Expat and Inspiring Tales

Retiring in France? A Romantic Pipedream or Possibility?

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Last Updated on July 17, 2023 by Carolyn

Retiring in France? Pipedream or Possibility?
Retiring in France, Pipedream or Possibility?

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Has Retiring in France Crossed Your Expat Radar?

The mention of France for many conjures up visions of sitting on the terrace of a café enjoying an espresso after consuming a French delicacy such as Coq au Vin. And then meandering along village streets with a quick stop at the bakery for a baguette and the fromagerie for a hunk of brie. But is this a dream life? What is it really like to retire in France? Today’s post is an interview with Beth Haslam, a Wales Native who moved to the French countryside in 2007, and the author of a series of hilarious memoirs “Fat Dogs and French Estates” that chronicle their hilarious adventures of retiring in France.

Meet Beth and Rob

Beth and Rob were born and raised in Wales. Beth was a Human Resource Professional in Wales, and as Beth puts it, Rob was a grumpy engineer. I asked Beth a few questions so we can get to know her, after all, how can you take advice from someone if you don’t know what their likes and dislikes are?

What are Your Favourite Books?

“I have an eclectic taste. As a passionate animal lover, my stalwart faves are the James Herriot and Gerald Durrell memoirs. I also love travel stories and historical whodunits.”

OK, I can already tell Beth and I will get along fabulously-those books all grace my shelves and have done so for many years.

Favourite Food?

“Our French friends would be horrified at my favourite comfort food choice of chili con carne. I
also adore moules mariniéres (with the obligatory French fries), and most seafood.”

For those not in the know moules marinieres is a French dish of mussels in shell, cooked in white wine, butter, shallots, garlic, and parsley.

Hobbies and Pastimes

When asked what hobbies and pastimes she likes to pursue Beth responded with:

” As an outdoorsy person, I adore long dog walks, working with our animals, and tending the garden and my veggie plot.”

Why Choose An Expat Life

Quaint French Village of Colmar
Quaint French Village of Colmar

People choose to expatriate for many reasons. Some seek a better climate, some seek a cheaper cost of living and for some they just want change. I asked Beth what they were seeking in an ex-pat life:

What Spurred the Move?

We had reached semi-retirement age and wanted to buy a second home in a location with better weather than our drizzly UK. As for the property type, my grumpy husband is an engineer and wanted room to spread his oily mechanical projects. I’m mad keen on animals and loved the idea of having somewhere to observe wildlife. The solution was a property with a pleasant climate and enough land to suit both aspirations.

What were your first impressions of France?

To answer the question accurately, I have to go back to my childhood and the voyage I took as a young teenager across the English Channel with my father. We were sailing with friends and berthed at Saint-Malo on the northwest coast of France. I recounted my impressions in my lates memoir, Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates. Here’s an extract:

‘The great city constructed on a rock and guarded by ramparts gradually came into view. The buildings looked splendid. Tall and stately. I was thrilled at the thought of setting foot on French soil for the first time in my life.

Saint-Malo oozes history. The old city with its cobbled streets, mighty battlements, archways, broad alleyways and skinny rues seemed monumental and grand. Pa said it was notorious as a den for corsairs. A bonus for us since that meant more pirate stories. It was also France’s leading port for voyages of discovery to the New World, which earned it a worthier reputation.

We browsed shops, Gavin and I focusing on the chocolatiers, bullying our fathers into buying umpteen gourmet varieties. The trade-off was hours spent in chandler stores. There seemed to be one on every street. We ate at crêperies, savouring each morsel of our wafer-thin pancakes, celebrating this culinary speciality of Breton culture. We relaxed in the sun at cafe tables that spilled welcomingly into the street. Nobody minded. There was a chic acceptance. C’est la vie in Saint-Malo, and I loved it.

Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates

Life as an Expat

Sunflowers in French Countryside
Sunflowers in French Countryside

Another issue with moving to another country is the actual process of moving: There are an endless number of tasks to accomplish with some of the most important items being: Securing a place to live in your chosen country, cleaning out your current home (including purging and sorting belongings, packing, and if you own your home selling/renting it), and getting paperwork in order for the move. This can take some people weeks, others months, and some years. I asked Beth how long it took them:

How long was the process from the day you decided to move and actually moving?

“We nattered around the subject for months. Once we’d decided to buy in France, I began an exhaustive, six-month online search for suitable properties. Proud of my achievement, we agreed on a shortlist. We packed our car and set off with our two chubby dogs in April 2007 on a three-week property-visiting mission. This was when I discovered my brilliant planning wasn’t quite as excellent as I thought. There were huge disparities between online information and the real thing.

