Help please - the realities of living in France

(Paul Turner) #1

May I thank people for any responses in advance. I realize that this question is ‘how long is a piece of string’ and is totally subjective but any input from people with experience would help.

My wife and I are considering moving to France to live. We are fortunate enough to be in the position that if we sold our house we could buy a comfortable house in France (we do not want anything huge) with a couple of gites without requiring a mortgage and also have a little to live on. Neither of us speaks French (a slight drawback!) and so finding work would be difficult. Hence - the gites. I should add that both of us are in our eariy 50s and (hopefully) are in reasonable health.

We have been researching on the internet, watching all the usual TV programmes (A new life in the Sun etc) and spent a couple of months in France last year but the views of the expats who are/have lived in France are polarising.

Those that found the move to France favourable seem to make a sufficient amount of money to live a comfortable life and seem to say ‘the only regret is that I did not do it years ago’ and most seem to love the French way of life. Whether this is to simply ‘save face’ I do not know.

On the flip side I have read pieces in the Mail and other commentary detailing how the majority of couples moving out to France see to have marriage difficulties for a variety of reasons, hate the bureaucracy, find the cost of living unbelievably expensive, and seem to struggle making a living from a small gite business (I am aware that the gite business is a crowded market). I get the impression that if things start bad for this group there views of France are permanently tainted.

There seems to be very little middle ground - either you love it or you hate it.

If anybody out there would like to give an unbiased and totally honest view on the realities of the day to day living in France and running a small gite business I would be most grateful.

(Véronique Langlands) #2

I think you are unlikely to find a balanced and realistic account in the media because it would be frightfully dull, stories need sensationalism of one sort or another to sell.

I should think people who do gîtes will be of more use than I can! I think your main problem would be lack of French, for all sorts of reasons.

(Graham Lees) #3

Running gites is not an easy life. We acted as gurdiens to a large family hiome rented out during the summer months for 6 years after we first arrived in France turning round 6 bed rooms in a few hours before the next ‘interns’ arrived. Getting shot of the ‘out turns’ on time to facilitate this was sometimes a problem and then what to do when people arrive early so as not to upset them?

Thankfully, we have moved on from there to building our our new home in France and haven’t looked back for a moment.

The Daily Wail is hardly a good briefing ground for taking th plunge. If you are going to do it, just get on with it before things become more difficult over Brexit.

Life is not a rehearsal; if you are committed you will make the best of it in spite of any stumbling blocks along the way.

We wish you well in whatever you decide to do.

(stella wood) #4

Hello Paul… I have read your thread… almost in disbelief… as this question is put to us so many times…:upside_down_face::thinking::roll_eyes::wink:

You are bringing out the schoolmarm in me. I find myself wondering… have you done your homework?? Have you read the million or so posts on this forum…??? :grin::grin::grin:

(Mark Robbins) #5

As Vero says, lack of French will be a big disadvantage, try to take some lessons or self teaching as soon as possible before you arrive, every little helps.
Regarding making a living from gites, it does depend on the area but it is a very crowded market, especially with many migrant Brits doing exactly what you intend to do. We have been doing it for 15 years with 2 gites and barely make enough to live, but some private pension income helps.

Your relationship has to be very strong and stable, you will both be spending a lot of time together - 24/7 at least to start with and you must have a clear view of your targets. We came here knowing nothing about the tourist industry, the area we bought in, France…, but I guess we got lucky and treated it as an adventure. Made loads of mistakes along the way, still do. I would thoroughly recommend renting a gite long term, at least 3 months during the low season, get to see areas before looking for property. Happy for you to message privately me if you like.

(Véronique Langlands) #6

Another thing that often strikes me is would you run a B&B in your home country? Do you really want to do that? What is your present job? Why not do that? (Requires adequate French, I do realise).

Admin is a bit different because obviously you are an immigrant and things will be a little more complicated for you. You may find some things we take for granted very strange :slight_smile:

Otherwise life in one place or another is much of a muchness when it comes to day to day stuff really.

(David Martin) #7

If you want to go down the gites route go to somewhere that tourists want to visit. Having a beautiful house in a peaceful location will not draw the same number of people as having a beach, fun park or other tourist magnet nearby.
In my opinion for every one person you read about in the Daily Mail or Daily Express selling their story of woe and every person who shares their wonderful experience on forums there are probably 98 others just getting on with the ups and downs of everyday life.
I agree with the others, language is everything.

