A Guide to Buying Property in France

Known for its fine cuisine, romanticism, culture, and beautifully quaint scenery, France is a popular destination for buying property. Whether you want tour the fashion houses and architecture of Paris, hike across the picturesque countryside, ski in the Alps or enjoy the Mediterranean beaches, there’s a reason France has ruled as the most popular tourist destination for over 20 years.

When choosing property in France, it’s important to consider the four major climates: oceanic, continental, Mediterranean and mountainous. If you’re looking for cool summers and mild winters, the Western parts of France feature an oceanic climate with ample rainfall to create luscious countryside.

The east and center of France have warmer summers and colder winter with a continental climate, while the south has cool winters and hot summers with very little rainfall.

For those looking for winter fun, France’s mountainous regions in the southwest, bring the heavy rainfall and brilliant snows of The Alps that are perfect for winter sports.

Understanding a little about what you want from your French property, whether its a rural retreat or a city tourist getaway spot, will help you to understand where best to look to get the most for your money.

What This Guide Covers

What You Need to Know About France

  • Economy
  • Travel
  • Tourism

Key Info for Foreigners Buying Property in France

  • Types of Property for Sale
  • Property Ownership
  • Buying Process
  • Financing Options
  • Taxes
  • Potential Property Buying Problems
  • Residency

What You Need to Know About France

Economy

France has an undoubtedly strong economy as the 6th largest in the world. Following UK and Germany, France is the third strongest economy in the EU, mainly due to its diversification. Though hit by the heavy worldwide recession in the late 2000s, France’s economy appeared to bounce back quicker than those around it.

That said, France was hit by a stagnant period around 2012, of which only now is it slowly coming out.

France’s chemical industry is by far one of its strongest sectors as it helps to power the manufacturing activities of the country. In terms of industry, the leading sectors in France include construction, textiles, automobile production, ship building and aerospace and defense, as well as telecommunications.

France is also a pretty prolific arms manufacturer and dealer. Though the French government is the biggest customer of the arms industry, the exportation of these goods is another big factor that boosts the French economy.

Equally, France is the world leader in nuclear power, not only bolstering the economy, but also making France the lowest emitter of CO2 out of the 7 most industrialized countries in the world.

As for agriculture, France leads the way in the EU, as the powerhouse of the agricultural sector – holding around a third of all the agricultural land in the EU. As the second largest exporter of agricultural goods within the EU, the farming sector is a large injection into the French economy.

Tourism is, without a doubt, also a very strong element of the French economy. As the most visited country in the world for the last ten years, France’s tourism is dictated by its range of landscapes, from ski resorts to beach towns, from wine country to culture-rich cities.

Figures show that over 83 million foreign tourists visited France in 2014, with that figure rising year on year. Tourism drives many sectors of the French economy from hospitality to fashion, from cuisine to transport – heightening its importance as a key factor to France’s economic strength.

France holds the title as the second largest trading nation in Europe and the ninth largest trading partner with the US.

The leading exports of France tend to be aerospace related, usually for defense purposes. As an arms dealer, France exports a large amount of military equipment to Singapore, Taiwan, Greece, Brazil, UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, and several other nations.

France is also a big trader of cars and car parts, with leading brands such as Renault, Citroen, Peugeot, and Bugatti.

The agricultural industry dominates French exports, with France being the second largest agricultural exporter after the USA. Exporting mainly across Europe, France is a huge exporter of wheat, with large wheat fields spreading over the Northern areas of France. Fruits, vegetables, and wines are produced in the center and south of France, and are also among the largest export products, as is beef.

The fashion industry of France has also led to there being a notable export market for high end perfumes, expensive textiles, and beauty products. These goods are often produced within the chemical industry that drives the economy, with pharmaceutical exports also holding a significant stake in the France’s external trade.

Despite a strong economy, France has a pretty high unemployment rate of about 29%, mainly due to the high levels of unemployment in the younger generations. Equally, it seems that French workers work fewer hours than other industrial countries, resulting in a lower per capita GDP than say countries like Japan.

The French political system is a secular, democratic, social republic that works within the framework of a semi-presidential system.

The current President is Emmanuel Macron, while the current prime minister is Édouard Philippe. There are three branches of the French political system. The executive branch is powered by the President of the Republic and the government, with the president appointing the Prime Minister.