We covered over a thousand kilometers encountering one property disaster after another. In fact, they were so disastrous that one evening, exhausted after yet another dire encounter with a nutty estate owner, Jack, with a sustaining gin and tonic, said, “The things that have happened to us are so unbelievable you should write a book about it.” And that is how my Fat Dogs and French Estates memoir series was born.

Quite by accident, the deal was done on our domaine (estate) in late September of the same year.

Every country has its quirks, some enjoyable some not so enjoyable. I was curious to know what has been Beth and Rob’s most memorable experiences in France, both good and bad:

What do you enjoy most about your new Country? What have been some of your favourite experiences?

Gosh, that’s hard to answer. We live in a rural area. Life here is like stepping back thirty years, our farming community lives according to the seasons’ rhythms. It’s the kind of gentle, supportive environment where folks look after one another in times of strife. It’s a place where I’ll return from a shopping trip to find a ‘cadeau’ of fruit or veg or home-brewed wine on our doorstep. Why the gift? Just because.

Serendipity lent a hand when we bought our domaine. Just as I’d hoped, it really is abundant with wildlife. I’ll never tire of walking on our land, watching wild boar, deer, hare, and many other animals.

Favourite experiences are wide-ranging, including dining al fresco at village get-togethers. We have a thriving market culture here, so mooching around one of the innumerable weekly markets or summer fêtes is a delight. These are the places where neighbours catch up on the local gossip. Equally, I adore the joys of discovering ancient villages and fortifications. Our area abounds with history, and we’ve only touched the surface. It’s a countrified existence, and we love it.

Marche Cristal Toulouse
Browsing local “marché’s” is a favourite pastime

What do you dislike most about your new Country? Do you miss anything from your past home?

Bureaucracy. Jack is convinced the French have adopted ‘Why stop at one form when you can issue eight?’ as their mantra. French bureaucrats are famous for their love of documents and delight in handing out wads of paperwork. Ironically, most French folks ignore the majority, leaving us dutiful étrangéres slogging over the detail.

What are the biggest adjustments you have had to make settling into expat life? Did you experience any culture shock?

Despite our brilliant resolution to buy a property with no work required, we ended up with a complete renovation project. Temporarily living in a partial ruin with an army of hyperactive creepy crawlies took a bit of getting used to, as did communications.

When we arrived, the internet was almost non-existent, as it would be – we live in a remote area with no close neighbours. Corresponding and work commitments were frustratingly challenging to manage. The other issue was our lack of fluency in the language.

Trying to express ourselves efficiently with a team of artisan workmen with strong southwest accents while we were restoring our home was difficult for them and us. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. With a combination of arm waving, flipping endlessly through our English/French dictionaries and scruffy sketches, we made ourselves understood. I should add that our artisans were very patient!

Has it been easy meeting people and making friends? Have you made friends with locals or do you mainly mix with other expats?

Moving to a different country and seeking out other Brits didn’t appeal to us. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the French culture. As it happens, there are very few expats in our area. We met people quickly, primarily because we needed to find local artisans. Our French forester employee is a local and helped no end. He introduced us to lots of folks, many of whom have become close friends.

I also met people through dog walks. Since we live in a small rural community, we soon found that everybody knew everybody and several families took it upon themselves to ensure we were swiftly integrated. Strangely, the other reason we met people quickly was because of our home, Le Palizac.

Our domaine was previously owned by a gentleman noble whose family has quite a history. Folks wanted to find out who had bought the property, and much to our surprise, came to visit/invite us to soirées almost as soon as we moved in.

What languages are spoken where you are living? Can you speak them?

French is the predominant language spoken. Yes, we can speak the language, though sadly, we are still a bit bumbly and not fluent.

If you own pets, did they come with you?

Yes, we brought our two dogs, Max and Aby

Max and Aby, the Fat Dogs
Max and Aby, of Fat Dogs Fame

What does it Cost to Live in France?

View of Market Goods
A market goer’s paradise


Readers are always interested to know about costs: How much does it cost to rent or purchase a house, and what are grocery and utility costs like? What health care options are there?

Since Beth and Rob purchased their domaine in 2007 their housing costs aren’t really pertinent to today’s readers. Rentals prices of course vary greatly depending on location and size, but a cheery apartment can be found on Longtermrentalsinfrance.com for 500 euros per month while entire cottages can be found for 800 euros per month. For short term stays, Beth shared this link with me: Holidayhomes

To purchase property one might browse Frenchproperty.com, they have listings starting at 15,000€ for a complete renovation to historic Medieval Castles for 30,000,000€ . It’s fascinating to browse this site’s listings.


Beth provided prices of the following basket of groceries from Intermarche and Carrefour, popular supermarkets in France. She says that fresh produce is usually far cheaper at local markets.

A loaf of bread: 2.19€ for a loaf of whole grain bread. The popular French baguettes sell for 2.95€ for 5!