(Ann Coe) #8

Welcome Paul
To be honest the thought of all the complications in starting up a business in such a crowded market would put me off.
Bravo to all the hardy souls who have done this and have made a sucess, there are many on here who will have good advice.
You plan to run gites but it may be a while before they are up and running. Your ‘little to live on’ can sometimes be eaten into by unexpected expenses.
Without any French your market will be limited to other Brits or English speakers, leaving untapped potential.
French bureaucrocy is notorious, I am having a ‘running battle’ at the moment, luckily I have learned enough of the language to cope.
If you do really want to come here, and you haven’t been carried away by tv programmes, and how great it would be to sit by the pool sipping wine, then start taking lessons straight away.
Be prepared for hard work ,but if it’s your dream then go for it. Better that than live with regrets later!
Just one other thing, you are in your early 50’s and in good health, but if one of you fell ill would the other one be able to cope with business, health issues etc; without your need for help?
I have lived here for many years, there have been some really difficult and frightening times, but then those happen in any country. Personally I am here to stay !
Hope that you carry on with the research and do take the advice of renting here first before taking the plunge!
Good luck ! :slight_smile:

(Paul Turner) #9

Thank you all form your comments.

I have not simply trawled the Internet and read pieces in the papers. When we were in France for a couple of months last year we spoke with many expats. I don’t think we got a true cross section. Everybody we spoke with seemed to be involved either in building or a self employed Estate agent or (semi) retired and spent endless days gardening. They all said they loved the French way of life but them went on to talk about other expats who had moved to France but had not taken to it and had moved back to Blighty - but as they had already left we could not speak with them!

We understand there will be issues - the language possibly being the main one - but I was looking for a balanced view from the people on the site. Maybe get some opinions from people who lived in France but it did not work out for whatever reason.

We do not live extravagant life styles and the reason to move would be for a better way of life - not to get rich.

(stella wood) #10

Hi Paul

Language can be a great barrier…one which stops folk integrating fully enough to really profit from living here, with all that that entails.

My best advice is that you both start French Language lessons asap.

(Mandy Davies) #11

Hello Paul

No idea about running a gite business although there are many many discussions on here and I suggest you read those. For example, there is lots of information in this thread Living in France part time and Managing a Gite or two = No Brexit Responses Please!

Apart from running a gite business you should also think about the following:

  1. You need to speak French, well at least one of you does. I can’t stress enough how important this will be if you want to communicate in basic places like shops, Doctors, with neighbours. YOU REALLY NEED TO LEARN FRENCH AS A PRIORITY

  2. France has winter just like the UK. Depending on where you chose winters can be long, cold and dark. What will you do on cold dark evenings in February? There will be no tourists then.

  3. Never underestimate the nightmare of paperwork in France. Everything from sorting out healthcare, registering a car, buying property, paying taxes to opening a bank account. You will be snowed under with paperwork and it will all be in French. You will need to understand French to deal with all this or have sufficient money to pay for someone to help you with it.

That’s just 3 things to consider and there are many more. Having said all this if you like wine, cheese, sunshine, a slower pace and village life then France is a wonderful place.

(Barbara Deane) #12

No time to wait get moving before Brexit happens;
Everything depends on your budget as well as your knowledge of
There is a need of holiday accom in the La Teste/Arcachon area but that is
rather exspensive.
My area is pretty full of properties which are holiday lets and b and bs …they pop
up every week like spring flowers.
But depends …do something really special then it can work well.
But I have noticed that prices have drop in weekly/nightly rental prices.
So we have to work harder.

(Dave Sheriton) #13

We have lived in France for just under 3 years. We look after about 25 gites so know what it can be like. We look after the bookings for some of them too. With regard to your gite(s). Check what else is available in your area, look at the pictures and see what your competitors are offering. If you have something the other don’t, make sure prospective renters know about it. I could write pages on what you need to do etc but basically, if you want everyone to have the best possible holiday you won’t go wrong. By the same token there are always some guests who moan and you need to be dispassionate about whether they are right or not. Anyway, you will find all this out when the time comes. (Happy to help with any info when the time comes).

