France. What, where, why - it's your turn to help!

If someone asked you, where in France they should move to, what criteria would you suggest they apply to their decision making?

To make this an unbiased exercise, post your suggestions before reading any others. Let's see if we can come up with a really useful list of criteria.



Language…if you need to speak English, you might want to consider a more touristy/international place.

Has to be entirely personal, and 'own needs' related. France is so different in its many regions/land/sea/town/riverscapes - and local cultures. Make a list of your own *most vital* requirements, leave nothing out. Plus - what 'hopes and dreams' do you cherish about a home in France? - Check out all the factors of preferred regions - to see which ones match up best or dont match up at all. Consider the aspects of a new life, in a new country - that might seem to be least attractive - and think about how you'll deal with them - when you find yourself confronted with them.

Our criteria was, when we decided to move to france

*within an hour from a train station (TGV) and an airport - just in case you need to get back to the UK in an emergency.

* a small pretty village but close to a major town for the big shopping

* close to vineyards - for tasting of course

* not too many brits close by - to improve our french

*an old house with beautiful beams

* quality restaurants close by for that odd special meal

Oddly I think it might be better to approach this on the basis of what you DON'T need? We have seen on other entries and subjects that for most/many finding work is both the biggest requirement and at the same time the biggest problem.


Can you do without a regular paid job?

Can you do without the latest car, TV, clothes?

Can you do without proximity to theatres, cinemas, other English?

Can you do without - period? (choose a favorite pastime)

To me the most important thing has been to own outright whatever property I went for, that tended to dictate certain areas, and definitely affects living by the coast as a general rule. The property HAD to be ready to at least a comfortable basic level. I am not a DIY man.

You MUST have deep affection for France, and not see it as a semi-permanent holiday resort.

You must accept and live with the differences. If shops closing for two hours every day is unacceptable then you will never be happy.

Can you do without 'exactitude' in your life? Appointments with tradesmen are not always sacrosanct.

Can you do without the ability to laugh at yourself? You will seemingly appear foolish, it IS a different country, you WILL make mistakes in the language, and people will laugh. If you cannot realise they are laughing WITH you and not against you, you will be unhappy.

Can you live without wanting to impress the neighbours? Or keeping up with the Joneses?

If you can say yes to all these, then you have a reasonably good chance of being happy in this wonderful country.

Decide whether you want to be a country dweller or live in a town. Even living in a village in France doesn’t guarantee access to health care facilities. Imagine living in the country in the Uk and then magnify the distances to take into account the difference between France and the UK.
Do you really want to be invaded by tourists in the summer and then live in a desert in the winter?

Do you love the green countryside of the UK? Probably the west or the south of France is not really for you. They grow tobacco in the Charente!

We thought we were being realistic with our budget when we embarked on our move in 2009, but we lost thousands of euros due to the poor exchange rate and are having to do work for ourselves that we had budgeted to be paid for.

What level of French do you have and are you looking to be in area where there are many UK residents or do you want to be in a more french atmosphere?

If you have not a lot in common with farmers in UK, then you will probably have a lot less here in France! The French countryside is beautiful, but the tourist towns often close down in the winter and the people in the countryside seem to hibernate during the worst of the winter.

I would say be realistic, don’t forget that, unless you are by the sea, when you move to the continental land mass, the weather will be different from the UK.

How often will you want to back to UK? Do you want “low cost” airports nearby?

Having said all this, I love it here in the Clunysois of southern Burgundy. It is like the Cotswolds, but on a bigger scale and we have good friends, both French and English.

When we were moing out here we were asked where is our nearest coast and I said Lake Geneva!

I would say, that unless you are looking to totally change your lifestyle, look for a part of France that you can equate with a part of the UK that you really like. It will not be the same, of course, but you stand a better chance of making a go of it without the rose tinted spectacles.