The legislative sector – the parliament – is made up of the National Assembly and the Senate, while the independent judiciary is made up of both a judicial branch and an administrative branch.

In late 2018, there was a spate of urban rioting across France as the citizens have become disenfranchised with the state of the system.

The riots started as a result of proposals to tax hydrocarbons, but even after the scrapping of this idea, protests continued as a general anti-Macron demonstration. This appears to have settled somewhat by now.

Travel

France’s dominant tourist industry makes it extremely simple to travel into France. Visitors can arrive by plane to over 100 different airports all around the country.

While there are direct flights from the USA to Paris, Lyon, and Nice, the vast supply of budget airlines in Europe makes it more sensible to travel to a nearby European city, such as London, and take a cheaper flight in.

You can also arrive to France by ferry from the UK, leaving from Calais or Dunkirk, or you can travel into France by train – using the Interrail pass system for cross-border rail travel around Europe.

You’ll also find plenty of coach companies that will drive to France, taking the ferry from the UK or traveling across mainland from many other European countries. Coach travel is cheaper, but slow and uncomfortable.

It’s pretty easy to get around France. You can rent a car in France, but you must be over 21 by law, and over 25 with certain car rental companies.

That said, if you’re only planning on going from major city to major city, you’re best off using public transport as it is most cost-effective as the price of gas is far higher than the US. Plus, driving in French cities can be somewhat terrifying!

However, if you’re trundling round the small French villages in search of a rural property, car hire is likely the best option. Check out the fully insured packages from Citroen and Renault that offer a brand new car for a great rate.

In terms of rail travel, France has one of the best systems as an early adopter of the high speed rail. The high speed system, TGV, goes to 150 cities in France and just across the border – with both first and second class – and is one of the fastest ways to get around. It’s advisable to book online if you don’t speak French.

Coach travel is also available between major destinations, with 3 main domestic operators: Starshipper, Ouibus, and Isilines. You’ll also find that Megabus, Alsa, and Meinfernbus also operate systems around France, despite being international companies. All of these systems are pretty cheap but they’re a little slow.

Tourism

France is the largest tourist destination in the world, with the tourist sector raking in over 77 billion euros a year and providing 11% of the country’s employment.

Home to 37 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, France is abundant with cultural experiences and geographical wonders for tourists to feast their eyes upon. Included in this list are such locations as the Palace and Park of Versailles, the historical site of Lyon, the Palace of Tau, the Pyrénées mountains, Amiens Cathedral, and the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay.

When it comes to culture, however, Paris nabs the top spot as home to high fashion houses, the Louvre Museum, Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and Cathedrale de Notre Dame.

France is also famous for its glorious wine regions that scatter the country. From champagne in the north east of France to Burgundy in the center, and Bordeaux in the south west, France is littered with vineyards and wineries covering a broad spectrum of grapes and varieties set in rolling hillsides and stunning rural scenery.

Those enjoying the wine tours of the country will find remarkably quaint French rural villages in sleepy areas, with period properties and gorgeous gites.

For the skiers and snowboarders, the Alpine regions are home to some of the best skiing in the world. From Chamonix to Tignes, winter sports lovers from all over the world flock to France in the winter times to indulge in the best ‘snow-sure’ ski resorts in the world.

To top it all off, France’s beaches cannot be forgotten, With golden stretching coastlines, France is home to famous golden sands and beaches such as St Tropez, Deauville, and Prado, as well as gorgeous islands just off the south and west coasts, such as Porquerolles and Île de Ré.

Key Info for Foreigners Buying Property in France

The French property market is slowly rising after experiencing a huge drop in value in 2009 and 2013. Despite this hiccup and the stagnation that followed, housing prices have begun to rise again since 2017, with increases as high as 8%.

This can be attributed most likely to schemes such as the tax breaks for landlords and loans for first time buyers.

It is important to understand that the French property market is generally one of renters. Native French people tend not to buy properties as house prices can be quite expensive, especially in major cities and tourist hotspots.

Where property used to be cheap, now it is far too unaffordable for young families, and longer living relatives means that properties no longer get passed down the line.

That said, if you’re looking for the quiet life, rural living can be a very affordable option. While urban dwellings are generally very expensive, countryside homes can be snapped up for very affordable figures.

When it comes to investment for tourism purposes, those looking to buy to let to holidaymakers need to consider the most popular destinations in France.