I don’t know where you are moving from or heading to but life here for us is less stressful than in the UK. It is bloody hard work though! My other half has reasonably good French, I turned up with a failed o’level. I am still not great but am improving. By far the biggest tip I can give, and this is particularly if you are going to live in a village, you must get involved in the village life. I’ve found most of the people who didn’t hack it were those who didn’t want to integrate into the French community. That does’t mean having to speak fluently with them. Make sure you get introduced to the Mayor. If there are events in the village, be seen at them. We have found that all the French here in the South want from you, is to be part of their village of which they are proud. They do not understand why people want to move there if they don’t want to be part of it. If you “join in” they will welcome you, help you make sure you are doing ok. If you are stand offish you will hit a blank wall. Commit 100% to your new life and you will be fine, it’s different, and yes it can be annoying, but I’m glad we came.

Bon chance!

(Anna Watson) #14

Paul, we all have our own reasons for coming to France ad we all have our own experiences when we get here. However many views and opinions you collect, I’m not sure how much it’s going to help you unless you find a clone couple who happen to have identical likes and dislikes, identical strengths and weaknesses, identical financial circumstances etc.

One thing I think everyone will agree on is that there are trade-offs. You lose the familiarity and confidence and sense of security of knowing how “things” work, and you have to start on a new learning curve which can be stressful. You lose the automatic right to “free” healthcare. You probably lose certain aspects of the UK lifestyle that you enjoyed, maybe going to the pub, knowing all the words for karaoke, easy chit chat with shopkeepers, maybe family or your “support network”. It can be the daftest of things you miss, I knew someone whose wife was so distressed at the idea of going to a French hairdresser that she never had her hair done in between visits to the UK. You could tell just by looking at the state of her hair how long it was since their last trip back. Exactly what the trade offs will be, is a very personal thing. What will yours be? What will your better half’s be?

Then, you need to balance the things you miss against the things you gain. So - what are you yourselves actually hoping to find in France that you can’t find in the UK? How important is that thing/are those things to you? How sure are you that you will find them? Honestly I’m convinced some people think you buy a house in France and it comes with a ready-made French lifestyle attached, including French-speaking, French-admin-savvy alter egos of yourselves, but it doesn’t. You have to build the lifestyle you want and make your own niche where you feel at home, and if you struggle to understand what’s going on around you, that can add stress and make it more difficult to feel at home. That said, it’s not all about language skills, some people are natural communicators and can make a little basic French eked out with good humour go a long way, and some people aren’t natural communicators and get frustrated and angry.

So I would say you need to be very honest with yourself, about your feelings and your expectations and your strengths and weaknesses. Then be realistic about France, warts and all. If you do that, you shouldn’t get any nasty surprises. It’s a bit sad when people only begin to appreciate things they liked about the UK when they realise how much they miss them, and it’s a thousand times sadder if France hasn’t lived up to expectations either, but if you’ve done your homework properly neither of those things should happen.

(Mandy Davies) #15

Excellent post Anna.

(Barbara Deane) #16

Yes I agree excellent post.

(Anna Watson) #17

Well thank you, ladies ! I hope the OP find it useful.

(Phillip Cox) #18

I would agree with above comments about the weather. We live near Aix-en-Provence and even down here the winters can be long, even if not too cold apart from a few days here and there. From end October to end March there is not a great deal of difference from south coast UK, maybe a bit less rain!!
So please factor that into your equations.
Good luck with your adventure

(Dewi L Morgan) #19

Living in France, like anywhere new has its up’s and downs. The tax, health and social systems are enough to make a Parson swear. Even the French people loose track of it and get confused. You have to get your head around basic French then practice as much as possible. You have a good guide in Fabian on this site. Personally I am looking for a new home in Brittany but having lived in France for fourteen years I know what I am letting myself infore . Good luck and live your dream

(Debra Archer) #20

I’ve been swinging between running a gite or a long term rental myself and I occasionally take a foray into a gite group on Facebook and also the laymyhat forum, which has a section for France. I’ve noticed that though people can be making a good living out of gites still, there is a lot of talk about how it’s getting harder to get bookings and that they are made more last minute nowadays, which can be stressful. A lot of long term gite owners are winding down and glad to be out of the business.

Having said that, when I swing towards the long term rental idea and read the horror stories there, gites sound like a better bet :slight_smile:

Lately, after resuming decorating my place, I’m thinking I’ll just get on with decorating my pair of houses and sell up and move to a modern place that needs little maintenance :smiley:

One thing I would say is I wouldn’t risk it without enough income to survive without the gite income, if necessary.