Ten Easy Steps to Retiring in France
Before I outline the 10 easy steps to retiring in France, this is what you need to know: it’s easy.
This will be the topic of a webinar titled “How to Retire in France” on Saturday, December 9th, at 2 p.m. EST (8 p.m. in France) hosted by the Federation of Alliances Françaises U.S.A.
Be sure to tune in so that you can not only hear the “juicy” parts live on Zoom, but be there for the Q and A, too. It’s free for our readers!
Even if you are of retirement age, or close, you don’t actually need to retire fully—you can move to France on a “carte de séjour visiteur” (visitor visa) and still work from home as much as you like. I’ll explain more about this further down, but for now just know that living in France will cost you a whole lot less than living in North America—as much as half (!)—especially if you live in a town where you won’t need (or want) a car!
(AAA reports that the average annual cost of new car ownership increased 5% to $9,282! For this amount of money you could certainly travel on a whole lot of vacations all around Europe from France, don’t you agree?)
Now, how do you begin? Here are my 10 easy steps to retiring in France…
1. Consult with us to learn the steps and decide where to live in France that suits you
It’s never too early to do this and you should do it before you go on a reconnaissance mission traipsing all over France looking for the ideal spot to land. Everywhere you go you will fall in love, as France is overflowing with charming spots, but there are practical aspects to consider that will make a big difference.
It starts with a one-on-one consultation with me. I’ve helped thousands of people make the right decisions about their future life in France. It’s two hours on Zoom or in person. I can provide you with the kind of direction just about everyone needs, even if they don’t know it! If you are not prepared for the physical, cultural and emotional transition that it takes to move to France, you may not end up having the same positive experience. I’ve seen too many people fail…because they didn’t do their homework first, so don’t be one of those people.
For starters, you could revisit a webinar I did with the Federation of Alliances Françaises U.S.A last March titled How to Decide Where to Live in France.
Do not underestimate the importance of the practical aspects before you make this big move, such as access, weather, community and healthcare!
Plus, in the cases where our clients have gone on to use our property-finding services, the consultation fee applies toward it, so nothing is lost along the way. Trust me, this is money very well spent—Everyone tells us this.
2. Consult with an immigration advisor, if necessary
There are many different kinds of visas. Perhaps you will have a straight-forward and easy process to apply for a visitor visa, but maybe not. If your spouse happens to have EU citizenship, then the process may differ, or if you can qualify for some kind of work permit. (See this website for more information.) But, you don’t need to do this alone. We have professionals who can help you make these decisions, facilitate the process and a “hand-holder” to ensure it goes smoothly. Choose which works best for you!
Special note: when applying for a visitor visa, the immigration authorities will ask you to sign a document promising that you won’t “work in France.” What this means is that you promise not to take a job away from a French national! That work you’re already doing and want to keep doing, with your North American company or with your North American clients, that you do online, is perfectly acceptable, as long as the revenues are reported and applicable taxes are paid. (We can also teach you the best ways to set yourself up to do this correctly, efficiently and in the most tax-saving way.)
3. Consult with professional financial advisors to minimize your taxes
This is VERY IMPORTANT. There is a tax treaty between France and the U.S. and Canada, that ensures that you don’t pay taxes on the same money twice…but once you are tax resident in France, your worldwide assets become targets for inheritance taxes. You don’t want your heirs to suffer if you can help it, so plan in advance and reduce or eliminate unnecessary taxation.
But, don’t be frightened of taxes. If you’re paying taxes, it means you’ve earned money. Taxes are a GOOD thing! Plus, you may discover that you will pay LESS tax in France than you have in the U.S. or Canada (believe it or not) and we have the professionals who can help you discover that. Do this before you come and before it’s too late.
4. Prepare for your move
This is entirely your job. It’s whatever you need to do in order to prepare for living in another country, even if for short periods of time. It might mean selling or renting your home. It might mean divesting of unwanted possessions. It might mean putting keepsakes in storage, etc., etc. but most importantly, DO NOT close bank accounts, MAINTAIN an address in your home country (a non-taxable state is a good idea), and DO NOT entirely remove your presence from North America…as you will need to always have a “home base” there in order to maintain your financial life, in particular.
