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Everything you need know about installing a swimming pool at your French property

Last year was a bumper year for swimming pools in France, as the pandemic saw many people decide to move to the country or improve their rural dwellings. But while a pool is undoubtedly a fabulous thing to have, there are some things you need to know before you get the water wings out.

Everything you need know about installing a swimming pool at your French property
Photo: Flickr

Nearly 200,000 home pools were installed in France in 2020, a 28 percent year-on-year rise, and 2021 looks set to be another year of double-digit growth. 

According to the Fédération des Professionnels de la Piscine et du Spa the country now has around 2.9 million private pools with a surface area of more than 10 square metres – more than any other country in Europe.

Owning a pool is a dream for many people moving to France, but while it can add to the value of your property, there are some thing you need to be aware of first.

Project costs?

A professionally installed in-ground pool will cost an average of between €22,000 and €25,000 before equipment, the Fédération estimates – though, prices as high as €50,000 are not uncommon and you could get a small pool installed for €15,000 or so. You could build your own to cut costs, but there’s more to it than digging a hole, lining it and filling it with water.

Pool projects often take longer than expected – building in winter is recommended, rather than summer, so you’re not tempted to cut corners in an effort to dive in before the sun disappears. Get it wrong and you may end up having to start again from scratch – which is why most prefer to leave it to the experts. 

The problem with going to a professional is that demand is so high that it means a lengthy wait. Many pool builders are booked well into 2022, so even if you start the process now, don’t necessarily expect to be messing about in your own personal pool next summer.

Maintenance

The cost of maintaining a swimming pool varies as local factors – such as the price of water, electricity and taxes – all play a part, while local property taxes will add between 5 percent and 10 percent, to your bill (details below).

Your bill for chemicals depends what sort of pool system you have, with increasingly popular saltwater pools having lower chemical bills. 

Having a pool professional come and check the water and chemicals once a week is an option. Most charge around €30 an hour.

Then there’s the cost of actually filling the thing. Depending on where you live in France, filling it could add well over €200 to your water bill – and then there are regular top-ups. In a normal summer, expect to top up at least 1 cubic metre every month.

And finally, of course, there’s wear and tear. Pumps, valves and other parts wear out and parts might need replacing. Most French pools are built now using plastic liners, which have a life of around 10-15 years, and which cost around a third of the price of the pool to replace … plus the cost of refilling the pool from scratch.

Insurance

If you have a swimming pool, your liability insurance must also cover accidents around the pool.

Second-home owners whose property has a pool need a special policy that covers the home as a holiday home, as well as civil liability (responsabilité civile propriétaire). 

If you let out your home while you are away – or even just allow friends and family to come and stay – you must also ensure that your policy provides cover for death, injury or damage to a third party on or near your property.

Security

Compulsory security measures for swimming pools in France were imposed in 2003. Since then, the number of children drowning in pools has fallen from more than 30 every year to fewer than 10. 

One of the following four measures must be applied, although many pool owners have more than one. 

  • Pools either fenced or walled in, with access by a gate which can be locked;
  • Alarms fitted which go off when the water is disturbed;
  • Pool covers fitted that meet safety standards;
  • Pool shelters fitted, such as the telescoping transparent ones, that meet safety standards.

All of the above must meet French or EU standards – and you can be fined up to €45,000 if your pool does comply with safety regulations.

Taxes and charges

If you have ever wondered why many pools in French homes are relatively small, consider tax. 

Larger pools are taxed more heavily than smaller ones.  A one-off taxe d’aménagement – known as the garden shed tax – is calculated on the size of the pool. How much you have to pay and how depends on the size of the pool.

Additions to your annual taxe foncière and taxe d’habitation (which still applies to second homes) bills are all likely to apply, since they are based on the value of the home, and having a pool increases the overall value.

Pools with a water surface area of 10 square metres or more must be declared to local authorities. From this size and up to 100 metres square, pools should be declared to the local mairie and tax office via a déclaration préalable de travaux.

And don’t think you can get away with not declaring your pool to tax authorities. 

The French inland revenue is working with Google to develop AI software that analyses satellite pictures along with land registry records to locate undeclared pools and other home improvements that may have gone under the radar.

It was first trialled in Marmande, Lot-et-Garonne, in 2017, and found 300 undeclared pools using Google Maps – allowing authorities to recoup €100,000 in unpaid taxes. A second, larger, trial in 2019 found 3,000 undeclared pools in towns and villages along the Atlantic coast and Côte d’Azur, and in the Drôme.

