A guide to the Dom Toms ( Reunion / French Guiana / Martinique / Guadeloupe ) and their property markets
You might be forgiven for believing that France starts in the north with departments such as Nord-Pas-de-Calais (Nord-Pas-de-Calais Property Guide) and Normandy (Lower-Normandy Property Guide, Upper-Normandy Property Guide) and ends in the south with the Mediterranean coast, and that if you have travelled around its perimeter then you will have seen it all. You might be forgiven... but you would be wrong. As well as mainland France there are various overseas departments and territories that still belong to France, and these are known as the Dom Toms, the départements et territoires d'outre mer, or, put simply, the overseas departments and territories of France.
There are four overseas departments of France, and unusually, each of these is also classified as a region. The departments are Réunion (known as department 974), French Guiana (dept. 973), Martinique (dept. 972) and Guadeloupe (dept. 971). After the departments, there are the collectivities, which include French Polynesia, Mayotte, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Wallis and Futuna, and then there is New Caledonia, technically not a collectivity but a "Sui Generis" community. Finally there are various uninhabited lands, including those volcanic islands found in the southern hemisphere.
For the purposes of this article, which is focused on the possibilities offered by these departments and territories for property purchase and investment, we will consider only the more popular Dom Tom options. The territories that form the French West Indies are Guadeloupe and its dependencies, along with Martinique. Then there is French Guiana, famous for its old penal colony around which the Papillon story was based. French Guiana is located in the north-east of South America. Finally, we will look at the island of Réunion, which lies in the Indian Ocean, close to Madagascar.
Guadeloupe is a blend of French and Creole culture, and the result is quite intoxicating! The department offers some sophisticated modern cities and seaside resorts, yet also has some fascinating and ecologically important rainforests, exotic and colourful banana groves and remote country villages where life seems to have barely changed for centuries. The language is predominantly French, although you will also hear a local Creole spoken away from the cities and resorts. The population of Guadeloupe is somewhere in the region of 450,000.
Guadeloupe is a very beautiful place, yet with a civilised French feel... so perfect for most people then! If you hanker after the Caribbean, with its white sand beaches and exotic air, but want the romance of the French language (Learning French), the French culture of boulangeries and patisseries, then Guadeloupe is definitely worth considering. Oh, and the weather is pretty good too!
The first thing you need to know is that the process by which property is purchased is the same as it is in France, so be prepared to work with notaires, and to follow the same guidelines as for property purchase in mainland France (Property sales in France, French estate agents, Buying a French Property - The Fees). There are no restrictions placed on property purchases by foreigners, so if you like the look of Guadeloupe than go ahead. Prices are not as high as you might think, and certainly lower than those on neighbouring Martinique, with a four-bedroom villa currently costing in the region of 270,000 Euros. The most desirable properties are those located near the beaches, and these are also the best bet for holiday letting if you are planning to rent out the property for part of the year. (Letting property in France.)
This lovely island lies in the Caribbean Sea, and like its neighbour Guadeloupe, it marries Creole and French traditions and cultures to present a delightful ambience that is very attractive to holiday makers and buyers alike. There is a thriving population of just less than 400,000 people. Martinique is an exquisitely beautiful island of two distinct halves, with the mountainous north boasting dense and lush forests and stunning beaches of black volcanic sand, while the south is altogether gentler in aspect, with silver sand beaches and a more modern infrastructure. Most property seekers tend to prefer the south of the island, partly because it is more developed and also because of the shadow of the volcano of Mont Pelée, that hangs over the northern areas. This volcano infamously erupted in 1902 killing almost everyone who had not fled the town of St. Pierre beforehand, and devastating the surrounding towns and countryside.
Anyone who loves the sea, the sun and the exotic lifestyle of the Caribbean. Martinique is also a paradise for scuba divers and snorkellers, with its crystal waters and excellent diving conditions. Lovers of delicious Creole cuisine will also find themselves drawn to Martinique.
Martinique offers a range of property, from sugar plantation owners' houses to modern luxury beach side villas and the colourful traditional Creole houses in the villages. Although property is fairly expensive on Martinique, if you are vigilant and prepared to buy quickly, it can be possible to pick up a small studio apartment for much less than you might think, with prices starting from around 40,000 or 50,000 Euros.
With a population of some 780,000 inhabitants, Réunion is a very popular holiday destination for the French people. It also has the distinction of having been the very first country in the world to use the Euro, as the Maire of Saint Denis used the currency to pay for a bag of lychees at a local market at 12.01am! The island of Réunion, lying in an enviable spot in the Indian ocean, has two volcanoes, one live and one extinct. Réunion is intensely beautiful, with glorious palm-edged beaches and seascapes that make it a very popular tourist destination. Its clear blue waters are an open invitation for snorkellers and scuba divers, and indeed, this clean warm sea, coupled with the sunny climate, make it a paradise for sea and sun lovers of all persuasions!
The towns on the island are well equipped and sophisticated enough to lack for nothing. The culture is a mixture of French and Creole, and is all the richer for it. The traditions of music, dance and cuisine are an essential part of an experience not to be missed.
There are some fabulous properties on the island, with everything from modern apartments to old Creole mansions. Prices are fairly high, and if you are considering buying to let, you need to understand that rental values are not as high as you might expect, given the desirability of the location with holiday makers. There are, however, some excellent tax breaks available on property investment here, so if you are a French tax payer, it could worth looking into. (Tax in France.)
French Guiana lies on the northern coast of South America. The population is 202,000, and most of these people inhabit the coastal strip rather than the dense rainforest areas of the interior. The climate is typical of the rainforest regions, with the dry season lasting from June to December, and the rains coming throughout the rest of the year. It remains warm all year round, but tourists definitely prefer the dry months! The region is ecologically fascinating with amazing flora and fauna, so if you love nature, French Guiana could have a treat in store for you.
As in all of France and her territories, there are no restrictions placed on foreign property buyers, so if French Guiana is somewhere that you are interested in, purchasing your chosen property should be fairly straightforward. The most desirable properties are found near the beaches or in and around the main towns, with Cayenne, the colourful capital city being the most popular. Prices vary, but in general they are lower than those in, for example, Martinique or Réunion.
As the Dom Toms are French, the main carrier to all these destinations is Air France, which means no direct service from the UK. So if you want to fly from the UK, this will involve flying to Paris, changing aircraft there, and flying on to your Dom Tom. Flight times are between nine and thirteen hours. Apart from Air France, American Airlines operates a service to Guadeloupe via the States. Currently there are no charter flights from the UK flying to these French overseas departments, though airlines are adding destinations and routes all the time, so if you are interested in property in these parts, it would be worth you closely monitoring the situation.
Although the majority of property buyers here are French, the possibilities are wide open for Brits. For those who would need to earn a living, becoming involved in the holiday industry or water sports might provide an adequate income, though being able to speak at least a little French would be vital. It depends, of course, on what you are looking for, but for a blend of civilised French culture and a frisson of exotic Caribbean colour, the Dom Toms are definitely worth considering!
Additional articles which may be of interest:
Property in Corsica
Taxe Foncière and Taxe d'Habitation - property tax in France
Sarkozy and French property owners
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.
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