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Sacre Bleu! The challenges of a European move abroad

Whether you’re newly landed or are in the planning process, relocating to Europe can present some interesting hurdles. Here’s what you need to know.

What do you call that: Language is only one of the obstacles you will encounter moving abroad. Photo: Getty Images

Yearning for a view of a Tuscan hill town, or to live among the winding streets of a Breton fishing village? For so many, moving to Europe is a dream come true. 

However, no matter how thorough your planning is, you are likely to come up against obstacles. 

Together with boutique relocation experts French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB, The Local looks at some of the issues you may not have considered. 

The letter of the law

While settling in France or Italy is easier than in many parts of the world, depending on your circumstances or where you are from, you may need special visas to stay. 

Obtaining these can be tricky, and requires a lot of homework. For example, in France you need to apply for a visa before you leave your country of residence, with multiple stages of validation including visits to your local préfecture (local administration) needed throughout the process. If you wish to settle in Italy, you’ll be making an initial application, then mostly working with the local questura (police) to take fingerprints and other data, before you are granted your Permesso di Soggiorno (residency permit)

If you have purchased a new home abroad, odds are that you’ve already experienced the delightful intricacies of French or Italian law. If not, get ready for an almost endless process of paperwork and waiting periods as local bureaucracy does its thing. 

Even so, your interactions with the law in the course of your new life may extend far beyond dealing with visas or land deeds. 

Did you know, for instance, that there’s an Italian village where it’s illegal to die? Or that you can be heavily fined for skylarking around your home naked in France? 

Sure, these may be extreme instances of weird and obscure laws, but they do reflect a wider fact – life is regulated and legislated differently in Europe, on a local level, and a minor slip-up can have surprising ramifications. 

Family and inheritance laws also differ considerably between France and Italy and the rest of the world. You can’t simply trust that a will may be interpreted the way you intend it, or that inheritance will work the same way in your new home. 

It’s important, therefore, to be able to rely on experts in the field who can advise on things like property law and setting up a will, should you ever need them. 

Let French Connections HBC make your move très simple!

The lay of the land 

Something else that’s important to understand is that both France and Italy are, essentially, collections of small, incredibly diverse principalities. 

This manifests in many different ways. For example, distance and location can often render the local French or Italian indecipherable to those from the outside – not only in terms of accent, but grammar and truly tricky idioms. 

These differences extend beyond language, to how businesses operate, and when you can access certain services. 

Tradesmen may operate differently to how you would expect, with surprising requirements or payment terms. Break a window at the wrong time and you may find yourself without anyone to come out for a week – or with a bill you don’t quite know how to pay! 

You may find that certain documentation you need is delayed by local festivals or irregular opening hours that haven’t been communicated anywhere that you’re likely to find it. 

Without deep local knowledge or someone on ‘the inside’, it can be exceptionally difficult to get things done promptly without significant delays. 

What can make it so much easier is to have someone who knows how to navigate the appointment merry-go-round, and get you face to face with officials. 

Find out how Italian Connections HBC can deliver la dolce vita!

High-rise life, Tuscan-style: San Gimignano is one of the many Tuscan hilltop towns attracting visitors each year. Photo: Getty Images

The long and winding road 

Getting around can also present some unique challenges you may not have expected. 

Recent law changes in Italy, for example, mean that you’ll need to register your car as soon as you have your residency settled – or your wheels may be impounded! This process isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems and has proved a headache for many unsuspecting new arrivals. 

While you are permitted to drive on your existing licence for a period in France, for instance, you’ll need to swap it for a French licence within a year. This can be tricky, especially if the last time you had any sort of conversation in French was high school. 

Buying a new car in France or Italy can also be more complex than ‘back home’, with changing legislation and differences in EU regulations meaning that what you want may be difficult to find. 

If all that sounds like a headache, many people opt to pay for specialist help. Having someone in your corner who can not only speak the local language but smooth the way through the obstacles of car purchasing and registration can be well worth it. 

Boutique, bespoke assistance

Having people to assist you with the intricacies of local life is a godsend when you’re abroad, but good help can be hard to find. 

Friends can often be eager to assist, but complex and frequent requests may place a strain on the friendship – and who wants that? 

You might turn to a professional service. Unfortunately, not all services are equal, and some simply don’t deliver what is promised. So be sure to seek out companies with good reputations and a dedicated level of assistance.

Such companies include French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB. Their team of dedicated, on-call experts have been helping people from the wider world settle and enjoy life in France for the last few years, and are now helping others move to Italy. They are accomplished at cutting through local red tape and smoothing the way for the life you’ve been seeking!

Many of the services they offer include the big hassles like securing visas to settle and changing your driving licence, to everyday chores like making medical appointments or seeking a quote from a tradesmen, even helping you in your search for your dream home – this is when local expertise and language skills really come into play, especially when you are first getting settled.

Moving to France or Italy? Call on the team that cuts the busy work – giving you more time to enjoy your new life!

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PROPERTY

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.

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