The first criterion for choosing to live in France is having a passion for all things French: the language, the history, the philosophy of life (Montaigne, Blum), its art and architecture, the food, etc. I lived in Paris in 1973-74 and left for career reasons. I've spent the last 40 years regretting that decision, despite annual visits. Now in retirement it's time for a new adventure. As a retiree, cost of living is critical. I interviewed a few realtors in Poitiers a couple of years ago who sneered at my housing budget and recommended I look at Chatellerault 30 minutes north. Good advice. A little run down, but modest housing costs, rental or for purchase. Still close enough to a university centre for me to be able to patronise concerts, plays, etc. A TGV station that's 90 minutes from Montparnasse, making the occasional trip to the Louvre or Orsay quite feasible and still sleep in my own bed. Many of you mention climate as a serious consideration. Brittany and Normandy remind me too much of Ireland. But visits to Agen, Perpignan, Carcassonne, convinced me I'd be miserable there too. Poitou-Charente has a nice temperate Atlantic-influenced climate that I can handle, much like Northern California where I've lived for 30 years. Transition should be smooth. Proximity to a regional airport like Nantes or Tours might encourage family and friends in Ireland or UK to visit, but a local network is essential for mental health. I envisage living in a 2-bedroom semi-detached on a quiet street within 2kms of the town centre. I've visited retirees in their 200-year old manses with vast gardens who never seem to have the time to visit the historic monuments of their own department or form relationships with their neighbours. Apart from the esoteric appeal to us Francophiles, life in France shouldn't really be any different from life in Dublin, Dulwich or Dresden, except we live it in French. (That's the first time I've thought this through and put it down on paper!)

What would your perfect home be like and where would it be?

OK. Chances are you’re not going to find that perfect home.

So –

1. What is essential?

2. What do you really, really want?

3. What would you like if it’s possible?

4. What, to put it bluntly, don’t you really need at all?

Essentials will vary. Parents with children might have schools at the top of the list.

Communications of all sorts should be high on the list. Is there an airport within reasonable distance for when you want to go back to the UK for a visit? Is there a mainline railway station nearby and is it served by high-speed trains? What’s the internet/mobile phone connection like? And so on.

If you can't imagine life without a couple of multiplex cinemas, concert halls, theatres, major exhibitions all within easy reach, don't bury yourself in the country. But if like me you can't abide the thought of living in a major city then buy a house in the country. But you'll either have to find somewhere with fast links to the big lights or be prepared to buy a pied-à-terre in the city or add hotel bills etc. to the cost if you want to see the major concerts, exhibitions, plays.

Medical services will be more important to young families with children who have a habit of falling over and breaking something which requires treatment in an emergency department and to the elderly who are more likely to need the services of a good hospital and a range of medical specialists. So where’s the nearest hospital with an emergency department? How long will it take to get an ambulance to your door? What’s access like in winter? We reluctantly gave up the idea of buying a drop-dead gorgeous farm with a huge barn with a stunning oak-beamed roof simply because it was at the end of a single-lane road and access at any time was problematic let alone in winter.

Apart from the fact that we like it here and my wife was born in the region, the main reasons we bought our house are that there is a motorway less than two km away linking us to Clermont Ferrand and Montpellier in 90 minutes, there is a hospital six km away where a number of specialists are available for consultation 7/7 and the Centre de Secours (fire brigade, rescue services, ambulances etc.) is the same distance. When we moved here the hospital had a small emergency department. That has since closed and the nearest one is now 37 km and 45 minutes’ drive away. The train service has also deteriorated so we’re forced to rely on the car which will get more and more difficult as we grow older. In hindsight, maybe we should have looked for somewhere with better access to an airport (nearest are Clermont Ferrand or Rodez) and above all a decent train service.

As to where you choose to live, that’s really a matter of taste. I wouldn’t live near a river or the sea, but that’s not everyone’s idea of heaven!

In no particular order, these were my criteria (I haven't read any replies yet so apologies if I repeat something already said):

Where I know I can find work

Location with regards to climate and activities in the area (e.g. if you don't like snow and mountains then don't go to the Pyrenées for example).

Transport links (as when I moved out here I had no car)

Cost of renting/buying property

Local tax rates

Nearness to airports/ferries etc if I need to go somewhere fast (moot point now as everywhere is more accessible than before).

I would also advise people that if they know people in the country already, being closeish to them can help when you first move out here but that is only viable if you can find work in the same area if you need to.

Also whilst a remote farmhouse in the middle of nowhere may seem like a fantastic prospect, it won't be any good if you need to be around people regularly, especially if your French is not up to conversational level at least. You have to adpat your location to how you want to live your life. You could for example settle in a small village, even if you are a party animal, as long as there was a biggish town nearby...

