Retiring to France

A new book, Retiring to Europe, with accompanying website, provides important information for those considering retiring to France, including personal finance and pensions issues, healthcare and affordability.

The following are brief extracts.

France has a reputation as a high tax jurisdiction. But France can be a tax-efficient place to live for retirees, providing you understand the tax implications of your situation and obtain specialist expat tax advice.

You are considered tax resident if your main home (foyer) is in France. You would also be considered a tax resident if you either spend more than 183 days in France during the French tax year (the calendar year), if you spend more time in France than in any other country, if your principal activity is in France, or if France is home to your most substantial assets.

Many of France’s taxes sound the same as ones you may be familiar with in the UK, but they are calculated completely differently. There are some that do not exist in the UK, such as wealth tax, and, for some, healthcare charges.

Cost of living

There are the day-to-day costs, including food, car, utility bills, rent or mortgage. There are also the long-term considerations such as how your income or pension will be affected by a change in the currency rate. Brexit has affected the value of sterling, but UK expats already experienced near parity of the euro and pound during the global financial crisis, and the pound recovered, so it may do again.

The cost of living in France – as in much of Europe – has increased dramatically in the past decade. Housing is between 70%-95% pricier in Paris than in southern cities such as Perpignan, Marseille and Nice. Transport, food and entertainment are similarly far more expensive in the capital.

Utility costs vary in France. Electricity and mains gas are cheap compared with most of the EU, but water costs are among the most expensive in the world and vary hugely from region to region. But some elements remain cheaper than in other Northern European countries, including property, food, alcohol, public transport and entertainment.


In the eternally sought-after areas of the Cote d’Azur, Alps and Paris, there has been a cautious return of confidence among overseas buyers eyeing up French property. For many other areas of France, though – in particular rural areas – prices continue to fall.

After several years of falling prices – up to 40% in some regions – the strength of sterling against the euro saw British buyers re-enter the market in 2015. But the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and subsequent plunge of sterling, has put the brakes on that again.

The Cote d’Azur and the Alps top the list for British buyers with healthy budgets. But their appetite for major renovations is definitely on the wane. The new demands are for property that is ‘turnkey ready’ – and somewhere with good rental potential. That may be less relevant immediately if you are planning to live in the country, but it is still an important factor in the long-term value of your investment. This means being in a prime location, near shops, restaurants and beaches (if relevant) and within easy reach of an airport.


You may be as fit as a fiddle now, but it may be a different story in ten or 20 years. The good news is that the French healthcare system is regarded as one of the best in the world. Its public and private hospitals offer a similarly high standard of care, there are no significant waiting lists for operations and no fight for hospital beds.

Currently, UK citizens or retirees receiving a state pension from another EU country are entitled to a contribution from the French government of 70% of the cost of treatment. There is cheap and mandatory top-up insurance to cover the remainder.

EU citizens who retire before qualifying for a state pension can receive French social security health cover for up to 30 months, providing they obtain an E106 form from their country’s social security department.

Some non-EU citizens can receive entirely or partially free French state healthcare, depending on their country’s reciprocal social security agreements 

If you are not entitled to receive free healthcare in France –  you will need private health insurance. If you live in France, this will be a ‘voluntary insurance’ policy (assurance volontaire). The national health service covers the cost of all treatment for life-threatening illnesses and accidents.

You can read the original article here


The Spanish Lifestyle

Spain remains the most popular destination for British tourists and expats. The climate is a major draw, but the beaches, excellent food and drink, friendly Spanish people, laid back lifestyle, culture and historic cities add to its attractiveness. Spain has a long history and this has impacted their culture.


Spain has a total area of 505,990 km² and is comprised of the Iberian Peninsula, the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.  It has a population of 46.7 million of which 87% are ethnically Spanish.

Mainland Spain is a mountainous country, dominated by high plateaus and mountain chains.  The Mediterranean climate, characterised by warm/hot and dry summers, is dominant in the peninsula. The South East quarter has a semi-arid climate with higher temperatures and lower rainfall and the oceanic climate in the North East with milder temperatures in the summer and winter.


