investments and income are in place before you leave in the UK.
The bureaucracy in France can be very intimidating – working out how to access the health system system can be difficult if you don’t understand French, as can dealing with bills and local charges. But there is no need to tackle these on your own – think about using a translator so you always feel confident that you know what is going on.
One of the biggest issues is separation from family, especially for women.
If you have children and grandchildren and are close to them, it helps to have the resources to get back to see them frequently, and that the house you have in France has room for them to come and stay.
Think about the location of your new home. It is easier to see people and have them visit you if the journey is less complex and time-consuming. Being close to a ferry route or an airport with direct flights to a UK airport that is close to your family will make life much easier.
It is also better to visit little and often: going for a long weekend or a few days every few weeks rather than for a longer trip just twice a year.
Modern technology makes keeping in contact much easier. Don’t shy away from email or webcams – they open up a whole new world. With webcams, for example, you will be able to see your family, and in the case of young children, keep up with them as they grow. It makes the pain of separation less sharp.
Learning a language when you are older can be more difficult, and it can become a great source of frustration. Try and start learning before retiring to France. Also, if you are a couple retiring, do it together and make it a joint project. But do remember, that learning a new language takes time, and it can take longer the older you are.
Having so much free time after living a working life can be wonderful and, at first, being in France is likely to feel like an extended holiday. But for many people, as time goes on there is a growing need to give some shape to each day or else life starts to feel a little aimless.
The best way to do this is to have a mix of daily and more long-term routines and goals. A daily task could be something as simple as taking the dog for a walk and having a cup of coffee in a local café. For a longer-term goal, deciding to visit all the towns of interest in your department over the next six months gives you something to focus on.
Living together 24/7
For people who have had separate careers or jobs, suddenly living together 24/7 can be difficult. At the very least there is a period of adjustment, but for some there is a feeling of claustrophobia and lack of freedom.
I advise couples to have different interests that give you time apart, even if it is only in different parts of the house.
Often with older couples, the wife does not drive. If this is the case, think about the impact of this when buying your home. Perhaps it would be better to buy somewhere which gives you freedom to get out and about under your own steam.
You may also find one of you settles more quickly than the other. If this happens, the person less settled may start to feel resentful of the other You need to be aware of this happening, and take steps to deal with your frustrations.
If you’re not used to it, living in the countryside can be isolating. In some parts of France, a harsh winter means spending more time inside with very little going on in the outside community. If you like being part of groups and joining clubs, choose a part of France that is not so isolated that these kinds of activities are difficult to find or attend.
Think of the future
Give some thought to how you will cope as you get older. Do you really want to buy a house with a huge garden. You may be able to mow it now but what about in five years time? What about if one of you should get ill? And sadly, how would you cope if your partner died? Would you want to stay in France or do you need to make sure there is someone with whom you could stay in Britain while you decided what to do next? Right now, issues like this may sound macabre, but you will cope better if you have a plan in place.
•With thanks to Elaine Douglas
Elaine Douglas is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and has a second home in France. She has many years’ experience as a therapist, trainer and educator dealing with emotional and behavioural problems. She has contributed numerous articles for UK newspapers and magazines and also appears on Radio Four
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