After the first six months

Having found this website incredibly useful and gained some incredibly helpful and thoughtful replies to some of my many (sometimes rather silly) queries I though I might maybe give a little back and give a few indications as to our good and bad experiences settling in here. I have to say at the outset we are not renovaters or DIY'ers. We had some initial works to do on our place but no major restructuring. We are also retired and not looking to set up in business here.

Buying: We found this a fairly stress-free process. As long as you are not in a hurry and your paperwork is in order. We remained in UK the whole time and did not even come over to sign anything at all. All done by email and post. We found in general estate agents here are really helpful (possibly because they are desperate to sell anything they can) and will assist with many things (info on the area, reading meters, contacts etc) that UK agents are not helpful with. Make sure there are no fosse septique problems - this can cost you dear later on, not to mention the dreadful odours that you may have to endure. The one thing we slightly over-looked when buying was that we had purchased what was a second home that was used only in summer. Heating is/was inadequate for winter and we are having to insulate and fit air- air heating. Unexpected painful costs. There was a massive new wood burner recently installed by the previous owners in the lounge but this will not heat the whole house in November - March. The towering, high-ceilinged gargantuan converted barn that looks so glorious in the summer sunshine may not be so glorious to heat for 5 months of the year.

Travel: We have tried it all ways - ferry, tunnel, flights, rail (not yet rowing boat) - they all work out the same financially we find in the long run and for us at least (with a house and family in Devon still) it takes a full day of your time each end. Luckier you if you live near Stanstead airport of course. The massive reductions you get off peak are amazing - this is the only way you really save on travel - if you are not bound by school holidays of course. Our local airport - Limoges - is a lovely little airport but we did find Flybe cancelled a flight last winter when we were due to come over. Apparently they will do this if they do not have a full enough plane.

Bringing a car permanently to France: This was no problem at all with help of friendly local garage - proprietor even happy to practice his English, which was a help. But beware - 500 Euros to change the headlights. Ugh! Bad news! And that was on a Peugeot that confirmed to all French standards. Carte Grise also quite pricey - just a paper trail - but monies down the line do mount up.

Medical: After all the weeping and wailing blogs I had read, I found the process of getting the Carte Vitale relatively very easy. Yes, you need birth certificates etc but so what. It does take time though, so if you want a major body part replacement or whatever immediately you get here- think again. What we really like is that you get sole practitioners here still in the villages - no massive impersonal Primary Care Trust Centres. We have a delightful doctor who always can fit us in within 48 hours and is always happy to chat and does not even have a receptionist. You simply knock on the door. We have not as yet taken out top-up insurance as we are not at all sure it is worth it - but I guess that is a very personal thing if you are a regular visitor to medical centres etc.

Internet, WIFI, phone etc. We found the easiest thing to do was to go to the Orange Shop. English phone line personally I found a dead loss. You still have to physically present your credentials. Wait 2 weeks for the apparatus and it is actually (disbelieving though we were) very easy to set up the Livebox yourself. We are in the process of purchasing and fitting a parafoudre to the our fuse box as we are told this is well worth it to guard against storm damage.

Shopping: although we live in what is very much classed as "Really Rural France" - there is a supermarket in every local town. Five minutes to anything (foodwise) that you need. The Intermarches now open on a Sunday morning also.

Speaking French: Yes, yes - it is no good shouting loudly in English. Get a basic grammar book or join the numerous classes that are on offer. It does help massively and also makes you friends.

The British things: (Things you think you won't need but probably will end up wanting) SKY TV is easy to get set up - many experts out here- all costs but if you want it.......??? At a cost, there is availability of sliced white bread, cheddar cheese, bacon and English sausages and restaurants serving fish and chips if you are desperate for a taste of home. But do you really need sliced bread when the bread here is so wonderful? I have also finally sorted out, thanks to help from this website, which is self-raising flour, granulated sugar, icing sugar etc etc.

Swimming pool: Lovely to have but in reality you have to be very far south to get much benefit form it other than in July - September. We are in the Limousin and (June now) the water is still petrifyingly cold. If you can afford to heat it great - otherwise only expect very limited use. It looks nice though!

Clubs and meeting people: We have found they are numerous (far more than in Devon) but - as anywhere- some you will like and others not. In our area there is a club for (almost) every hobby - though no paragliding for pensioners as yet. There are also French fete days, rambling groups and gatherings in the communes that are welcoming and easy to join in if you want to not just mix with Brits.

