The latest news from the Languedoc - December 2009

Bienvenue !

The Autumn seems to have been long in coming and finally arrived very gently and gloriously in the latter half of October - it is still extremely mild and sunny and possible to eat outside at lunchtime.

This month we have included some topical articles on horse chestnuts, driving rules in France and the auto-entrepreneur scheme. I hope you find them interesting and useful.

A very mild and sunny Autumn with the average high temperature during September and October in Montpellier of


with a recorded high of 32ºC

Do you know how to drive in France ?

Driving in France is pretty much the same as any other country if you use your common sense and drive on the right. However, there are some little quirks that might be worth drawing to your attention and a general overview of the main points probably wouldn’t go amiss.

Firstly, the French Gendarme has a zero tolerance – no amount of smiling and ‘me-nounderstandy’ will get you off the hook. Rules are rules and they are not to be broken or bent (no matter how small the infraction). On the spot fines and points on your licence are the norm.

The three main areas where you should be saintly are speeding, drink driving and stop signs. Abide by these and you wont go far wrong.

Before you set off

All car occupants must wear a seat belt and no child under ten years old is allowed to travel in the front of a vehicle unless it is in a specially adapted rear-facing seat and is under 9 months old. All children under a certain age/weight/height must have a booster seat with a seat belt or a harness in the rear. You cannot use your mobile while driving (except hands-free) and radar detectors are illegal (but GPS based warning systems are allowed). It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure all passengers under 18 are appropriately restrained.

It is compulsory to have your driving licence, car registration papers (carte grise) and insurance documents (these must be the originals) with you at all times. You are required to carry a warning triangle (ideally two) and a fluorescent safety vest (one per passenger) in your car (not the boot). Got everything? OK, now you can start driving.

Speed Limits

Radar speed traps are very common, but if you are lucky, oncoming vehicles will flash their headlights to warn you of a speed trap ahead. Anyone caught travelling at more than 25kmh above the speed limit can have their licence confiscated on the spot.

Speed regulations start at the town name sign and end when you pass the same sign crossed with a diagonal red line on leaving the town or village.

Beware when you are driving on a dual carriageway without a barrier down the middle as the speed limit may only be 90/ kmh.

French Speed Limits in Dry Weather
Toll Motorway130kmh/ 80mph
Dual Carriageway110kmh/ 68mph
Other Roads90kmh/ 56mph
Built-up Areas
50kmh/ 31mph
French Speed Limits in Wet Weather
Toll Motorway110kmh/ 68mph
Dual Carriageway100kmh/ 62mph
Other Roads80kmh/ 50mph
Built-up Areas
50kmh/ 31mph
When visibiltiy is less than 50m
All Roads50kmh/ 31mph

When you see this sign it means there is a fixed radar camera ahead. There always is, it’s not a joke, and designed to make you adhere to the speed limit in a black spot.

Drink driving

As everywhere, the best advice is not to drink if you are driving. The limit in France is 50mg alcohol per 100ml of blood which means that just one glass of beer or wine can take you up to the limit depending on your metabolism.

Stop really does mean come to a grinding halt: no gentle slow down and roll across while you check there are no cars for miles in either direction. You must come to an absolute standstill for a few seconds before moving off again, and bikers should stop and put both feet down. Gendarmes tend to hide around these areas to literally catch you in the act – again, zero tolerance. You have been warned.

Giving way to the right

One law you must be aware of is ‘priorité à droite’. Motorists turning onto the road you are on (particularly in villages and on country roads), from the right, and in the direction you are travelling, have right of way. The exceptions are if the junction is marked by a stop sign, traffic light or solid white line, if cars are coming from a car park or a private road, as well as at roundabouts, where cars to the left have the right-of-way. Be warned that there are places where you need to be extremely careful, especially in small villages and in the countryside, where traffic on a minor road may have right-of-way when joining a main road. You do not necessarily have right of way over side roads and if in doubt slow down and give way – you would be surprised who has the right of way.

But if you see this on a main road as you leave a town or village, this means that the main road that you are on has priority and that all traffic joining from side roads must give way.

This means the end of the priority zone and traffic from the right has priority unless there are road signs or markings indicating otherwise.

When you see this sign, you are coming to a junction where priority to the right applies.

For the full French highway code go to

Happy motoring !

The ‘auto-entrepreneur’ scheme – pay as you go

At the beginning of this year, the French government introduced a new system for running a small business or being self-employed in France. The aim was to make things easier and more affordable – and no doubt to give the economy a boost, reduce unemployment and encourage less working ‘on the black’.

As long as you are a start-up businesses (and not an existing ‘micro-entreprise’) and your annual turnover does not exceed €80,000 if you run a commercial businesses or €32,000 if you offer a service, then you can register by simply visiting your local ‘Chambre de Commerce or Métiers’ and filling out a form and you will be given your business registration number, called your ‘SIREN’. However, if you want to carry out a regulated trade or profession such as hairdressing or building, you will still need to be qualified to the standards required in France.

