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Ten things to expect if you move to rural France

For many people the dream is to escape the rat race and move to a beautiful and tranquil French village, drink red wine and live happily ever after. But what's moving to the French countryside really like?

Ten things to expect if you move to rural France
Yes it's gorgeous, but how's the wifi? Photo: AFP

1. Everything is closed

It can come as a bit of a shock to foreigners, but traditional opening hours are still observed in many parts of France, especially rural ones. This means that shops and offices close at 12 and don't reopen until 2ish and in many parts of the country Sunday closing is still rigorously observed, making for a few hungry weekends for newcomers as they get used to this.

READ ALSO Readers reveal the biggest challenges of moving to rural France

 

 

In the big cities this is starting to disappear and across the country many supermarkets now open on a Sunday morning, but do remember to check the opening times of anywhere you plan to visit. A lot of independent businesses also close on Monday to give their staff a proper-two day break.

And speaking of timing, smaller towns also tend to be more rigorous about the correct times for meals – lunch is served between 12 and 2 and dinner from 7pm, and 'service non-stop' eateries where they will serve food at any time are less common than they are in the cities.

And of course don't forget public holidays, when everything closes – here's the French holiday calendar.

2. Your new best mates are the staff of M. Bricolage and the dechetterie

If you're doing any kind of house renovation, prepare to spend a lot of time in the nearest bricolage (DIY store) frowning over your translation app.

Likewise you will probably also get to know the staff at your local dechetterie (rubbish tip) well. This will also provide a workout for your French as they explain to you exactly what is allowed to go into each skip.

READ ALSO What you need to know before going to a French recycling centre

 

3. It's really quiet . . . and those stars!

This is not unique to French countryside of course, but France has a lot of areas that are very sparsely populated, so if rural peace is what you want then France really delivers. The country is three times the size of the UK but has roughly the same population, which means that some parts – especially the central départements such as Corrèze, Creuse and Lozère – are very sparsely populated indeed.

Perfect if you want to totally lose yourself in the countryside and the other upside of being kilometres away from any source of light pollution is that the night skies are simply incredible.

READ ALSO These are France's 14 favourite villages

 

4. Chatting is vital

But if you want some human contact and move to a village, you're going to have to brush up on your French small-talk. The courtesies are important in France and pausing to have a brief chat with your neighbour will make all the difference to your welcome.

Many village-dwellers report that a simple walk to the post-box can take more than half an hour by the time they have paused to exchange greetings and a bit of gossip with various neighbours. The upside to this is that it will help you get settled and you are likely to find your neighbours friendly and welcoming – many residents of rural France say that the best thing about their life there is all the new friends they have made.

5. As is making friends with the mayor 

Non-French people often don't realise how important the village mayor is, but in fact rural mayors have a lot of power so it's well worth making friends with yours.

The mairie is the source of all sorts of official paperwork as well as decisions on crucial questions like whether you can build an extension or not. They are also absolute goldmines of information on all local issues that you might need to know, so popping into the mairie to introduce yourself and making an effort to befriend the mayor is well worth your time.

READ ALSO 'They make France what it is' – why village mayors are so important

 

6. You're being shot at 

No, you haven't accidentally strayed into a Deliverance style scenario, but if the air is suddenly full of lead, it's likely that la chasse is nearby.

Hunting, which generally means shooting, is popular in rural France and during the autumn/winter season around 1 million hunters around the country will regularly hunt game birds, deer and wild boar. 

It's fair to say that some hunters wouldn't win many health and safety awards and every year in France there are hunting accidents where passers-by get shot, sometimes fatally, so during the season it's wise to check where your local chasse will be and keep a sharp eye out for the signs that show you they are hunting nearby.

READ ALSO How to survive the French hunting season without being shot

7. Your internet is buffering again

France is improving its national network of internet connections and in some areas work has begun on the 5G network, but provision is still patchy.

Some villages have great connections but others don't, and if you're moving to France to work from home then this is definitely something you should check out in advance.

There are now not many zones blanches (areas with no access), but quite a few areas have a slow and unreliable signal that will leave you spending a lot of time starting at a spinning wheel.

8. The markets really are as good as you dreamed

French markets are one of humanity's better creations and now you get to enjoy a weekly array of incredible produce. Also take a minute to appreciate the seasonality – one week there will be a stall selling nothing but apricots and then a few weeks later there will be mushrooms as far as the eye can see.

With produce like this your cooking will effortlessly move up a notch towards culinary greatness.

And it's not just food markets – check out the regular brocantes (vintage markets) and marché aux puces (flea markets) to get bargains for your new home, as well as the vide greniers (yard sales) at the slightly cheaper end of the spectrum.

9. You've relaxed

Don't believe the hype about the French countryside being paradise, and as we've outlined there are certainly challenges (and we didn't even mention the famous French bureaucracy) but in spite of all that it's hard not to adapt to the slower pace of life by slowing down and taking time to smell the roses.

Whether it's a walk in one of France's famous beauty spots, an apéro with your new neighbours or just taking 10 minutes to sit in your garden and eat a freshly-picked peach or drink a glass of rosé, after a while those tension knots should start to disappear from your shoulders.

PS Drink driving is illegal in France. You might be surprised to learn this, because unfortunately it's still quite common in some parts of rural France, but in fact France's legal limit for alcohol is low and there are strict penalties if you're caught driving while over the limit. 

READ ALSO What you risk if you drink and drive in France

 

Member comments

  1. Just want to say how much I appreciate all the helpful information. We are Americans (EWE hold your nose) planning on moving there part time. When we can get there…best wishes to all for health during this hard time in our lives.