I maintain a U.S. phone number for the sole purpose of two-step verification when I make an online purchase using my Capital One credit card (which does not impose foreign transaction fees like many do). It’s a pay-as-you-go sim card in an old phone that costs about $3 a month to maintain, and it’s well worth it. Mine happens to be with T-Mobile, but it could be with any provider.
You can also set up a Vonage phone (which you must do from the U.S.) this gives you a U.S. phone number for calls in and calls out. This is very useful if you set up a U.S. business that you will be operating from France. Use this link to set it up.
You will want to arrange for someone to get your U.S. mail. Perhaps they can scan the docs and email them to you, but when something must be physically sent to you, believe it or not, the U.S. postal service will forward it free of charge! Just ask this person to put on the envelope “Forward to [NAME AND ADDRESS],” dump it back into a mailbox and off it will go to France for not a single extra penny. I swear this is true—I’ve been successfully doing this for 29 years! Sorry, but I don’t know if Canada offers the same great service.
For those who want to drive in France, new visa-holders must acquire their French driving license within the first year of living in France. If your U.S. license is in a state with reciprocity, all the better—that makes life a whole lot easier. Some of our clients have gone to the trouble of establishing residency in those states just for the sake of having the license! Don’t forget to ask for a duplicate copy of the license so that when you trade it in for your new French one, you will maintain a copy of the U.S. license! (You may have to claim you lost it to get a new one, but it’s worth the little white lie.) Here’s more information from the French government. And also see this site.
If you have a pet you’re bringing over, those imported from non-EU countries must be declared and presented to Customs for document and identity checks before they can be allowed into France. You’re going to love the little Pet Passport they will get! Be sure to check the official customs site for information.
5. Apply and get a visa
Once you have decided what kind of visa for which to apply, proceed. There is an online application. You will arrange for an in-person appointment with the consulate. Here’s the official website.
Again, don’t underestimate the value of working with professionals if you feel the least bit concerned. These are the ones we recommend. And be sure to tell them we sent you!
Keep in mind that you will need to acquire health insurance for the first year in order to obtain your visa. Now’s the time to secure that. See our website for our recommendations.
Gather up your financial documents to prove that you can support yourself. All they expect is the equivalent to French minimum wage, or about 1,750€ per month, about 1,385€ after taxes.
And they will want you to have a place to live in advance of coming! This can be a Catch-22 without us helping you. We can provide this for you so you don’t miss a beat.
6. Hire us to find you a place to live
Now that you have your visa, which only takes a few weeks from when your application is in and approved, you should try to arrive within 90 days—although there is no set requirement. But, the clock has started ticking and you don’t want to waste the year before you have to renew it in France, so get crackin’!
We need about six weeks in advance to find you a rental property…and it’s not easy! Finding the property is tough enough because there is a housing shortage, but landlords need to protect themselves from squatters and will be very choosy about whom they will agree to let live in their property. We joke that the tenant doesn’t choose the landlord; the landlord chooses the tenant! It’s not really a joke, however! So, since we can’t invent the properties, or the landlords’ willingness to take on a non-French non-working tenant, it could take longer. We can do the search without you and secure a property sight-unseen in advance of your arrival, or you can with us on the visits. Either way, we recommend renting a short-term apartment for the beginning weeks just to allow you enough time for the search and to settle in by getting your utilities in place, etc. (We offer this service to get you hooked up with gas, electricity and internet, too!)
If you have made a property purchase, then you can move directly into your new home—as long as it’s ready for you! And we have all the resources to make that happen as well, including a bevy of qualified designers and contractors. See our site for information on Martine di Mattéo’s work, but we have other associates to fit any project size.
Note: Don’t forget that finding property to purchase is our primary “raison d’être.” The other services we provide are “gravy.”
7. Pack your bags and ship your belongings to France
Pack what is personal and what you can’t get in France. If you are shipping furniture and household goods, you’ll need an international shipper. If you’ve been able to whittle it down to only personal belongings, then perhaps just luggage is all you have, but there are shippers like SendMyBag.com which can also be of use.
Note: Be careful how you complete the customs forms so that you will pay no customs taxes on your personal affects.
