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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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

 

How much is the house really worth?

One of the main concerns when deciding to buy a house in another country is that it is much more difficult to work out if the price that you are paying is the right price. In France, it is particularly complicated to get an accurate picture.

Firstly, you are likely to see a property advertised at different prices by numerous different agencies. Secondly, particularly in rural France, it is difficult to compare the price to similar houses sold locally as most properties are very different from each other and they also do not change hands very often. Thirdly, there is no set formula for valuing property in France. Finally, on the internet, there are thousands of properties listed for sale; numerous beautiful shots of tightly cropped and apparently very cheap houses, giving the impression that property in France is incredibly cheap – a story that the press also love, especially at this time of year (trade in your flat in Peckham for a Chateau in France).

Well property in this region is certainly very good value but I think that many people window shopping for houses in agencies or online this summer are likely to be disappointed if they are thinking that they will be able to pick up something for almost nothing. In my experience, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. So, how do you know that the price is right when viewing a property in France?

  1. Make sure you look at lots of houses advertised in the same area and get a feel for prices and what you can get for your budget. If the property is far more expensive than anything similar in the area then it has probably been priced at that level by the owners rather than an estate agent or Notaire who will have a better idea of the real value. You need to be particularly wary of private sales for this reason.
  2. View a house very thoroughly and preferably go back and view it a second time. Often a second viewing shows up details that you didn’t notice the first time, especially if you loved it as soon as you walked through the door on the first viewing. If a second viewing is not possible, make sure you take lots of photos and go through these again carefully the next day to make sure you haven not missed something obvious.
  3. If you view a house that ticks most of your search criteria boxes, this property is most likely worth your budget, especially if a large part of your motivation in buying in France is a lifestyle choice. You will know if a house is going to offer the quality of life you are looking for and this is hard to put a price on.
  4. Work out how much work it will need to make this house into the home you are looking for. Get an idea of how much you think you will need to spend on it and decide if it matches your budget and the region’s prices.
  5. it may be a cliché but it is a true one, that the location is the most important element in assessing the price. If the house is in a good location, one that is always in demand, if it has good views and good access, near mountains or coast and close to a nice town or city, then it will generally be worth what you pay for it because there will always be someone else who wants this same location.

Above all, if you love the house the minute you walk through the door; in other words if it has that something special, that wow factor and it is within your budget, then it is most likely worth paying the price.

Dare I say that, of course, the very best way of ensuring that you are only paying what a property is worth and not a penny more is, of course, to employ a property finder…

 

 

Beware the so-called ‘eco-house’

As with anything that becomes fashionable, the original concept of an ‘eco-house’ and ‘eco-living’ has in some areas been hijacked by those looking to make a quick buck. I have noticed this more and more in France, where the term ‘eco-house’ is now regularly applied to any house for sale that happens to be built out of wood or that has some form of alternative energy or insulation.

All I can say is, when house hunting, beware the term ‘eco-house’ and be sure you ask the agent or seller what it is that makes said property so ecological. Often it will turn out that the house is a wooden kit-house (which can be very ecologically sound but can equally mean very thin walls and very un-ecological, chemical wood preserver and unsustainable timber). Or simply that it has solar panels on the roof which is great but this does not suddenly make an old stone house into an ‘eco-house’.

The problem is that there is no agreed definition as to what constitutes an ‘eco-house’. It is, however, generally accepted that it is a property built in such a way that reduces energy consumption and waste while also reducing the negative impact of a building on human health and the environment. Hence an eco-house should be a combination of sustainable location, sustainable materials and sustainable living brought about through better design, construction, siting, operation and maintenance.

The design and construction of the building should be done in harmony with the natural environment and an eco-house should give the owner the ‘best of both’ by providing less of an impact on the environment along with a healthier place to live and lower ongoing running costs.

So far, out here in South West France, I could count on one hand the number or eco-houses I have seen measuring up to this definition. I hope that this is going to change and I will see more and more houses providing more sustainable ways of living but, in the meantime, by all means put ‘ecological’ on your property search wish list but be very wary of anyone trying to sell you a so-called ‘eco-house’.

 

If you have any questions about looking for a house in France, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

Becoming part of the community in France

I went to a funeral of a neighbour this week; one of the first people we met when we moved into this hamlet and who lived most of his 80 years right here. Funerals are of course always sad but this one was also uplifting in that it really brought home to me the importance of community; something harder to find these days when so many people move away from where they are born for education and work. There was a real sense of friends and family coming together to both celebrate his life and support those left behind.

The sense of community in this part of France is still very strong and one of the reasons that so many of us are attracted to the region. It is rare nowadays to be born, grow up, live, work and retire in the same place and with many of the same people you have known all your life. This can of course be claustrophobic, even suffocating which is why many people move away for a while but it is also noticeable here how many people also later move back with families of their own. There are of course disagreements, fallings out and the usual gossip but, at important times, people here know that they can rely on their family, friends and neighbours; a guaranteed safety net as and when needed.

At the funeral, nearly everyone knew everyone else and the atmosphere was one of kindness, friendship, of everyone rallying around, of support and even a sort of contentment, especially in the sunny graveyard where, as the priest pointed out, our neighbour was put into the earth of the village and countryside that he loved and the same earth he had worked all his life both to earn his living and produce his food.

With my property finder hat back on, the experience made me reflect again on the importance of region and the local community when looking for a house. Of course, the right property is of huge importance but, to make that house into a home, it is equally as important to get a sense of the town, village or hamlet and a feel for the community and then, once installed, make sure you get out and meet your neighbours and become part of that community.