View from the Foothills of France

Some personal views on living, working,
bringing up family and making the dream happen in the most beautiful region of France. View from the Foothills of France also includes some personal and professional thoughts and tips on finding and buying the perfect property in the Ariège and Haute Garonne regions.

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Are the French really lazy?

We are deep into the August vacances here in France and I am struggling to get hold of agents, owners and Notaires; it sometimes seems that everyone is on holiday (and nothing wrong with that; I am planning to join them very soon). This is of course exactly the image of France that is held across much of the world; that the French spend most of their time eating and drinking and as little time as possible actually working. It is the country of the 35-hour working week and endless long lunch breaks, both of which certainly exist and there is no doubt that the French work to live and not the other way around. Interestingly, however, productivity figures across Europe do not bear out this theory of the indolent Frenchman; quite the opposite in fact with France having one of the highest levels of productivity of any European country (Germany tops the polls) and certainly much higher than the UK.

So is this another French paradox along with staying slim and healthy on a diet of red wine, croissants and cheese? Well of course, there are always two sides to every story and numerous sides to every statistic but, in my experience over the last 15 years of living in France, one of the great myths about the French is indeed that they don’t work very hard. This seems to have arisen mainly through envy of visitors to the country seeing that every day the café terraces are full at most of times of day in every village and town, large and small and that everything stops for lunch.

In this respect, they are right but what most people don’t see is that many jobs begin at 8am (even school starts at 8) and finish at 7pm. And that is just for employees. Once you start asking those in self-employment about the hours they work, you will find that 7am – 8pm is not at all uncommon and it is the same for many professions. Our local doctor starts surgery at 7.30am and is still to be found seeing patients at 9pm. I recently had to have a course of antibiotics and the district nurse (one of a team) came to the house every day to give the injections – he told me he often started at 7am and finished at 9pm. Our dentist works from 8.30am until 9pm Monday to Friday. Our local shop is run by a couple who are there six days a week from very early to very late. Likewise the pharmacy is 8am – 8pm and then all night one day a week. Even our local garage is a one man band and he usually starts at 7am and does a 12 or 13 hour day. I could go on but you get the picture. There might not be the rush and stress in the air in France as there are in many countries and almost everyone takes the time to sit down for a proper meal at lunchtime but don’t mistake quality of life for laziness because, in my experience, this could not be further from the truth.

On that note, I am taking some holiday from next week until the end of the month so I wish you all a formidable fin d’été and look forward to helping you find your dream homes in September. If you need help with your property search, you can get in touch any time: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

 

 

Britons top the list of foreign buyers in France

Following an initial drop off in buyers from the UK immediately following Brexit, there has recently been a surge of new enquiries and purchasers perhaps as a result of the proposal that people who move to Europe before the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020 will keep their rights as European residents in France.

The British remain top of the list of buyers in France with 25.9% of transactions in 2017, followed by Belgians with 18.4%, the Swiss 8.1% and Germans 7%.

Interestingly, however, the type of purchase has changed since the Brexit vote according to the latest report by BNP Paribas. The majority of British buyers in France are now planning a permanent move to France, purchasing property as their main residence (up 17%) while the number buying holiday homes or investment properties has dropped nearly 18%.

In addition, sterling is taking a huge hit with the prospect of a no deal Brexit becoming more likely and will potentially go through the floor if this scenario does indeed become a reality (let’s hope not and please ignore any currency advice, I get it wrong every time but I can put you in touch with experts if you are thinking of buying in France and want to talk through the currency options.) Hence, it appears that many Brits have decided that it is now or never to realize that dream of moving to France.

If you need help in finding your property, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

 

 

 

Latest Brexit news for anyone looking to buy a home in France

The UK government has finally published its white paper on the relationship it foresees with the EU after Brexit. The Connexion has summarized the key points relating to Britons in the EU both current and future:

The aim of the white paper to achieve an outline of intentions to be attached to the exit agreement and to form the basis of further agreements to be signed during a transition period. The approach detailed in the paper gives mixed messages for the British expatriate community in the EU however, because while it seeks to maintain certain key benefits for Britons who move to the EU in future, at the same time it is likely to make it harder for them to move.

The paper also makes a reference to those Britons who already live in other EU countries before the end of the planned Brexit transition period, whose rights are dealt with in the exit agreement, saying that the UK will seek to secure their ‘onward movement opportunities’. This refers to their ongoing right to live and work

The proposals in the document are likely to be discussed as EU/UK negotiations resume this week, with EU negotiator Michel Barnier set to make a statement on 20th July.

Restricting free movement

The white paper says Britain wishes to “end free movement, taking back control of the UK’s borders” and “giving the UK back control over how many people come to live in the UK”. It confirms that the UK government wants to “control and reduce net migration”. It repeats a phrase from previous UK government statements that the country will “want to continue to attract the brightest and best” and says the UK will pass immigration laws setting out how those “from the EU and elsewhere can apply to come and work in the UK”.

There should be “reciprocal arrangements” that “support businesses to… move their talented people”, it adds. While not stated explicitly, the implication of such an emphasis is that lower-skilled people (or whose skills are not considered to be in demand) or those who do not plan to work may find it harder to come to the UK than now, which, if it goes ahead, might be reciprocated by the EU.

