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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

Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

Plumbing ermergencies are common in France, so here's our guide to what to do, who to call and the phrases you will need if water starts gushing in unexpected areas.

Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

How do I find a reliable plumber and avoid getting scammed?

First, try to stick with word-of-mouth if you can. Contact trusted individuals or resources, like your neighbours and friends, or foreigner-oriented Facebook groups for your area (ex. “American Expats in Paris”). This will help you find a more reliable plumber. If this is not an option for you, try “Pages Jaunes” (France’s ‘Yellow Pages’) to see reviews and plumbers (plomberie) in your area. 

Next, educate yourself on standard rates. If the situation is not an emergency, try to compare multiple plumbers to make sure the prices are in the correct range. 

Finally, always Google the name of the plumber you’ll be working with – this will help inform you as to whether anyone else has had a particularly positive (or negative) experience with them – and check that the company has a SIRET number.

This number should be on the work estimate (devis). You can also check them out online at societe.com. If you want to be extra careful you can also ask to see their carte artisan BTP (craftsman card). 

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?

Who is responsible for paying for work?

If you own the property, you are typically the one who is responsible for financing the plumbing expenses.

However if you’re in a shared building, you must determine the cause and location of the leak. If you cannot find the origin of the leak, you may need a plumber to come and locate it and provide you with an estimate. You can use this estimate when communicating with insurance, should the necessity arise. 

If you are a renter, the situation is a bit more complicated. Most of the time, water damage should be the landlord’s responsibility, but there are exceptions.

The landlord is obliged to carry out major repairs (ex. Natural disaster, serious plumbing issues) that are necessary for the maintenance and normal upkeep of the rented premises (as per, Article 6C of the law of July 6, 1989). The tenant, however, is expected to carry out routine maintenance, and minor repairs are also to be paid by the tenant. If the problem is the result of the tenant failing to maintain the property, then it will be the tenant’s responsibility to cover the cost of the repair.

Legally speaking, it is also the tenant’s responsibility to get the boiler serviced once a year, as well as to maintain the faucets and joints, and to avoid clogging the pipes.

READ MORE: Assurance habitation: How to get home insurance in France

If you end up in dispute with your landlord over costs, you can always reach out to ADIL, the national Housing Association which offers free legal advice for housing issues in France. 

What happens if the leak is coming from my neighbour’s property?

Both you and your neighbour should contact your respective housing insurance companies and file the ‘sinistre’ (damage) with them.

If you both agree on the facts you can file an amiable (in a friendly fashion), then matters are much more simple and you will not have to go through the back-and-forth of determining fault.

If having a friendly process is not possible, be sure to get an expert to assert where the leak is coming from and file this with your insurance company.

As always, keep evidence (lists and photographs) of the damage. Keep in mind that many insurance providers have a limited number of days after the start of the damage that you can file. Better to do it sooner than later, partially because, as with most administrative processes in France, it might take a bit of time.

Vocab

Plumbing has its own technical vocabulary so here are some words and phrases that you’re likely to need;

Hello, I have a leak in my home. I would like to request that a plumber come to give me an estimate of the damage and cost for repairs – Bonjour, j’ai une fuite chez moi. Je voudrais demander qu’un plombier vienne me donner une estimation des dégâts et du coût de la réparation. 

It is an emergency: C’est une urgence

I have no hot water: Je n’ai pas d’eau chaude

The boiler has stopped working: La chaudière ne fonctionne plus.

I cannot turn my tap off: Je ne peux pas arrêter le robinet.

The toilet is leaking: Mes toilettes fuient.

The toilet won’t flush/ is clogged: Mes toilettes sont bouchées

There is a bad smell coming from my septic tank: Il y a un mauvaise odeur provenant de ma fosse septique

I would like to get my electricity / boiler safety checked: Je souhaiterais une vérification de la sécurité de mon installation électrique / de ma chaudière

I can smell gas: Ca sent le gaz

My washing machine has broken: Ma machine a laver est cassée

Can you come immediately? Est-ce que vous pouvez venir tout de suite?

When can you come? Quand est-ce que vous pouvez venir?

How long will it take? Combien de temps cela prendra-t-il ?

How much do you charge? Quels sont vos prix? / Comment cela va-t-il coûter?

How can I pay you? Comment je peux vous payer ? 

Here are the key French vocabulary words for all things plumbing-related:

Dishwasher – Lave vaisselle

Bath – Baignoire

Shower – Douche

Kitchen Sink – Évier

Cupboard – Placard

Water meter – Compteur d’eau

The Septic Tank – La fosse septique

A leak – Une fuite

Bathroom sink – Le lavabo

The toilet – La toilette

Clogged – Bouché

To overflow – Déborder

A bad smell – Une mauvaise odeur

The flexible rotating tool used to unclog a pipe (and also the word for ferret in French) – Furet 

Water damage – Dégât des eaux

The damage – Le sinistre

And finally, do you know the French phrase Sourire du plombier? No, it’s not a cheerful plumber, it’s the phrase used in French for when a man bends down and his trouser waistband falls down, revealing either his underwear or the top of his buttocks. In Ebglish it’s builder’s bum, in French ‘plumber’s smile’.

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