‘I returned to UK from France, did not feel at home so came back’

A Connexion reader tells how she enjoyed her new life in Dorset but after time – especially following the Brexit vote – realised her heart was still in France

“England just did not fit for me any more,” said reader Susan Finer, who moved partly to be close to family
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Connexion readers recently told of their experiences of moving back to the UK from France, about the practicalities of transferring possessions and documentation between the countries and how it felt to be back in their native country.

Read more: ‘No regrets’: What’s it like returning to UK after years in France?

Although there were aspects of French life that they missed, the consensus was that the UK was the right place for them to be for their evolved personal and family circumstances.

However, reader Susan Finer told how she moved back to the UK and spent several years there but ultimately decided to move back to France as it was where she “had to be.”

“England just did not fit for me any more,” she said.

Mrs Finer, 72, said: “My husband and I bought a holiday home in Aude in 1984 – we were in our 30s – and we moved there permanently in our 50s in 2002 when he became ill and unable to work.

“Yes, the bureaucracy was a bit daunting, but the healthcare was fantastic.”

Following her and her husband’s move to France, Mrs Finer’s family began to join them.

“Our three boys felt they grew up in France, spending every school holiday here - we are all great francophiles and love the way of life,” she said.

“My eldest son moved his family to France in 2009 to live close by and to support me and his father but then moved back to the UK in 2012.

“My youngest son decided he no longer wanted to live in London, citing more friends and a better quality of life in France, and also moved to Narbonne in 2009. He is still here with his Polish partner and my two young granddaughters.

“My middle son, whilst here from London visiting his brother in 2015, met his future Polish partner and moved here too.”

I felt a need for my language and my culture

However, after 10 years in France, Mrs Finer moved back to the UK in 2012 following her husband’s death and a period of consideration.

“Before moving permanently to France we had lived in London for the previous 30 years. But with two big dogs in tow who’d had the freedom of the Corbières Massif, vineyards and beaches, I didn’t feel I could return to the city and actually, nor did I want to,” she said.

“Having adapted to French village life, each time I visited London it seemed noisier, dirtier, more threatening and more expensive.

“I chose Dorset because I had relatives there and it seemed a good compromise – it was freedom and a complete adventure after 10 years of caring for my husband who had had early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“In spite of having many good friends, French and English, I had felt a need for my language and my culture.”

In Dorset, Mrs Finer then found a “wonderful community” to get to know, and “engaged with everyone and everything”.

Things changed with the Brexit vote

“I threw myself into village life, I’m very sociable, joined the Village Hall committee and helped run village activities, joined ArtsLink and did a host of creative art and writing courses.

“I became a Dementia Friend at my local hospital and even my golden retriever became a PAT (Pets at Therapy) dog.

“I recovered and life was good until the Brexit vote, which was extremely divisive within the community, friendships and families. I was so definitely a European, a Francophile, but so many others in my community were not and it was sometimes uncomfortable.

“There was a definite shift in atmosphere.”

I realised my adventure was over

“The dogs both died in the summer of 2018 and within a short time I realised that my adventure was over – this Dorset village was not where I needed to be. I no longer felt at home there.

“I needed a more cosmopolitan life. My Christmas visit to France in 2018 cemented my feelings.

“One cold, sunny, December morning I walked through the Place de la Mairie in Narbonne and was hit with an absolute certain knowledge that France was where I had to be.

“I returned home, put my house on the market, attended to the bureaucracy and moved back to France in 2019, this time to be in town.

“Admittedly, my two sons and their partners and my young granddaughter played a large part in my decision: had they been in England I don’t think I would have had the courage to move on my own.”

Moving back to France

Mrs Finer set about getting ready for her move back to the south of France.

“The Brexit vote brought a few more potential problems – [with] more bureaucratic hoops to jump through – and I knew I had to prepare well in advance,” she said.

“I applied for and received my S1 health form from the Department for Work and Pensions and although I’d had a carte Vitale before I had to present myself to the CPAM with a complete dossier of paperwork before receiving my new one. That was quite straightforward.

Read more: What health insurance do I need for a long-stay French visitor visa?

“I also had to re-register with the tax authorities [in France] for which I had help from my old accountant in Carcassonne.

“The next hoop was to re-register my French car – admittedly, this was a little unusual. I’d bought it here in 2004 and hadn’t wanted to part with it.

“I’d had to import and reregister it when I moved back to England but once again in France it required an inordinate amount of paperwork and the help of a fantastic enterprise in Narbonne called PIMMS. Even they found it difficult to sort it out.

“This also included an appointment and visit to a tax office for another piece of paper, where I had to produce the original purchase invoice for the car to prove that I’d paid TVA on it. Luckily I kept good files. Finally I received a new carte grise.

“And then my carte de séjour. Again a full dossier but with support of The Connexion and the very useful information that was often given, I was able to do all that online with a final visit to the prefecture in Carcassonne to collect my card in person.

“The most difficult of all now is exchanging my UK driving licence. I think last year, again online, their system was overwhelmed and my application was rejected in spite of having paid for an official translation of my driving licence.

“I gave up at that point but am about to start again. Wish me luck!”

Read more: How to contact ANTS for help swapping driving licences in France
Read more: Can France refuse to change an expired British driving licence?

France is where my heart is

Despite the practical considerations involved in the move, Mrs Finer is glad that she is living in France once again.

“France is where my heart is and also where most of my family are now,” she said.

“The renowned health service came to my aid again late last year when I had knee replacement surgery – I’d probably still be waiting in England.

“On the whole it’s a much better climate here, and life is more relaxed. I’m grateful for the way the town makes a great effort to look after and entertain its residents in each season of the year, for the traditions they uphold.”

She is also appreciative of “the way our environment is cared for, our bins emptied every day, streets cleaned regularly, beautiful floral displays for each season and the new green cycling and walking corridors that have been created.

“I have a new golden retriever now and I’m grateful for him. You’re more approachable with a soft dog, people always want to stroke him and chat

“I absolutely know I’ve made the right decision, England just didn’t fit any more.”

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