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PROPERTY

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

If you're looking to rent an apartment in a larger city in France, you're likely to see announcements that require a 'garant'. Here is what you need to know about finding a guarantor in France.

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

Renting in large cities in France – particularly in Paris – is a known challenge for foreigners, especially new arrivals. In the countryside, it’s a bit easier, with less competition properties, but in the big cities compiling your dossier and landing the right place can be a challenge.

One of the biggest surprises for many people is that most landlords ask for a guarantor (garant) in order to sign a lease for an apartment. It is not a legal requirement, but in competitive real estate markets, it certainly feels like one.

Though asking for a garant might feel a bit juvenile, it is quite common, and applies to a lot more people than you might realise. Here is what you need to know:

Who typically needs a guarantor?

The most common group to need guarantors are students. However, if you are a foreigner who is not employed with a CDI (indefinite contract) and if you do not make over three times your monthly rent, you will likely need a guarantor as well.

If you don’t collect your income in France (or if you don’t have an income) you will need a guarantor.

You will also likely need one if you are still in the probationary period of your CDI, or if you cannot show three months worth of pay stubs from your job yet (even if you pay meets the three times a month requirement). If you do have a CDI, you could ask your employer to sign you an attestation d’employeur which verifies your monthly income. 

If your income is not steady or consistent (perhaps you are a freelancer). Typically, if you use an agency during the leasing process, they will require a guarantor, especially if any of these conditions apply to you. 

It is worth noting that showing bank statements typically do not suffice – landlords are looking for proof of ongoing income, not savings.

Who can count as a guarantor?

The guarantor should be a third party, such as a parent or close relative who agrees to pay your rent if you fail to pay.

This person must fulfil all the requirements outlined above (ie earning more than three times your rent with an indefinite contract).

The other tricky part is that this person must work and live in France, and usually it’s best that they are French themselves.

However, this can pose a problem for foreigners who might not know anyone that fits that description, so thankfully there are some other options fill this requirement, like taking out a caution bancaire or using an online agency. We explained the ins-and-outs of these bellow.

What does my guarantor need to show?

The guarantor needs to put together a dossier of documents including;

  • Proof of identification (a passport or French ID card)
  • Proof of residence that is less than three months old (eg utility bills).
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Employment contract and typically three months worth of payslips
  • If they earn money via real estate, they must also provide documentation for this
  • If the person in question is retired, they must provide proof of pension (again, this must exceed your monthly rent threefold). 

So, what if I don’t have a French person who can be my guarantor? There are a few options for you:

Use an online service

There are two main online services that can act as guarantors for foreigners in France.

The first is Visale, which is accessible primarily to foreign students.

This is a programme offered via the French state through “Action Logement” and it covers up to three years of unpaid rent. You must be between 18 and 30 years old to apply, and you must hold a long-stay visa (VLS-TS) – either a student visa or a ‘talent’ one.

For students who are already citizens of a European Union country, then simply presenting a student card and a valid passport will be sufficient. It can be applied to private housing and student residences, but it is ultimately up to the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who uses Visale as their guarantor. The main benefit to Visale is that it is free for the user.

Visale does come with some restrictions, however. Your rent (including charges) cannot exceed €1,500 in Paris, and €1,300 in the rest of the country. In addition, the lease must be for a primary residence, and your rent should not exceed 50 percent of your total income.

Another option is GarantMe, a paid online website that can also serve as an official guarantor.

Landlords might actually prefer this service over a physical guarantor who might refuse to pay or for whatever reason not have the funds to do so. The benefit to GarantMe is that they accept a wider range of tenants for their service, but the downside is that there is a fee. The minimum payment (per year) is €150, but the fee is normally 3.5 percent of the annual rent (including charges) and it renews automatically.

The nice thing about GarantMe, is that in order to apply for the service, you basically need to create a full dossier that will be identical to what you’ll need for your apartment search anyways.

Take out a Caution Bancaire

Basically, a caution bancaire is a bank guarantee, and typically its a bit more of a last resort option because it is quite restrictive for the tenant. It involves blocking off a large sum of money to be used to pay rent if you fail to do so.

Depending on the landlord (and the bank), they might ask you to block between six months worth of rent to sometimes up to two years. This would be used as guarantee during the duration of your lease, but it takes a bit of administrative coordination and obviously requires a large sum of liquid funds.

Sometimes activating a bank guarantee can take a few weeks, and for foreigners, of course, this would require already having a French bank account. There can also be fees, depending on the bank, for using a caution bancaire, and simply closing of caution bancaire account in itself can involve fees.

The other downside to this is that not all landlords will accept it, which is why this option might be best served as a last resort.

Attempt to find an apartment that does not require a garant

This is quite difficult in Paris (and other large cities around France). It is possible sometimes if you stick to foreigner-oriented sites like NY Habitat or Paris Attitude. Another possible loophole could be to see if your insurance plan offers coverage of unpaid rent. This is quite uncommon, but could be a possible option. If you rent specifically particulier-à-particulier (meaning you do not use an agency at all) you might be able to negotiate with the landlord, or if you have a sub-lease you might not need to show proof of a guarantor.

Ultimately, however, in most cases when renting in France’s large cities, you’ll likely need a guarantor.

What should I be aware of when it comes to guarantor websites?

As mentioned previously, Visale is only for people in the 18-30 age group, so unfortunately it does not apply to everyone. It is also intended for lower income people or students, so if you are a high earner you might be rejected.

Regarding using a website like GarantMe, beware that they will charge you every year – it is not a one time fee. This will be deducted from the card you put on the site and the only way to cancel the charge will be to show proof that you have moved out (i.e. an état des lieux or letter releasing you from the obligation signed from your landlord)

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