From health to family commitments, there are many reasons why people move back to their original home country after a long stay in France
We asked Connexion readers who moved to France from the UK and then returned what pushed them to go back, how easy or difficult they found the process and whether or not they are happy to be back in their birth country.
‘We are where we were meant to be at our age’
Jennie Taylor took early retirement with her husband Barry when their children left home and spent “20 happy years in Tarn-et-Garonne”.
“The red tape got us down sometimes and we struggled with the language but we managed,” she told The Connexion.
“It was decided that we should return to the UK to be near family after my husband had health problems.
“Brexit was the other reason. It unsettled us. I had great difficulty getting appointments for our cartes de séjour, getting up at 4am to obtain them!”
Mrs Taylor added that “having to change our driving licences isn’t a big problem but something we couldn’t face.”
“Our property sold within a week, which we didn’t expect. We thought maybe [we would have] a couple of years to get used to the idea!
“Closing our bank [account] was not a problem with the help of our branch manager. Unfortunately though we still get a bill every month which we have no way of paying: very annoying.
“We sent two half loads [of possessions] into storage in the UK and the rest we gave to a local charity shop or sold to our buyer.”
Mr and Mrs Taylor have been back in the UK for two and a half years now, having arrived straight into the first Covid lockdown.
“So it’s been hard and sometimes lonely having left so many friends and a lovely lifestyle,” Mrs Taylor said.
“But we are where we were meant to be at our age. [We are] so pleased we made the move [to France] while fit and young enough to be able to make the most of being there.
“We have a lovely home and a manageable garden in a Herefordshire village with countryside almost as good as what we left.
“Our children and grandchildren, if not near, are at least in the same country now. It’s great to just go shopping, have a chat with neighbours and most of all [drink] real ale at the local pub!”
Mrs Taylor adds that while in France she missed her family and her favourite clothes shops, but “if I’m honest I miss as much about France as I did about the UK.
“Apart from the weather,” she feels the loss of “our house and garden pool, which we don’t need here,” as well as “Saturday markets, fish counters” and even the yoghurt in French supermarkets.
“Ours was an age and health decision: [we wanted to] return while there were two of us.
“[We didn’t want] our children to have to sort out our affairs from another country with all the upset and red tape they would face.
“We wouldn’t have missed [living in France] for the world, no regrets at all.
“We shall still hopefully get the chance to see some other places in the future but on holiday.”
More formalities to consider post-Brexit
Stephen Hansford told The Connexion: “We bought a house in the Charente, close to Aigre, in 2010 and moved there on my retirement day, arriving on February 2, 2012.
“We revamped the house and barn as a gîte for visiting family and friends. After seven years, we sold to move to a cooler climate in Brittany, just south of Josselin.”
However, this year, Mr Hansford and his wife Grania decided to move back to the UK because of “our health – we both have serious issues – and the pull of children and grandchildren. We had no grandchildren when we left for France, and none planned!” Now things are different.
The couple moved back in April of this year, and Mr Hansford said that “we were really made to suffer by both the British civil service and especially the French banking system. After three months we are still not over it all.
“The issues around civil servants are largely those of unnecessary over-complication of bureaucratic procedures.
“We left the UK whilst members of the EU our return was post-Brexit, and boy hadn't the paperwork increased!
“It is not so much an issue of Gov.uk being awkward, which they are, but in the things they don’t tell you but expect you to know.
“You complete 60 odd pages of documentation, applications, one of which includes a list of everything you are bringing with you as part of the ‘Application for transfer of residence relief (ToR1)’ which means you are asking not to pay import duties on all the things you took with you to France, and anything new one may have bought since.
“You then have to promise that you will not sell any of your possessions for at least a year.
“When you are listing your items they fail to tell you that each box you pack has to have a list of the contents to exactly match your submitted listings. Otherwise you don't get through customs.
“Then there’s the time they take to grant you an URN number, which is the only way a removal company can collect and ship your goods to the UK.
