Retiring to France

The French ‘joie de vivre’ has proved very attractive to Britons for many years. But is it attractive enough to up sticks and move there permanently in retirement?

France is a country with the same population as the UK but twice the land mass. If you want tranquility and solace while looking across beautiful landscapes you can find it throughout France. If you want beaches or ski slopes, medieval villages or modern cities, it’s all there.

Around 250,000 Britons live permanently in France, about 57,000 of them retired. A further 18,000 are joining their ranks each year, making it the most popular country in Europe for migrating Britons

Nearly 90% of British residents in France live in the countryside. Unlike Spain, where most foreign residents settle in established coastal resorts with large English-speaking populations, France offers little of that kind of coastal community – and it isn’t typically what those who move to France want.  


France is bordered by four seas, has three mountain ranges and sits on the edge of the European lowlands. It’s over 700 miles from north to south and 530 miles from east to west, so the French climate sees as much regional variation as its landscapes.

Western and north western France – draw a line from the Belgian border to the Pyrenees, and it’s everywhere west of that – see a mild climate and moderate rainfall all year. This area includes Paris, Champagne, the Midi Pyrenees region around Toulouse. Brittany, which juts out into the Atlantic, has a particularly mild but wet climate, and Bordeaux has temperatures of up to 27C in summer.  

As you head further south and further east – taking in a swathe that includes Limoges, parts of Burgundy and part of the Languedoc – the influence of Atlantic weather becomes less, which means a warmer, drier climate than further west.

The second weather zone is eastern France – including Strasbourg, Alsace and Lyon – which has a more continental climate. Outside of the mountain areas, the east is drier than western France and sees hotter summers but colder winters.


In the eternally sought-after areas of the Cote d’Azur, Alps and Paris, there has been a cautious return of confidence among overseas buyers eyeing up French property. For many other areas of France, though – in particular rural areas – prices continue to fall.

After several years of falling prices – up to 40% in some regions – the strength of sterling against the euro saw British buyers re-enter the market in 2015. But the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and subsequent plunge of sterling, has put the brakes on that again.


You may be as fit as a fiddle now, but it may be a different story in ten or 20 years. The good news is that the French healthcare system is regarded as one of the best in the world. Its public and private hospitals offer a similarly high standard of care, there are no significant waiting lists for operations and no fight for hospital beds.

Currently, UK citizens or retirees receiving a state pension from another EU country are entitled to a contribution from the French government of 70% of the cost of treatment. There is cheap and mandatory top-up insurance to cover the remainder.

EU citizens who retire before qualifying for a state pension can receive French social security health cover for up to 30 months, providing they obtain an E106 form from their country’s social security department.

Some non-EU citizens can receive entirely or partially free French state healthcare, depending on their country’s reciprocal social security agreements

If you are not entitled to receive free healthcare in France –  you will need private health insurance. If you live in France, this will be a ‘voluntary insurance’ policy (assurance volontaire). The national health service covers the cost of all treatment for life-threatening illnesses and accidents.

Of course, Brexit may change all that. Refer to for important Brexit updates.


France has a reputation as a high tax jurisdiction. But France can be a tax efficient place to live for retirees, providing you understand the tax implications of your situation and obtain specialist expat tax advice.  

You are considered tax resident if your main home (foyer) is in France. You would also be considered a tax resident if you either spend more than 183 days in France during the French tax year (the calendar year), if you spend more time in France than in any other country, if your principal activity is in France, or if France is home to your most substantial assets.

Many of France’s taxes sound the same as ones you may be familiar with in the UK, but they are calculated completely differently. There are some that do not exist in the UK, such as wealth tax, and, for some, healthcare charges.


EU nationals can live and work in France with just a valid passport. There is no need for a visa or residency permit. You must register with the town hall (mairie) in the commune where you live within three months of moving there. You will need to show proof of identity, residence and of your financial means to support yourself.

Non-EU nationals with a British spouse may still enter France without a visa provided they have a valid passport and a UK residence endorsement, as long as they are joining their spouse in France. Non-EU nationals wishing to move to France need a carte de sejour.


  • This article is just a brief taster of the book ‘Retiring to Europe’, which is out now. Find out how to get all the information at There you can download the comprehensive guide free of charge and receive Brexit updates.



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