Planning permission

Full planning permission is needed for swimming pools with a water area greater than 100 metres square or if a pool larger than 10 metres square is covered with a mobile or a fixed cover that has a height of more than 1.8 metres.

Any type of pool – either sunken into the ground or a hot tub type – needs planning permission if it is over the regulation sizes, as long as it is a permanent structure (so inflatables don’t require permission).

Be aware, too, of local rules. If a property is in a protected zone, or close to a historic monument site, particular rules laid out in local urban planning codes will have to be followed.

Your installer should know all this, and be able to help out with the paperwork – but it is your responsibility to make sure everyone who needs to know does know. You can be ordered to remove pools installed without the correct pemissions.

So, is it worth it?

Despite the cost, a pool is still considered a wise investment. It has been estimated that a €15,000 pool can add €40,000 to the price of a 95 square metre property.

And it can even earn you a bit of money. You can rent out your pool when you are not using it to individuals or families. A number of websites, such as swimmy.fr, make the process relatively simple and straightforward – but do remember insurance and safety rules.

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SCHOOLS

‘Section internationales’: How do France’s bilingual secondary schools work?

For foreign parents in France looking at secondary school options for their children one option to consider is the bilingual 'international sections' in certain state schools. But how do they work?

'Section internationales': How do France's bilingual secondary schools work?

What is an ‘international section’

Essentially international sections in French secondary schools allow students to learn a modern foreign language, such as English or German in much more depth than a standard state secondary. These sections also facilitate the integration of foreign students into the French school system.

There are about 200 ‘International’ establishments (primary schools, colleges and high schools) around France offering international sections in 16 languages.

Most are state run, so for many foreign families they are a much cheaper alternative to private schools, though it should be noted that some of the international sections are fee-paying.

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Even state establishments can charge for enrolment into their international sections. Fees are usually in the region of €1,000 to €2,000 per year (although that’s still cheap compared to somewhere like the American school of Paris which charges between €20,000 and €35,000 a year)

American and British sections are particularly popular – and, as a result are usually the most expensive, while less-popular German sections are less costly. 

Why do they exist?

These sections are ideal for the children of immigrant families, as well as those where one parent is of foreign origin. Syllabuses are set up and developed by French educational authorities and those of the partner country.

In addition to lessons dedicated to modern languages, students benefit from lessons in another subject given in a foreign language. The international sections promote the discovery of the culture and civilisation of the countries associated with the section.

Top tips for raising a bilingual child in France

What languages are available?

According to the government website, 19 languages are available. But that’s not strictly accurate as it then lists American, British and Australian as separate ‘languages’, along with Portuguese and Brazilian. It’s more accurate to say these establishments offer education in 16 languages.

It’s more accurate to say that there are 19 “sections”, dedicated to learning with a linguistic and cultural education slant in favour of the following nations/languages:

American, Arabic, Australian, Brazilian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Franco-Moroccan, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Russian.

In total, there are two Australian schools, 20 American ones, over 50 British schools – most in Paris and the Ile-de-France (Versailles is very popular)

So, what’s studied – and what qualifications do you get?

As well as usual collège-level classes in core subjects, such as maths, history and the sciences, students have four hours of classes in the language, including literary studies, of their choice.

From troisième (age 14), an additional two hours of classes per week cover that country’s history and geography and moral and civic education – the latter is replaced by maths for those studying in Chinese sections.

They can obtain the diplôme national du brevet with the mention “série collège, option internationale”. The dedicated brevet includes two specific tests: history-geography and foreign language.

At lycée, students study four hours of foreign literature per week, as well as two hours of history-geography in the language of the section (maths for the Chinese section) as well as two hours of French as they study towards an OIB (option internationale du bac), often at the same time as a standard French bac.

How to enrol

The first step is to contact the collège you wish your child to attend. This should take place no later than January before the September rentree you want your child to go to the collège.

If you live in France, and your child is attending an école primaire or élémentaire, you should do this in the January of the year they would move up to collège.

Be aware, that some schools require potential students to pass a language test – written and oral – before they can enter an international section. A child wishing to enter sixth grade must be able to read books of the level of Harry Potter in English, to enter the international school of Sèvres’ British section, while another has said that only 20 percent of candidates achieve the grade that would allow them entry into an international section.

Find a school

You will find sections internationales de collège at educational academies across the country. For a full list, with contact details, click here.

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