Spain has a long history with the Romans creating Hispania as a political, legal and administrative unit.  The Moors invaded Spain in 711 and ruled in parts of Southern Spain for 700 years.  These Roman and Moorish influences remain in Spain in the buildings and in the culture.  In more recent times the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939 resulted in 36 years of military dictatorship under Franco.  Franco restored the monarchy before his death in 1975, which made King Juan Carlos I his successor.  King Juan Carlos led the Spanish transition to democracy and after a referendum, a new constitution transformed Spain into a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy.

Spain has a rich heritage in the arts with painters including El Greco, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Francisco Goya from the Spanish Golden Age and Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró in the 20th century.

The country’s architecture is a combination of Romanesque, Mudéjar architecture influenced by the Moorish occupation, Gothic, Spanish Baroque and other styles.  In more recent times modernism has had an impact and one of the most dramatic architects was Gaudí with the Sagrada Família his most famous creation.  As a result Spain has the third highest number of World Heritage Sites in the world.

Religion and Beliefs in Spain

Roman Catholicism was the official religion of Spain until 1978 when the new constitution established freedom of religion.  According to the Centre for Sociological Research, in September 2018 66% of Spaniards identify as Roman Catholic, 26.4% as atheists and 2.4% as followers of other faiths.  Most are not active participants, however, with 61% barely ever attending mass and 16% attending only a few times a year.

Although religion is not as important as it once was church feast days are marked by fiestas in every village and town throughout the country.


Spain has four official languages. The most prominent of the languages is Spanish (Castilian), spoken by about 99% of Spaniards as a first or second language and is the only official language throughout the country.  The other languages are co-official in the regions in which they are spoken.  Catalan (or Valencian) is spoken by 19%, Galician by 5%, and Basque by 2% of the population.

English is widely spoken in areas where tourists are seen, but maybe less common in rural areas away from the resorts and major cities.


Family and the extended family is important in Spain.  You will often see large family groups in restaurants and as children do not have set bed times young children will often be seen with them late into the evening.

Although it is less common for three generations to live in the same household as it once was the family is still who people turn to when times are hard.  Children are at the centre of the family life, although there has been a trend to a lower birth rate as couples place greater emphasis on career and lifestyle (the birth rate in Spain reduced from 3.01 births per woman in 1964 to 1.33 in 2016).


Sport in Spain is dominated by football with very successful club sides, like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid as well as the national team, which won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euros in 2008 and 2012. Other sports are also popular, including basketball, tennis, cycling, handball, motorcycling, Formula One, water sports, rhythmic gymnastics, golf, bullfighting and skiing.


Spain produces 44% of the world’s olives and olive oil is central to Spanish cooking.  Markets are part of the way of life and cooking with fresh ingredients bought from the market is common.  Supermarkets are common, but the open market remain important part of life in Spain.

The day in Spain is differently structured than most other western countries and the later lunch and very late evening meal is facilitated by a series of light meals.  Many Spaniards have a light early breakfast and then a second breakfast mid-morning.  Lunch is eaten between 1pm and 4pm either at home or in a café.  Eating out is common and the evening may involve some early sandwiches in a salones de té or pastelerías or tapas and a beer in a bar and then sit down to eat as late as midnight.

There are significant regional variations in Spanish food and many famous dishes, including paella, gazpacho, tortilla or Spanish omelette, gambas al ajillo (prawns in garlic), pisto (Spanish ratatouille), cured meats, including jamon carved thinly off cured legs of pork, spicy chorizo and milder salchicón.


Tipping is not expected in Spain.  In restaurants 5% to 10% is all that most Spaniards would tip and  with the bill rounded up in taxis.

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Healthcare In Portugal

Access to the Portuguese health system is based on residence. If you are formally resident in Portugal (having registered with your nearest Town Hall or the Immigration authorities and obtained a residence certificate), you are entitled to register with your local health centre and receive state healthcare.

Most doctors in Portugal are fluent in English. Indeed, a growing number of doctors in the country are English, especially in areas with a high number of expats such as the Algarve, where they are likely to be working in the private healthcare sector.

Although both public and private options are widely available, the latter is growing in popularity within the expat community. This isn’t because public health care is necessarily a bad choice, but like the UK’s own NHS the speed of consultation, treatment and follow-up care can sometimes be found wanting.

On the plus side, state-provided healthcare in Portugal is available to EU expats on exactly the same basis as it is to Portuguese citizens – although it might not include all the treatment and medication that you would expect to get free of charge from the NHS, for instance, and you might have to make a patient contribution to the cost of your care.

