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PROPERTY

Reader question: Can I retire to France and open a gîte?

For those who are ready to give up the day job but want to remain active (and earn some money) retiring to France and opening up a gîte, B&B or similar holiday rental has long been a popular option. But Brexit has made this more difficult for Brits.

Reader question: Can I retire to France and open a gîte?
(Photo by MYCHELE DANIAU / AFP)

The tourist industry is a popular one for foreigners in France to work in, and opening and running a gîte – a type of furnished, short-term rental accommodation commonly-used in France – is convenient for people who have their own property.

Over the years it’s been a common route for Brits moving to France to take early retirement from their day job in the UK, and instead run a tourism-related business in France.

But Brexit has made this more complicated.

Here’s a look at the options for people moving to France and those already in France – whether they are EU or non-EU citizens.

Moving to France

If you’re not already in France and you plan to move here and open up your gîte or similar, you need to consider your residency status.

If you are a citizen of an EU country (including Ireland) you can move without a visa – but if you are a non-EU citizen (including Brits) you will need a visa.

And visas are where the ‘retire and open up a gîte’ plan can run into trouble.

The reason for this is that there are different types of visa depending on what you want to do – you can find the full list HERE, but most retirees opt for the ‘long-stay visitor visa’.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

This visa, however, requires an undertaking that you will not work in France.

The Local spoke with immigration attorney Maître Valerie Maricot with immigration attorney/partner with CMG LEGAL to understand the French rules and regulations on this subject.

When it comes to seeking advice opening a gîte in France, Maricot noted that “a lot of the answers online about how to open a gîte in France are geared toward a general public in France who it is assumed to have the right to work already”.

“To start, we must clarify one thing. With visitor visa status, it is not possible to exercise a professional activity in France, and therefore it is not possible legally to open and run a gîte in France . . . French authorities would require that a residency permit authorises this activity.”

Hypothetically, if you buy a gîte and pay someone else to run it and you are not involved, then that is a different story.

“But as soon as you are physically there and it is you who is running the activity, then you must have the right to engage in that professional activity”, Maricot said.

So if you want to run any business in France – including a gîte, B&B or similar, you will need a working visa.

The most suitable for this type of activity for most people it the “self-employed person or liberal activity” visa, which has its own requirements, including a detailed business plan and minimum income levels. 

Unfortunately, this visa is difficult to apply for when opening a gîte for the first time, as you will need to demonstrate the economic viability of your project and prove that you have sufficient financial resources to support yourself.

This is generally worked out as the equivalent of the minimum legal wage in France for a full-time worker, which currently stands at €16,000 after tax for one person or €32,000 for a couple.

Maricot explained: “For third country nationals who want to open a gîte in France and who do not already live here, there are a couple of options.

“The first option is to request a ‘self-employed person or liberal activity’ (entrepeneur/ profession libérale) visa, which involves submitting a lot of documentation and a business plan.

“Sometimes the consulate will even ask for proof of the creation of the activity in France, which is a bit of a Catch-22. Basically, this will require that you have visited France several times to get the information necessary.

“Another option is to request the visitor visa to first move to France. But remember, you cannot work. It is out of the question that you can open the gîte and welcome people while a ‘visitor’ – but you can start preparing your project. 

“Then after your first year on a visitor visa, you can request a change in status from visiteur to entrepeneur. This still requires many documents, like the business plan, but it will give you a margin of time.

“You could also apply – after five years of stable residence in France – for a 10 year residency card. This allows all types of work. But beware of two things: you must wait five years to apply and there is always a chance it won’t be accepted”, Maricot explained.

The other thing that you need to be aware of is that your visa and residency card will need to be regularly renewed – for most people a one-year residency card is standard when they first arrive.

Maricot added: “Regardless of which visa you apply for, you must remember that the next year you will need to prove that you stuck to the rules and requirements of that visa – so for the ‘self-employed visa’ you will have to show that you generated the minimum funds necessary to get it renewed.” 

If you want to learn more about renting with Airbnb, which is a different process, you can click HERE.

READ MORE: What are the rules on renting out French property on Airbnb?

Already in France

If you’re already in France, the plan of retiring from your day job and running a gîte depends on what type of visa or residency permit you have.

If you have a carte de séjour plurianuelle or any other type of long-term residency (which includes all Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement – ie those who moved here before 2021) then your right of residency allows you to do all types of work. This means you can go ahead and open the gîte without worrying about your right to stay in France (although you will need to look at business registration and tax implications – more in that below).  

If you have a short-term residency card or a visa, then you may not be able to open a business, depending on the type of visa/residency that you have. If you have a residency tied to a certain status – eg student, retiree, salaried employee – you will need to look at whether it is possible to change your status and become self-employed.

You can find more details on changing your status HERE

READ MORE: Reader Question: My status changed, do I need to change my French residency permit?

Citizen of an EU country

If you have citizenship of an EU country, then freedom of movement gives you the right to live and work in France, without requiring any extra permit.

That means that you can either move here and open up the business, or if you are already here change your life and open up your gîte. You will, however, need to look into business registration and tax implications. 

Business registration and taxes

This can be a bit of a grey area when it comes to opening a gîte. Technically, French law recognises two different types of gîtes – one that is a “furnished rental maintained on a non-professional basis” and one that is maintained on a “professional” basis. 

