After the decision to leave the European Union, many people were left feeling that the UK is an inward-looking nation, determined to throw up walls between itself and its European neighbours. But while there certainly has been some political unfriendliness, the diverse and affable population of the United Kingdom is still full of people who hold deep affection for the European mainland, and many who still want to move there.
France in particular is an enduringly popular location for British emigres, with French estate agents reporting a boom in British buyers in the months before the Brexit deadline of December 31st, 2020. While Brexit is now settled and UK citizens no longer benefit from freedom of movement, they can move to France by applying for a French residence permit, so the dream of relocating is still alive for many.
Post-Brexit, France remains an enticing prospect to Brits looking to create a new life abroad, and there are many factors that motivate this preference. These include:
The British Relationship with France
France is one of the UK’s closest neighbours, and one which has extremely strong bonds of trade, culture and fellow-feeling. French remains the foreign language most learned by Britons, and around 160,000 French people currently reside in the UK.
While statistics remain unclear, our proximity means there are many British people with family ties to France and existing dual citizenship, and a 2021 Ancestry UK study suggests 3 million British people are of French descent. Even the legendary English figure of Richard the Lionheart (of “three lions on a shirt” fame) spent the majority of his life in what would now be considered France, and spoke French as his first language.
These cultural ties mean that in many ways, British people already have a connection to France. In purely practical terms, the two countries are only 20 miles away from each other at their closest point, which means that the journey to visit family back home can actually be shorter from France than other areas of the UK (depending on the respective location of the two households).
A Business-Friendly and Welcoming Outlook
For many emigres, starting a business in France is one way both to facilitate their move and change their lifestyle, and France is an extremely welcoming nation for startups and entrepreneurs. President Macron has poured large amounts of resources to rebrand France as “the startup nation”, and there are generous tax incentives and financial help for new businesses looking to establish themselves in France.
Traditionally, France has been viewed as overly bureaucratic and challenging for businesses, with the myth that all workers take a three-hour lunch break and strike at the drop of a hat pervasive around the world. The French government has been working to change this perception by making it easier for businesses to start and operate in France.
Particularly useful is the ‘micro entrepreneur’ status, which has been specifically designed for people setting up a small business. If you, for example, wanted to run a holiday cottage or start a food business, by registering as a micro entrepreneur you will benefit from a much simpler regime of both tax and business regulations.
The Romance of France’s Reputation
Whether it’s Keith Floyd flourishing with a wine glass in hand while cooking up something delicious, Amelie floating through a hyper-romantic iteration of Paris or the evocative descriptions of Joanne Harris in vastly popular novels like Blackberry Wine, the media we consume has helped to build an attractive picture of France within our imaginations.
In recent years, programs like Emily in Paris, Escape to the Chateau and A Place in the Sun have all contributed to our perception of France, and the UK’s great love of French cultural icons like their world-famous cuisine is reflected in many of our television shows, making household names of chefs like Michelle Roux Jnr and Raymond Blanc.
The representation of France across books, film and TV have enhanced the (well-earned) reputation the country has for beautiful cities, fantastic food, lush countryside and deep cultural heritage. It is, therefore, no surprise that francophiles can be found across the globe, and that people in the UK can envisage themselves achieving a better lifestyle in France.
The Impact of COVID-19
Being at the mercy of uncontrollable circumstances, becoming unemployed or going through the grief of losing a loved one can act as a catalyst for those who have always toyed with the decision of making a major life change, and the events of the last two years have brought many people’s priorities into sharp focus.
The lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 created a situation where people took a step back from their normal life (perhaps for the first time in years) to think about what they really want. Seeking a better work-life balance was especially high on the agenda, and in a situation where personal freedoms and choices became severely constricted, the sense of “seizing the day” and working to realise long-held ambitions began to feel more urgent.
For some people, lockdown motivated a desire to move from smaller properties in the city to less cramped locations in the countryside or along the coast. The so-called “race for space” meant that there was a surge in house sales to city-dwellers keen on some breathing room.
This desire for a different kind of life away from the hustle and bustle has made some look to France (which is the third biggest country in Europe and benefits from vast rural and coastal areas), while others gained the capital to realise their relocation dream due to rising house prices.
For those who live in particular UK coastal or countryside locations, simply owning a home proved lucrative over the pandemic, with some areas achieving an 18% uplift in property prices in 2020. To put that in perspective, a person who bought a £300,000 property in 2018 in one particularly popular location would have made £74,000 in just three years. With property in many stunning areas of France more affordable than the UK, simply selling up can give some homeowners the means to comfortably start a new life.
Brexit has certainly changed Britain’s relationship with Europe, and there are new rules for any aspiring expats to navigate. But with such a depth of shared history, mutual admiration and personal ties, the popularity of France amongst British people looking to start a new life is unlikely to wane.
Katya Puyraud is the co-owner of Euro Start Entreprises, and an expert in helping entrepreneurs to start a business in France. Euro Start Entreprises have 15 years’ experience helping to start and expand businesses in over 30 countries worldwide.