The Portuguese Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS) is the equivalent of the NHS, providing hospital and local health centre services. It can sometimes be exasperating, sometimes excellent. Expats with residency in Portugal must obtain a SNS user card in order to take advantage of the free public healthcare system. This can be done at a local health centre with a passport and residency card.

Long waiting lists and cancelled appointments are the exception rather than the rule in private health clinics and hospitals, and doctors and clinicians are generally able to allocate more time to patients. The private medical care industry is growing rapidly in Portugal, commensurate with the growth of the expat community. The Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo golf resorts in the Algarve each have British-owned and run medical centres in their estates.

If you’re visiting Portugal you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Portuguese nationals.

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The Portuguese Way Of Life

What To Expect

Perhaps you are thinking of moving to Portugal to live and work, or to enjoy your retirement in the sunshine. Whilst an unquestioning observance of social and religious customs plays an important role in daily life, the Portuguese know how to let their hair down.

Evening meals start and end earlier than in neighbouring Spain, but it is not unusual to eat as late as 10pm. While the afternoon nap (sesta) is less entrenched in daily routine than it is in Spain, it is practised in pockets of the country nearer to the Spanish border.

In truth, the Portuguese are a hardworking people and are likely to be contemptuous of the notion of an afternoon ‘nap’. And, while Portugal is blessed with a warm and sunny climate, it avoids the debilitating temperatures found in much of Spain in summer by virtue of being cooled by west coast Atlantic breezes.

Festa, on the other hand, is a different matter. Every town and village in the country has an annual festival when, in true Iberian fashion, everything shuts down except bars and restaurants. From February’s Carnival through to October there is a huge celebration marking every holiday and saint’s day. They can be elaborate affairs or simple ones, but you can always expect music, food, drink and dancing until the early hours. Attending local festivals provides a unique insight into local culture and is a great way to meet new people and immerse yourself in the Portuguese way of life.

The major international festivals tend to take place in Portugal’s major cities, notably the Festas de Lisboa – a series of events in the country’s capital which peak on St Anthony’s Day, 12-13 June, and St John’s Day in Porto on 23-24 June. The latter has been observed for over six centuries and has acquired a reputation as one of the liveliest festivals in Europe.

Although spectacular white beaches, fabulous food, superb local wine, great golf courses, extensive watersports and a delightful climate all play their part in life in Portugal, there is one additional diversion which should not be dismissed.  Football plays a huge part in the nation’s life and new residents might be expected to show a passing interest in the national game.

Portugal has a reputation for producing great footballers (Eusebio, Luis Figo, Ronaldo), if not a similarly creditable record in winning international trophies. That all changed in July 2016 when the national team became European champions by beating France in the final of Euro 2016. The country’s three biggest football clubs, Porto, Benfica, and Sporting Lisbon, have also enjoyed international success.

In golf, the country has some of the finest and most lavishly appointed courses in the world. See the information panel, ‘Seven Great Golf Courses In Portugal’.

In the world of surfing, Portugal boasts some of the most formidable waves in the sport, infamously the 100-foot monster at Praia do Norte, outside the fishing village of Nazare, north of Lisbon.

If there is one universal musical landmark that Portugal can truly claim as its own it is the distinctive sound of Fado, the mournful lament that speaks of life, struggle and passion which is heard in live performance venues throughout the country. Originating in the 1820s, every song tells a story about the harsh realities of everyday life, often with a sense of resignation about loss and longing.

Another distinctively Portuguese gift to the world is its extensive culinary influence. Not only are Portuguese missionaries said to have introduced tempura to Japan in the 16th century, but the British staple of fried fish (peixe frito) came from Portugal a century later. If that weren’t surprising enough, Indian food would be a lot blander if the chilli pepper hadn’t been introduced by Portuguese traders to India around the same time. It is no secret that Piri Piri sauce is a Portuguese invention.

Just as unmistakeably representative of the country’s cultural identity are the ubiquitous glazed tiles, azulejos, which decorate facades in every city and town. It is rare to come across a church, palace, or grand house that does not feature these distinctively patterned ceramics.

