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HEALTH

Checklist: How to retire to France

For many this is a lifelong dream, but there are some practical issues to be addressed before you can begin your retirement in France.

Retiring to France isn't all sunbathing
Retiring to France isn't all sunbathing. Photo: Frank Perry/AFP

Long, lazy afternoons in the sun, picking fresh figs off the tree and then opening a bottle of rosé? Sure, retirement to France can involve all these things and much more, but first you need to think about boring but important things like residency permits, pensions and health insurance.

Immigration

Starting at the beginning, you need to ensure that you are living legally in France. For EU citizens this is fairly straightforward, but non-EU citizens (including Brits) will need a visa in order to start a new life in France.

If you’re retiring and therefore don’t intend to work in France, you probably want a visitor visa.

This requires proving you have sufficient financial means – either savings or an income such as a pension, rental income or investments – giving an undertaking that you won’t work in France and there’s also a fairly hefty stack of paperwork to assemble. Full details on the process HERE.

Once you get your visa and arrive in France that doesn’t mean that the admin is over, you will still have to register for residency once you get here.

Pensions

Once here, you will need to make sure you have enough money to pay for Cognac and baguettes, and for many that will be a pension. People who move abroad once their pension has already begun to pay out can generally have it transferred to their new address with few problems, although if your pension is not paid in euros, remember that currency fluctuations can have quite a drastic effect on your monthly income.

If, however, you take early retirement and move abroad before your pension begins to pay out, check carefully that this will not affect your payouts.

Countries need to have international social security arrangements in order for you to begin claiming a state pension from another country. For EU citizens this is covered by Bloc-wide pension arrangements, but other countries need bilateral treaties, and the lack of one between France and Australia has seen many Australians in France forced to move back in order to become eligible for their pension.

While Brits who were living in France before the end of the Brexit transition period kept their existing pension rights, those who move now no longer benefit from joined-up EU pensions, if they have worked in more than one country.

READ ALSO

Taxes

Once you are resident in France you will need to fill in the annual tax declaration – even if you are not earning in France. If all your income (eg a pension) comes from abroad and you come from a country that has a double taxation agreement with France (including the USA, UK, EU and Australia) then you won’t have to actually pay any income tax in France, but you still have to complete the annual declaration.

There are also property taxes and the TV licence to consider.

READ ALSO The hidden costs of owning property in France

Healthcare

Everyone will need healthcare sooner or later, but the rules here can be different for foreigners who worked in France before retiring than for those who have never ‘paid in’ to the French system.

In most cases if you move here on a visa, you will need to show proof of private health insurance for your first year.

Once you move, you can register within the French health system, but who pays your bills may depend on whether you are already in receipt of a state pension and whether your home country has an agreement with France.

While waiting for registration, EU citizens can use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) while Brits can use the new UK-specific version, the GHIC, although this does not cover everything and should not be used as long-term health cover.

READ ALSO Health insurance: What are the rules for new arrivals in France

Transport

You’ll also have to keep in mind how you will get around, and if you live in a rural area that will almost certainly mean a car.

If you’re an EU or UK licence holder you can swap your licence for a French one, but if your licence is from the USA then the State in which you obtained it is crucial – not all US states have reciprocal agreements on swapping driving licences with France and if you’re unlucky enough to come from one of those, you face taking a French driving test before being allowed behind the wheel.

In better news, once you get your French driving licence there is no upper age limit or obligation to renew it once you hit a certain age, although the local Préfet can order a medical examination in cases where there is some doubt about the driver’s fitness to be behind the wheel. This usually follows an accident.

More good news if you’re going by train, as there are discount cards available to over 60s, while the Paris region also provides a free monthly travel pass for over 65s.

Old-age care

While you may be fit and active when you move to France, at some point you may become ill or infirm and need extra help.

France has a strong system of home-care to enable people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, but there are also residential care homes for those who need them.

There are no limits to foreigners accessing care but who pays for it can vary depending on your home country and whether you have ever worked in France. Full details here.

Reader question: Can I move into a French care home as a foreigner

Language

It might sound obvious, but you will have more fun in France if you speak the language. While it is possible to interact only with English speakers in certain areas of France, official functions generally have to be done in French.

Plus, the whole experience of moving abroad will be a lot richer if you can chat to the locals and understand the culture, so if you have long-term plans to retire to France, start now with learning the language.

READ ALSO How easy is it to move to France if you don’t speak French?

Social 

Consider also the social aspect of your new life.

At The Local we’re obviously big fans of moving abroad, but we would never deny that it can at times be difficult and lonely, and if you’re not working it can be harder to make friends.

So think in advance of how you will meet people and just how isolated your new place is – and if you’re moving to rural France, always make sure you have visited the area in the winter as well as the summer.

READ ALSO How to make French friends in France

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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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