If you could retire in any country in the world, you would probably pick France. It would not be surprising. France is one of the top five tourist destinations in the world, a magical place where history still breathes and lives, from ancient olive groves in rural Provencal to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. If people can have their heart’s desire, many would be in France in the blink of an eye.
France is the largest country in the European Union and has been one of the major powers in the world, influencing economies, culture and politics not only of the past and even the world today. Over the years, the country itself has changed as illustrated in a post at the France Expat Forum last October 25, 2009:
I’ve seen a lot of changes since my first stint here in 1974. For me many of those quality of life factors are being steadily undermined, despite stubborn resistance from the French. More and more shops opening on Sundays (isn’t there a law change in the offing, or has it already been implemented?) …. fast food lunches, with the traditional 2 hour lunch break under severe pressure, especially in the cities …. small shops being squeezed out slowly but surely … kids bombarded by Anglo-Saxon TV junk viewing …
Life isn’t as frantic as in the UK, but the faces on the Metro are almost as grim as those on the tube these days.
A New Life in France
Climate in France
The climate in France varies widely from region to region. Southern France – which includes chic resort areas such as Nice and Cannes — is well known for the tourist-drawing combination of the warm Mediterranean climate, immaculate beaches, and great regional cooking featuring such delicacies as truffles, anchovy paste, and wild boar. The island Corsica and Mediterranean Coast also feature hot summers, long hours of sunshine, and mild winters. Mild winters, warm summers and abundant rain are typical of Northern and Northwestern France while Central and Eastern France experience long and cold winters and warm summer months with a lot of rain and thunderstorms. The Rhone Valley is home to the phenomenon known as the mistral, which is a strong, cold, dry, north to northwesterly wind that dominates the area.
Government in France
The French revolution has been celebrated in history books for its slogan, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. It has given birth to such major political writers and thinkers as Rene Descartes, Voltaire, Flaubert, and Sartre. The population of France reflects its colonial past. It is a rich mixture that now includes five million people of Arab and African origin. France and French governments have been known for their often-independent stance concerning sensitive issues such as the Vietnam War in the 70s and now the invasion of Iraq by US military forces.
The May 2007 elections ended with the victory of Nicolas Sarkozy as President over the Socialist Party’s Segolene Royal. Sarkozy is a conservative who supports more stringent policies on immigrants. The president appoints the Prime Minister and members of the Council of Ministers. This unitary semi-presidential republic has been in effect since the adoption of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic in 1958 with the French Parliament with its National Assembly and Senate acting as the legislature for the government.
Tax System in France
If you decide to retire and live in France you will have to pay tax in France, though the French authorities will take into consideration the tax you paid in your own country when assessing what taxes you will pay in France. Residents are taxed on their global income. The French tax system provides for four tax rates. It favors pensioners and only 90% of your pension is considered taxable while the rest will be exempt. There are methods you can use to lessen the taxes you pay in France. For instance, there are no taxes imposed on certain French-endorsed life insurance policies upon withdrawals of invested capital.
This system has been highlighted in a post at the France Expat Forum last October 14, 2009:
Oh yes, the French government taxes dividends much differently than salary/income – and there are darned few deductions you can take against them.
On what basis are you paying your cotisations? (i.e. your health insurance and retirement contributions in France) Most cotisations are deductible from your gross income (i.e. salary) in determining taxable income. Then, with salary, you’re entitled to a 10% reduction that is supposed to cover your “professional costs” (you can take more if you record all your allowable expenses and have receipts to back them up). No can do with dividends.
It could depend on what sort of visa/carte de séjour you’re here on, too.
Medical Care in France
The government subsidized French health care system has been cited as the global best. The World Health Organization ranked the country’s medical system as first in the world in 1997. Medical services cost less than in the US. One factor is that French physicians are paid less than one third of what American physicians get. Consultation with a French GP cost about 20 euros in 2003 and about 200 euros in the US. Medicine also costs less.
The French system is funded by French employees who contribute up to 20% of their pay to social security. Patients can pick their health professionals and up to 85% of their medical costs will be paid by the state. On the negative side, doctors tend to stay in cities, hospital facilities need to be improved and it can be difficult to find English-speaking physicians outside Paris. There is a group of highly qualified and English-speaking physicians who provide services to visitors to France.
Everyone is considered to have the right to consultation with a physician and the right to receive emergency treatment. The health care provided by public and private hospitals are essentially the same in quality. Most French residents get insurance to pay for the difference between what the government pays (up to 85%) and the total cost of the health service.
Real Estate in France
There are no laws against foreign ownership of real estate in France. The most profitable real estate market in the world is Paris. This was revealed by a survey of 250 real estate experts. Transactions in corporate real estate amounted to 11.6 billion euros. Real estate prices have gone up twofold in a matter of 12 years. However the market seems to have slowed down slightly in 2007 due to the rise in interest rates. The real estate market in Spain, Ireland, and other European countries, except for Germany and Switzerland, has experienced the same boom as France. Prices of real estate vary. A house that needs renovation and is located in the rural areas is being sold for US$60,000 to 90,000 while apartments are priced from US$100,000 to US$150,000. A ski chalet can be bought for US$400,000 or for US$730,000. Brittany, the French Riviera, Paris and the French Alps are all prime locations.
One of the latest changes adopted in the real property sector is the exemption of certain properties from taxes. Starting January 2010, entities with business interests in the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands would be exempt from the 3% annual tax on investments made on French property.
Living Costs in France
You can live extremely well in France if you have the money. The cost of living is obviously higher in Paris and lower in rural areas. This fact was highlighted in a post at France Expat Forum last June 28, 2009:
I lived in Vichy for some years …
(together with my French girldfriend) ..
Rentals for 3 room apartments are about 500 – 600 Euros
Electricity is about 120 Euros @ month (including heating).
If you cook yourself – 10 to 15 Euros @ day should be sufficient .. for good food.
Now I live in Paris area – and it is 3 times more expensive …
As a retiree, you will need about 1200 euros each month. An apartment would cost 600 euros, food and meals would cost 200 euros, health insurance, about 42 euros, transportation, about 51 euros, amusement and recreation, 100 euros and miscellaneous, 100 euros.
Shopping in France
True to its reputation, France has numerous food stores and French cities and towns hold farmers’ open markets several times a week. There are stores inside city centers where smaller stores are located with the occasional department store and shopping mall. There is even a Christmas market (a tradition rooted in Alsace) where gingerbread, mulled wine and handicrafts are sold. Each city comes with shopping centers and hypermarkets that sell all items that a family may need. Almost all stores are closed on Sundays.
Boulangeries or bakeries sell croissants and other breads; charcuteries sell cooked meat while boucheries sell raw meat. The quality and freshness of the food sold at these establishments are usually exceptionally good. Open markets offer bread, vegetables, fruits, cooked meats, cheese, fresh milk, and butter. High-end products such as jewelry, watches, couture clothes and shoes, can be found in that shopping capital, Paris.