In a wider context, Portugal has a rich history in music and the arts, seen in the Celtic-influenced folklore of the north and in the Moorish architecture and musical legacy of the south. Either of the country’s major cities, Lisbon and Porto, will satisfy any yearning for a regular cultural fix.

Porto is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has world famous performance venues,including the Coliseu do Porto and the São João National Theatre. In 2001 the city was chosen European Culture Capital.

As would be expected of a capital city, Lisbon has the majority of the country’s museums and galleries. Unquestionably, the greatest of the city’s museums is the Gulbenkian, a private and permanent collection of exhibits that span over 4,000 years from antiquity to the 19th century.

No whistlestop tour of Portugal’s cultural tradition would be complete without reference to the importance of the Portuguese people’s ongoing love affair with coffee. On Lisbon’s leafy Avenida da Liberdade it is impossible to progress more than a hundred metres without passing a coffee hut or café selling a cup of bica for not much more than one euro. The Portuguese coffee culture brings people together, and the tradition of taking a coffee break mid-morning and/or after lunch is firmly entrenched in the national psyche.

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Buying Property In Portugal

Portuguese estate agents must be licensed and qualified, so ask to see their INCI certificate and AMI licence. With typical agent fees of more than 5%, private sales are common – look out for boards saying vende-se or para venda.

Among Portugal’s largest online property portals are Although the agent is paid out of the sales price, the buyer should budget for an average of 10% extra in fees and taxes.

Portuguese euro mortgages are available both to buy and to renovate a property. The maximum loan-to-value is 80% and rental income generally cannot be included in your calculations. You will need to pay an arrangement fee of 1.5–2% of the loan value, and pay for life assurance cover.

Your first step when looking seriously at buying should be to engage a lawyer – advogado – who is independent of the agent or developer. Being able to communicate with them, of course, is vital and there are English-speaking lawyers available in popular areas and cities.

When you find a property it is quite common to be asked for a modest (less than €3,000) deposit to take it off the market. It should be clearly stated to be refundable under certain conditions, such as a legal issue that cannot be resolved, or a survey – inspecao – that turns up something nasty. It should also be kept in a separate escrow-style account.

Avoid agreeing to under-declare the purchase price to avoid tax: it is quite a common practice but is illegal and could cost you extra in capital gains when you sell, unless you continue the deceit.

You will need to obtain a tax card and identity number (Cartão de Contribuinte) and NIF – a simple process of attending the local tax office with your passport and the small fee and filling in a few forms. Often the estate agent will be only too keen to help you with this.

Over the next few days your lawyer should be making the basic legal checks of the Land Registry to check the title is clean, checking basic features of the property such as boundaries, that there are no debts on the property or unresolved planning issues, that it has a habitation licence, and that your own plans for the property such as new buildings, extensions, use for rural tourism perhaps, are likely to be allowed.

Only when these are done should you sign the promissory contract – Contrato de Promessa de Compra e Venda (CPCV). This is signed at the office of the local notary, a government official whose job is to officially witness a legal document. They will not give advice and cannot replace the security of using your own lawyer. If attending in person is difficult at this stage or completion, you can appoint power of attorney to a representative.

The CPCV contract states details about buyer and seller, the property including fixtures, fittings and completion date for new homes. It is legally binding and backed with a 10% deposit that you pay at this stage. From now, if you pull out you lose all the money you have paid so far. If the seller pulls out he or she must pay you double the deposit.

It is back to the notary’s office to complete the process by signing the public deeds, the Escritura de Compra e Venda. It is sensible, and some notaries insist on it, to have a translator with you. At this point the notary will witness your payment of the balance as well as all taxes and his own fees. Your lawyer should then send the deeds to the land registry, your ownership will be officially recorded and new deeds issued.

At or before completion you will pay taxes and fees, the biggest of which is property transfer tax (IMT). There is nothing to pay on the first €92,400 but thereafter it is 2% rising to 8%. Stamp duty is 0.8% of the purchase price. The notary charges around 1% of the purchase price, the survey if you have one is another 1-2%, your lawyer also 1-2% and the land registry 0.5%. Those fees are subject to VAT (IVA) of 21%. You will also pay the IMI in advance, which is a kind of council tax.

Please note, tax rates and average professional fees are subject to change.

By Christopher Nye

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Portugal’s Seven Provinces

Which One Will Suit You?

