Retiring to France: A Complete Guide

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You’ve worked hard and paid your dues, and now it’s finally time for you to take your well-deserved retirement. And you don’t want to retire just anywhere. Oh, no.

You’re going to take the plunge and bring your retirement to France. Why not? From Paris to Marseille, Nice to Nantes, there’s no shortage of places to set up shop and kick your feet back.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about retiring to France before you tell the grandkids to come visit.

Can I retire to France?

This all depends on which country you’re from. You may need additional French visas or paperwork (or both).

Retirees from the European Union

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EU/EEA retirees will need to prove their EU citizenship in order to live in France. Health insurance is also required. A residence permit is not required, but the option to apply for it is available.

The first five years of living in France are subject to certain conditions, such as proof of income/pension. After five years, you have a legal right to remain in France without conditions.

Retirees from outside the European Union

Citizens from any other country will generally need to apply for a long-stay visa, which requested at the French consulate in their original country. There are two types available:

  1. The VLS-TS, which is valid from four to 12 months
  2. The carte de séjour à solliciter, which is normally valid for only three months, but discussing your situation with your consulate can be extended depending on your timeline

The VLS-TS visa acts as a residence permit before you arrive in France, which saves you from applying for residence as soon as you set foot on French soil. This will last a maximum of one year. You must arrive in France within three months after your visa has been issued.

Within three months of arriving in France, you must send the form called demande d’attestation OFII (that you received with your visa) to the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration (French Immigration and Integration Office, or better known in France as just OFII). They’ll send you a confirmation that your visa now counts as a residence permit.

Once a year you will need to renew your visa/residence permit with OFII to be able to stay in France. You will also need to apply for a carte de séjour visiteur (French identity card) once settled.

With the carte de séjour à solliciter, you will need to apply for a residence permit within two months of landing in France from your local prefecture. You may also need to pay a small visa tax, depending on your visa and nationality.

What documents do I need to retire to France?

Before leaving, it’s generally good to have the following documents on-hand, saved on a computer or in the cloud:

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  • Your birth certificate
  • Your marriage or divorce certificate, if applicable
  • Your spouse’s death certificate, if applicable
  • Your degrees or any qualifications
  • Your driver’s licence
  • Your medical and immunization records (i.e. prescriptions, X-rays)

It’s best to have multiple copies of these documents available as well. It is likely you will need some of these documents again if you choose to apply for health insurance in France, for example. France is notorious for their paperwork, so it’s best to prepare early and have all your documents organized in advance.

Specific documents relevant to your actual move to France include:

  • Your passport with signature, valid for three months after you leave
  • A long-term stay application form (signed, dated, notarized)
  • Proof of medical insurance, if applicable
  • Proof of income/pension plan/bank statements
  • Proof of legal status from your home country (i.e. green card, identity card)
  • Letter confirming you will not seek employment in France

Ask your local French consulate if any other documents are required before your departure. The French government also offers a handbook (available in English) that details everything you need to know before and after moving to France.

You may need to have some or all of your documents translated by an official translator. The French consulate can give you more details.

Where are the best places to retire in France?

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This all depends on the type of lifestyle you’re looking for. As the French capital, Paris is busy, metropolitan and full of city-charm. There are tons of things to do (touristy or not), and 20 arrondissements (and beyond!) with different styles to choose from. However, being the capital, it is also the most expensive option.

If you prefer a more countryside vibe, the region of Brittany is a good choice. It is especially popular among British retirees for its close proximity to the UK.

Bordeaux is popular, situated in the southwest of France. Who can resist a historic city in the heart of the French wine region?

The Normandy region, in the northeast of France, is also popular for reasonable housing prices and mild summers. The region of Dordogne is another area that offers these qualities.

For something more inland, Limousin is quickly becoming a hotspot for its cheap living prices and its off-the-beaten-track vibe.

The rural communities may seem daunting for someone whose French isn’t up to snuff, but there are typically large groups of English-speaking expats already living there who are always willing to connect and help a newcomer out.

Moving to France from the UK?Find out all you need to know about the process, pre and post Brexit in this dedicated article on moving to France from the UK.