Meanwhile the white paper says there should be visa-free travel for EU citizens wanting to come to the UK for tourism and temporary work, and mobility should be ‘facilitated’ for students and young people wanting to study in universities and benefit from ‘cultural experiences’. (Visa-free travel for tourism is what has been expected, but it would not dispense Britons from having to make an online ETIAS application for permission to travel from 2021).The document also expresses a wish that the UK should continue to participate in university exchanges via the Erasmus+ scheme.

Anticipating possible delays at borders when Britons are no longer EU citizens, it says that there should be ‘streamlined border arrangements’, such as those it says the UK already has with certain ‘low-risk non-EU countries’ like the US and Japan, so there may be a ‘smooth passage’ for Britons going to the EU for business or holidays.

Maintaining benefits

One positive point is that it says the UK will seek reciprocal arrangements on certain social security matters to help those Britons who want to work or retire to the EU in future years. It says this could include maintaining pension uprating as well as pension ‘aggregation’ rules for those who have paid into several countries’ systems. It adds there should be reciprocal healthcare cover for state pensioners and expresses a wish for continued participation by the UK in the EU’s EHIC health card scheme for travellers.

Workers should continue to only have to pay social security contributions in one state at a time, it says.

It also calls for ‘ambitious provisions on the recognition of professional qualifications’, which it says is especially relevant for healthcare, education and the veterinary, agriculture and food sectors.

Other matters

The white paper also covers other matters, such as trade and security cooperation, proposing that the UK should sign an ‘association agreement’ with the EU, have a ‘free trade area’ for goods and continue to participate in structures such as Europol. It suggests a ‘joint committee’ for the resolution of disputes.

It says there should be new arrangements on services, providing regulatory flexibility, but acknowledges that the UK and EU will not have the current levels of access to each other’s markets. It proposes there should be arrangements for the financial sector that “preserve mutual benefits of integrated markets and protect financial stablity”, although they “could not replicate the EU’s passporting regimes”.

Thank you to The Connexion for the update and I will post more details as and when they become available. In the meantime, if you have general questions about buying property in France or moving to France, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

 

The advantages of moving to France before Brexit

As Brexit continues its depressing march towards the cliff edge, the French property market is seeing a sudden boom, partly fueled by the improving economic conditions and positive mood in France and partly by British buyers deciding that it is now or never to move to France as a European before we become ‘Third Country Nationals’ in Europe with all the resulting bureaucracy and restrictions which that is going to entail.

There is still a lot of confusion and uncertainty however as to both what the current rights are for Europeans moving to France and what British rights will be after Brexit. This is a much longer post than usual because I am re-printing the most relevant aspects of an article from RIFT – Remain in France Together which aims to protect the rights of all UK citizens living in France and other EU countries. With thanks for this article and I can thoroughly recommend their website: http://www.remaininfrance.org/the-rift-community.html

British citizens with legal residence in another EU27 country on 31 December 2020 will have their rights covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, assuming that there is a final deal between the UK and the EU. But what of those who currently live between the UK and France, perhaps with a house in both countries? And what of those who are thinking of moving to France but haven’t yet done so?

If you currently live in France for part of the year and are still UK resident

​Many people, especially those with second homes in France, have been used to coming and going without restriction, often spending 6 months every year in France and 6 months back in the UK, being careful to ensure that they’re not out of the UK for more than 183 days a year and therefore keeping their UK residence intact. Except that …

​Free movement doesn’t mean free and unrestricted movement
If you’re someone who’s done this yourself, it might come as a shock to find out that you’re quite possibly ‘unlawfully resident’ in France for several months each year even though you have the right to free movement within the EU: as an EU citizen, you’re permitted to spend only 3 consecutive months in another EU country without exercising treaty rights and becoming legally resident.

So if you arrive each year on, say, 1 March, you can stay until the end of May without formality and with just your passport. But from 1 June, if you want to continue staying legally in France you can only do so if you meet certain conditions. The bottom line is that you’ve ‘got away with it’ because France is the only EU27 country not to require EU citizens to report their presence after 3 months in the country – and because there are no real immigration controls at airports or Channel ports.

How will things change after Brexit?
After Brexit, as a British citizen you will lose your EU citizenship and with it your right to free movement. You’ll become a Third Country National – and you’ll be treated no differently from someone arriving from New Zealand, Chile, Morocco or anywhere else in the non-EU world. This will happen from the end of the transition period, 31 December 2020, if an exit deal is agreed. If the UK exits the EU with no deal, it will happen from 29 March 2020. The precise immigration conditions that will be applied to British citizens wanting to enter the EU will only be agreed as part of the ‘future relationship’ negotiations, but there is no reason to believe that those conditions will be in any way more favourable than those currently applied to all Third Country Nationals.