Portugal is divided into seven provinces or regions with the enchanting city of Porto and a craggy landscape of montanhas e serras in the frequently chilly north, and the balmy coastline of the Algarve in the south.
Whilst the Algarve is possibly the best known region in Portugal, there is much else to explore and to consider when deciding where to live.

Within these contrasting landscapes are central Portugal, which includes the ancient university city of Coimbra, and south of it, the adjacent region of Lisbon in the industrial hinterland. Further south and above the Algarve is Alentejo, the country’s most agricultural area – a sleepy landscape of cork groves, vineyards and pine forests with crumbling farmhouses that have yet to be discovered by adventurous retirees.

In addition to mainland Portugal, the country also includes two autonomous island territories in the Atlantic Ocean, the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores – vestiges of a sprawling global empire which once embraced nearly half of the new world including Brazil, large parts of Africa, mainland China, India and Indochina. Madeira is more likely to be of interest to retirees than the remote and wind-scoured Azores.

Of the country’s regions the Algarve is still by some distance the most popular choice for Britons. But it isn’t the only choice. If you are drawn to living in a major city, then the country’s stylish capital Lisbon and its historic northern neighbour Porto are among the most eligible candidates in Europe.

Lisbon is one of the great European capital cities, a place of tangible history where trams rattle through cobblestone streets past richly decorated buildings showcasing a living museum of architectural styles from the Moors to Art Nouveau, much of it influenced by centuries of global trading and colonisation. Often described as the ‘city of light’, Lisbon has a surprise around every corner: a hilly landscape of honeycombed alleys and paths one way, sweeping miradors over land and sea the other, and everywhere you look a palette of brilliantly coloured buildings.

Lisbon’s coast also offers some exquisite retirement spots in Cascais and Estoril, once home to aristocrats and WW2 double agents, but now elegant sanctuaries for those seeking a quiet life with sea views.

Porto, the country’s second city and UNESCO world heritage site, is, like Lisbon, a seductive synthesis of historic and contemporary attractions. The capital of the ‘Norte’ region, it is a thriving commercial and cultural hub with much to offer art lovers – and foodies, indeed, with seafood a particular speciality of Porto and its neighbouring coastal resorts.

So to the Algarve, whose weather, scenery and lifestyle offer something for everyone but are particularly loved by northern European expats. It was described by a US newspaper as ‘the best place in the world to live or retire that nobody’s talking about’.

The article highlighted Silves and Lagoa, west of the Algarve’s capital Faro, as ‘particularly appealing’, but don’t ignore the gateway to the region itself, Faro, which, like most airport towns, is often overlooked by holidaymakers and home-buyers in a rush to the main resort areas.

It shouldn’t be. If you get past the shabby outskirts, Faro is as authentic as southern Portugal gets, with a well-preserved medieval quarter, a maze of narrow car-free lanes and alleys, lush parks and elegant plazas. It is also on the doorstep of protected natural parkland, easily accessible beaches and some of the most exclusive golf courses in the world. The lawns of the nearby exclusive Quinta do Lago golf resort border some of the most expensive real estate in Europe.

With a large student community at the University of the Algarve, there is a metropolitan buzz about Faro which is not found elsewhere in the region – with the possible exception of Albufeira, the main resort town of the Algarve and a magnet for tourists and revellers. In the opposite direction, towards the Spanish border, it contrasts with the elegant old town of Tavira, an increasingly popular choice for expats drawn by its classical architecture, including a famous seven-arch Roman bridge, and access to a beautiful island beach on the Ilha de Tavira.

The central Algarve between Faro and Sagres is the unquestioned centre of the Portuguese tourist industry, but the beaches are so plentiful that there is little difficulty in avoiding the crowds. Within a short drive of the homogeneous cluster of villas and gaudy bars along the coast, visitors will stumble across enchanting hill towns and the 300km Via Algarviana pilgrimage route, traversing the breadth of the region.

The western Algarve is another story – one more about nature and less about development – although its rugged nature and exposure to Atlantic winds may not be to every expat’s taste.

How important is the weather? Be aware of very different climates in the country’s regions. Porto is on the same latitude as New York, which is likely to mean colder winters and hot summers. The Algarve has more consistent conditions year round and is warmer and drier than in other areas.

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What Are The Most Popular Regions In France?

