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Why France?*

No other country offers as much diversity of many kinds as France. Within or touching its borders are two major mountain ranges, the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, the pounding Atlantic Ocean, rolling plains, wandering river valleys lined by beautiful historic chateaux, and a high-speed train network linking all these places. France’s historical diversity too is unmatched ranging from its famous prehistoric cave paintings in the Dordogne region to the more recent world wars fought largely on French soil. Additionally, France’s world famous cuisine too is unequaled in terms of its taste and diversity. This diversity in food has even influenced French politics. Former president Charles de Gaulle was once quoted saying “How can one conceive of a one-party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheeses?"

While this great diversity may explain why more people visit France each year than any other country, is it enough to attract people to retire there?

For some people who are looking for a change in life, yes. But there are two other strong attractions for many retirees and pre-retirees. France is uncrowded in comparison to other European countries, and property prices there are relatively cheap. Per square kilometer, France has less than half as many inhabitants as the United Kingdom and over four-and-a-half times fewer than the Netherlands! Property prices in France across the board from its cities to the countryside are less expensive than other countries in Northern Europe, particularly the UK.

Where in France?
This completely depends on one’s taste. Regions that traditionally have been popular for retirement include the Côte d’Azur along the eastern Mediterranean coast and the Lake Annecy region in the Alps. However, as these regions have become more popular which in turn has driven up property prices, retirees and pre-retirees are now often looking elsewhere.

One region which more recently has become increasingly popular among retirees,particularly retirees from the UK, is the Dordogne region in southwestern France. Not only does the region offer stunning scenery, delicious food (after all, this region is home to fois gras), relatively inexpensive property, there are now low-price airline flights to the UK making friends and family back there never too far away.

Another increasing trend is for retirees and pre-retirees from outside of France to move to rural villages in France. For people who truly want to get away from the hustle and bustle, and who want to have land for a vineyard or to grow their own food, this is the answer. In the second half of the last century, the population in many rural villages in France significantly declined as younger people moved away to larger cities in search of work. The result is that one can find a good number of homes near these villages at reasonable prices, although many of the homes need fixing up. The French village residents generally welcome newcomers as the influx of new foreign residents stimulates the local economy and keeps the villages from dying out altogether.

Before you move
Before considering a move to France, you will need to do a fair amount of research and planning. Far beyond just choosing where to live and what kind of visa to apply for, there are numerous important “administrative” issues that you will need to sort through. These issues, whilst never simple, will be made all the more complicated by this being an international move. A few of the main ones include taxes, pensions, estate planning, and medical insurance.

Fortunately, there are resources on the internet that provide advice on many of the issues you will need to deal with. One site that provides information on a wide range of issues for people moving to France is www.frenchentree.com This site even contains an article by an Australian couple who decided to move to France, and they share some of their experiences.

Additionally, there are books available that provide advice on buying property in France as well as other practical things you will need to know if you live in France. One such book which provides a wide range of useful information is 'Living and Working in France' by David Hampshire.

A last bit of advice, learn to speak French if you don’t know it already. Despite the growing awareness in France of the importance of being able to speak English, many French people still do not speak it. In the big cities where many people do speak English it is possible to get away without speaking any French. But even then it can be frustrating at times not knowing it, for example when you need to call to get your utilities turned on. Beyond this, knowing how to speak French will make your experience of living in France so much more colourful. It will enable you to mix with the community, and will reduce the chance of you feeling isolated from the world around you – something that can easily enough happen living in a new country far away from family, friends, and your familiar surroundings.

Final words
Increasing numbers of people are choosing to retire in France, and it is easy to see why. No other country offers as much variety in nearly every sense of the word as France does, and affordable property can still be found. However, before you make your move, do your research and learn enough French to get by. Having done this you will surely enjoy life in the country known for its art de vivre (art of living).

*David Sweet is the French correspondent for www.where2now.net