When I first moved out here I was in a tiny village where I didn't know anyone and only spoke schoolgirl French. I felt very isolated until my language skills improved and I started exploring the area around where I lived. Second time around, I moved back to Dept 65 because I love it, I knew I would find work here and I had friends in the area who helped me out until I was financially viable again. These were the reasons that meant I could go ahead with the move back to France.

Personal preferences, big city, smaller town, seaside countryside, art outdoor activities, weather preferences, health needs, how often do you travel from where will have moved, restaurants cook at home, cinema etc., etc.

I would ask if it's important to be near people who speak English. In that case, I would suggest one of the more tourist-y areas as more than likely, you'll find them nearby. I would also ask how much climate factors. My husband and I love an area up the summer. In the winter, the skies are gray and it is always raining or snowing. It can get quite depressing. Another thing I would consider is the cost of living. What our money can buy here on the French Riviera is nowhere near what would could buy with the same money in a different location.

Firstly do you need to work ? - if so consider the cities/towns where you are likely to be able to gain employment with your particular skills. Secondly how's your French ? - if its poor and you need to work - forget moving until you can speak the language - unless your work can be done from home and with ex-pats.

If you're retired your criteria will probably revolve around where you can afford to buy the type of house you require. Close to the big cities and holiday resorts the prices are obviously higher; but you will be closer to airports and city social life. If your budget is related to a nice house in nice countryside then head for the more rural areas with pretty villages.

If you are committed to moving to France and not too fussed about going to UK more than once a year then proximity to the Channel or airports isn't really a factor; unless you have a large family who are likely to want you to be picking them up from the airport all the time.

Finally why are you moving to France ? If its the weather - then the further South you go the more likely you are to meet your reason for moving. If its for the quality of French life then avoid the very big cities and head for large towns and cities close to lovely countryside.

Finally if you need to live in an ex-pat community because of serious apprehension about language and way of life, look at the SFN members map to find the denser populations of ex-pats - which in some ways defeats the purpose of moving in the first place !!

We spent years looking at different parts of France before we decided on the Vendee. The weather was a very important factor - not too hot and not too cold (That went wrong then!) we also wanted to be quite near the coast as we were to run a gite for a few years. Not too far from a town as we are getting older and didn't want to have to drive miles to shop, but not in the town. Only about an hour's drive from an airport with cheap flights back as we both have elderly parents and family still in the UK. We have it now, but it has taken two goes to get what we want.

When we decided to move to France in 2002, we chose the following criteria. No more than 7hrs drive from Calais, within 45 mins from either the main motorway, airport or railway station. In a hamlet of French people, on the outskirts of a village/town which had bank, post office, supermarket etc. We wanted lots of trees and water, proper seasons and plenty of space to enjoy the view.

Depends on where you come from. If you're leaving a big UK city then you will love the countryside in France as there is space, cheap property and little crime. Very quickly you will become like other ex-pats extolling the virtues of this wonderful country and wondering why they didn't move earlier. Then you will become slowly more and more bitter, complaining about the lack of activities, services, Marmite and the cost of replacing septic tanks. You will complain about the locals who can't (or won't) speak your language, the lack of a cinema within 100kms (and even then never showing a VO film) and the cost of heating fuel. What! There's no fuel allowance like in good old UK? And little by little you will conjure up (untrue) souvenirs of a golden age in a golden land - UK - where everything is wonderful... and you'll go back.

Far better to head for a big French town, with bakeries, cafés, restaurants, libraries, hospitals, good municipal management, services and culture. Cites are cosmopolitan: you'll always find someone who speaks your language. Above all you will be able to work: teach English at least or find simple manual work, even without French. Sure there are a few louts around, you might get your car nicked, but you can handle that.

Do you need to earn a living? This then leads to many more questions, including genuine skills and language ability. If the answer is no, then how are you going to live, health issues etc.

What age are you? in good health, other half in good health. Family, dependents (old and young), will you need to travel back and forth to the country of origin.

Why do you want to move? For something similar or totally different? How well do you cope with change? Do you enjoy your own company, going out learning new things, making friends in another language/culture.

To be with English speakers or not - very important to get this right.

What budget do you have? Initial and ongoing.

