Broadband attracts new wave of expats

High-speed internet has enabled a new generation of young couples to experience life in France

High-speed internet has enabled a new generation of young couples to experience life in France while pursuing a career.

If you thought that the demographic for expats in France was largely made up of retirees then you might be surprised to discover that almost half of expat property buyers in France are now under 50.

This rising trend has gone hand in hand with the increase in broadband coverage across France and enabled young couples and families to experience the good life while pursuing technology-driven careers from the countryside.

The last decade has seen a phenomenal rise in the number of under-50s settling in France and, according to TSD estate agent Darius Wash-bourne, "42% of non-French property buyers in the last five years have been under the age of 50."

This trend has emerged alongside the growing availability of broadband technology across France. A 2006 notaire survey found the average age of British property buyers (who make up around 70% of overseas sales) was 52, but Alistair Lockhart, sales and marketing manager of French Property Agents, believes it has dropped since then to around 45.

"Now the younger person moving out can conceivably work and generate revenue from the middle of nowhere," he said.

Ten years ago just one-third of France could access broadband. However, by 2005 coverage had increased dramatically to 95%. Although some areas are still stuck with dial-up, this number has since grown to more than 98% of the population.

This has enabled a movement of IT-savvy and ambitious people to experience rural French life without comprising their career.

"Quite a few of the younger families have a fairly white-collar, professional IT background," Mr Lockhart said.

"This makes it possible for them to provide for their children and offer a more simple and healthier existence."

This scenario could not be more true for Richard Barley, 38, who moved out with his wife and three children to Foussais-Payré in the Vendée, in 2007, after feeling "less and less content with the materialistic attitudes" in the UK.

He wanted his family to "live a far more simple life".

His move was dependent on high-speed internet access so he could continue his consultancy work for a US-based software company.

"Without this access there is no way we could have made the move. Broadband was one of the top three factors that we gave to the estate agents."

Mr Barley continued in the same role for the first 18 months, but a management change meant he had to travel back to Britain every week.

While "stranded" in the UK, he spent a lot of time using Twitter (www.twitter.com) and helping others understand this emerging technology.

"The application I used to access Twitter was called TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com) and I soon became something of an expert.

"The creator of TweetDeck started to notice my expertise and we struck up an arrangement where I would help support and test the application in my spare time."

Once TweetDeck received some financial backing, Richard was offered the full-time role of community manager for the software. Due to his broadband access he could make this career move without leaving his rural home.

"There are many thousands of users worldwide now being supported and guided by me," he added.

"This is an exciting role. Thanks to my broadband link, I am happily straddling the sedate French rural life and the high-tech fast lane."

One partner staying in an IT-related role while the other changes occupation completely is also a common occurrence among younger expats.

"The trend is to live more simply and go back to basics," said Mr Lockhart.

People seeking a less stressful way of life can pursue a career that would not have been possible before.

What is also apparent is the speed at which such moves can be made. Louise Walder, 31, found herself looking at rental properties online one night while husband Dan, 28, was on a night out.

"I just decided one night to move to France," she said. "Dan was a new media manager for BT at the time, but as he was suffering from a stress-related illness he was looking to get out of sales."

Mrs Walder runs www.discount-cosmetics.net, a beauty website which imports cosmetics into the UK, so she could work anywhere that had decent broadband access.

"I am on email all day and without the internet I can’t keep in touch with the UK office or anyone else," she said. "I found a house on a forum and arranged to move as soon as Dan gave notice at work."

After renting in Thiviers in the Dordogne - and travelling between the UK and France as they gradually got used to their new lifestyle - they decided to buy in Brantôme earlier this year.

Mr Walder now works there for a local pallet company.

"He is out of his high pressure job and his health has been 100% since moving," said Louise.

So, are we going to start seeing a new-look France where the majority of expats are under 50?

This seems unlikely, as the effect of the post-war baby boom is likely to increase the numbers of people moving to France after retirement and greatly affect this current demographic trend.

"Millions of people are hitting 60 and are going to be retiring, which could change the statistics somewhat," Mr Lockhart confirms.

"At the moment we’re seeing the age going down, but in two years’ time we might be looking at a very different percentage as the demographic could shift again."

"Remote working has opened up our lives"

Being able to manage their careers through commuting and remote working is what prompted Jo and Andy Bond, both 35, to leave their offices in London for a more outdoors-based life with animals in the village of Perville, Tarn-et-Garonne.

During the first two years after the move in 2003 Jo carried on her job as a project manager for Barclays.

"I would commute weekly to Madrid during the first year and then Paris the second year," she said.

Andy, an internet engineer for NTT Communications, was able to continue in the same job he did in London as long as they had internet access.

"We couldn’t have moved without the internet - I’m online for at least eight hours per day and need to be contactable by phone at the same time for meetings," said Mr Bond.

Both Barclays and NTT have remote desktops to allow home workers virtual access from any computer with internet access.

This remote system eventually meant Jo could work for Barclays part-time and follow her dream of becoming a horse trainer.

"I would work for two weeks in Paris and then spend two weeks retraining in the Monty Roberts methods with Kelly Marks in the UK," said Mrs Bond.

"During those two years I also worked remotely from home using the internet to connect to my office."

Mrs Bond is now a highly-regarded natural horsemanship trainer running Bond With Your Horse (www.bondwithyourhorse.com) and competes under the GB banner at international endurance events throughout France.

She added: "I am now doing something that is my passion rather than a job that just brings financial rewards."

ISPs battle it out for cheapest deal

PRICE wars between France’s internet providers have produced offers as low as €9.99 a month.

Numericable’s latest offer of €9.99 + VAT is for those on RSA (income support) or the allocation d'adulte handicapé. Last year the company began offering a triple package (broadband, phone, TV) at e19.90 - two-thirds of the price of rival Free.

Discount store Auchan and historic phone provider Orange (France Télécom) have also entered the fray.

Auchan’s "low-cost" triple offer is €27.90, using Numericable’s fibre-optic cable network, with 100 TV channels and free calls to France and its overseas territories.

Orange has launched its Découverte (discovery) offer, at €19.90 with just broadband - no television or telephone. People taking this up can keep their ordinary telephone landline (at €16 per month) and there is an option to have a livebox for digital TV channels at €3/month. Orange says this is a good opportunity for "people with modest budgets to have access to the internet."

While it is more expensive than other firms, the advantage of Découverte is that it comes with no strings attached - you can cancel at any time - and under 26s get 10% off the basic price
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A spokesman for consumer group UFC-Que Choisir said that all this activity was a "really positive sign," as he said they had been expecting to see these kinds of offers get more expensive rather than cheaper, since France already offers cheaper rates than most other countries.

As Free looks to set up in the mobile phone market it is likely that more companies will include mobile contracts in their offers for TV, internet and phonlines.

Bouygues already does with its les-Tout-en-un Ideo package which you can customise online. SFR and Orange which also operate mobile networks are likely to follow.

How to check you're up to speed

YOUR internet speed varies with the way your computer is set up and what type of connection you have but it is always worthwhile checking that you get what you pay for.

Various broadband speed tests are available online - but these can give widely varying results and your broadband supplier will have its own tests (Orange has one called dsltest.exe which you download and then Run). Some computer magazines such as Journal du Net and zdnet.fr offer a more independent option and these are generally run from the page online.

Many internet columnists recommended Dan Elwell’s Broadband Speed Test which can be found at http://broadbandspeedtest.net and this gives information on whether your services matches the claims.

However, beware as some other test programs try to install extra software while running the test.

Others ask for personal details which are not needed in the test.

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