Moving to France remains a popular choice amongst expats looking to change their way of life.

There are many different French regions to choose from and each has its attractions, but the following four have proved to be consistently popular with people looking to move to France to live and work, or to retire.


Brittany is France’s most westerly region and its proximity to the UK makes it easy to get to and it has a large expat community.  Brittany is very proud of its culture and language and expats find it easy to settle in as the people are generally warm and welcoming.

The region has great beaches, coastlines and coastal towns and inland there are medieval towns and villages, forests and green countryside.  The northern part of the region can be windy but the southern part tends to be sunnier with occasionally very hot periods on the southern coast.

Finistère is a tourist region and the area around Quimper is popular with British buyers.  Coastal properties command a premium, but inland there are larger properties available at reasonable prices.  Longeres, the long traditional farmhouses, medieval townhouses as well as more substantial detached houses provide attractive investment opportunities.

The areas around Quimper and Dinan, on the river Rance are popular with British buyers.  Vannes near the Gulf of Morbihan with its attractive coast are popular with both expats and Parisians resulting in higher prices than other parts of Brittany.


The Languedoc-Roussillon region has become increasingly popular with foreign buyers over recent years.  The region has stunning natural features such as the Camargue and the Canal du Midi as well as historical sites, such as the World Heritage site of Carcassonne.

The northern area of the Languedoc is sparsely populated with small rural towns.  Its appeal is for those who enjoy a quieter and outdoor life and, although it is not popular with British buyers, it is more affordable than many areas.

The area around Nimes has dramatic gorges and the Camargue to the south, a natural marshland famous for its flamingos and wild horses.  Uzes is an attractive and popular  medieval town with its narrow streets and shaded squares.

Montpellier is the fastest growing city in France and is in increasing demand, but prices are fairly high driven by demand from domestic and overseas buyers.  The city is surrounded by attractive villages and vineyards.

Perpignan has the dramatic landscape of the Pyrenees as a backdrop.  The area is generally more affordable and there are coastal resorts with very affordable apartments but also premium areas such as Collioure.

The Dordogne

The Dordogne lies between the Pyrenees and the Loire Valley and is famous for its stunning scenery, unchanging historic towns and has long been associated with Brits moving to France.  The cuisine in the area with foie gras and duck confit is an added bonus.

Nontron, Périgueux and Bergerac are popular, but it is the rural areas that are the highlight.

Bergerac with its surrounding vineyards, attractive countryside and stretches of the Dordogne River is a popular but pricey area.  Perigueux with architecture dating back to Roman and Medieval times offers affordable modern homes as well as older renovation opportunities.

Nontron is set up high with excellent views over the valley of Bandiat. It has a quiet centre with half-timbered and Renaissance buildings and property in the area is surprisingly affordable.


Marseille with its long history as a major trading port went through a period of faded glory, but new parks, museums, public spaces and real estate projects have been built to restore the city.  The area has very low rainfall and the temperatures in the summer can be very high.

The Cote D’Azure enjoys glorious views over the Mediterranean and some of the most famous and sophisticated coastal resorts in the world.  Cannes, Nice, Antibes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Monte Carlo conjure up images of quintessential French glamour and there are many wonderful homes along the coast.  There are an enormous number of excellent restaurants, vibrant local markets and no shortage of cultural and other events

Not surprisingly the cost of living and property prices are high with average prices higher than Paris and the area is very busy with tourists throughout the season.  If you want to find better prices you will need to move away from the coast and city centres.  Inland you can find more affordable apartments, as well as farmhouses and attractive homes in rural villages.

In the Hautes-Alpes and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence where skiing and cycling is popular and prices are lower.  Just outside the region Savoie and Haute Savoie are very popular skiing resort areas and, although the top ski resorts such as Courchevel are very expensive, some of the less well-known resorts are more affordable.

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Downtime In Europe

If your expat assignment takes you to Europe, why not travel to these recommended places in your time off? Get away from your work assignment and truly explore your new environment, its culture and unique sights.

Istanbul, Turkey

Europe and Asia meet in Istanbul, where breathtaking ancient architecture coexists with modern restaurants and nightlife. The city’s mosques, bazaars, and hammams (Turkish baths) could keep you happily occupied for your entire trip. Start with the awe-inspiring Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), visible from many points of the city. Stroll the Galata Bridge and stop by the Miniaturk Park to see its tiny artifacts. The Grand Bazaar has thousands of shops to browse, while the Egyptian Bazaar is a fragrant trove of spices and fruits.