I hope these few comments might be vaguely helpful to an odd soul or two who is contemplating a move out here and not too controversial to those here already. We have been lucky time wise with the Euro rate but are mindful this can change (for the worse!). The only thing I think we do miss are really nice places to eat. The bars and numerous local restaurants are fine and very relaxing for a weekly outing but if you want an occasional slap up celebration meal we have not yet found anywhere - but still early days.....I am sure there are places are around, we just have not found them yet. Also, if you always "phone clamped to person" - be aware hardly any restaurants rurally offer Wifi and not many in the cities. In the two weeks we were without, we ended up visiting MacDonalds, many miles away, to make the few, vital communications.

Special thank you to Brian who answered all of my questions with great patience and helpful information!

Jennifer, to say it with simple words: your summarization is wonderful! Its a good manner to follow up on how all has worked out. And the best of it is that your feedback confirms more or less our experiences here in France. There is a saying in German: "wie Du in den Wald rufst kommt es zurück" (how you're calling into the forest same sound comes back)... Enjoyed!

In our village you can use the sole village doctor, who has no receptionist and is recently arrived from Roumanie (nothing against that myself) or you can chose a group practice of three in a small town about 12 minutes drive away. There is also a female doctor there which some may prefer. So you have a choice. I should say also that emergency night or weekend vists are pretty well covered especially by the Pompiers who are well trained paramedics and by a SAMU team from the local hospital. When I fell on some ice in the dark and was eventually founda 4WD Pompier vehicle arrived after one hour in a snowstorm and put my lower leg back into my knee and took me to hospital! Heli coverage is pretty good as well and is quite frequently used.

We too had a sole practitioner without a receptionist and believe me you really need the extra help if you find yourself needing specialist care.

I was just given the number of the local radiology department when I was looking for a specific type of treatment.

Get on with it yourself!
You also have your appointments interrupted by taking telephone calls.
We now have a group practice with ancillary services and receptionists and much better help and service.
You do need top up insurance in the form of a Mutuelle.
If you have or have had a medical condition such as cancer, there is a list on the website, you are entitled to 100 per cent of the cost of your treatment rather than the usual 70.

Thank you for posting this very encouraging and uplifting post Jennifer. Really refreshing to see someone not expecting France to be "another" England.

Like Sandy mentioned, this should be a blog. It really makes for an interesting read. THANK YOU!

What a lovely post Jennifer, how nice to read something so balanced.

I moved to norther Brittany at the start of 2014 to set up running my gite, I had no major expectations other than to move from the city and high pressured job to the countryside and get a dog to go walking with every day. I am happy to say that the gite has really taken off, and my dog, Harvey who is a French rescue and I have had since week two has fitted in perfectly. Having owned the property for 10 years as a holiday home I had a reasonable knowledge of the area, although am constantly finding 'new' walk with Harvey all the time. My French is improving every day (two years at night school gave me a reasonable basic at reading, as soon as people spoke to me I froze and the accent threw me a bit), and I now have regular chats with my neighbours and have even taken over cutting the grass for one of my elderly neighbours - this was slightly more complicated at the beginning than I imagined, but now get regular parcels of crepes and home made conserve as a reward.

My catre vitale was relatively straight forward as I am registered on the auto entrepreneur programme, and I to have chosen not to take out 'top up' insurance as at the moment the costs isn't justified and I am happy to pay the relatively and often cheaper than the UK with a 'free' NHS charges. Refunds come through quickly and automatically, and on the occasions when I have needed specialist treatment it all happened very quickly and efficiently. I really haven't had a bad experience at all yet.

My only gripe would be buying on the internet, it can be challenging through French sites still, not all seem to have grasped the concept too well yet and are still finding their feet. Amazon from the UK can be invariably cheaper and quicker than the French site, but that is changing.

Almost 18 months in to my 'life changing move' and I have absolutely no plans to go back to blighty.

My advice to anyone thinking of making the move is to research, be brave, and embrace your new life. You never know, you just might like it!

Bonne chance

Glad you made the move!

I am surprised that you paid so much for your headlights! The main dealer is about the worst place to buy parts for your car. As a garagiste I get to change headlights for quite a few imports & source lights from french Ebay. Most of the time I can get a pair of new lights (to european spec) for a couple of hundred euros or less.

Many brits also complain about the cost of registation although that is the last tax you will pay on that car - in the UK you would still have to pay a road tax every year!

