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SECOND HOMES

Second-home owners: What can you bring to your French property?

If you live in the UK and own property in France, the post-Brexit rules affect what items you can bring with you to your French home, and how you transport them. Here is the breakdown.

Second-home owners: What can you bring to your French property?
Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP

In contrast to tourists who usually just throw a few things into a suitcase, Brits who own property in France are often accustomed to loading up the car – sometimes even a van or trailer – when they visit France.

But, from food to plants, DIY equipment or furniture, post-Brexit rules now affect what you can bring with you from the UK when you visit France. 

These rules apply to anyone travelling from outside the EU to France, although US, Canadian and Australian second-home owners are  constrained further by airline rules so tend not to bring the kitchen sink with them when they travel.

Food

It’s not unusual for second-home owners to bring food with them, either delicacies from their home country unavailable in France, or just some basic items so that you don’t have to go shopping the second that you arrive.

But EU sanitary and phyto-sanitary rules make bringing in food from outside the Bloc a complicated exercise.

We’ve got a full breakdown of the food rules here – but it covers fruit and vegetables, plus anything that contains animal products. That obviously covers sausages, bacon and ham sandwiches, but also anything that contains any animal products such as chocolate (milk), Bovril (meat extract) or certain jelly sweets (gelatine).

A good rule of thumb is to stick to packaged items that are certified as vegan.

Pet food is also covered, although there are some exemptions for medical reasons, and baby milk is allowed if you’re travelling with a small child.

READ ALSO Marmite, tea bags and pork pies – what can you bring into France?

Household items

Talking of stocking up the house, if you want to bring household items like toilet roll or cleaning products with you then that’s fine.

Drugs 

Bringing medication with you is generally okay, with a few exceptions.

Over-the-counter medications such as painkillers or cold and flu remedies are fine.

If it’s prescription medication it’s best to have the prescription with you as well, just in case you encounter a particularly zealous customs officer.

Some medications are not allowed in the EU even with a prescription – that doesn’t really cover anything that would be prescribed in the UK but certain types of heavy-duty painkiller that are prescribed in the US are banned in Europe, so check in advance if you’re bringing in prescription medication.

Recreational drugs (with the exception of alcohol and tobacco, see below) are illegal in France, even cannabis (surprising as that may seem if you have walked down the street in a French city) so don’t try to bring any with you, even if you’re travelling from a state where it is legal.

Medical cannabis products are a bit of a complicated area in France – after several U-turns and court cases products containing CBD – a cannabis derivative without the psychoactive compounds – can be used in France.

DIY equipment

Buying a French property as a renovation project has long been a popular pastime, especially with Brits, as it’s both a less expensive option and gives you a nice project.

If you’ve spent time in French DIY stores you will notice that many items – from paint to tools to bathroom and kitchen units – are considerably more expensive in France, so over the years it has become common for Brits doing a renovation project to buy many of the items they need in the UK and bring them over to their French property.

However, this has become more complicated since Brexit.

It’s not that bringing over DIY items is no longer allowed, but that there is a limit to the value of items that you can bring before you have to start paying import duties.

That limit is €430, so if you’re bringing over large items like a bath, basin and toilet, you’re likely to go over that limit.

You need to both keep the value of each individual car load low, and also keep receipts for when you are bringing over larger items.

If you really want to bring over something of a higher value then you can – but you will need to have a complete inventory of items, and be prepared to pay customs duties on them.

If you’re bringing over tools and materials for professional purposes you will need different paperwork known as a carnet – this doesn’t apply to second-home owners, but if you’re travelling in a van with a large amount of tools it would be a good idea to have some paperwork showing that you own your French property, so that if necessary you can prove this this is a private trip, not part of your work.

Furniture 

If you’re bringing over furniture, the same rule applies – no outright ban but a limit on the value of items.

There is an exemption to customs duties on furniture for people who are moving to France – full details here.

Plants 

It’s not just stuff for the indoors, if you have a garden at your French property you might like to bring over shrubs, seedlings or cuttings from your garden at home.

Unfortunately plants comes under the same sanitary and phyto-sanitary rules as food – and many things are simply banned altogether.

Bringing in dead items like logs would be OK, but anything living like plants, bulbs, seedlings or cuttings is banned as it can damage the local ecosystem – full details here.

Clothes/shoes/books  

If you want to stock up on English language books for your French friends or bring over your favourite fashion brands there is nothing to stop you, as long as you don’t hit the €430 limit.

Cars/vehicles 

Bringing a non-EU registered car with you for short breaks is no problem, although obviously check that your insurance covers you while you are in France. In most cases you can drive on the licence of your home country and don’t need an international driver’s permit.

If, however, you want to bring over a non-EU registered car and leave it at your French address, that’s more complicated – full details here.

Broadly the same rules applies to other vehicles including motorbikes – if the vehicle is just visiting then it’s fine.

Bikes, even electric ones, don’t require any kind of registration so you can bring those with you without issue.

Booze/cigarettes

The ‘booze cruise’ is more traditionally done the other way, with drivers coming over to France to stock up with wine.

