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The seven biggest myths about the Brits living in France

There are a few longstanding misconceptions about the British population that calls France home. Time to put the record straight.

The seven biggest myths about the Brits living in France
Photo: AFP

1. They all live in 'Dordogneshire'

  (AFP)  

Dordogne the picturesque region of southwestern France might have been branded “Dordogneshire” due to the high number of Brits who now call it home, but the Périgord (as the area was once called) is far from the only corner of France where British expats/immigrants (whichever you prefer) have set up home.

Data given to The Local this week by France's stats guardians at INSEE revealed that the department (county) of France that counts the most Brits among its residents is… take a second to have a guess…think about it… Paris of course.

Some 8,529 Brits live in the French capital according to the most recent stats from INSEE. And the next most popular department is? Yes OK, it’s Dordogneshire, where 7,316 Rosbifs live among the rolling hills and rivers.

But plenty of other departments in France contain a large number of Brits too: There are just over 6,000 in Charente, western France, some 4,500 in the department of Haute-Vienne, next door to Dordogne, over 4,000 in Côte d’Armor in northern Brittany and a similar number in Yvelines in the greater Paris region.

So in short, out of the 153,000 Brits officially registered by INSEE as living in France in 2013, only 7,500 live in Dordogne. Myth well and truly busted.

2. Brits in France are all retired folk

Another popular stereotype about Brits in France is that they are all retirees who have spent their lives working in the UK before hopping over to France to buy a cottage in the sun where they can put their feet up, continue watching BBC, and enjoy living off their pension.

But the reality is, most Brits living in France are working for a living. The data backs this up.

Statistics from INSEE reveal that there are some 70,000 Brits in France aged over 55, and many of them will still be working full time of course.

There are around 55,000 Brits in France aged between 25 and 54 and 11,000 aged between 15 and 24.

Accord to another study by Britain’s Institute of Public Policy Research the percentage of British nationals living in France who were pensioners was only 22.5 percent.

The institute’s figures had some 250,000 British nationals living in France 57,000 of whom were pensioners.

So to cut a long myth short, most expats are here working in some form of another.

Which brings us to the next misconception.

3. Brits in France are all loaded 

The notion still seems to exist that anyone who moves abroad must be weighed down with suitcases full of cash.

But Brits in France are not snorting foie gras through rolled up €500 notes or bathing in Veuve Clicquot Champagne. In fact most endure the financial struggles that British citizens have to at home. Many struggle to find enough work to pay their way.

France-based Briton Brian Cave, who runs the blog Pensioners Debout, has pages of testimony from hard-up retirees who have to wear three jumpers and because they can't afford to heat their rural cottage.

“We are pensioners on a very low state pension of around £800 a month which is about half the suggested amount required to live a comfortable life here in France,” reads one letter written to Cave.
 
“We need to heat our property from September through to May…and we have struggled to keep warm in previous winters.”
 
Cave tells The Local: “The majority of Brits living in France are not loaded. There are people living on the breadline and others very close to it. It's totally untrue to think they are all rich.”

The fall in the exchange rate since the referendum has made matters worse for those who live off British pensions or rental income, with some 20 to 30 percent knock off their revenues.

All this to say, NO!, we don’t all live in a big villa on the Côte d'Azur or in a chateau in the Loire Valley.

4. They are 'traitors' or 'turn coats' who 'abandoned' the UK

(AFP)

Yet Brits abroad are often accused of this, especially when demanding to be able vote in general elections or June’s EU referendum, which many were barred from doing because they had been in France for over 15 years.

Because tens thousands of Brits had left the country of their own free will, to pursue jobs or lovers, take advantage of free movement, learn a new language or just to rest their weary legs in a place with guaranteed sun after 35 years earning their crust in the UK, they are often accused, on social media at least, of turning their backs on their country.

“You already voted. With your feet,” read one message to The Local before the Brexit referendum. Another read the “UK has nothing to do with you.”

Most Brits in France are heavily invested back home, whether through family and friends, property, pensions, principles or just sentiment. Just because Brits in France prefer baguettes to sliced bread, Kronenburg to Carling and have stopped putting milk in their tea, doesn't mean they are no longer British.

Perhaps we’ll leave the response to Christopher Chantrey, chairman of the British Community Committee of France.

He told a UK parliament committee this week: “We are British citizens. We are proud to be British and we want to continue to be British until the end of our lives.”

5.They are all anti-Brexit

There’s a common belief that any Briton living abroad must be against the idea of the UK leaving the EU, because they are the ones directly affected and have little interest in the UK “taking back control” as they don't live there.

But actually there are many Brits in France who backed leaving the EU. Although they are hard to track down and many may have gone into hiding.

“I don't feel in the minority  – I feel unique,” jokes Chris Balchin, who lives in Paris.

“I don't know many expats but certainly my French friends and acquaintances are shocked when I tell them that I support Brexit. 

“They grudgingly acknowledge the flaws of the EU but seem reluctant or even a bit scared to think that there could be a life outside it.”

So if Theresa May ever took her summer holiday in Dordogneshire, she would probably find a few who would offer her refuge her if the local Brits chased her out of town.

6. They don't speak French!

The common perception of Brits in France or anywhere for that matter is that we can’t string two words of the local lingo together other than “ Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?”

But right now, across France there are British people uttering words, even sentences in French, albeit with a slight accent perhaps, that the locals seem to love.

Most expats know the key to la belle vie in France is mastering the language and spend a lot of time, effort and money on achieving it. 

Just check out Briton Darren Tullet, a former bar tender and English teacher in Paris who now presents TV in French.

7. They just hang around in pubs with other Brits

While Brits on the Costa del Sol in Spain may enjoy recreating Britain in the sun by opening pubs and fish and chip shops (or is that a myth?), Brits in France tend to be Francophiles desperately keen to blend in and look and sound as French as possible.

Most put a high value on having French friends and work hard to integrate into local communities. 

There are scores of Brits who are elected members of their village or town councils across France, after being persuaded to stand for election by the local French mayors.

While you might hear more English voices than French ones in some towns, those towns have not been overrun with Wetherspoon pubs and “greasy spoon” cafes. 

So that's it, we are not a load of retired moneybags squeezed into one part of France, refusing to speak the local lingo to locals and only hanging around in pubs with fellow traitors and Bremainers.

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PROPERTY

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.

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