On a post 2002 car the c of c is often on the V5 logbook & some prefectures such as Angouleme will accept this, thus saving the need to buy one.

Quite a few years ago now but my late wife already had cancer in England when we came to France as we took the decision to fight it here, survival rates being better at the time. The French health service and all that went with it was absolutely magnificent. She had her first docttor's appointment within two days of arrival and was being treated within a week. We live in an isolated spot so the infirmiere's home visits were an absolute Godsend and when she needed daily treatment as an outpatient in our nearest major hospital (one hour's drive away) there was a taxi waiting outside every morning at 0730 and they were back by before 1100. The whole thing including taxis was paid by the state and I imagine that the bill was eventually met by the UK taxpayer in the normal way- except that if you are in the UK you have to pay for transport. The locals at professional medical and neighbour and friend level just gave so much of themselves. Unfortunately my wife passed away after about four years of almost continual treatment. but HOPE was maintained at all times. Now, several years later, I have a new wife and a young daughter in full time education here. Personally I feel eternally grateful to France, most French I have had to deal with and especially our French friends. We do have some Brit friends as well of course! Put in here and you will have much to get out. Would I be as happy living in retirement in the UK? Not where I used to live in London for sure, but would many places in the UK be able to match up and provide a lifetsyle similar to the one I currently enjoy? Sure there are annoying things, irritations and sometimes exasperating eexperiences but I am sure that those are just as likely to arise in the UK.

I don’t understand the ‘winter months’ thing. I have lived half my life in South West England and half my life in Germany before moving to SW France. In my experience the winters here are great. When it’s wet and miserable I enjoy sitting in front of the log burner, reading, cooking, listening to or playing music. When the sun comes out I spend my time outside walking, cycling or working in the garden. I use my motorcycle 12 months of the year and last year sailed every month from March to November. My memories of life in Cornwall are that the Winter months weren’t too different but it did rain more and the winter sunshine brought little warmth. I certainly spent more time indoors. Germany had plenty of winter sunshine but the days were cold, for two to three months going outside meant putting on warm coats, hats, gloves etc to enjoy the sunny weather. A world away from here where, when the sun is out, I can sit on the stone bench in front of my house and read throughout the winter. Give me the French winter every time!

solar heating for pools is relatively inexpensive and works well.

thanks, at last someone who is not moaning and expecting France to be just like England even down to shouting English! And you are realistic about the winter months, not much better than in GB! We need more folk like you! Make sure you go to the midsummer fun in your commune, did you enjoy the free music fest last weekend. Get yourselves known and do some thing to help the folk around you, local school, secours populaires etc you will see the “real France” that way! Cheers.

Fit an air source heat pump for your pool - we're far north of you (in Brittany) and it costs us about a euro a day to run - the kids use the pool May - October (and would have in April this year if I'd switched it on!) - the pool is currently at 29 degrees, and switching itself off, by early afternoon.

Very interesting post Jennifer and encouraging reading for newbies who are contemplating a move. It sounds like you researched everything very well beforehand and I think that's most of the secret to a successful move. That, and plenty of patience with the French way of doing things. Keep posting, this should be a blog ... I found it very interesting!

You'll find Alice that even with your Carte Vitale you will still need some form of top up insurance as CPAM do not reimburse all the costs of treatment. The majority of French people will also subscribe to a mutual health insurance policy. Really life threatening illnesses cancer,heart disease are I believe fully funded. Which ever one of you reaches the age for State Retirement pension first can apply for a Carte Vitale for themselves and their partner can also get one which hangs off the first retirees carte. When the younger reaches the appropriate age they can thenapply for one in their own right.

Hi Jennifer

Very interested to read your post, we have a house in the Creuse department of the Limousin, we've owned it for nearly 10 years and are finally planning on the big move later this year. Up until now its been our holiday home, a home for my daughter and her partner and we've had a tenant in it for the last 3 1/2, but she has been given notice as we are ultimately planning on selling and moving up to Normandy with said daughter, her partner and her 2 little boys. But for now, come November, we plan to live in it ourselves. So we have had plenty of time to get to know the area, but it will be different being here full time. A question about the Carte Vitale - are you both UK state retirement age to have been able to get it that easily? My understanding is that both me and my husband are under 66 we wont be able to get ours until we hit that magic age, therefore we'll need to top up?

I've found so much useful advice on this site, no doubt as we get nearer to November, I'll be looking for more!!!