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Trains, Planes, Buses, Trams…or Even Rental Cars

Volume XXII, Issue 20

The tram in Nice, France

One of the messages we expound on is that when it comes to real estate, “you buy what you cannot change.” And the number one thing you can’t change is “location.” Real estate values are based primarily on location before anything else enters the picture. And location value mostly has to do with “access.” This is one big reason we are so hot on living close to public transportation, whether it be planes, trains, buses, trams…or even rental cars.

And that’s why Paris and Nice are so high on our list of great places to live in France. Not just because both cities offer a lot of cultural activity, but because of their proximity to international airports, important train hubs and even great internal public transportation systems. The property best served by those systems tend to carry more weight and value than those that are not as accessible. This is simply the fact.

French movie poster for Planes Trains and Automobiles

This doesn’t mean that Paris and Nice are the “only” answer to having great access. I met with clients this past week who fell in love with Annecy. Annecy is fortunately only a 45 minute ride (by car) from Geneva’s airport. However, by bus, it’s 1h15min and by train it’s 1h40min. That’s not bad, but it’s not the same as hopping the Tramway in Nice and arriving at the front door of the airport in just 20 minutes.

Lac d'Annecy

Lac d’Annecy

Lille is a city that interests me because of its TGV access to four major cities. Lille to Brussels is 0h34min; to Paris it’s 1h02min; to London it’s 1h22min and to Amsterdam it’s 2h43min. What this means is immediate access to all of these major cities plus all of their international airports. It makes a big difference if you imagine your retirement years traveling around Europe and making up for all that lost time when you didn’t have such an opportunity.

Map showing the triangle of major destinations from Lille

The triangle of major destinations from Lille



The cities on the west side of France have less appeal for me, and again not because they aren’t great cities, but because access is limited. On the east side, such as Lyon, Strasbourg, Grenoble, you have access to Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Italy, not to mention Provence and the Riviera. But, on the west, all you have is the Atlantic Ocean. If you head south, then Spain. The middle of France has a massive mountain range that prevents crossing it by train without going north to Paris or south to Marseille.

Topographic map of France

Topographic map of France

EasyJet and Air France make it easy to fly around, fortunately. EasyJet has its Plus offering that saves the passenger time and money. For an annual fee, Plus unlocks a suite of benefits, including dedicated Bag Drop, Speedy Boarding, inclusive allocated seating, and Fast Track security. Additionally, you gain access to a variety of exclusive privileges. (Our colleague, Patty Sadauskas, is sold on it and flies around Europe at the drop of the hat from Nice.) Air France has its own set of Discount Passes to simplify business travel. You can get discounts on all your trips in the zones corresponding to your pass, even if your travel plans are for leisure! See their site for more information. And check out their Senior Pass as well.

Easy Jet Plus line at the airport

View from the rear up the isle on and Air France flight

An Air France flight

Meanwhile France is gearing up to introduce a €49 rail pass this summer, exclusively tailored for individuals under the age of 27. French President Emmanuel Macron had initially proposed a rail pass for all citizens, but after extensive negotiations, a revised version has been agreed upon. That won’t do much for most of us, but the pass is slated to be accessible to approximately 700,000 young people under 27 years old throughout July and August. The pass will grant unlimited travel on TER and Intercity trains but will exclude high-speed TGV trains. (For more information, visit euronews.com)

Car ownership in France is not at all necessary if you live in any urban environment. This is a big plus for us older folks who no longer want the risk, expense and hassle of driving and car ownership. Living without a car can save you thousands of dollars/euros and free up your time and stress. I haven’t owned a car in 30 years and never have missed it. When I want to take a driving trip, it’s easy enough to rent a car.

Car rental is available everywhere in France. I like to use RentalCars.com (that seems to offer the best rates) and AutoEurope.com to compare rates…or go directly to the agency itself, which is actually the best way to rent a car once you determine which has the best cars at the best rates from the best locations. You can rent a car with your foreign driving license—you do not need an International Driving Permit. See this website for more information on renting a car in France.

Unfortunately, a driving license issued by a non-member European country (with the exception of a UK license issued before 2021) is valid during only one year from the acquisition of your visa in France. The exchange for a French license is obligatory to be able to drive longer.

Thankfully, France has established agreements with specific countries, enabling qualified drivers to exchange their foreign license for a French one. The U.S. is one of them, but by specific states. If you do not meet the criteria for this exchange and would like to continue driving legally beyond your first year, you must take the French driving test, both written and practical components. Both procedures—the exchange and the tests—require significant time…and expense.

Students, on the other hand, are granted an exemption from this regulation and may retain their American license throughout their academic tenure. (One good reason to come on a student visa.) Nonetheless, they must adhere to the minimum age requirement stipulated by French law for driving, which is 18 years old to operate a standard vehicle.

Here’s what adds another layer of complexity (expect everything in France to be complicated): Your foreign driver’s license is valid for only one year in France. If you qualify for a license exchange (lucky you!), you must initiate the process within that initial year. Once this time-frame elapses, you lose the opportunity for the exchange. The one-year countdown commences from the moment you establish residency in France, typically defined as intending to spend more than six months of the year in the country. For instance, if you entered France on a long-stay visa, the countdown starts from the date of your online visa validation with OFII office.

France maintains reciprocity agreements with only 18 U.S. states for certain classes, A and B*: Arkansas (Class B), Colorado (Class B), Connecticut (Classes A & B), Delaware (Class B), Florida (Classes A & B), Illinois (All Classes), Iowa (All Classes), Maryland (Class B), Massachusetts (All Classes), Michigan (All Classes), New Hampshire (All Classes), Ohio (Class B), Oklahoma (Class B), Pennsylvania (Classes A & B), South Carolina (All Classes), Texas (Class B), Virginia (Class B), Wisconsin (Class B).

* Class/Category A: motorcycle, Class/Category B: car

We’ve had many clients establish residency in one of these states prior to moving to France just to facilitate this exchange. Not a bad idea! I, unfortunately, never even thought about it and have lived all these years without a French driving license. The ordeal of obtaining a French driving license is one big reason to consider living in an urban area of France where driving isn’t necessary!

So, here’s the point to all this: Invest in property and invest in yourself along the way. That means making life easy, stress free and fun as well as making an investment in a property that will appreciate in value, not only monetarily, but in the pleasure of your lifestyle. The better located a property is to good transportation, the happier your life and the greater your investment. It’s proven time and time again that it’s all about “location.” So get smart and do yourself a favor by making this the most important consideration when choosing a property.

A bientôt,

Adrian Leeds waiting at the Calvi BusAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

P.S. Let us help you determine what location suits you best. It all starts with a consultation with myself or one of my qualified staff. Visit our website for more information.

P.P.S. Dr. Alison Bracker, an independent art historian specializing in modern and contemporary art, just posted her latest blog, “An Insider’s Guide to the French Riviera.” It’s worth a read and a subscription. Enjoy!


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