Finding or Avoiding British Expats in France

Finding or Avoiding British Expats in France

There are areas of France where it is hard to believe you're not in a sunnier, less populated version of the UK.

During a recent visit to the Charente, I saw this at first hand. After flippantly asking for a bacon sandwich I was driven to a nearby town where, through a narrow doorway of a café, several dozen expats were tucking into distinctly un-French food.

The talk there was about how many UK number plates there were locally, the amazing range of Anglo Saxon accents to be heard at the weekly market, and how the local bookshop's English section was expanding.

Towns like this are numerous. Most famous is St Antonin de Noble Val in the Lot-et-Garonne; Riberac in the Dordogne; Aix in Provence; Nice on the Cote d'Azur; Aubeterre-sur-Dronne in the Charente; and Yveline in the western suburbs of Paris.

In total there are 157,252 'Britanniques' registered as resident in mainland France, although this doesn't include an estimated 200,000 who own second homes and are not counted in the French census.

The most obvious and famous expat hotspot is the Dordogne. It's popular because as well as its eponymous and winding river, the countryside is lush, warm, historic, unspoilt, awash with high-class cuisine and an easy day's drive from Calais. It's also quick to get to from Paris by train; many of the French capital's 20,000 British residents have weekend homes in the area.

After Paris, the Poitou-Charentes (La Rochelle, Poitiers, Cognac) is the second most populous for Brits followed by Aquitaine. In fourth place is the Midi-Pyrenees (Toulouse, Albi, Tarbes, Rodez, Moissac) which is the largest region - so although its Brit population is large, it's thinly spread.

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The areas where few Brits live are the seven northerly regions that border Belgium and Germany, as you might expect.

The wild card is the Auvergne, it's as south as the Charente but has only 1,621 British residents. It's much wilder, remoter than other areas but significantly lacks good transport links. And this is why the Midi-Pyrenees is gaining fastest in popularity; because much of it is less than 90 minutes from Toulouse airport.

My sister-in-law lives there and around her nearest market town, Caussade (the hat making capital of France) there is a sizeable community of Brits she's made friends with.

They typify the varied expat mix: a Virgin jumbo pilot, a vineyard-owning couple, an occupational therapist, retired swimming pool magnate, retired Royal Mail postmaster, an ageing hippy-chick and a freelance JCB operator.

The most common age range in her area is the over-55s, which is reflective of the majority of Brits living in France overall. At least 48% (in Midi-Pyrenees) and at most 58% (in Poitou-Charentes) of the local Brit population are in this age bracket - with one exception, the data shows.

In the Alps only 22% of Brits are over 55, which is not surprising given the young, winter and summer sports workers that the area attracts.

But what my sister likes about living in France, and that many expats are attracted by, is the sense of community among expats. People who would barely nod at each other back in Britain can become friends at a much deeper level in the French countryside.

In an area where the weather can range from pipe-freezing to tarmac melting, having a network of friends who you can rely on is a necessity rather than a luxury. Even if it's just to hunt down a bacon sarnie.

Table of the 10 most popular French regions for British residents*

Region No. Residents
1. île-de-France (Paris) 20,466
2. Poitou-Charentes 16,193
3. Aquitaine 15,984
4. Midi-Pyrenees 15,586
5. Rhone-Alps 13,282
6. Brittany 13,138
7. Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 12,034
8. Languedoc-Roussillon 10,463
9. Normandy 9,754
10. Limousin 8,054

Institute National de la Statistique et des

Etudes Economique, 2012.

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Nigel Lewis


Originally published in the A Place in the Sun magazine - Issue 123