3 October 2016

Keith Channing - Expat in France

Keith Channing - Expat in France

We’ve had the chance to talk to Keith Channing, 67, a British expat who has moved to France with his wife. Mr. Channing who has been living there for ten years, is now a retiree.

Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: England.


Q: What made you move out of England?

A: We had a long-standing wish to retire to France. At age 56 I was made redundant and wasn’t confident I’d be able to replicate my salary. That would have made it difficult to maintain our mortgage, and we would have had to move anyway. Circumstances pointed to taking early retirement, and the combination of redundancy pay, pension lump sum and equity on the house allowed us to buy a rural property in France outright.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Central France. It had been a long-term ambition to retire to France.


Q: How long have you been living in France?

A: Ten years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: My wife and I live alone.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: My parents had both died before we left, and I have never been particularly close to my siblings, so it’s not been a problem. My wife has dealt with some problems: her mother died last year; her father is still alive and well (and house-and-dog-sitting for us while we’re away) and she is very close to her siblings. She tries to visit the UK at least once each year, particularly for significant family events.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: We live in a hamlet with a population (including us) of five. We are all self-contained and have relatively little interaction with our neighbours. What we do have is friendly and cordial. We are surrounded by mixed cattle and arable farmers, and have a good, though distant, relationship with them all.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in France? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: We have a small number of British friends. Our social life is not rich (it wasn’t in the UK) and we have a lot more acquaintances than friends; British, French, Belgian and Dutch.


Q: How does the cost of living in France compare to your home?

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: The last coffee I had out cost me 1.10 €.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Luncheon for two yesterday (3 courses) cost about 20 €.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: The last expensive restaurant I used was in Paris, so doesn’t reflect costs here.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Cigarettes: no idea. Wine: I usually pay less than 20 € for a 10-litre box of Merlot. My wife drinks white and rosé and usually pays less than 2€ per bottle (Lidl). Prices vary and can go much higher than that, of course.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in France

A: Not really. The whole thing, aided by the estate agent who sold us the property, went very smoothly. We’ve been with the same bank as long as we’ve been here.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: French administration is famously horrendous – even the French tell us that. We have concerns that those things that were straightforward by dint of our status as EU citizens may become less so post-Brexit, and have considered applying for naturalisation to retain our status. I confidently expect that to be horrendous, too.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in France is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: My experience of the health system has been most positive. I have used both a private hospital and the government hospital in our nearest big town and have been more than pleased with pretty well every aspect of it.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in England or France? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: As I understand it, membership of the French health insurance system is mandatory. The only exception is early retirees, who are not economically active. They are required to have comprehensive private health insurance until they have completed five years’ continuous residence, after which they are entitled (required) to join the state scheme. The state scheme covers, on average, 70% of the ‘book’ cost of everything. Insurance companies are required to provide affordable, comprehensive schemes to cover the rest. Because many surgeons, etc. are permitted to charge more than the ‘book’ price, we have chosen, and we would advise anyone to follow our lead, to buy a top-up cover to 150% of tariff.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to France? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: It was a long time ago. The crew were helpful, efficient and friendly. We represented a part-load, the rest going on to Spain. We believe, though we can’t prove, that some boxes were not offloaded, and there are some items that we have never received. I won’t name the firm, because it may not be their fault, and I wouldn’t want to hurt their reputation if it isn’t.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Language


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in France?

A: Out here in the sticks, life is slow. It has been described as being like Devon in the 1950s (although we are catching up). Any negatives are related not to living in France, but to where we have chosen to live in France. We usually (but not always) consider it okay that everything is closed on Sunday and that the nearest good-sized stores are almost an hour away by road.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: We are self-contained. I write, my wife does various crafts.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Were we to move from here, it would be for a smaller house, with a lot less land. It is also possible that we may wish to be closer to family, although, with only one of our three children living in the UK, that’s less likely. No plans at the moment, though.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: I think it depends very much on what kind of lifestyle you are used to and want on arrival. For us, to a large extent, what we do from day to day, in the house, is independent of what happens outside.  


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about France?

A: Not these days. I suppose the local sites I use most, apart from on-line stores,  are government public service sites, health insurance and the banks (especially for exchange rates, as our pensions are paid in the UK in sterling).