Planning your retirement in France

Some people retire abroad to make their pensions go much, much further than they would at home. You can live like a prince in Thailand or Ecuador on a teacher's pension, or do very well for yourself in Portugal even though your pension pot isn't huge. France, on the other hand, isn't a "cheap as chips" destination - it's a very developed country with high standards of living. The lifestyle is great - but you will pay for it.

Numbeo (a great resource for comparing prices across countries) shows a single person in Paris would need nearly EUR 900 a month to live on - excluding rental costs. That's about the same as London - and nearly double the cost of living in Lisbon. However, if you look outside the capital, regional cities are much more accessible in cost, while smaller towns offer cheaper living costs still.

Numbeo reckons living in Montpellier - a city with a big university population and thriving tech sector - would cost EUR 754 a month, and Marseille is a bargain at EUR 655 a month. That's about £7,000 a year.

Numbeo's figures miss out one huge cost, of course, which is that of property. Again, while major cities like Paris, Nice and Bordeaux have high property prices, these aren't representative of the country as a whole. If you're looking for a bargain basement cottage for less than EUR 50,000 - or to afford a chateau on a middle-ranking accountant's pension! - look at Berry (Indre), Limousin (Creuse, Correze, Haute-Vienne), or Brittany (Cotes d'Armor, Finisterre) or Maine (Mayenne and Sarthe). You'll need to factor in local taxes, and those, too, vary significantly by region - they're generally more in the cities, less in villages; lower income pensioners may get rebates, and recent changes mean 80% of households should be exempt from taxe d'habitation.

Houses, cars and wine in FranceGetting used to French life isn't just about getting used to the level of costs overall; the balance of costs is very different. For instance, alcoholic drinks are much cheaper than in the UK (and you can get some good beers from supermarkets now, if you're not a wine drinker), while DIY supplies are significantly more expensive. Cheap plonk can cost less than two euros a bottle, and EUR 6 will get you something quite nice, particularly if you use the supermarket's foire aux vins special offers in September/October.

A three course meal for two in a restaurant will set you back an average EUR 46 - but then the repas de midi ouvrier (worker's lunch) or set menu in the evening in a rural restaurant might cost only 9-12 euros each, and standards are often very high.

Though cars sell at new prices similar to the European average, secondhand cars are more expensive in France than elsewhere (there's not much of a fleet market and French drivers tend to hang on to their cars for a long time); some Brits buy left-hand-drive cars in the UK to re-register in France. Many motorways charge tolls, and more are expected to begin charging, so driving long distance can be expensive, despite relatively cheap petrol prices. On the other hand, public transport is generally cheaper, and SNCF offers a 'Carte Senior' giving significant savings for rail users.

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French healthcareFrench healthcare system

Healthcare will also be a cost, though retired EU citizens will get free access to the state scheme when they reach their home country's pension age (if you're taking early retirement, you'll need to pay a contribution to the PUMA system, as will non-EU citizens). Each country has its own admin for claiming this - Brits should get an S1 notice entitling them to access the French scheme (it's not yet clear what will happen after Brexit). The system will give you 70-80% reimbursement of healthcare costs (100% in the case of certain chronic or long term conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, many heart conditions and long term mental health issues); you may want to contribute to a mutuelle for the remainder. You can reduce mutuelle costs by taking out a hospitalisation-only policy, for well below EUR 100 a month. Good news, mutuelles generally can't take pre-existing conditions into consideration when giving you a quote.

Note, though, that PUMA only starts when you've been resident in France for three months. You should get private health insurance cover for the first three months separately. PUMA is worked out at 8% of your net income, but disregards the first EUR 9611 of that income - so it's a good deal if you have a relatively low income, less so if you have a larger pension.

French houseOf course, all figures from this article are for the 'average' person. Only you know how your personal books balance, and you may spend very little compared to the average, or spend it on quite different things. One retired Londoner spends his money going to great rock'n'roll gigs - another devotes his spare time and money to his extensive garden in Haute-Vienne. Some people have discovered cheap ways of financing their lifestyles - a whole house in Correze has been fitted out with furniture bought at vides-greniers (village car boot sales) and refinished by the owner, while a retired architect found he could get a new fridge, hob and microwave from a depot vente (auction house) at a third less than he'd pay in the shops.

Then again, one homesick Brit paid to have a curry flown over from England to Bordeaux "because you just can't get a good curry in France". If you're planning to fly over your chicken tikka masalas every weekend, you may need a good deal more than £7,000 a year to live on!