Think there a few starters there. I'm going to read the other answers now and once again SFN has distracted me from real work - grr!

I would start with WHY because a lot of people come to France for vacation and fall in love with the tourist places and talk to the people in the tourist industry in English and think that living in France in French will be easy and wonderful. They don't think about the important of French language skills to survive in France. Their motivations may be totally misguided but the images of France as the land of romance and culture when in fact 99% of it is a country of working people who don't go to the opera, haven't been to university and don't speak English.

The second question I would ask is whether they can live here without working which retired people may be able to do because they have a retirement income from pension or state social security payments. However, if people are thinking they are coming here and will get a job easily that will pay their higher cost of living here, they are deluded. I would remind them of the recessionary economic conditions in France which has a high unemployment rate and the initial Carte de Sejour will likely NOT allow employment in France.

Lastly, I would ask how much they know of the history, politics, government structure and culture of France because so many people come here totally ignorant of the country they are adopting. This causes the classic Cultural Shock syndrome which often sends them packing within a year.

Of course, if they are being transferred by their company in some executive position where their housing is paid, a car is providedd and they will have a secretary to translate for them, then they will have it a lot easier so it all depends on their situation.

Are you going to be a permanent, working resident? If so what are your requirements? Large, isolated house and big garden/land – full time caring, cleaning, decorating, lawn/meadow cutting etc. Do you have young family? Schools, clubs etc. The list goes on according to your tastes and requirements.

Retired permanent resident? Large isolated house as above but other considerations arise. Can you cope with the house/garden work as you get older? Many people of my acquaintance fall into this category. Almost without exception their priorities are: Close to town/village and shops, close to a doctor, preferably one who speaks English because even those French speaking immigrants can have difficulty describing their symptoms in a foreign language. Do both parties drive? If the single driver is unable to drive for any reason you can both be isolated with no access to the shops, hospital (for visits) etc. You should also consider whether family back in UK can get to visit conveniently and at an affordable price. You never know when you are going to need family assistance.

Looking for a holiday home? The usual desire is for a typical French property, miles from the nearest neighbour and with large grounds. BEWARE House needs care, garden needs looking after. Both of these can cost a lot while you are not there to see to them. The property will also be prone to burglary even if you have an estate maintenance company, they cannot be there all the time. Far more preferable is a home with a small manageable garden in a small hamlet with a couple of neighbours who will keep an eye on you home for you.

I would suggest that the criteria to start from would be what are they looking for, what did they like about where they lived prior to this. Accessibility to links back home (if there are pulls there). What are they trying to achieve from the move? If they need to continue to work, suggest they obtain work first and then look for acommodation and do not make assumptions. Try the area that they are looking for in ALL seasons and do not get swept away by the moment. Know at least some basic French and most of all ACCEPTthat this is a different country and open your mind to the experience, the culture and the foods - it can be a wonderful experience of a lifetime if you allow it. When you finally finish all of this visit different villages, I live in a village 20 minutes to any large stores or shopping areas and it is perfect for me, but not everyone's idea of the good life. Don't be afraid to ask questions, but only you can make the ultimate decision. If you are coming with a partner, make sure you are both committed to the lifestyle, there is no one that I have spoken to that it hasn't been a big adjustment of relationships and most of all leave the Stereotypes behind.

Balance is the key. Not too isolated - you will need to build a local support network and a 20 minute journey to collect bread and loo roll becomes a pain - but not too busy and anonymous. So a small town or large village with al least one or two shops within 5 minutes is ideal. Similarly, I wouldn't recommend a total rebuild project unless you have the skills yourself or loads of time and money - good, reliable French builders are not easy to find and are often booked for months. Equally, somewhere habitable which still needs some work will reduce the price and enable you to mark the property as your own. Not too much land. It may seem attractive at first to have this beautiful field with wild flowers bordering the house - but then you'll spend most of every weekend in the summer cutting the grass. We are looking to unload a large field - or even give it to a local farmer - and in our area of the south west, no one needs it. They already have large fallow tracts anyway. Lastly, think hard about the weather you like. We looked for somewhere that would provide 7/8 months of sunshine, not too hot, and easy access to the mountains for skiing, but not so close as to get all the rain dumped in the foothills, but other local friends find the heat oppressive in the summer and can't afford air conditioning throughout their house.