Moving to France from the USA?Find out all about how to proceed, from your visa to healthcare in this guide dedicated to moving from the US to France.

What’s the weather like in France?

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The Mediterranean south of France will be the warmest and most pleasant in summers, compared to metropolitan areas like Paris where summers can succumb to humidity. In the winter, however, the weather is mild.

In the mountainous areas of the Alps or Pyrenees, winters will be coldest and harshest. Summers are milder.

On average, though, temperatures don’t swing too dramatically to either end of the thermometer. An average French winter sits between 0°C to 8°C (32°F to 46°F), and an average French summer will be between 16°C to 23°C (61°F to 75°F) in the summer. It’ll get hotter the further inland you go.

What are the costs of living in France?

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Housing will most likely be your biggest expense. Living in Paris will put the most pressure on your wallet due to its wide popularity and central location. You would need around 850 to 1000 Euros a month to live comfortably in the city centre, excluding rental costs.

If you choose to retire in a more rural area, this cost can drop dramatically. Living comfortably in Nantes or Marseille would only cost you 600 to 700 Euros a month, and would get you out of the Parisian hustle and bustle too.

Things like wine are cheap, ranging from 4 to 8 Euros. Baguettes are roughly 1 Euro each, and pastries and sandwiches can range between 3 to 9 Euros as well, depending on the location. Buying from your local farmer’s market can reduce food costs when it comes to fruits and vegetables, and will taste fresher as well!

Utility costs in France (gas and electricity) are relatively cheap compared to the rest of the European Union. For North American retirees, mobile and internet costs are much cheaper than back home.

The website Numbeo offers rough averages of popular expenses in France. By choosing the city that interests you in the drop-down box, you can get an idea of how many Euros you’ll need for rent, food, and leisure activities.

Considering opening a French bank accountIt’ll be much easier to have all your funds in France versus transferring them from your home country and you can avoid any international transfer fees. If possible, do this before you arrive in France. Some banks (such as HSBC) allow you to have multiple international bank accounts, so transferring funds is easy.

Healthcare in France

The French healthcare system is highly regarded worldwide. EU/EEA retirees can access the system with their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). For those without one, doctor’s appointments cost roughly 25 Euros.

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However, if you’ve applied for a long-stay visa, you should be retiring to France with healthcare already. One of the requirements for such a visa is to have health insurance previously arranged. If you’d like, though, you can also apply for a carte vitale (France’s health card) after you’ve settled in.

If you’re an EU citizen who receives state pension from an EU country, the French government will cover 70% of your medical costs. You must cover the remaining costs with top-up insurance.

If you’re an EU citizen who has retired before qualifying for state pension from an EU country, the French government will cover you for up to 30 months. However, this is only if you’ve completed the E106 form from your country’s social security department.

Some non-EU citizens can receive full or partially-covered healthcare depending on their country’s healthcare system and agreement with the French system.

Pensions and taxes in France

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Make sure you tell the tax authorities in your home country about your move. When you become a resident in France, you are taxed on your worldwide income. So if you’re taking your pension from another country, it must be declared in France. You will also be subject to capital gains taxes on things like investments. However, these amounts can be reduced depending on the amount of time the investment has been held.

Some tax-free investments in your home country may not be tax-free in France, such as dividends, premium bond winnings, or UK cash ISAs. If you receive any lump sums from your retirement funds, these will be taxed also.

The French tax system takes into account how many “parts” or family members there are in a household. This means a single, divorced or widowed person is one part, whereas a married couple is two parts. With a couple without children, the income will be divided in two. The tax will be based on this amount, then multiplied by the number of “parts.” This can benefit a retired couple if one partner receives a higher pension. There is also a 10% reduction on incomes up to 36,000 Euros.

 If you are a UK retiree who qualifies for a UK state pension, you can claim it in France and receive it in Euros directly in a French bank account without any fees or charges.

 If you are an American retiree you can take your pension to France, but remember to alert the tax authorities about the move and that you will be paying French tax on it.

 For retirees of other nationalities, check in with your local pension service for more information.

Make sure to speak with a financial advisor or your French consulate for more information on how pensions and taxes in France affect foreigners.

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