The faltering French economy has given some Riviera expats reason to think about moving back to the UK. We spoke with two families who did ... or almost.
After 18 years of living in France, 62-year-old Glenda decided to move back when her husband passed away suddenly two years ago. He had recently retired from a position with a French company and under French retirement rules she was granted the surviving spouse’s share of his modest pension. But she hadn’t counted on the real cost of life in the UK and ended up sleeping on her sister’s sofa while looking for affordable accommodation in a decent area. “Rents around the major English cities are much more than we were paying on the Riviera,” she found.
Then came the healthcare problem. “As I’d been living out of the UK for more than two years and am too old to get a job, I didn’t qualify for NHS.” Having had the French Carte Vitale, she thought it would be easier but met problems from a health service hit ever harder by government austerity measures. She found that in Brighton the waiting time for a simple GP appointment was weeks. “In Grasse we could see our GP within a day and never had to wait for scans or X-rays.”
Glenda had kept up the rental on her little flat on the ground floor of a villa in Grasse because her sister, brother, nieces and nephews were all willing to chip in for the flat to remain available to them for weekend breaks and holidays from the UK. “I managed to keep my Carte Vitale, too, and my mail still goes to the flat so for the French, I’ve never left.” After spending Christmas in the UK with her family, she has moved back to Grasse for good.
Dave and Sue, in their thirties with two young children also thought they’d be moving in light of ever-rising taxes on their little French gardening business. Their main concern was France’s unfriendly business culture and dubious economic future under the current government. They’ve since looked at things in a more considered way and decided to stay.
One of their main concerns was property prices. The value of their French house has remained stagnant for several years and Britain’s rising property prices meant that they would get nothing comparable in the UK for the euro price they could expect on the sale of their house in the Var, where according to Dave, “It’s a buyers’ market but we would have been sellers.
“We looked at that, plus the cost of decent private UK healthcare coverage for the whole family and good private education for the kids. In our case, after making all the calculations, France won, hands down.”
The clincher came when they spoke to Sue’s sister in Manchester who told them that a quarter of the family budget went for childcare for her two children and her husband’s annual rail commute from their semi-rural home to his job came to more than £3500.
So Dave and Sue decided to stay and confided, “We don’t expect Hollande to be in office for long.”
We found a few expats who were happy to have returned, if only to escape the melancholy of French moods at the moment. “It was either glum people or glum weather,” said one 65-year-old retiree who had lived in Menton and worked for 27 years for a Monaco bank. “Better weather is just a short flight away, but these gloomy attitudes cling on like cobwebs.”
Our conclusion? It’s like crossing the road. Look both ways first.