For the “non-professional” gîte (louer de meublé non professionnel – or LMNP), earnings must not exceed €23,000 yearly.

Additionally, for this status, your gîte income must be considered ‘secondary’ – smaller than any other sources of income that you have (eg a salary, income from freelance work or a pension).

If you are looking to earn more than €23,000 yearly on a gîte in France, then this would constitute your ‘main professional activity’. 

It’s important to note that this threshold has to do with your tax regime in France – not your immigration status. Earning below €23,000 on the gîte does not mean that you qualify for the ‘non-working’ visitor visa.

“It is out of the question legally to have a visitor visa and say because I have earned very little money on the gîte that it is not in violation of my visa”, Maricot said.

Necessary paperwork

Whichever one you choose, first, you will have to register the gîte. You will thus have to declare it to your town hall by completing a Cerfa form, found HERE.

Next, you must determine if you will run the gîte as a non-professional letting or a professional one. 

The document to be completed is the P0i form “Declaration of the start of activity – Natural person exercising an independent self-employed activity” Cerfa 11921. This declaration will allow you to obtain a SIRET number and to choose your tax regime. You can find the relevant forms HERE.

You will also have to declare your gîte on your income and local taxes.

If you are planning to do the professional status (i.e. earning more than €23,000 per year), then you will have to declare the business to the Trade and Companies Register (RCS) and to the Business Formalities Center (CFE). 

There are a few different tax statuses you can choose from once you are in this category, and it would be wise to take on professional assistance prior to choosing one.

The following step is to determine if you will offer any meals to your guests (besides breakfast), because if so then you will need to obtain a restaurant licence.

While it is not required to take out insurance, many experts recommend getting a “seasonal rental” insurance (“location saisonnière”) to cover claims.

Before opening your gîte, you might want to register it with a label to help gain visibility and credentials. “Gites de France” is a well known classification. There are other labels – do your research, they might have special requirements.

Finally, you should also look into whether or not your municipality has instituted a tourist tax scheme. If so, then you will have to pay that amount back to your local community, so be sure to ask your town hall about whether this is a requirement in your municipality before setting up your gîte. 

How much can I expect to earn with a French gîte?

“We rarely make a living from this activity”, Aurélie Patin, the director of “Gites de France” in the Calvados département told the business and economy news site Capital in 2019.

Patin explained that the average occupancy rate for the Calvados area, known as a popular place for tourists, is about 43 percent – or about 18 weeks of rental per year. 

According to reporting by Capital, it typically takes about three years for a gîte to become profitable, “with an average of 16 weeks of rentals per year”.

According to estimates from the Eldorado Immobilier real estate company, gîtes located in popular locations for tourism generally earn around €8,000 to €12,000 per gîte per season.

However, prior to opening a gîte, you should also consider the costs of any renovations that might be necessary, as well as a realistic timeline for how long those will take to complete.

The profitability of your gîte will also depend on several other factors, including the amount of marketing you are able to do.

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DRIVING

Camper van warning for UK driving licence holders in France

UK driving licence holders who are swapping their licence for a French one have been warned that there are limits to the type of vehicles that can be driven with their new licence, after a clarification from French authorities.

Camper van warning for UK driving licence holders in France

The post-Brexit saga of driving licences for Brits living in France has been long, complicated and painful.

It is, however, now largely resolved – a deal has been agreed, the enormous backlog of applications has been cleared and most applications for a driving licence swap are proceeding fairly smoothly

READ ALSO How to swap your UK licence for a French one

There was, however, one issue remaining – whether the new French licence would allow the same rights to drive certain types of larger vehicles, including camper vans and motorhomes. 

What’s the issue?

Anyone who obtained a UK driving licence after 1997 is entitled to drive vehicles up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) with up to 8 passenger seats. People wishing to drive vehicles up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) – for example minibuses or the larger types of campervan – need to take an extra test.

However, those who got their UK licences before 1997 were entitled to drive vehicles up to 8,250kg without needing to take an extra test.

The problem is that the standard French driving licence – the Permis B – does not allow for the driving of larger vehicles without a separate test. Permis B holders can drive vehicles weighing up to 3.5 tonnes with eight passengers or fewer.

So for people who got their UK licences after 1997 it’s basically a like-for-like swap.

However, those who got their licences before 1997 found that their French licence allowed them to drive fewer categories of vehicles than their UK one.

This has been a particular problem for enthusiasts of camper vans or mobile homes – some of whom had already purchased larger vehicles that were legal on their UK licence, but which they now cannot drive on a French licence.

The issue does not affect people who live in the UK – they can continue to drive larger camper vans and other vehicles in France, in accordance with the conditions of their UK driving licence.

The decision

The post-Brexit driving licence deal was finally agreed in 2021, and the gradual swap of UK driving licences for French residents began.

The question of the exchange of rights for larger vehicles, however, has been under negotiation ever since.

But French authorities have now definitely clarified that the larger vehicle rights of older UK licences cannot be exchanged for an equivalent French licence without taking a test.

Anyone who already has a French Permis B – the standard driving licence – will need to take the extra French test in order to regain their rights to drive heavier cars, vans and camper vans.

The UK government’s Living in France page has now been updated to reflect this clarification.

You can find full information on the options for a French test, as well as the relevant French driving licence categories for larger vehicles, HERE or in English on the Facebook group Driving in France – French Licence Application.

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