Aside from Paris, Bordeaux, Provence, Nord, and the Mediterranean Coast are the most coveted spots, fetching the best prices.

Types of Properties for Sale

France has a real melding pot of properties, all with their own unique charm. As such a large country, France is mostly made up of countryside, meaning that the majority of homes are traditional rural properties, such as stone cottages, converted (or convertable) barns, and farmhouses.

You’ll see that you can find all kinds of properties for a relatively cheap price if they’re in need of renovation, but it’s important to understand the true cost of structural refurbishments.

You may find rural stone houses for as low as €25,000 , but with the right amount of care and attention and if place in the right area, renovated rural properties can sell for over €1 million – a great investment opportunity if you fancy a ‘doer-upper’.

If you’re looking for something in pretty good condition, you’ll probably pay around €65,000 for a farmhouse with a couple of bedrooms in a semi-popular destination.

Many of these quaint farmhouse set ups comes with a small cottage on the land, which may have been used for serving staff of farm hands back in the day. It’s quite common to renovate this into a self-catering holiday home, known as a gîte.

If you’re in search for the old French town feel of cobbled streets and coffee on your balcony, you may consider a village home or townhouse, often referred to as a chateau. They often come with incredible period features, carved in stunning stone and wood.

Unfortunately, many of these are a little dilapidated, and those that aren’t can be quite pricey. Again if you fancy renovating one, you can end up selling a townhouse for around €400,000.

For those buyers looking for modern conveniences in a no-fuss apartment or considering buying to rent to holiday-makers, tourist spots tend to have pretty well kitted-out tourist developments or uniform residential complexes where you can buy a condos and villas.

In popular tourist spots you can pay anything from €200,000 to €2 million depending on the size and location, with places like Paris obviously topping the charts in price.

If you’re a skier, you may consider a chalet in the mountains. As France has some of the best skiing in the world, unfortunately they usually come at a hefty price tag. You’ll find stand-alone chalets and those included in country clubs, with country club chalets usually priced more affordably.

Property Ownership

Buying property in France is straightforward for anyone – there are no restrictions for foreigners buying in the country, no matter whether you’re from within the EU or not. However, understand that visas and residency is completely separate. Just because you have a property does not mean you can live indefinitely in the country.

When heading into the process, it’s best to work with a real estate agent – this will help the process go much smoother.Equally, those who work directly with the seller often end up paying much higher prices for the property.

Buying Process

You’ll need to get yourself:

  • Estate agent – you want one that’s part of a trade association such as the AIPP
  • Notary
  • Independent Lawyer
  • Structural Engineer (optional)
  • An insured removals company

As for the buying process (which takes around 3 months, or sometimes longer), once you’ve found a property and made an offer, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • The agent will ask you to sign an agreement that shows commitment to buy called an ‘offre d’achat’ so that the seller takes the property off the market.
  • Next you will sign a sale and purchase agreement called a ‘compromis de vente’. This document will have all the details of the purchase and the property for sale, along with an outline of the related fees. You will need to have your lawyer review this document before you sign it.
  • Next you’ll be given a boundary map of the property known as a ‘plan cadastral’. This dictates exactly what you are buying.
  • Next, you pay a deposit which is usually around 10%. This is paid to either the notary or the estate agent and is held in an escrow account.
  • There is a period of 10 days after signing the contract where nothing happens. This gives you a last chance to pull out of the deal without losing any money. This s a matter of French law.
  • Following you 10 day cooling off period, surveyors come in to survey the property to check everything is up to scratch.
  • Next you need to put your purchase funds in place either by having your mortgage lender send funds to the notary or having your bank/currency exchange send funds via a transfer.
  • The last step is to sign the deed, known as the ‘acte authentique’. It is possible to have a power of attorney do this if you’re not in the country. You’ll will be given a certificate of purchase as a receipt for your payment.

Financing Options

France allows you to buy houses outright with cash if you can afford it – you can do this either by bank transfer or through a currency exchange company.

If you need a mortgage, most countries won’t lend to you for foreign property, but this is dependent on where you come from.

The best option is to look for an overseas mortgage broker that will scour French banks for the best mortgage deals for you. You can contact the bank directly but you will need to speak very good French in order to obtain good deals.

French mortgage rates are pretty good but you’re likely to need to put down a pretty high deposit of between 15% and 20% as banks usually only give mortgages of up to 80% of the property. Some banks only offer 50% mortgages to non-residents.

