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Reader question: Can I spend the winter in France to avoid huge energy bills?

All around Europe energy bills are soaring, while customers in France are among the best protected from spiralling bills, thanks to the government price shield - but rules on immigration, tax and work mean that spending the winter in France to avoid big bills may not be feasible for many.

Reader question: Can I spend the winter in France to avoid huge energy bills?
In France gas prices are frozen at 2021 levels until at least the end of the year. Photo by BARBARA SAX / AFP

Obviously a lot depends on your personal circumstances – maybe you already own property in France, perhaps you have a friend or family member in France who is prepared to put you up for the winter, or perhaps you have a short term tenancy in your home country that you can cancel.

However, before you consider any of this, you need to look at France’s rules on immigration, tax and work.

Immigration

Here a lot depends on where you are from – if you have a passport from an EU country, then under freedom of movement you have the right to move to France with fairly minimal paperwork.

For non-EU citizens like Brits, however, it’s more complicated.

Since Brexit the 90-day rule applies – you can find a full explanation of the rule HERE, but in brief you either need to limit your visits to 90 days in every 180 or get a visa.

The 90-day limit obviously rules out spending the whole winter in France, although you could just come here for three months during the coldest months, provided you haven’t already used up some of your 90 days with trips earlier in the year – and it’s important to note that the 90-day rule applies to time spent anywhere in the EU/Schengen zone, not just France.

If you want to stay longer than that, you will need a visa and you will need to decide whether you apply as a worker, self-employed, retired etc – full details HERE.

Visas come with a fee – usually €99, plus extra costs for having documents translated and trips to your nearest French consulate.

Work

If you are retired then this won’t affect you, but if you are of working age then you need to consider how you will support yourself in France, and again this comes down to which passport you have.

EU citizens have the right to both live and work in France, but non-EU citizens will probably need a visa if they intend to work.

If you are here under the 90-day rule you cannot work in France, since you are classed as a visitor. Likewise certain visa types, like the visitor visa, require you to undertake not to work while you are in France.

The two main visas for people who intend to work in France are the employee visa – which you need a job offer from a French company in order to get – and the self-employed visa. This visa type requires, among other things, a full business plan and financial details. 

So what about remote working? This is a bit of a grey area and plenty of people might log on to their laptop and do a bit of work for their employer back home while they are on a short visit to France.

If, however, you intend to stay longer in France then factors like the nature of your work, the length of your stay and your tax situation all determine whether this is allowed or not – full details HERE.

Tax

Which brings us to tax. The French government’s position is that if you spend more than six months of the year in France then you are a resident, and all residents in France are required to file the annual tax declaration.

So while spending the winter in France might not affect that, if you also had a few weeks here during the summer you could find yourself slipping over the limit and being considered a tax resident.

Tax residency rules apply to everyone, including EU citizens.

Find out more about tax obligations HERE.

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ENERGY

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

The cost for one tonne of the wood pellets used to power wood-burners or stoves has doubled since the beginning of 2021.

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

Question: We have a poêle in our home in south west France and we have noticed that the price of the wood pellets has rocked in recent months – is this an issue all over France? And why?

Although French consumers are largely shielded from the rocketing prices of gas and electricity seen in many European countries, there is one heating method that has not escaped rising costs – wood-burners.

Many French homes have either open fires or log-burners known as poêles, and the most efficient thing to burn in these are specially created wood pellets known as either pellets or granulés de bois

How much do they cost?

On September 20th, Eric Vial, the director of Propellet, the national association of wood pellet heating professionals, told Actu France that the price has almost doubled since last summer.

“Today, a tonne can be bought for about €600. At the beginning of 2021, it would be €300, €350”, Vial told Actu France on September 20th.

The pellets are usually sold in either DIY stories, specialist outlets or hypermarkets and of course the retail prices vary, but in most cases stores have had no choice but to pass the cost increases on to customers.

Why the increase?

Wood pellets have increased in price for several reasons, namely increased demand and higher production costs.

First, demand for wood pellets increased significantly this year. It also came earlier than it normally does, as people began preparing for winter earlier. Many customers placed order before the start of production for 2022.

“The supply is restricted compared to the demand,” explained a spokesperson for Propellet to La Depeche.

The increased demand amid concerns of energy shortages this winter came alongside a general trend of more installations of pellet-burners in France, as installations are supported by the government in an effort to reduce pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. Households can benefit from State aids and subsidies to install new or refurbish old heating systems.

READ MORE: Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

Between 2020 and 2021, sales of pellet stoves have increased by 41 percent and sales of pellet boilers by 120 percent.

Stores across the country have been forced to limit sales with demand outpacing supply. One such shop is the Weldom store in Fleurance, near Toulouse, who found themselves out of stock in late September. Store owners told La Depeche that they have “a lot of demand at the moment” and if the re-stock delivery “does not arrive, it will be a loss for the store.”

Prices are also rising is due to increased production costs.

According to Propellet, production expenses first increased during the pandemic when plastic and metal elements needed for the creation of pellets were more difficult to find. Currently, the issue facing the industry is the price of electricity. 

Vial explained Actu France that “To manufacture pellets, you need electricity. Because of what is happening in Ukraine, [the price of electricity] has increased a lot.”

According to Christian Lejeune, the manager of the sawmill in Grand-Est, several companies that supply wood pellets are more directly impacted by the war in Ukraine. “They imported their supplies from Ukraine or Belarus,” explained Lejeune to Republicain Lorrain.

Unlike electricity and gas, wood pellets have not fallen under a government price shield to protect consumers from price increases related to inflation. 

READ MORE: LATEST: France to set maximum 15 percent gas and electricity price rises for 2023

Some local politicians, such as the MP for the Ardennes area, Pierre Cordier, have begun pushing for wood pellets to be covered by a price shield, as well as for action to be taken to protect against possible shortages. 

The Minister of Environment, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, responded to Cordier’s requests on September 13th, saying that the government has “taken measures to promote the production of pellet and not be in a supply impasse.” 

The details of such measures were not yet communicated as of September 26th, but according to the Prime Minister’s press conference detailing the extension of the energy shield for electricity and gas, households that use wood-burners will also benefit from the cheque energie, depending on their level of income.

Is there concern about a shortage?

Propellet told La Depeche that “we are not yet in a situation of shortage” instead they are concerned about “temporary strains.”

The association of wood pellet heating professionals expects that the situation will have “smoothed over in the coming months” but this will depend largely on the weather. A colder winter would increase demand.

In the event of a harsh winter, France might need to import wood pellets from other countries, which could prove problematic, as the situation for many other countries is “similar” to France in that there is increased consumer interest in purchasing wood pellets, according to Vial. 

The sector hopes to double its production capacity by 2028, and to distribute an additional one million tonnes between 2021 and 2024. 

On September 22nd, TotalEnergies inaugurated a new pellet bagging and bulk centre.

The plant, which was set up in partnership with the organisation Sea Invest, is intended to boost supplies by increasing the site’s processing capacity from 25,000 metric tons to 50,000 metric tons within three years. Pellets produced will be distributed in a 200 km area around Rouen.

What about firewood?

Consumers have also found themselves paying more for firewood due to a rise in demand – prices have gone up 20 percent since June, according to BFMTV.

When asked about the rising price of wood, the prime minister said that her administration would “look carefully at why wood has a high cost” adding that she believes it “can be produced on our territory.”

“We have forests in France so it will also be interesting to look at whether some people are not taking advantage of the crisis to increase prices,” said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

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