Getting ready to leave the UK for France

Our Chambres d’Hôtes has been open for 3 weeks and we’ve had 3 ‘waves’ of paying guests staying with us. I hope this time is indicative of the season ahead because we’ve met some lovely people and had some great feedback, so I am feeling very positive. The heat wave that started a couple of weeks ago has seen temperatures up in the 30s every day which has taken some getting used to, but our big stone house which was so expensive to heat in the winter is now keeping us lovely and cool + the insulation I bought from Tridome to put in the loft space is already paying dividends! The pool is great now too!!

Picking up the timeline from my last post, I left my job in February 2021 with very mixed emotions. I loved working at SET Saxmundham school, I felt emotionally attached to the school, staff, pupils and community and I was about to take another big step into the unknown.

With 5 months to go until we moved, I decided to split my time between planning/preparing for the move, learning French and revisiting some of my favourite places in England.

The UK COVID vaccination campaign was accelerating nicely and although we would need ‘an essential need to travel’ to enter France, moving house was included so we were increasingly confident that we’d be able to get over.

Despite BREXIT, we could still import all our belongings into France without paying tax or fees as it was part of a move of our primary residence, but in order to be able to do this I had to create a detailed inventory of absolutely everything we were bringing over, in English and French and each with a value in £ and in €. This, along with the associated customs forms and declarations, was to accompany us, as we travelled over with what we could fit in the car and later, the removals company when they brought everything else over.

During the spring of 2021 our house in Framlingham went on the market with Clarke & Simpson, and after several quotes I booked Revells Removals to move all our stuff into storage mid-July and subsequently ship it to France once we’d found a house. We were doing a lot of ‘decluttering’ in preparation for the move – stuff in the house and garage, but also accounts / memberships / loyalty cards etc etc etc…

We sadly decided to sell Tom’s Audi TT convertible, not being the most practical of our vehicles, and take my boring Audi A4 Estate with us. I discovered we would need French car insurance before we set off because we were moving our residence outside the UK, the usual holiday cover you get could not be used in this case. I ended up phoning AXA in Eymet to arrange the cover. Once I’d explained my situation, they were very helpful in getting that sorted. Once in France I’d have about a month to get the MOT and registration process sorted so that went on my project plan.

As I was sorting car and health insurance out, it was becoming clear life would be a lot easier if I had a French bank account. I managed to open one from England with HSBC France. They allowed me to open the account before I moved over, using the address of the rental property we would be staying at to start off whilst still sending my cards / documents to my UK address, and I was then able to move some money across to start covering the costs of French car and health insurance.

With a heavy heart we decided it was going to be way too complicated and most likely expensive to import our lovely motorhome so that too went up for sale. We got a good price and have tucked the money away in the hope of buying something similar here in the EU.

My French was progressing slowly. But with a combination of Duo Lingo, You Tube videos and a weekly hour-long Skype call with Liz, a lovely lady in Paris that I met through Tandem who really helped to boost my confidence, it was heading in the right direction.

Well having spent most of this afternoon ironing bed linen, I think I’ve earned a glass of wine by the pool this evening!

Moving to France from the UK…post BREXIT…during a global pandemic…

Summer has certainly arrived in Southwest France. I’m so glad we got the ‘heavy lifting’ to get our B&B ready during the winter and early spring because it has been sooo hot for the last few weeks that by early afternoon it is just too much to work outside. It’s been great for our guests though, the pool has warmed up nicely so people have been enjoying that and we’ve able to serve breakfast on the terrace as well as in our dining room. We’ve come such a long way since we arrived in France last July, it is quite difficult to take it all in sometimes.

I was a project manager at BT and in Openreach for a long time, with a focus on risk management, so having made up our minds to move out here, it wasn’t long until we had a plan in place and were getting into the detail of what was going to be involved with visas, customs, taxes etc

Looking back at my plan now it started in 2020, but it really ‘kicked-in’ at the start of 2021 with some scary milestones like handing in our notices at work, putting the house on the market and booking a one-way ferry from Dover to Calais. This was against a backdrop of COVID lockdowns, travel bans and the BREXIT withdrawal agreement.

We toyed with the idea of rushing things through to get an address in France before the end of 2020 to avoid some of the biggest BREXIT impacts, but I was being cautious as usual, so we set a date of 22nd July 2021 to make the move.

The key ‘boxes to tick’ moving towards that date (I’ll write a post on each over the coming weeks) were: 

  • Post BREXIT visas needed to stay in the EU more than 90 consecutive days and more than 180 days per year.
  • COVID vaccinations – it was clear we were going to need two jabs each before we could enter the EU.
  • Private health insurance needed until we could join the French healthcare system.
  • A French bank account.
  • Importing (or selling) our cars/motorhome as part of the move and getting them insured, ‘MOT’ equivalent and registered with French number plates.
  • Selling our house in the UK and finding somewhere to rent in France.
  • Moving all our furniture and belongings into storage and subsequently arranging shipment to France along with all the necessary customs declarations.
  • Unpicking our accounts and services in the UK under the new post-BREXIT financial laws.
  • Significantly improving my grasp of the language.

In 2020 I was running the office at a high school, part of the Seckford Education Trust, and Tom was a Maths teacher at another high school in Suffolk. We struck it lucky in summer 2020 with COVID restrictions lifting in time for us to spend 6 weeks in France in the MoHo with, for the first time, a plan in place to move over. We lingered around Villeneuve Sur Lot and Pujols for quite a while as this was the region we were most interested in moving to. In fact, we are now a little further north just across the border in Dordogne, but that is another story to pick up in future posts. We returned from France just in time for the 2nd big COVID wave more convinced than ever that we were doing the right thing so over the winter COVID lockdowns, our plans firmed up. I think I told my boss in November 2020 that I would be leaving in February 2021 so she could start planning for my replacement and so it would feel more real to me. It was also beginning sink in with family and friends that we were really going to go through with it this time.

A brief (and it is very brief!) history.

Having enjoyed so many holidays in France over the years, both during and since my childhood, I have grown to love the country, the culture and the people. More recently, spending family holidays here and touring the country in our Motorhome, Tom and I became more and more convinced we’d like to move our home from the U.K. to France.

I don’t remember exactly when and how it turned from a ‘wouldn’t it be great to…’ into a ‘let’s just do it…’ but a combination of things came into play at once. I think the big 3 were:

  1. The U.K. voted for BREXIT – I’ll say no more on that for now 🙁
  2. I’ve always said I wanted to quit work for a complete change at 55 years old
  3. COVID happened and the phrase ‘life is too short’ kept cropping up

We explored all sorts of options around buying a primary and/or secondary home in France and whether to sell, downsize or rent out our UK house. In the end, after much head-scratching we decided to sell up completely in the UK and rent in France until we found somewhere we wanted to buy, and so the wheels were in motion.

This week we welcomed our first paying guests into our Chambres d’Hôtes and opened another chapter in our lives 🙂

We are open for business!

We signed the acte de vente and picked up the keys for our new house on 8th December 2021 and from 1st May 2022 we are open for business. It has been a lot of hard work but hugely rewarding and we are really excited to start welcoming guests for Bed and Breakfast as we start the next chapter in our lives.

This time last year, Tom was still a maths teacher and I had not long quit my job as a school administrator.

Time permitting I’ll be updating this blog on a weekly basis looking back over the last year on how we got to where we are today, and, moving forward, reflecting on life running a Chambres d’Hôtes in south west France.