Living in France
Recently, International Living hosted an interesting “membership contest” to determine whether their readers thought France or Italy was the better country for permanent living/retirement. Apparently Italy won by a nose but France was a very close follow-up.
The more interesting question, in my opinion, is “how difficult or risky is it to move/live permanently to/in either France or Italy”?
Lise and I have frequently considered retiring in France (before we moved to Panama) since we both love France and speak French fluently. I have also worked in France as a consultant for several pharmaceutical companies.
Our background qualifications would theoretically be ideal as we are both Canadian citizens. Lise grew up in Quebec (a former French colony) and has a university degree in Fine Arts. I have a university degree in International Economics. We receive adequate pensions from the Canadian and American governments and our cash assets would be sufficient for entry from everything I have read.
But that is apparently the easy part.
Long Term Health Insurance
The main stumbling block at our age is adequate long term health insurance. The only sensible way to ensure adequate health insurance in France is to obtain French citizenship. Putting yourself in the hands of a private insurer after age 65 is a recipe for disaster. I know, because I have been there and done that. They will promise to keep on insuring you but you will go broke on the premiums charged many years before you die. Of course without proper health insurance you cannot stay in France (or Italy presumably).
For France, one must apply for a “long term visa” (outside of France) before one can apply for a “residency permit” of which there are several types. You must be a permanent resident of France for five full years before it is possible to apply for French citizenship which often takes another 2+ years.
To apply for a “long term visa” one MUST obtain adequate private health insurance to prove that you will not become a burden on the French Social Security system. The only problem is that after age 65 it is virtually impossible to obtain adequate health insurance coverage without a huge “co-pay” and after age 70 you might just as well forget about it unless money is no problem.
Once you have proof of adequate health insurance you can obtain a long term visa given that the other requirements are met (financial resources, criminal record etc.). With your long term visa you can apply for a resident visa when you arrive in France.
Once you have your residency permit you can even apply to set up for example a “micro enterprise” (if qualified by 3 years of experience) that will allow you to make monthly payments to the social security system (about $300/month) giving you full access to the French health care system. This step would allow you to cancel your more expensive private health care insurance as it would be redundant.
This all sounds great, again in theory but there still remain some serious obstacles if you are on the road to French citizenship. One option is to operate your “micro-enterprise” until you die so that your health insurance is never an issue then a French passport is not important. If you don’t continue your micro enterprise you cannot pay into the social security system and you will not be legally able to stay in France unless you switch to a private health insurance which will not be available due to age restrictions.
Primary Income must be French Based
To obtain French citizenship, the way I understand it, is that you must live permanently in France for 5 years and that additionally YOUR PRIMARY SOURCE OF INCOME FOR THIS PERIOD OF TIME MUST BE BASED IN FRANCE!
A pension received from Canada or the USA is clearly NOT French based. This requirement would appear to mean that your “micro enterprise” must generate more after tax income for your five year period of residency than your pension plan. And/or you could make an additional investment in say French real estate that together with your income from your micro-enterprise would exceed your net revenues from your pension (and any other non-French based income) for the five year period.
At no time during the five year period of “residency” can you permit your health insurance coverage to fall below the norm established by the French social security system or you will be penalized for this lapse and that time will not count towards the 5 year residency. There are other considerations in terms of total days per year that you must reside in France not to mention that legally speaking you may be required to converse in French at a level equal to that of a 15 year old French teenager.
The path to long term residency in France compared to Panama is definitely not a “welcome mat”. It can be accomplished but the risks/costs are very high. Remember that the cost of living in France is about 65% more expensive than in Panama (see www.numbeo.com).
Comparison with Panama
Just for the record, if Lise and I were to apply for a similar status in Panama today (under the professional or business person law) with a five year wait for full Panamanian citizenship our cost in legal fees would be about $3000 and we would only have to maintain a local bank account balance of $5000 at all times. Our new business (or job) would have to be Panama based. The processing time would probably be 2-3 months. We could obtain relatively similar health insurance (as in France) at a cost of less than $2000 per year total with no age limits on signing up and no precondition exemptions after two years.