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Cutting back and applying for benefits: How Brits living in France have been hit by weak pound

In recent weeks, the pound has become weaker when compared to other currencies, namely the euro. This has made life more complicated for Brits living in France. The Local asked readers to share their experiences - and advice - for others who find themselves in the same situation.

Cutting back and applying for benefits: How Brits living in France have been hit by weak pound
Sterling pounds coins and bankotes displayed on a table, in London. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

While the pound is still low when compared to other currencies, it has recovered somewhat since its drop after the British Chancellor’s mini-budget.

As of October 5th, the exchange rate was £1 to €1.14. For British people living in France who receive income in pounds sterling – whether they be pensioners or others with financial interests still in the UK – the drop in the pound’s value has had negative impacts.

The Local reached out to readers to hear how they have been affected by the exchange rate. Many offered their tips for navigating the current economic landscape.

Many readers found life still affordable, but expected to be more severely impacted in the future. Retiree A. Wood, who lives in Haute Vienne, said that “The recent drop in the value of the pound will not immediately affect me. If it remains low for more than a year then maybe I will have to do some calculating.”

Pensioners especially said that life in France had become “more expensive” and “costlier” for them, but being aware of price rises and managing the changes “with care” were plausible solutions for the time-being.

In general residents of France are better protected from inflation than many other European nations, thanks to government initiatives such as energy price caps and fuel rebates, but prices for many everyday items such as food have been rising steadily.

One respondent, Nigel Harrison, a retired former business consultant, said that weak pound has “not made life unaffordable, but worrying.” 

Meanwhile, some readers, all of whom are also retired, said that they were starting to feel more serious impacts of the exchange rate.

Retired librarian and micro entrepreneur, Pat Hallam, who has been living in Paris for the last two years, said that she receives her career pension in pounds, which she later transfers into euros by way of her French bank account.

She explained that she already works to supplement the cost of life in Paris, but now she expects to have to take on extra work.

She expects to also “cut back on things like socialising, eating out and culture.”

“Explaining this to friends will be hard, and it is what makes living in Paris a pleasure. I know the cost of living would be cheaper in other parts of France, but I’ve spent the last 2 years building a life in Paris, my dream destination. I would be very disappointed if events across the Channel forced me to move away, or even back to the UK,” she said.

READ MORE: The best banks for non-EU citizens living in France

Pat is not alone – Tom Baker, who is retired and lives in south-west France – said, “All my pensions are from the UK and the drop in exchange is definitely felt, coupled with the loss on transferring the money to France as I have five pensions.”

Baker explained that having his income drop has been particularly difficult “as a 74 year old with two young sons aged seven and 10” and amid “the present financial climate the cost of everything is spiralling.” 

Many readers said they would try to live on savings while waiting for the value of the pound to rise again, which has also posed its own problems, as many British bank accounts have begun closing the accounts of non-UK residents. 

John Stanley Mumford found himself in this situation, he said: “I have a pension in pounds. I will live on savings until the value of pound goes up! But, Barclays bank is to close my account as I am a French resident, so basically I’m stuffed!”

READ MORE: Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in France

Non-pensioners have also felt the impacts of a weak pound. One respondent discussed the dilemma of attempting to sell their UK home, and worrying about whether they should leave the money in pounds or transfer it to Euros afterwards. Others worried about their UK savings accounts.

Respondents did offer helpful advice for others in similar positions – ranging from tips to try to hold out for a better exchange rate to recommendations for how to become thriftier – like getting rid of unused streaming services and cutting back generally. 

Tom Baker said he recommends transferring funds “perhaps every three months to reduce the cost of transfer fees, which since Brexit have really increased.”

He also said that he checks the daily rate “for a week or 10 days before the transfer is needed to try and get a better each rate.” Others said if possible – wait until the pound recovers.

However, for those unable to hold out until the pound is stronger, several readers recommended apps and international banking services, such as Wise and Revolut as handy ways to find better exchange rates and avoid high fees when transferring between a UK bank and a French one. 

Finally, Pat Hallam counselled Brits living in France to consider applying for welfare benefits if necessary. She said even if you’ve never considered it, “either out of pride or because you didn’t think you were eligible, maybe now’s the time to look again.”

She also recommended tracking energy use more carefully via a smart metre: it “takes three months’ use before you can start comparing consumption but it helps keep track of your energy use.”

READ MORE: Living in France: How to cut your household energy use by 10% this winter

Many thanks to everyone who took part in our survey and shared their experiences and tips.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

The cost of living is a hot topic in France and across Europe right now - so where are the cheapest places to live?

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

At a time when purchasing power has never been so central to French people’s concerns, French daily Le Parisien has compiled a list of towns and cities where your money will go the furthest.

In order to produce this ranking, Le Parisien compiled the average salary in each location and then looked at the price of the average supermarket shop, the cost of transport (fuel as well as public transport), property prices (to buy or rent), property tax rates and the cost of a cinema ticket. 

READ ALSO Food, fuel and transport: Which prices will rise in France in 2023?

And it turns out smaller is better.

Of the 96 towns and cities tested, Niort, in the département of Deux-Sèvres in south west France (population around 60,000) came top,

Laval, in Mayenne (population around 50,000) was third; Saint-Brieuc, in the Brittany département of Côtes-d’Armor (population around 45,000), was 8th, and Rodez, down in the southern département of Aveyron (pop: c 25,000) was 10th.

The 20 most wallet-friendly towns in France are:

  1. Niort
  2. Châteauroux
  3. Laval
  4. Nevers
  5. Belfort
  6. Chaumont
  7. Épinal
  8. Saint-Brieuc
  9. Saint-Étienne
  10. Rodez
  11. Châlons-en-Champagne
  12. Quimper
  13. Arras
  14. Foix
  15. Poitiers
  16. Le Mans
  17. Colmar
  18. Montauban
  19. Bourg-en-Bresse
  20. Nantes

READ ALSO The 20 small towns most popular with house-hunters in France

Niort gains, the study found, in part because it has offered free local public transport since 2017 - a policy that other towns that rank well also implement, including second-placed Châteauroux (Indre), Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain, 24th) and Gap (Hautes-Alpes, 63rd).

For various reasons, including infrastructure, offering free public transport that meets higher levels of demand in larger cities is unviable, the report said. 

In fact, France’s larger cities are noticeably low in Le Parisien’s rankings. Lyon stumbled on to the list in 58th, Paris in 77th, Marseille 84th, and Montpellier 90th. Nantes, coming in 20th, is the only ‘large city’ representative in the top 20.

READ ALSO Wild boar, fast internet and kindly neighbours – why small-town France has the best of all worlds

The report stated that, despite salaries being little higher than average in larger conurbations, people also pay more for shopping, public transport, movie tickets, and housing.

The survey found that, on the whole, your euro goes further in the west of the country - where supermarkets are cheaper, and towns aren’t too congested, while the cost of a tank of fuel is lower, as are - researchers discovered - the more abstract costs, such as insurance, for the same level of service as elsewhere.

READ ALSO OPINION: An inflation ‘tsunami’ is about to hit France

Eastern France, the study found, benefited from relatively cheap property prices - offering more bang for a house-buying buck than the expensive ‘coastal bounce’-affected south or the Ile-de-France region, which orbits the cost-of-living singularity that is Paris.

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