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Retirement and retiring to France

A retirement guide for those thinking of retiring to France

Retire to France - a good idea?

The good news is that, as a general rule, we tend to live long lives these days, thanks to modern health care, nutrition (Buying and cooking French food), education (French Education System - Schools in France) and other factors. While you can't say that there is a downside to this fact, it does mean that certain factors have to be very carefully considered. If you want a golden retirement, and who doesn't, you have to plan ahead, stay aware of the situations regarding pensions, choose the right type of house in the best location, and, vitally, decide exactly how you are going to finance this new life after work. The above considerations are important for everyone, but they become even more pressing if you have decided, as have so many British, American and other nationalities, to retire to France.

Places to retire in France

Choosing the right place for your retirement is vital (Property in France). There are a lot of factors that will influence your decision, and these include your state of health, age, personal preferences, prior knowledge of the area and established networks of friends and family or lack of, financial situation and possibly more besides. (Retirement in Perpignan.)

Early retirement

Let's assume that you are a relatively young retiree, healthy and able bodied, moving to France for the first time. You may be tempted by a country home, ripe for renovation and possibly profit if re-sold afterwards, with the potential to run a small business venture such as a gite or B&B (Owning Gites and Chambres d'Hotes (B&Bs) in France, Gites for sale). There are a significant number of retired ex-pats who have successfully and enjoyably made the move to just such a property, and there is no reason not to do this. But be realistic if you are expecting a certain amount of income from a business venture, as competition can be fierce.

Think of the cons as well as the pros of your location

However, the picture can change if you are not in such a good state of health, have limited financial resources or if you are alone. Renovating property in France can be expensive (House Renovations in France), large gardens hard work to maintain and living in the country can also be very isolating. It can be tough finding new friends when you first move to a new country, especially if you do not live within at least a village. As we get older, driving can sometimes become difficult or even impossible (Driving in France), and rural France simply doesn't really offer public transport in the way that we are used to in the UK.

Town or village living

Living in a village house can be a good choice for retirement, offering a chance to make friends and to establish a support network and often also the convenience of a shop or two on the doorstep along with other local services. Towns too, are worth considering, with many French townhouses being surprisingly spacious once the front door is opened.

Lotissements are often suitable options

A further option that can be very suitable is to buy a one storey home on a "lotissement". Usually found on the outskirts of villages, these are small developments of new build homes with small gardens. They are easy to maintain, have no stairs to cope with and are within walking distance of village centres. They are also often reasonably priced.

Retirement homes in France

If you do not quite fit into the "just retired, hale and hearty" group of would be ex-pats, there are still a number of good options open to you. Retirement homes, known as "Maisons de Retraite", exist in both the public and private sectors. Information on those publicly run can be obtained from the "Centre Communal d'Action Sociale" (CCAS), and the Mairie in your town or village will provide contact details on request.

Retirement homes offering low level of care

Retirement homes vary according to the level of dependency of the resident. In short, the lowest level of care is offered by "foyers logement" (sometimes called "residences services" if privately run), which are similar to sheltered housing in the UK. These are suitable for those who are reasonably able and independent, but want the security of knowing that help (and certain useful facilities) are on hand if required.

Retirement homes with communal living areas

The next level of support is found in PUVs, which are small units of flats that have communal living areas. These offer the chance for an independent home, yet the support and company of a small and friendly community.

Rooms in retirement homes

Retirement homes then come in two further categories. Those who want greater security but are still relatively healthy and able bodied can find a room in "établissements d'hébergement pour personnes âgées" (EHPA), while those requiring daily medical care and support for daily life are better suited in "établissements d'hébergement pour personnes âgées dependants" (EHPAD).

Help with costs of retirement homes

If your main home is in France (and you live there for over six months of each year) and you are a European citizen with a valid passport, you are entitled to financial aid known as APA if you are over 60 and require daily help due to physical or mental difficulties. The amount payable depends on your income, with a basic rate available to all who are deemed to meet the criteria of need. Once more, the CCAS will help, providing the necessary application forms and advice. There is also an excellent guide available on the internet offered by Connexions, the English language newspaper for French residents, at a cost of just five Euros. This downloadable guide gives up to date details of benefits and how to obtain them as well as contacts for English speaking retirement homes in your area.

Health care in France

Even the most hale and hearty of us experience changing and often increasing health care requirements as we age, and health care is thus a major concern when choosing to retire to France. Fortunately, the French health care system is recognised as one of the best in the world, and most ex-pats will be able to benefit from this. (Health care in France.)

European Health Insurance Card

As long as you are eligible for NHS cover in the UK and are in receipt of a UK state pension, you need to transfer your cover to the French national plan and affiliate to CPAM (Caisse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie). You need to get an EHIC or European Health Insurance Card to do this. The French state health care covers the majority of your health care costs, but not all of them. To achieve 100% cover, you will need to purchase a "mutuelle", which is effectively a top up policy.

