I came to Jersey from the UK back in 2007 and we made the move to Brittany early in 2011, initially renting an apartment in our chosen area and buying our house in late 2011. Moving to France is something of a leap of faith, we have spoken to others any number of times over the years and the one common theme seems to be, ‘ooh you are so lucky and so brave to try it’! Well we would agree with the lucky as we feel blessed to have found an area we adore and feel settled in and a house that we love. I have been sharing my time since 2011 initially alternating 1 week in France and 1 week in Jersey and latterly 2 weeks each way.., at least until the beginning of 2020, unfortunately things have been a lot different since then and Brexit has the potential to make matters yet more tiresome but more of that later!
I am an employee of a UK base international company but in the Jersey office (and being registered as a Jersey company), the time I spend in France is wholly and solely spent working on my Jersey based work for Jersey based clients, I am neither qualified or registered to practice as a Chartered Surveyor in France nor do I have any intention to pursue such a route. When first planning our move to France we consulted with the Jersey tax office in relation to my employment and tax status and they confirmed that as a Jersey based employee my tax and ITIS would remain based in Jersey, there is no allowance or arrangement for individuals working overseas and it would probably be unwise to lose that classification in any case as we depend on Jersey for our essential healthcare and my company/contributory pension scheme is based in Jersey. They specifically advised that we should be careful in relation to the amount of time we spend in France as even at that time spending any more than 6 months in France in any given year could mean we would be liable for taxation in France and we would be ‘double-taxed’.
Much has been made with Brexit of second home owners in Europe and specifically France not being able to spend more than 90 days in any 6 month period in the country without having to apply for a visa. In principle this is little different to the previous situation and in our particular case will mean no initial difference, that is until the time I reach retirement when we would hope to be able to retire to France or at least be able to spend more time there. In the interim we have made sure that we keep good records, I in fact have kept details of every trip between Jersey and France since we started the ‘commute’. We have not been challenged or asked for proof at any time in the last 10 years but it pays to be prepared!
Because we are not French resident or tax payers we of course do not qualify to join their health system being deemed as ‘etranger’ or strangers basically being holiday home owners (or a ‘maison secondaire’). A slightly unusual situation as we actually needed a mortgage to buy our property and this was sourced from the local bank, part of ‘Credit Mutuel de Bretagne’). We were amazed at how smoothly and easily obtaining the mortgage was from the French bank, initially becoming account holders and regularly transferring funds on a monthly basis. They did require us to declare at purchase that it was our primary home, once the purchase was completed they happily re-classified it as ‘maison secondaire’ and all bank correspondence since then has been sent to our Jersey address. We were told by our fluent in spoken English bank manager that this was all satisfactory provided we promise her not to leave or default on the mortgage payments! Nothing specifically written but actually for us to say to her that ‘we promise’!! The French have a subtly different approach to things, quite endearing and notably ‘honourable’ in their way of going about things of this sort.
Having successfully bought our house we had to register it with the local ‘prefetture’ and we receive annual bills (though now at last payable monthly) in terms of ‘habitation tax’, ‘fonciere tax’ and one other whose name escapes me but literally is ‘housewives tax’ (I’m not joking, this literally is in respect of rubbish collection etc.). Even the French equivalent of the TV license is included as part of the habitation tax. Other bills are set up with direct-debit from our French account in respect of electricity (EDF), water (Suez-Eau) and phone and internet (France Telecom/Orange). Varying degrees of difficulty in terms of setting these up, Suez-Eau are a fairly new company (taking over from the previously incumbent and much better organised Veolia) and proved troublesome initially for everyone but now improving. EDF and Orange have English speaking helplines for setting up initially as well as later on should you have problems.
Returning to the question of health insurance, as mentioned we are not on the French system, it is possible if you are living there full time but requires applying through the relevant local office and would require a monthly contribution which the last time I was aware was quite expensive (possible over €100 per person per month) and if this is something required you’d need to research, in all likelihood this has now changed with Brexit! Since making the move we have made sure we always carry an up to date ‘attestation form’ from Jersey (regularly needing to be stamped as up to date in Jersey at Philip le Feuvre House. This gives cover under a reciprocal agreement between Jersey and France but only covers emergency healthcare and hospitalisation, repatriation if needed and (again) this may yet be affected by Brexit, its too early to say yet. For this reason we have also always maintained an up to date and valid travel insurance policy covering all risks, healthcare etc. providing cover all year round (so useful for holidays etc. as well!).
Having bought a property insurance is essential, worth knowing that the French approach to home and contents insurance is slightly different to that in the UK or Jersey in that if you make a claim the insurer will look for someone else to blame! A friend of ours damaged an expensive top of the range iPad, claimed for it and was told that he could claim it off someone else’s insurance had he been at their house at the time but were unhelpful in meeting a claim on his own insurance. We have always insured our home and contents in France with a UK based insurer specifically aimed at expat owned second homes and it has been good value for money and peace of mind. We have had one claim over the years due to storm damage and a British loss adjuster visited us and sorted out our claim quickly and efficiently recommending builders and the funds were transferred in euros to our French bank account quickly. For car insurance (we keep a car in France permanently) this is insured through the bank we use and includes a breakdown/recovery service similar to the AA or Green Flag in the UK.
Finally it is worth setting up an account with a currency exchange company, we use Smart Currency Exchange in London which set you up with an account having all your bank details etc. set up so making a transfer is quick and easy over the phone and the exchange rate tracks the Stirling/euros exchange rate closely, the exchange rate is usually about 1 or 2 centime per euro below the actual rate but there are no charges for the transfer and larger amounts will of course get a slightly better rate.
Well I seem to have written you a book here but there is much to know, learn and understand but with care and patience it pays off in our experience. All of this has of course been affected by Coronavirus meaning in the last year we have only had a few weeks at home in France but unfortunately there is little alternative at present. If you have further questions I am happy to try and help if I can but bear in mind, we all keep learning every day!
RL - February 2021