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 Call of the Wild

My latest article in French Property News on the French property market post Covid19

 

If the experience of the Covid19 pandemic is likely to profoundly change the way we live, as most psychologists and economists are predicting at the moment, then it follows that it is also likely to fundamentally change the type of property we decide to buy in the future and where it is located. Continue reading..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying a home or a holiday home in France after Brexit


I am re-posting this article below which I wrote two years ago never thinking that, with just six months to go the UK would still be no nearer a post-Brexit deal nor a conclusion to all the uncertainty of the past four years. From talking to clients past, present and future, there is still lots of confusion as to what the rights of British property owners, residents and part-time residents will be in just six months from now even in line with the current withdrawal agreement. Hence, in this article, I have included as much as I know about the situation for British citizens in France post-Brexit with relevant links. Apologies for the long post:

As Brexit continues its depressing march towards the cliff edge, the French property market is seeing a sudden boom, partly fuelled 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

3. 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

I hope this is useful. As ever, if you would like help in finding the perfect property whatever your situation, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

Life in France after Coronavirus

I am very happy to say that things are starting to get back to normal here in our part of France after 11 weeks of lockdown which began on March 17th and was lifted on June 2nd (with a few exceptions such as mass gatherings and contact sports). We can once again roam free without pieces of paper authorising essential outings. I imagine that this must be how hedgehogs feel awakening from hibernation although I have a feeling that most of us emerging from weeks of confinement in France are better fed.

The initial stage of ‘de-confinement’ in France was the re-opening of shops, schools and markets. It is a cliché that you only miss something when it is gone but certainly there was much celebration and happiness the first day the local market re-opened with all the familiar faces and an abundance of local produce.

The second stage was the much anticipated and very welcome re-opening of the restaurants, cafés and bars. The simple pleasure of enjoying a drink on a sunny café terrace is easy to take for granted but it is such a fundamental element of French life that, without it, some of the soul of France was lost. Undoubtedly many of us have reassessed our priorities during lockdown and, more specifically, what is important in our lives and for many it turns out that it is these little daily pleasures that mean the most.

Of course, strict hygiene and social distancing measures are in place in cafés and restaurants which means that all the tables have to be one metre apart, everyone has to use hand sanitiser on entering and the waiters have to wear face masks. Customers on the other hand, only have to wear masks while going in and out of the premises but not at the table nor on exterior terraces.

On a day to day basis now, the only really noticeable difference post Coronavirus is that there are some people wearing facemasks, friends are wary about shaking hands or doing ‘les bises’ and there is a bit more social distancing in queues (although not on the road between cars sadly which would have been a very welcome change. I’m thinking of introducing a social distancing bumper sticker for cars asking for the driver behind to maintain at least two metres distance!) Most obvious when out and about now is the demonstrable joy as people reconnect with family and friends and once again rediscover the lost pleasure of meeting for a coffee, apèro or meal in France’s iconic restaurants and cafés.

 

How will the French property market change post Coronavirus?

The property market in France got off to a flying start this year; all the agents were busy, lots of buyers were arranging viewings and new properties had started to appear for sale. That was, however, before the sudden arrival of Covid19 when life ground to a complete halt overnight and the property market to a standstill.

Viewings are now impossible in person (some agencies are doing virtual tours but in this region there are very few agents who are this advanced in their marketing), estate agent offices are closed and many sellers have withdrawn their properties from the market; certainly no new properties are coming up for sale. For people who have already signed the Compromis de Vente, the buying process is proceeding normally (albeit with Notaires working from home) and the French government have issued a temporary ‘Ordonnance’ to allow buyers and sellers to sign the Acte de Vente at completion remotely in order to stop the housing market grinding to a complete halt. Normally the signing has to be done in person or via Power of Attorney but the Ordonnance allows the use of electronic signatures via verified web portals just while the lockdown is in place. Some completion dates might be pushed back but this is not usually a problem as completion dates in France are a target, not a deadline and there is no penalty for delaying completion if necessary.

In terms of how Covid19 will impact the French property market longer term, it seems likely that the market will be slow initially while sellers and buyers wait for life to return to normal before either putting their properties up for sale or resuming their property search. For buyers with finance in place or secure jobs, they are going to be in a very strong position once the lockdown finishes as buyers are likely to be keener to accept offers and there will be fewer houses on the market and probably fewer buyers chasing those houses.

I also think that there might be a change longer term as to the type of property that buyers are looking for. Pre-coronavirus there was definitely a move towards smaller, renovated, turn-key properties in villages or edge of towns with manageable gardens but I wonder now if this trend will reverse and buyers will ask me to find more isolated, countryside properties with land that could be self-sufficient. I don’t really think that everyone is going to start living the Good Life but I do think that, subconsciously at least, buyers might be more attracted to those sorts of properties now.

I must admit that, yet again, I am certainly very glad to be hidden away in our rather disconnected and old-fashioned part of the world right now. This part of rural France is already very self-sufficient and pretty hardy too. We may not have Deliveroo, Indian takeaways or supermarket home delivery but most people here produce some of their own food and the French are famously expert at foraging. I’m sure it must be very different for those living in towns and cities but here, at least, we look out over fields and woods and we can still get outside and enjoy the start of Spring. And of course, the French health service is one of the best funded and most efficient in the world.

Without in any way taking away from those people who have been infected or at high risk from this virus and those putting their lives on hold to care for them, we perhaps still need to hold on to the positives; energy consumption has been hugely reduced worldwide as have emissions and pollution and nature and wildlife are thriving. Everyone is shopping less, cooking more, spending more time en famille and connecting more often with friends and neighbours and appreciating the simpler things and what is important in life. And nobody is talking about Brexit for the first time in over three years! So I guess the good thing we can take from this situation is that we have demonstrated that it is possible to change behaviour and fast so maybe there is hope still for dealing with climate change and for focusing our collective energies on what matters rather than against each other for what doesn’t.

In the short-term, I hope you all stay safe and well and, in the longer-term, I hope you don’t give up your dreams of having a home of your own in this beautiful part of France. As ever, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com