The main advantages of the auto-entrepreneur system are that newly registered individuals will be exempt from paying ‘taxe professionnelle’ for the first three years and there will be no social charges or taxes payable until the new business starts to generate sales. So, you pay as you go each month. Previously, small businesses found it difficult to pay social charges and taxes as these were based on projections by the government and many found themselves with bills and demands before they had even earnt a euro. Under this new regime, social charges will be based on actual earnings, calculated from previous months’ turnover submitted by the business owner.

If you have a commercial activity you should expect to pay 13% of your annual turnover in social charges and taxes and 23% if you are a service based business.

There is less paperwork and no need to hire an accountant to help you through the confusion. There are also fewer restrictions on those working from home. There are no courses to attend and no registration fees and no ‘VAT’ to pay on your business activity.

However, the status does not exempt you from the need to take out appropriate professional insurance where this is formally required in France e.g. building professions, lawyers, accountants. You need to check with the business registration centre, or your trade/professional body just what, if anything, is required.

The new system allows you to start a small business and operate legally without any risks or first knowing if it is going to suceed. The French government is kean to set free the entrepreneur spirit in all of us – so off you go and do someone’s gardening, or dog-sitting; the opportunities are limitless !

Everything you need to know is on the French Government's website (all in French I’m afraid) but there are many other sites that can be found with English translations.

Winter fuel

Castelnaudary is probably most famous for a ‘peasant’ dish of beans and various meats known as Cassoulet. It can take two days or more to prepare and is great comfort food for a chilly winter evening. The traditional cooking vessel is an earthenware pot called a cassole (for which the dish is named) which, according to tradition, must come from Issel. The ingredients include haricot beans (grown in Pamiers or Lavelanet), duck confit, garlic sausage, pork, Toulouse sausage and mutton – but not necessarily all at the same time but a combination of several of them. To be absolutely authentic, it should be cooked in a baker's oven fired with rushes from the Montagne Noire.

If you want to try this at home ....

Horse chestnuts

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire … yes, it’s that time of year and all over the region there are chestnut trees dropping their bounty on the forest floor. There are two chestnut festivals in the region held at this time of year; one in St Pons de Thomières (la fête de la châtaigne) and the other in Olargues (fête du marron).

Olargues is designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France (les plus beaux villages de France).

The festivals run over a weekend in late October/early November and have many art and craft stalls as well as places to eat, drink and be merry.

A lovely way to spend half a day and to get yourself in the mood for autumn.

French Inheritance Rules and Taxes

Inheritance rules and taxes in France are very different from those in the UK and it is important you understand them as any property you own in France falls under French law. To give you an idea of how archaic the law is, it was introduced by Napolean and has changed very little since! It has only been since August 2007 that changes were made so that there is now no French inheritance tax payable between spouses.

First and foremast, unlike in the UK, you are not able to leave your property to anyone you wish. France has very strict laws which protects the deceased’s children.

Basically, this means that children automatically inherit a share in their deceased parent’s immovable property (e.g. house) in France. This also means that the French property will not pass to the surviving spouse absolutely as it may under UK law.

The French succession rules will apply irrespective of the domicile, nationality or residence of the deceased owner of a house in France. The concept of joint ownership is alien to French law.

Children have a right to inherit a proportion of their parents' estates. If you have one child, they must inherit 50%; if there are two children, then each child must inherit one-third each; if there are three or more children, then 75% of the estate must pass to them, in equal shares. However, you are able to leave the "non-reserved" portion of your estate to whoever you wish, through a French Will.

One of the main problems, therefore, is the protection of the surviving spouse/partner if you have children and especially if there are step-children. It will be hard enough to lose your partner but you will also lose your security and freedom to do as you please. You have the right to stay in the ‘marital home’ for the rest of your life but you might not want to do this, however, and your hands could be tied. If you sell the house you have to give the share due to the children and what is left might not be enough to buy something else for you – let alone being able to realise some capital, buying something smaller perhaps, so that you can have an income to live more comfortably.

Inheritance tax is rather excessive in France and is paid by each beneficiary, and not by the estate as in the UK. Each child has a tax-free allowance of € 156,357 with varying levels of inheritance tax depending on the circumstances. However, non-related people, such as step-children or friends, only have a tax-free allowance of € 1,564, with the rest being taxed at a rate of 60%.

There are a number of options available, but each case is different, so it is advisable to seek legal advice to find out how best to deal with your own personal situation.

Restaurant review Les Bains

À Bientôt

As usual, I really do hope you have enjoyed our newsletter and found it useful. Please do let me know if you have any ideas for articles of interest for future editions, or anything you’ve often wondered about and would like to know the answer to.

We have been very busy lately as more and more clients are coming out to view properties and make purchases while there is still the opportunity to negotiate some good deals. If you are thinking of buying in the Languedoc- Roussillon, or if you have purchased something and are thinking of letting it out, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Wishing all our clients, past, present and future, a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year

Call us on

+33 (0) 4 67 36 36 80 in France


0871 990 2000 from UK

or by email


With best wishes

Annelise Bosshard
Managing Director
AB Real Estate