While you’re packing, be sure to bring certain documents with you, electronic or originals when possible:
• Birth Certificate
• Marriage Certificate
• Divorce Decree
• Any Record of a Name Change
• Proof of Prior Residence
• Tax Returns
8. Arrive in France
Plane, train or automobile…however you do it, you get to choose when. A move in the middle of summer (July-August) or during the holiday season (December 21-January 3) might be a real challenge as everyone else will be on holiday, so avoid these times! Even the month of May presents a challenge as there are five French holidays that month alone!
And if you insist on arriving on or about September 1st, know that a rental apartment must be secured in advance of the summer holidays (as agents and landlords will be on holiday) and that competition for housing will be at a peak!
9. Set up a bank account and utilities in France
We can facilitate opening a bank account in France, but you must be present at the bank to do this. They will ask for certain documents, such as proof of residence, a tax return, etc. They may also ask that you become an active client of the bank by subscribing to their phone and/or insurance services, so don’t be surprised. They claim that this is how the French banks earn their bread and butter! The banks also charge for having an account. Their fees are not imposed in the same manner as in the U.S. and Canada. Again, do not be surprised. Expect 10€ to 15€ for your account, a debit card and access to the bank’s online banking.
Meanwhile, prepare to work with a currency broker to exchange dollars to euros at the best rate of exchange. The banks charge about 3% in the “spread”—difference between the buy and the sell rate—while the brokers charge about 1%, so it’s a big savings. It’s easy. You transfer the money to the broker, who converts it and then forwards it on to its final destination. They also offer a lot of valuable services that make this process easy and less expensive. See this page to work with our recommended brokers.
We can also help you set up your gas, electricity, phone, TV, internet, etc. in your new abode, whether it be a rental or purchase. These services in France are not expensive and you will discover they are big savings from what you’re used to paying! Our clients are always surprised that internet/TV/VOIP Phone can cost as little as 35€ a month! If you don’t believe me, visit the Freebox site. This is the service I personally recommend above all others—they are the ones that started the entire revolution of inexpensive providers in France!
10. Move in and create a new life in France
You’re ready to become a bonafide French resident.
Once you’re here for 90 days, you can apply for Universal Health Protection known as “PUMA.” This will pay up to 70% of your healthcare costs! Then, you can top it up with a “mutuelle” insurance policy that you will find very reasonable…about one-tenth of what the same policy would cost in the U.S.!
You will find French healthcare to be not only the best care you’ve ever had, but certainly the least expensive, too! If you read Monday’s Nouvellettre® about my cousin’s accident in Nice, then you know what kind of an amazing experience she had. But to top it all off, they ordered up an ambulance to take her home from the hospital and the cost of it was a whopping 68€! Can you imagine what that might have cost Stateside?
(Special note: in Monday’s Nouvellettre®, I wrote “Again, this can be shocking for an American because without proof of payment, you wouldn’t get treated in the U.S.” resulting from my past personal experience, but I stand to have been corrected. “In 1986, Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay.” I’m glad to hear it!)
Don’t hesitate to join organizations and attend meet-ups to meet people and make friends. We offer monthly gatherings we call Après-Midi which are great places to start! See our site for more information and mark these dates in your calendar now so you won’t miss any!
I can assure you that you can make more friends in three months of living in France than you have ever made in your life! Why? Because if you live where there is a vibrant North American community. You will easily meet people who are just like you, who have gone through the same trials and tribulations as you and who share most of your own beliefs. You will meet people who are open-minded, fearless and risk-taking. You will meet people who are well-traveled, well-educated and are mostly politically on the left. In other words…people to whom you can easily and quickly relate. Trust me, this will change your life for the better!
And finally, enjoy the activities in the place you are now living. Travel around France and to neighboring countries. If you decide to live near an international airport (highly recommended), it will be easy and inexpensive to go just about anywhere!
So now, prepare to go enjoy your new life in France!
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
P.S. If you contact any of our recommended professionals, be sure to tell them ADRIAN LEEDS SENT YOU!
And also, don’t miss our webinar titled “How to Retire in France” on Saturday, December 9th, at 2 p.m. EST (8 p.m. in France) hosted by the Federation of Alliances Françaises U.S.A. It’s free for our readers!