How to retire to France
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Written by Chris Nye

12th April 2023

Retirement in France offers an active and adventurous new start in life where you’re only as young as you feel. But post-Brexit, or as a third-country national, how do you retire to France?

While retiring to France has become a little more bureaucratic since Britain left the European Union, Brexit has certainly not meant you need to abandon your dreams.

Indeed, British people have been retiring to France since as soon as the Napoleonic Wars were over, with ex-army officers returning to places they had visited along the way for their retirement. And not just the British. Abraham Lincoln’s widow retired to Pau, near the Pyrenees in the Victorian era.

So please banish the idea that there is any barrier to retiring to France. But there is a process to go through, and Your Overseas Home – and our partners – will be there to help you through.

Best places to retire in France

Retirement in France offers a combination of adventure and relaxation, a potentially lower cost of living yet an enhanced lifestyle. It’s a country where people smile at you in the streets and offer a quick “bonjour!” as you pass.

The weather is generally warmer than the UK and avoids the extremes of North America. It’s a country where good healthcare is a priority and there are social events specifically for retirees. The countryside has been looked after, with effective preservation of the best of the countryside, buildings and villages.

No wonder that many of the 150,000 or so registered British expatriates in France have moved there for retirement. Where are they moving?

When France Property Guides surveyed buyers in France, 74% of those looking for retirement in France were buying a house or cottage in the countryside or village. One in five wanted a seaside home and only one in 20 wanted a city apartment.

A garden was the most requested feature, with a view and being walking distance to shops also very popular. Being completely practical, however, convenient parking also featured highly on many people’s requirements.

Geographically, the top choices for retirees was Nouvelle Aquitaine, by some distance, with 44% saying it was their top choice. Following that was Occitanie, Provence, Brittany, Normandy and the Loire in order.

Retirement visas

If you’ll only be in France for part of your time, you can stay in the Schengen Area of the European Union for up to 90 days in every 180 without any need for a visa. That is the whole Schengen Area, however, you cannot stay 90 days in France and then another 90 in Spain.

For a permanent retirement there you will require a Long Stay Visa (Visa de Long Séjour).

You must apply before you move to France, via the French Consulate in London. There are various types of long stay visa. Most retirees opt for a Visa de Long Séjour valant Titre de Séjour – Visiteur (VLS-Visiteur).

Once you have this and have arrived in France, you apply for a five-year Carte de Séjour. Should you decide to stay beyond that time, you will apply for a Carte de Séjour Permanent from your local Prefecture.

To obtain a VLS you must prove you have an income at least as high as France’s minimum working wage (SMIC). As of 2022 this is around €1,250 net (€1,500 gross) per month, or about €2,000 for a couple. You can show that as a year’s income ready in the bank, so around €20,000.

Income can be a pension coming in, rental income from the UK, investment income or other financial resources you have. What it is not allowed to be, however, if you are retired in France, is income you are receiving from work.

You can’t apply for your VLS-Visiteur more than 90 days before arriving in France, but don’t leave it much less than two months either.

The application is made online, and then you must attend an appointment at the consulate either in London or Manchester. You attend the appointment with all the documents, plus health insurance either in the form of an S1 or private, and the visa is usually issued within two weeks.

Bear in mind that during those two weeks the consulate will keep your passport. You will be called into the consulate to collect your passport and can travel to France with your visa.

Healthcare as a retiree

A healthcare agreement between the UK and the EU means that British retirees can get free healthcare in France in certain circumstances.

For non-residents in France, for example while looking at properties, the GHIC (Global health insurance card) has replaced the EHIC. This provides emergency cover for British people visiting Europe, until they return to the UK, but should be supplemented with full health or travel insurance.

If you receive a UK state pension, when you retire to France as a resident you must register with the French healthcare system with an S1 form, which you get from the NHS’s Overseas Healthcare Service. This entitles you to UK-funded healthcare in France.

You should register your S1 form with one of the local French state health reimbursement offices.

While the S1 form entitles you to the same healthcare as a French citizen, healthcare in France does not work in the same way as the NHS. The state will typically only cover around 70% of your healthcare costs and the remainder is paid by you or by your ‘top-up’ insurance, which is usually inexpensive.

The French healthcare system is very flexible, however. If you have a chronic illness, for example, then often the reimbursement rate would go up to 100%.

If you are an S1 holder in France, you’ll be entitled to a GHIC to use in other EU member states and even in the UK if back here visiting.

It can take up to six months to register with the French healthcare system, and during this time, you should make sure that you have access to private healthcare.

After three months have passed, you can make your first application to receive a temporary social security number, which can again take three months. This allows you to get medical reimbursement. After another three months, this number becomes permanent and you can apply for a Carte Vitale, which is a medical reimbursement card that makes it easier to claim for your medical expenses.

Receiving your pension

It’s easy to claim your UK pension in France, whether a state, private or government pension. You will need to inform the Department for Work and Pensions and then you can have your pension paid into your French or UK bank account.

There are tax implications of course, and you can easily be caught out if unaware. For example, in the UK, from the age of 55 you can take 25% of your pension pot tax-free. If you take 25% out once resident in France you will be taxed on it just like income tax.

There are also a range of tax-efficient pension vehicles to consider, such as SIPPS and QROPS, so it is highly advisable to speak to a tax and pensions expert.

Inheritance tax and wills

Inheritance tax for residents in France is high by global standards and applies to everything over €100,000 (as in 2022). You can mitigate some of that, but only if you get organised early.

For those domiciled in France, inheritance tax is payable on all worldwide assets. Inheritance tax isn’t paid by a spouse, only by the next generation.

Speaking of heirs, bear in mind that in France you are required to pass a set portion of your assets to your children. It is essential to get good financial advice when buying a property in France, as well as legal advice on your will.

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