The practicalities involved

When you attend the doctor's surgery, the system is quite different from that in the UK. You will be expected to pay cash (currently 22 Euros) before leaving, but at the same time the doctor will pass your health care card (carte vitale) through a machine and the money paid will be automatically (and very swiftly) reimbursed. You will also need your carte vitale and mutuelle certificate when you attend a pharmacy to collect a prescription. Should you not have your carte vitale or mutuelle policy to hand when needed, you will be given a paper (Feuille de Soins) which you can send off to the relevant bodies for reimbursement.

For those under retirement age

Please note that people moving to live in France from the UK who are under state retirement age will not be eligible for affiliation to CPAM if they do not have one of the various E forms issued by HMRC or the DWP, until they have been fully resident in France for five years. The E forms, usually E106 or E109, are issued on the basis of your recent National Insurance contributions record. This means that there is likely to be a gap of at least three years after the E form expires when private health care will be needed. But once a French resident, and having lived in France for an uninterrupted period of five years or more, they will be entitled to affiliate to CPAM, have a carte vitale and thus health care.

Retirement income - Pensions

Pensions are very much in the news at the moment, both in Britain and in France, and are the subject of much controversy. Retirement ages notwithstanding, once you are receiving your UK pension you need to decide on the best way to utilize it to support your new life in France. The following article gives more of an insight into sorting out your pension in France - Getting your UK pension paid in France.

Fluctuating exchange rates

One of the problems faced by British ex-pats in recent years is the fluctuating exchange rate, which has effectively reduced the value of UK assets to quite some degree. As a financial advisor explains:

"You are now all foreign exchange traders. Like it or not, your income is in Pounds Sterling and your expenditure is in Euros. You are at the mercy of the F/X markets, and we can all see that at times these markets show no mercy. No government would be able to slash pension benefits by 30% in a year, but the markets can and do. More bad news. In a lot of cases, there is precious little you can do about it. The UK state pension for example will always be paid as a Sterling value, even if you have it paid automatically to France.

Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes

There is, however, some good news. That comes in the form of a rather unlikely acronym - QROPS. This stands for Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes. Since April 2006, UK ex-pats have had the right to 'export' their personal pension schemes from the UK. There are a number of potential benefits involved here, and they are all important. Transferring your scheme abroad by means of QROPS means that:

- The purchase of an annuity before the age of 75 is not compulsory
- Unused pension funds may be left to your beneficiaries on death, free of tax at source
- Pension payments may be made without deduction of tax at source, and are possibly only subject to income tax in your country of residence and are potentially or favourably treated
- You can take 30% of your transfer value as a tax free lump sum
- You are free to invest your pension fund in Euros and thereby eliminate the exchange rate risk in the future."

Retirement age in France and pensions in France

France is currently (2010) undergoing a series of strikes and "manifestations" due to discontent over the proposed raising of the state retirement age from 60 to 62. Now, while this may not seem so bad to those of us used to the increasingly older age at which we may expect our pensions through the British system, the French are seriously put out about it. It is unlikely to affect British French residents if they have been living and working in France for long enough to have become entitled to some level of pension under the French scheme. Those who have been living and working in France before retirement age but whose entitlement has not been amassed over the necessary 41 to 42 years should take expert advice to determine the best way forward.

Reasons to retire in France

There are many excellent reasons why people choose France as a retirement destination. Even in the north, the climate tends to be a little better, warmer and sunnier than in the UK, and of course, in the south, the climate is one of the most pleasant in the world. The food and wine are legendary, the countryside and coastlines stunning and varied, the cities elegant and sophisticated and the standard of living is high. The French people are welcoming and friendly, the health care among the best in the world, and as an additional benefit, France is close enough to the UK to make journeys home to see family and friends (or for them to visit you) easy, fast and inexpensive.

Respect for elders

A further factor which adds to the appeal of France for retirees is the attitude to older people which can come as a pleasant surprise to many who have found themselves on the receiving end of at best, a slightly patronising approach from figures of authority, or at worst, verbal and even physical abuse from subscribers to the yob culture. In general, older people in France are treated with respect, by all ages and in all situations.

An ideal lifestyle for a happy retirement

France is, for many, a great choice, as it offers a truly ideal lifestyle for an enjoyable retirement. It is, however, not Britain, and the differences need to be embraced in order to get the full benefit of a French retirement.

Additional articles which may be of interest:

Savings and investments in France
Sarkozy and French property owners
Moving to France - how to go about it


Added July 2011

The following article addresses changes that are occurring in French health care for ex-pat early retirees:

Health care in France - another U-turn by Sarkozy

About the author

Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links. Advice in this article was also provided by Rob Hesketh.

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