You’ll be subject to a credit check and France is quite strict on what they will accept in terms of affordability. Be prepared to do a lot of paperwork!

Interestingly, you can borrow your mortgage in your home currency. You should really borrow in the currency you intend to payback in but borrowing in Euros is also an option if you intend to recuperate the money by renting your property.

Taxes

Taxes on buying properties range depending on the type of property, its price, and its age.

In France, you’ll be given one bill by your notary that covers the notary fees, stamp duty, vat, and land registration fees. Notary fees are set by the government on a sliding scale dependent on the tax bracket of the property. Bear in mind that you have to add 20% VAT on top of this figure.

  • €0-6,500 – 3.945%
  • €6,500 – €17,000 – 1.627%
  • €17,000 – €60,000 – 1.085%
  • €60,000+ – 0.814%
  • Transfer tax (stamp duty) – 5.8% for properties older than 5 years, and 0.7% plus 20% VAT for property newer than 5 years
  • TVA (or VAT) – this only needs to be paid on new-builds and equals 20%

You’ll also need to pay:

  • Legal fees – if using an independent lawyer
  • Bank charges (for setting the mortgage)
  • Estate agent fees
  • Surveyors fees (optional if you hired one)

Potential Property Buying Problems

There are a few potential pitfalls you need to consider:

  • Paying deposits in cash. If you’re buying directly from the owner, you want to make sure you have a paper trail in place. Paying deposits in cash can be risky as the owner (or whoever is posing as the owner) can just disappear with the money.
  • Presuming the closure date is fixed. You’ll find that you compromis de vente has a closure date on it. You need to be flexible here as sometimes the process takes longer than it originally sets out.
  • Not checking agent credentials. You want to make sure you’re with an accredited agent. There is nothing wrong with asking to see their ‘carte professionelle’ to check they’re as qualified as they say they are. Equally, make sure you see their financial guarantee as this is what insures your deposit if something goes wrong from their end.
  • Not getting the insurance on new-builds. By French law, any new-builds are covered by a ten year insurance, offered by the builders. Make sure you check this is in place.
  • Not getting the house surveyed – This is especially important when you are buying an old property. You don’t want to later find out that the roof is going to fall down when the owner said it was in good nick.

Residency

If you’d like to reside in your new property, here is what you need to do:

For EU Nationals:

If you are an EU national, you can remain in France without any form of visa, but you will have to carry your passport.

You will need to register as a resident by reporting to the ‘mairie’ or town hall. You need to take your passport and proof of address, and you’ll be issued with an ‘Attestation d’enregistrement’.

Those working need to register for a social security number at your local social security office.

For permanent residency, EU members can automatically get a resident card if you can show you’ve lived in France for the last 5 years or if you have bought property or married a French spouse. To get this, go to the local town hall in France where you will be given a temporary residence while yours is being processed. Here is what you will need to bring:

  • Passport with copies of the main pages.
  • Four passport photos
  • Birth certificate and official translation
  • Marriage certificate and official translation
  • Two copies of the completed application
  • List of previous residences
  • List of former employers
  • Names of siblings and children

For Non-EU Nationals:

If you’re staying for less than 90 days at a time, you’ll only need your passport (for visa exempt countries like the US and Australia).

Those who want to stay longer need a temporary residence visa from the French Consulate in your country – it must be done before you get to France. Be aware that this can take up to 2 months.

If you want to stay for up to 6 months in France, you’ll need to apply for a permanent resident visa from your local French consulate in your country. This can take up to 2 months. Here is what you will need to bring:

  • Passport with copies of the main pages.
  • Four passport photos
  • Proof of residence.
  • Proof of medical insurance.
  • Proof of sufficient financial resources
  • Birth certificate, with an official translation if requested, notarised by a French lawyer

For permanent residency, you’ll need a ‘carte de resident’, which is valid for 10 years. You can get this is you can show you’ve lived in France for the last 5 years with long-term visas (such as a work permit) or if you have bought property or married a French spouse.

To get this, contact your French prefecture in your country or the local town hall in France where you will be given a temporary residence while yours is being processed. Here is what you will need to bring:

  • Passport with copies of the main pages.
  • Four passport photos
  • Birth certificate and official translation
  • Marriage certificate and official translation
  • Two copies of the completed application
  • List of previous residences
  • List of former employers
  • Names of siblings and children