Brexit or no Brexit, France is still very much open for business, says Sally Stone as she shares some words of wisdom and encouragement for those keen to live and work across the Channel
You cannot imagine how frustrating it has been to witness the debacle that is Brexit from here in France. Settled in Brittany and running more than one successful business within the family, we really want to reach out and say, don’t worry, if you’re planning to come to France and need to earn a living, just keep on coming because it’s business as usual for us here.
That is not to say that you don’t need to plan properly and take advice; the latter, from people qualified and experienced to help you rather than relying on well-intentioned people on internet forums passing on opinion as fact. Without a niche skill and bilingual language skills you may struggle to find employment in France, so before you make a move it is perhaps wise to start thinking about whether you could set up your own business and what transferrable skills you have. You will be surprised, I suspect, what skills you take for granted that would stand you in good stead in France provided you are sensible and realistic about what you might achieve, both in terms of the service you might provide and the income you might earn.
Talking to someone with experience of what works and what doesn’t should be your first step, and here’s where you hold on to your hat and your sense of humour. You might need to constantly remind yourself that you want to relocate for a better quality of life and the whole French lifestyle that you have experienced on holiday. Without the rose-tinted spectacles, you just might find that laid-back atmosphere is a little challenging when dealing with French bureaucrats who (all) interpret rules and regulations very locally, and this is a good place to start to explain.
The Channel is so narrow, yet the cultural divide between France and the UK is enormous and it can be disconcerting to find the rug so completely pulled from under your feet. You no longer know the system, and some days it will seem like not so much a learning curve as a vertical rock face, with any instructions you do have being spoken to you in a foreign language. You might have a friend in Burgundy who has achieved what you want but when you speak to the local official in Brittany they refuse you point blank. C’est la vie, en France. That’s why, if you ask someone a general question about France and its regulations, the only real answer to that is, it depends. So much depends on the relevant official in your local area, and how he or she views the rules and regulations, as to whether you pass along smoothly within the system or not. And yet they can become your most valuable ally, your personal source of correct information, if you go along with the right attitude and ask their advice! It’s a mindset really and worth remembering that you have chosen to live here – you aren’t doing France a favour but in fact improving your own quality of life. You may never have lived as a foreigner in a strange land before, and you do need to make the effort to learn both the language and the customs. To enter a boulangerie in France and not say “bonjour” to the whole queue is definitely not the done thing, so be sure to do some homework.
Might I suggest for those of you without fluent French, that you become familiar with an opening sentence which apologises for that fact? Without a doubt, saying “Je suis désolée pour mon mauvais français” as an opening gambit won me many friends and opened many doors! It immediately told the person in front of me that I was aware my French wasn’t perfect but that I was going to have a go, and after that they were often able to help me out. It’s fair to say the clerks in the various offices you visit can be quite mischievous and I have sometimes seen the person behind me in the queue try and talk to them in English, only for the clerk’s previous ability to speak some English (which they had done with me, following my opening apologetic statement) to have completely disappeared. So, learning that sentence, and some vocabulary for the subject at hand, can be invaluable.
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EMPLOYMENT OR SELF-EMPLOYMENT
Let’s concentrate then on the practicalities of swapping your life in the UK for one in France, where self-employment could prove to be the best option for you. There are various umbrellas beneath which you could work, for instance as an agent commercial for the numerous estate agencies in France selling properties to foreigners. Those agents are not employees, but have a registration and act as self-employed people for the agency. Equally, there is a real demand from absentee owners of holiday homes for management of their property, potentially including helping them to rent that out to the huge numbers of holidaymakers who come to France each year. I started a property management network in 2002 and over the years have found that UK professionals have so many transferrable skills when it comes to working in France. For example we have several retired police officers whose practicality, ability to work under pressure and people skills transfer wonderfully to managing properties for owners who may live on the other side of the world and only visit France once or twice a year.
REGISTERING A BUSINESS
You may want to get lots of things sorted out prior to being in France on a permanent basis, but what you can do may be limited until you know exactly where you will be living. Once you know where you will be based, you can ask for help from the local Chambre de Commerce and you will be pointed in the right direction. Depending on what you want to do, you may need to register with them or it might be the Chambre de Métiers.
I see a lot of comments about how easy it is to register online but unless you have help from someone who understands what is required, I personally would advise seeking guidance from your local Chambre first. In fact, once you have contacted the relevant Chambre they will happily complete the form for you for a small sum. Even now, after almost 20 years in France, I have a fear of important forms completed online. One wrong entry and the form disappears into the ether, and the error could take a long time to be discovered and even longer to be sorted out.
So now we have three generations of the family here in France – my daughter and son-in-law joined me in Brittany in 2013 and they have since had their daughter Megan. It really is business as usual here, even with Brexit, so come and join us! Foreigners settled in France successfully before the UK was part of the EU and will be able to do so in the future, deal or no deal (to coin a phrase!).
Sally Stone is the founder of property management network Les Bons Voisins