Prague, Czech Republic

The bohemian allure and fairytale features of Prague make it a perfect destination for beach-weary vacationers who want to immerse themselves in culture. Spend a full day exploring Prazsky hrad (Prague Castle), then refuel over a hearty dinner at a classic Czech tavern. Spend some time wandering the Old Town Square before heading over to gape at The Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock. Prague’s best bars are found in cellars, where historic pubs set the scene for a night of traditional tippling.

Zermatt, Switzerland

When most people think of Zermatt, they think of one thing: The Matterhorn. This ultimate Swiss icon looms over Zermatt, first drawing visitors here in the 1860s. The village of Zermatt is lovely and car-free, with old-fashioned brown chalets and winding alleys. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to walk everywhere—there are electric vehicles and horse-drawn cabs.) Skiing in the region often lasts through early summer, but when the weather’s warmer, it’s a great time to hike.

Goreme, Turkey

A town literally carved into the volcanic rock, Goreme is the gateway to the Goreme National Park, a vast UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses spectacular 10th- and 11th-century cave churches. The park itself is known for its chimney rock formations and is very popular with backpackers. This Travellers’ Choice Destination is also a great area to sample Turkish cuisine and wine.

St Petersburg, Russia

The second largest city in Russia, St. Petersburg is the country’s cultural heart. View splendid architectural gems like the Winter Palace and the Kazan Cathedral, and give yourself plenty of time to browse the world-renowned art collection of the Hermitage. Sprawling across the Neva River delta, St. Petersburg offers enough art, nightlife, fine dining and cultural destinations for many repeat visits.

Budapest, Hungary

Over 15 million gallons of water bubble daily into Budapest’s 118 springs and boreholes. The city of spas offers an astounding array of baths, from the sparkling Gellert Baths to the vast 1913 neo-baroque Szechenyi Spa to Rudas Spa, a dramatic 16th-century Turkish pool with original Ottoman architecture. The ‘Queen of the Danube’ is also steeped in history, culture and natural beauty. Get your camera ready for the Roman ruins of the Aquincum Museum, Heroes’ Square and Statue Park, and the 300-foot dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica.

Rimini, Italy

The biggest beach resort on the Adriatic Sea, Rimini is a favoured Italian seaside holiday destination for Italians themselves. The city offers an impressive nine miles of beaches, though many of these have private access for the scores of hotels facing the shore. The old town, about a 15-minute walk inland, has many interesting sights, including the Arch of Augustus from 27 BC, and Tiberius Bridge from the early 1st century. Rimini also boasts many great restaurants and an energetic nightlife.

Sorrento, Italy

Land of Mermaids. Land of Orange and Lemon Groves. Land of Colours. This small city in Campania has earned a plethora of alluring names. Famed for its sea cliffs, the town’s steep slopes look out over azure waters to Ischia, Capri and the Bay of Naples. The birthplace of Limoncello liqueur offers some good diving, great sea fishing, boat cruises and appetizing restaurants. Excellent hiking trails cross the peninsula. Rent a car or take a taxi if the steep streets look too intimidating.

Funchal, Portugal

Funchal, the capital of the Madeira archipelago, was declared a city in the 1500s, and became an important point between the old and new worlds. The laid-back city owes much of its historical prominence to the white gold, the Madeiran sugar. Today Funchal is known for its appealing temperatures, wine and crafts. Top spots to visit include the open Worker’s Market, Blandy’s Wine Lodge and the Sacred Art Museum. Friendly locals, walkable streets and cheap taxis make the city easy to get around.

La Oliva, Spain

Nestled in the northern part of the Canary Islands’ Fuerteventura, charming La Oliva features beautiful Spanish architecture, dramatic views, and eclectic nightlife. And the beaches? Oh, the beaches. Picnic on a pearly stretch of sand, take a dip or snorkel in the serene waters, or hop on a surfboard to enjoy the area’s most popular sport. Don’t worry if you’ve yet to get your proverbial feet wet—there are lots of area surf schools that will have you hanging ten in no time.

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