Cross-Channel: not all one-way!
Moving to France
Thousands of us fancy the idea of acquiring a pied a terre on the other side of the Channel. Here's the story of those that make the move - and those that come back.
More than half a million Brits have second homes in France, while a further 100,000 live there permanently - and it's easy to understand why: there's the climate of course, the food, that wine lake and the lure of peace, quiet and a certain je ne sais quoi.
Berin Riley: Channel mover
The most popular destination has always been the south west of France but large British communities can also be found further south in Provence and Longuedoc Roussillon, as well as in the more weekend-accessible areas like Normandy and Brittany.
Berin Riley runs an Ashford-based removals company called Channel Moving. He says that in spite of climbing house prices in France, the demand from people living in the over-priced and over-crowded south east of England is still there:
"We've seen the French side of our business take off completely - we're getting about 10 to 15 enquiries each day from people in Kent either thinking of moving or just about to move to France."
Making the move
George and Christine Mason from Lordswood in Kent are just about to sell up and move to a very rural part of central France, south of Bourges. George explains their motivation:
"We've come to a time when we just want to do something with our lives. It's very crowded where we are and there are more and more houses being built.
"The language - we're struggling with that. It would be nice to have a proper conversation. We don't just want to go down there and mingle with British people - we want to be as French as we possibly can."
Expats: Peter and Josie Lambert
Many francophiles from the south east look closer to home when buying their own little part of France. Owning a place in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region means you can easily pop over for a weekend and enjoy French life without sacrificing your scarce holiday allowance.
John Ansell from Hawkhurst spends most of the year in Sangatte, the village just west of Calais made famous by its Red Cross centre for asylum seekers; Peter Lambert and his wife Josie live in Preures near Boulogne, from where the commute each day - to Rye; and Lynn Dockar lives just outside Boulogne and shares her time between the French fort and Folkestone in Kent.
But before making the big move over the Channel, experts urge caution and thorough research of the target region. Pauline Cowell used to run courses in buying property in France at Sevenoaks adult education centre:
VIDEO: house hunting in Normandy
"People have lots of worries but basically the things to look out for are language, finance and the legal side - there are lots of hidden costs that people aren't aware of."
One way around the language barrier, is to deal with English estate agents in France who can talk you through the process in words you understand. There are also more and more English-speaking 'after sales' people who can help with everything from finding a plumber to transferring cash to a foreign bank account.
However as with most moves [changing jobs or even partners], the grass is usually greener on the other side. The grim fact is that of all Brits that relocate to la belle France, 70% of them come back within 3 years. Amongst their reasons for returning are language, bureaucracy, missing family and friends, dull winter months, oh and language again.
Furthermore, earning a good living in France can be a real challenge. The rate of unemployment is three times higher than the UK, and salaries are significantly lower. Until recently, removal vans used to head to France full, and come back empty. Now they're coming back loaded, bringing English people back from France.
Berin Riley: "The reasons why people move back is usually down to a change of circumstances in the family or illness, but I also think there's an issue with employment. It may not be as easy for people to find work as they first expected and after a couple of years some people move back and get back into the rat race."
But it's not all one-way traffic - plenty of French are swapping sides too, in favour of working and living conditions over here. At the last count, 300,000 French nationals were believed to be living in the south east of England.
Over here: Marc Anger from Cote Sud
Joel Grosse is a Frenchman from the Loire Valley who now owns a traditional Kentish pub with a French restaurant, appropriately called 'Froggies'.
"Some people say 'what are you doing over here' - but France is not that easy, the administration takes so long."
He had a business in France before, which he says was a nightmare. Last time Joel advertised for a chef, he got more than 600 replies from all over France.
Another Frenchman who's moved to Kent is Marc Anger. He runs a French market stall at Kent farmer's markets, something he'd never attempt back in France.
"In France, whenever you want to do business, you really have to go through a lot of hurdles. In England you can just go ahead with it."
So, if you are tempted by the smell of garlic wafting across the English Channel, perhaps it's advisable to try before you buy.
last updated: 27/05/2008 at 15:41