“The French banking system is unique. We informed our bank that we were moving in March, by letter, not just email.
“They ignored us. I sent a letter of instruction telling them which contracts I had terminated – electricity, water, telephone etc. – which they also ignored and continued to make the monthly payments for the next three or four months whilst I was arguing with them on a daily basis.
“Eventually some customer service agents replied explaining that I had to perform several impossible transactions online in the most complicated French.
“My accounts are still not closed and they are still making payments to Saur water. Plain frustrating; and only an example!”
In addition, Mr Hansford said that “no one informs you that as you’ve been out of the country for 10 years, you have no credit rating and cannot rent a place unless you have a UK postcode.
“France doesn't use credit cards and the UK took most of ours away as we lived abroad, and mostly because they changed their regulations whilst we were in France.”
Mr Hansford said that it feels “great” to be back in the UK, “but it is so overcrowded here!” He also noticed the difference to France in terms of the UK’s “seven-day-a-week shopping with no breaks.”
He added that he was surprised “at going to so many pubs and restaurants where they no longer take cash - just debit cards!
“The health service has been magnificent. When we arrived in France we were most pleasantly surprised at the quality and service of the French health system - it was great.
“Sadly over the last ten years the service has deteriorated and is a shadow of its former self. There are too many places where you can't even get a doctor and the A&E service has ceased to be great.”
“On our return to the UK I was fearful of what to expect, but it has been wonderful, and they have taken us in and supported us brilliantly. The nursing staff here are in general far more polite and talk to you much more than their French counterparts.”
‘Felt greater confidence in accessing services in our native country’
Credit: Loraine Reynolds
Retiree Loraine Reynolds moved to France with her husband John in 2009, spending eight years living in the Languedoc and then Limousin before returning to the UK in 2017 “following the Brexit outcome”.
They rented for a while before moving into their new house in Pembrokeshire in 2019.
“Overall, we enjoyed the experience of living in France but we have no regrets about moving back to the UK,” Mrs Reynolds told The Connexion.
“Although the Brexit vote was the cause of uncertainty both in the UK and for those Brits living in the EU, we felt the insecurity was better addressed living back in the UK.
“As we are getting older, we envisaged the possibility of needing to use public services further down the line and we did not want additional pressures and uncertainties around access to healthcare and social care.
“We felt greater confidence in accessing services in our native country and communicating in English.
“We didn’t want to feel like second-class citizens with a weakened position within the EU. The general attitude towards the Brits in France following the exit vote was also a consideration.
“We were lucky enough to sell our property in France quickly. We were concerned that if we hadn’t made the decision to leave quickly, our bargaining position as a property seller would have been compromised.
“Moving house, particularly from one country to another, is inevitably stressful but we sold the house with most of its contents and used a man with a van to transport the essentials.
“We searched online for a rental in the UK, having focused our search on south west Wales as we wanted to live in a coastal area.
“Having lived out of the UK for 8 years, we did not have a credit record so obtaining a mobile phone contract was tricky and we were overcharged for car insurance for a couple of years until we reestablished our residence back in the UK.
“Importing our recently purchased French car into the UK also proved problematic, with much communication with HMRC and DVLA but we got there eventually.
Credit: Loraine Reynolds
“We already had our UK bank account so experienced no difficulties there.
“We quickly settled back into life in Pembrokeshire. It is a beautiful coastal region which we spent time exploring as well as crossing over to southern Ireland which is easily accessible.
“Property prices in the UK are higher than in many regions of France and we were worried that we may not have been able to get back into the property ownership market.
“However, we purchased a house needing renovation cheaply and used this as a stepping stone. The property market locally has risen here since our arrival so we have benefited from our purchase in 2017.
“We enjoyed the experience of living outside the UK but feel we made the right decision to return.
“We don’t miss our life there as we enjoy our life here. In fact, living abroad gave us a wider perspective and appreciation of aspects of British life and culture so often denigrated.”
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