A dozen eggs: 2.90€ (free range medium size)

A 500 gm bag of coffee? 9.50€ (Carte Noir Honduras BIO cafe)

A head of lettuce? 0.99€

A kilo of bananas? 1.99€ (Cavendiish Organic bananas from the Dominican Republic)

A kilo of potatoes? 1.99€

A kilo of cheese 14.75€ Roquefort Sheeps Milk Cheese (Beth notes that France produces over 1000 varieties of cheese so there is no “average pricing”. She selected a popular variety. Suffice to say France is a cheese lover’s paradise).


Beth and Rob travel by means of their Toyota Rav 4 Hybrid.

France does offer good public transportation options including bus, metro, and train that even service rural areas.

Health Care

Most retirees are very concerned about healthcare costs. I asked Beth if she was covered by France’s healthcare system or if she self-insured.

We both have a carte vitale. It is a microchipped card that allows access to the French healthcare system. It enables us to be reimbursed for primary doctor or specialist appointments, prescriptions at the pharmacy, or hospital visits.

Without a health card, unless already covered by outside insurance, patients usually have to pay the costs upfront.

We also have a complementary health insurance policy through AXA. Combining our carte vitale and health insurance enables us to be reimbursed for most medical and health-related interventions

Per Beth, a visit to the doctor currently costs about 25€. And their “carte vitale” entitles them to free prescription medicines.

French Visa and Residency

For most people, a Visa isn’t required to visit France if they plan to stay for 90 days or less but for longer stays it’s best to check Visa requirements at the French Visa Site.

Rob and Beth have obtained a residence permit in France, called “Titre de Séjour” which means they are permanent residents. Beth also notes that surprisingly a process that they anticipated to be agonizing due to the French bureaucracy, proved to be rather straightforward. They were given an appointment where they presented their paperwork and had their fingerprints taken, and in minutes the process was complete, with their Titre de Séjour cards issued a few weeks later.

Tip for Those Considering a Similar Move

When asked for a tip she’d give to someone contemplating a similar move, Beth suggested:

“Taking a holiday abroad is very different to living abroad. Research properly, and if you have any doubts, rent before buying.”

Memorable Experiences

Photo of Max one of the Fat Dogs
Max, Of Fat Dogs and French Estates Fame!

I always ask my guests to share a particularly memorable experience or funny story. Having read Beth’s Fat Dog Series, I knew she’d have a good story to share. She didn’t disappoint:

“We have had countless embarrassing moments with our faltering command of the language. Here’s a story I related in Fat Dogs and French Estates Part 4:

All we wanted to do was buy furniture to put a television on. Simple? Not in our part of southwest France! Mind you, Monsieur Farane, the store owner, is famously eccentric. This is what happened when I sent my grumpy husband off to find him.

Jack stalked off, complaining. He quickly returned with monsieur, who had jettisoned his other customers. The pair of them looked at me, profoundly uninterested.

Speaking in French, I asked if he had a television cabinet. Monsieur looked nonplussed. Jack had a go. Nope, blank expression again from monsieur. We couldn’t work out where we were going wrong. After all, the French word for television is télévision, it ought to be a relatively straightforward translation. Evidently not.

We had several more goes, during which monsieur’s eyebrows became ever more knotted. In desperation, we resorted to charades. This foxed him completely. Jack was getting annoyed.

“I’m sorry, monsieur, but how hard can this be for you? I’m sure it’s the same word, television, television. What’s the problem?”

This wasn’t helpful since he was blustering away in English.

“I know,” I said in French, proffering my mobile phone at monsieur. “Google Traduire!

Monsieur fidgeted tetchily while I found the offending word. I pointed the screen at him, he studied it and then exploded.

Merde! TélévizION!” he yelled.

It was another of those times when there was a real risk Jack might start ranting. Instead, he looked at me. Floored.

“I do not bloody well believe it! We’ve been saying that for the last ten minutes; where did we go wrong? It is the same blasted word.”

There was no point asking Monsieur Farane; he had already charged off to another part of the store and was frantically waving at us to join him.

“I don’t know,” I said, turning to follow him. “I think we mispronounced the ziON bit at the end.”

“Well, that’s definitely made my mind up.”


“Totally nutty, the lot of them.”

~Fat Dogs and French Estates Part 4

More on Retiring in France

If you’d like to know more about retiring in France, I suggest reading the Fat Dog Series which documents Beth and Rob’s hilarious adventures moving and living in France, and visit Beth’s website: BethHaslam.com to read more interesting accounts of Beth’s life in France.

Beth can also be found on Instagram at @fatdogsandfrenchestates and on Facebook at: Beth Haslam

Thank-you Beth for sharing your experiences!

For more expat accounts please visit our page Expat and Inspiring Tales.

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