However if you want to bring with you sherry, Drambuie or Boddingtons beer – all of which are hard to find in France – to drink during your stay then you can, within certain limits

  • Non-sparkling wine – 4 litres (6 standard sized bottles)
  • Beer – 16 litres
  • Other drinks containing more than 22% alcohol – 1 litres
  • Other containing less than 22% alcohol – 2 litres

This allowance is per person, so if you’re in a car containing two adults, you can double that.

The same applies to tobacco products – not banned but quantity limits apply.

  • Cigarettes/cigarillos – 200
  • Cigars – 50
  • Tobacco – 250g

The tobacco allowance is again per person, but unlike the alcohol allowance it’s either cigarettes or cigars or tobacco, not all three.

Are these really checked?

The short answer to this is that it varies. Some passengers report never having anything checked, others have reported being checked every time while the most common scenario seems to be having one thing checked but not everything.

If you’re driving a van or a heavily-laden car you’re more likely to be pulled over for a check but from feedback from readers of The Local there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern on when and where searches are carried out.

Because of the pandemic, volumes of traffic have been low since the end of the Brexit transition period, so it may be that things change once travel patterns return to normal.

If you’re a regular traveller it’s likely that your experiences will vary over time, but be aware that if you are carrying banned items you face the possibility of having them confiscated or – in the case of customs duties – facing a bill for unpaid duties.

Being pulled over for a search and billed will also delay your journey. 

Be aware that since Brexit travellers from the UK also face restrictions on passports, paperwork, pets and more – full details here

Member comments

  1. This is the second time I’ve read that DIY supplies for renovating a property in France are much more expensive than in the UK, and that is why Brits take them over to France. This surprised me because in my experience the French do much more building themselves than other EU countries and there are a lot of large, well stocked diy shops. I did a quick check on the uk site Screwfix and compared the prices (of toilet packs) to a French one, LeRoy Merlin, not to choose the cheapest one. LeRoy Merlin had more choice and a large range of prices, with lower prices for comparable products.
    I think it is the language barrier and that people load up the car at home, so that they can get to work here immediately and don’t have to spend a worrisome day shopping.
    It is the same with Dutch people with a second home here. They load up their van in the Netherlands with basic building materials like wood and plasterboard that are actually much cheaper here. In fact,this is so wellknown that many small building enterprises from the Netherlands and Belgium that drive to Lille and fill up their van here at the Bricodepot or similar.

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For members

PROPERTY

What second-home owners need to know about 2023 French property taxes

Autumn in France is property tax season - and for second-home owners there are some important changes to know about this year.

What second-home owners need to know about 2023 French property taxes

Every year in September and October, households in France receive their property tax bills – which have historically included three things; taxe foncière, taxe d’habitation and the redevance audiovisuelle (TV licence).

For main properties, two of these taxes have all-but disappeared, but for second home-owners the situation is a little different.

Taxe d’habitation

This is the tax paid by the householder and it is being gradually phased out in France and most households no longer need to pay it – the exception to this, however, is maisons sécondaire (second homes).

Local councils set the rate for this tax, and in some areas this can include an additional surcharge on taxe d’habitation on second homes.

This usually applies in areas that have a housing shortage, and although the surcharge has existed for several years it has recently been expanded to include new areas.

Taxe foncière

This is the tax paid by the property owner and this remains in place, and in some areas has increased. Some local authorities, faced with the shortfall in overall taxe d’hab funds, have increased surcharges on the tax for second homes, while most local authorities are also increasing taxe foncière charges to offset the drop in revenues.

This tax is calculated based partly on the size and value of the property you own (which is why if you do any major renovations or add a swimming pool you need to tell the tax office) and partly on the tax level decided by your local authority. 

This means that the actual rate varies quite widely between different parts of France, but in some areas it has gone up by 20 percent.

Redevance audiovisuelle

This is the TV licence and this has been scrapped this year – including for second homes – so your bill will no longer have the €138 per household TV charge. 

Waste collection taxes

Some communes, especially in rural areas, also charge a taxe d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères (TEOM) or la redevance d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères (REOM) to cover rubbish collection. These are also payable in the autumn, although dates and amounts vary from commune to commune.

Renovation projects

If your property is what real estate agents refer to as an ‘opportunity for renovation’ you may be exempt from taxe d’habitation if your property is uninhabitable.

This is this is strictly defined in France as meaning a property is unfurnished, is not connected to utility services, and/or needs work costing at least 25 percent of the value of the property to make it habitable.

Other information

The amount of both taxe foncière and taxe d’habitation varies across France, but you should be informed in the sale details of the amount of the taxe foncière, and you can also request to know the amount of the taxe d’habitation when you buy a property. 

READ ALSO Why French homeowners face higher property taxes in 2023

Second homeowners are not eligible for most reductions or exemptions available on taxe foncière, with the exception of over 75s who are on low incomes. Be aware this is not automatic for second homeowners and must be specifically requested by those who are eligible.

Be aware, too, that authorities can charge an additional 10 percent for late payment without good reason – though you may get this removed if you write a polite formal letter asking for a remise gracieuse de la majoration. You can search for model letters on the internet.

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