Expats living in France: Victoria Burton, from Lancashire, UK had been holidaying with her family in France for years before deciding to take the plunge and relocate to Normandy. The whole family loved the French way of life – first her brother made the move, then, Victoria says “It was no surprise to me when my Mum decided to buy a holiday home in Normandy in 2005…”
Just a year later Victoria and her husband Rob followed…
What inspired you to move to France?
Mum bought a house in St Barthelemy, in the Sud Manche about an hour and half from Ouisterham. She planned to retire there and use it as holiday home meantime. The house was ready to live in but the décor needed some serious attention and Mum wanted to add more bedrooms in the loft. I was living in Dorset (south of England) at the time with my husband and although we loved the south coast, we were both bored in our jobs and wanted an adventure. So in June 2006, we quit our jobs, sold our house, packed everything into a van and moved to St Barthelemy to renovate Mum’s house. There wasn’t really a long term plan; we would just see how it went!
What is your home like and did it take you long to find it?
We lived in Mum’s house whilst we were doing the renovations and bought a small house for us to rent out as a gite, it was just 15 minutes from St Barthelemy so we had two renovation projects going at the same time! We kept the gite for two seasons, finished the work on Mum’s house and then decided to get a home of our own.
We wanted to stay in the same area and went for a full days viewing with a local estate agent on a snowy January day. I think viewing a property in January gives you a more realistic idea than on a sunny day as everything looks gorgeous in full sunshine.
We bought the first house we saw – Rob just fell in love with it. It was built in 1901 and it is a stone house with three floors – I have always loved tall houses! It is a town house and we are lucky enough to have quite a big walled garden with an orchard. There is also another building on the land which is crying out to be renovated – either a studio or a workshop but that is way down on the “to do” list, right after “winning the lotto”!
What planning did you do to start living the life you want in France?
We enrolled on an evening class to improve our French for a year before moving here. We both had done GCSE French but remembered little. We opened a bank account before we came and I think that was about it! Everything else we’ve learned simply by living in France.
Have you had to do a lot of work on the house?
We’ve renovated inside from top to bottom but still have lots to do! The ground floor had a workshop and a kitchen that just had a sink in it. The back wall is underground as the house goes up a hill so we had to sort out the damp. Soon after we had done this and installed a new kitchen, a mains water pipe bust outside the house and flooded the kitchen! Luckily our neighbour is a Pompier (fireman) and works for the town council part time so sorted things out and it was a great way to meet the Mayor! The wiring was dangerous and there was no heating, so we had this redone at the start of the project. At the time, I worked for Credit Agricole so became aware of the Eco Loans (0%) that were available to help with eco-friendly renovations so this really helped. It took us two years to get to the stage where we could move in. We still need new windows throughout and the garden needs attention!
What do you like best about where you are living in France?
The Normandy countryside is so beautiful and the dog walking here is brilliant (I have two border collies). We live close to a town so we can walk to get fresh bread and pop into the bar for pre-dinner aperos. I couldn’t live in the middle of nowhere – certainly not having been here through several long, cold, snowy winters. We had always thought we may move further down south but we find this area is a great base for travelling. We just pack the dogs and the tent into the car and go, we’ve travelled throughout France.
What business are you running in France?
In 2011 I started Puce and Co. which began life as a market stall selling French Brocante finds. I bought goods here and took them back to the UK to sell at the vintage markets. When my contract at Credit Agricole ended in 2012 I struggled to find permanent work and I decided to set Puce and Co. up in a shop. The old bar in St Barthelemy was available – it was perfect! I still sell Brocante finds but I also sell painted furniture and I stock Chalk Paint™ decorative paint by Annie Sloan. I run workshops in both English and French to show people how versatile the paint is and how to get great results. The shop also sells gifts – many of which are hand made by artists in either the UK or France using recycled or vintage materials.
How did you find dealing with French bureaucracy – any tips for others in the same boat?
Be Patient! There is a lot of information that can be gained from websites, forums and books about setting up a business in France and these are a great starting point to tell you where to go and to help you prep but – go straight to the horse’s mouth. If you have a question about tax, go to the tax office and ask them, if you have a question about planning, ask the Mayor. It is also a great way to meet people and improve your French. There are certain schemes available to help people set up new businesses so contact your local Chamber of Commerce. There are many different regimes so speak to a small business advisor or an accountant to find out the best for you and your business.
Top three pros and cons to running a business in France!
Not having a plan has meant that I have been open to opportunities and am much braver than I was in the UK. Running a business here means that I have to make sure that the business is interesting to English and French clients. Word of mouth is very important to a French client which is a good thing and a bad thing! They are very cautious at first but if their friend can recommend you, you have a client for life. The language is a challenge for me – but absolutely essential. I am still not fluent and I make so many mistakes but I am less scared of making these mistakes now…
Website for Puce and Co.