Everything You Want to Know About France and More...

What’s it really like to live in France?

We’ve all heard about the high quality of life, superb climate and low crime rate. Joanna Leggett of Leggett Immobilier looks more closely at the practical issues.

The golden rule: You get out what you put in

Even if your French is basic, your efforts to communicate will be appreciated. Try to learn the language. Introduce yourself to your neighbours and visit your Mairie.

Establishing contact with the Mairie staff will be useful when you need advice, and making friends with your neighbours will enhance your French life. You can even join the Comité des Fêtes: if you take part in community events, you’ll meet the locals and become accepted.

Keep it local

Use local workmen for renovation work. Importing a team of craftsmen won’t endear you to your neighbours. French artisans are used to working with local materials, meeting regulatory standards and handling the necessary paperwork.

Healthcare in France

According to the World Health Organisation, France has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. All workers in France pay 20% of their salaries into the state system, and French residents have access to it. The state pays part – sometimes all – of their medical costs.

EU expats arriving in France need an S1 form to apply for state healthcare. When you register into the system, you receive a medical identity card – the green Carte Vitale. The health specialist logs it into a central computer whenever you pay medical expenses.

You need to register with a GP (Médecin Traitant). Each visit requires an immediate payment, but the state reimburses 70%. Many people choose a ‘top-up’ insurance – a Mutuelle – to cover the rest of the costs.

Taxes in France

The French tax year runs from 1 January to 31 December. You must declare all your earnings from the date of your arrival, which you do in the annual Déclaration des Reve-nus form available at your local tax office. The declaration deadline is around 20 May.

Everyone with property in France must pay two additional taxes. The Taxe d’Habitation is the tax for living here, and the Taxe Foncière is the property tax. Invoices for both are usually sent to you in September.

As everyone’s financial circumstances are different, it is best to consult a tax specialist for advice.

Education in France

If you move here with school-age children, they will integrate far more easily than you! Initially, you should enrol them at the Mairie.

School isn’t compulsory before the age of six, but most French children begin Ecole Maternelle at three years old. Ecole Elémentaire then takes them from 6 to 11 years of age. From there, they move to Collège (11 to 15 years old) and then Lycée (15 to 18). Boarding accommodation is often offered from Monday to Friday for rural Lycée students. Although pupils can leave school at 16 years old, 94% choose further education. The only entrance requirement to a French university is the appropriate baccalaureate. Students do not pay tuition fees.

Schoolchildren have five holidays each year: two weeks in October, at Christmas, in February and in April – and most of July and August.

Driving in France

English cars are usually covered by their UK insurance at first. However, you’ll need to change to French registration within six months. If you choose to keep English registration and insurance, this will require regular return trips to the UK. You can drive on your English licence until it expires, at which stage you must obtain a French driving licence from a Prefecture or Sous-Prefecture. Considerable paperwork is involved. You’ll need photocopies of your birth certificate, passport and proof of a French address.

Acquiring French registration is comp-licated. First, get a Certificate of Conformity from the garage representing your car’s manufacturer. Then change your head-lights and pass the Contrôle Technique – the French version of the MOT. After this, ask for the tax certificate, or Quitas Fiscal, from your local Centre des Impôts.

You can then apply for your French log book – the Carte Grise – from your local Prefecture or Sous-Prefecture. Take all your paperwork with you, plus your French chequebook. They will give you an exportation slip, which you must send to the DVLA immediately.

Your new Carte Grise will arrive by registered post  within a fortnight. You can then change your English car registration plates to French ones.

Consider your income carefully

If you are on a fixed income or pension from the UK, remember that conversion rates fluctuate. It is useful to establish a relationship with a good currency exchange company. Don’t make the mistake of calculating your income when the euro is high.

A final word

Regulations may differ by département, so it’s always worth seeking expert advice, especially for financial questions.

See Leggett Immobilier website for more helpful advice

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