As a Third Country National, you will be able to spend 90 days in every 180 days in the Schengen area. So if you arrive at your French house on 1 March, you can stay there until the end of May. Then you must return to the UK for another 3 months before you can travel again, so you would not be able to return before September. And during the ‘home’ period between June to September, you wouldn’t be able to take any short trips to any of the other Schengen countries either, as the 90/180 day rule applies to the entire Schengen area, not just to any one country within it. If you want to stay longer than 3 months, your right to remain would be subject to national immigration rules (as now, but much more strict – see below). For more information on Schengen, take a look at: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/etias/

But isn’t this just a return to how things were before the UK joined the EU? People had second homes in France then.
No. The world is simply not the same as it was in those days. The EU is now much more concerned about the security of its borders, both from an immigration perspective and also from a anti-terrorist point of view. The EU’s interest is in protecting itself and its own, and life as a Third Country National – an ‘outsider’ – is very different from the way things worked in the 1960s and early 1970s, even though it is given legal framework by a number of specific EU Directives.

All British citizens living in the UK and wanting to travel to the Schengen area will need to register under the ETIAS scheme – the European Travel Information and Authorization System. This is a new and completely electronic system, expected to be in place by 2020, which allows and keeps track of visitors from countries who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Zone. Its prime function is security, but it’s also designed to help manage borders and impede irregular immigration. Registration will have to be done online before travel.

What options are available to part-time residents?

If you currently live for part of the year in France but are still resident (for fiscal and all other purposes) in the UK, you basically have some tough choices to make. And just to make things totally clear – you can apply for a Carte de Sejour ONLY if you’re exercising treaty rights and are legally resident in France.

Here are your choices:

1. You can remain as a British resident and accept that your visits to France will have to be restricted to 90 days in every 180 days.   OR

2. If you want to stay longer than 90 days at a time in France after 31 December 2020, you can go through the immigration process in France. In a nutshell, this is what you’d have to do as a Third Country National:

  • before you leave the UK you’d need to apply to the French Consulate in the UK for a long stay visa;
  • once arrived in France, you would have 2 months to apply for a titre de séjour. If you’re retired or otherwise inactive, you apply for a card entitled ‘Visitor’ which doesn’t allow you to work. You’d need to show evidence of ‘sufficient and stable resources’ – this is higher for Third Country Nationals than for EU citizens and is currently set at the net level of SMIC: 1170,69€ per month, per person. For a visitor’s titre de séjour note that you do NOT need to show evidence of health cover, although if after 5 years you want to apply for a Titre de Séjour Longue Durée you would at that point need to do so. The cost of a visitor’s titre de séjour is currently 269€ and the card lasts for one year; it’s renewable, and to renew you’d need to show the same evidence as for an initial application..   OR
  1. You can consider becoming legally resident in France before the end of transition on 31 December 2020 and therefore having residence and other rights protected under the Withdrawal Agreement. This is a major decision and not one to be taken lightly. In order to become French resident, you must be exercising your treaty rights of free movement. You can do this without having to spend 365 days a year in France – in fact if you spend 183 days a year or more in France you can be legally resident.But it is not just as simple as the amount of time you spend here – to be exercising your treaty rights and therefore legally resident means that you must shift your entire life to France – where you pay your tax, where you are registered for health care and all the rest. You can’t cherry pick here – what you’d be doing is moving everything to France: your fiscal residence, your health care, your home, the centre of your life. If you then want to travel back to the UK, you would do so as a French resident and you’d then have to look at how, as a French resident, you deal with the nuts and bolts of your life in the UK. You’d also have to look at how your residency in France could impact on other issues, such as inheritance, which works very differently in France.

If you’re planning on moving to France permanently in the future

If you already know that you want to move to France in the future, the best advice that we can possibly give you is to do this before the end of transition on 31 December 2020. If you do this, you will benefit from the Withdrawal Agreement; you’ll become part of the group whose rights to residence are protected for their lifetimes. But you must make sure that you do it in such a way that you’re properly exercising your treaty rights of free movement.

This means that your residence in France would be pretty much on the same terms as it would be if you moved today, or last year, or 10 years ago. If you receive, or will receive in future, a UK state pension you would also benefit from reciprocal health care – although you would register to receive health care through the French system in the same way as a French person, it would be funded by the UK.

If you live as a couple, another possibility would be for one of you to move before 31 December 2020 and establish legal residence in France. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, a spouse or registered partner has the right to join you in future if you are legally resident in France at 31 December 2020 and to benefit from the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement themselves. So if one of you is retired and the other not, this could get you a foot in the door.

Moving after 31 December 2020
​If you move to France after the end of transition you would do so as a Third Country National. Before you leave the UK you’d need to apply to the French Consulate in the UK for a long stay visa; once arrived in France, you would have 2 months to apply for a titre de séjour. The type of titre de séjour depends on your exact situation – there are a lot of them and the requirements for all of them are different.

​If you are retired or otherwise inactive, you would apply for a card entitled ‘Visitor’ which doesn’t allow you to work. You’d need to show evidence of ‘sufficient and stable resources’ and this is higher for Third Country Nationals than for EU citizens and is currently set at the net level of SMIC: 1170,69€ per month, per person. For a visitor’s titre de séjour note that you do NOT need to show evidence of health cover, although if after 5 years you want to apply for a Titre de Séjour Longue Durée you would at that point need to do so.

For more details, use this link to take you to the official government web page: https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F302