So, you’re moving to France? Or perhaps, like me, moving from one part of France to another? Don’t be put off by things like the new language or the administration. Here are five tips for a smoother relocation.
1. Plan, plan, plan
The internet is your friend. Use Google, Street View, and social media like Facebook to do your research before you move. It is really useful, for example, to download Google Chrome onto your computer, as this will give you the option of translating all French websites into English.
You should research the different areas near your new home, the schools, and even what the morning commuter traffic would be like. Check out “Waze”, an app that helps you find the best ways to drive around town, taking into account things like the duration of the trip and the traffic at different times of the day. In terms of house hunting, “Se Loger” is a good start, and is quite similar to “Rightmove” in the UK.
Avoid the traffic, plan ahead for it!
2. Join online groups
There are many supportive English-speaking communities online; for example on Facebook and Meet Up. If you are a mum, the Facebook groups: “Mums Space France”, and “LIFT” (Ladies in France Together) are two good examples to start with, each covering the whole of France. But also, think to search for local groups for your region or town. Good search key words like “English speaking” and “expat”, combined with your area and particular interest, will often throw up some options.
Remember also, that sites like Facebook will translate posts in groups as well, so you don’t have to restrict yourself to only English language or expat groups.
When you have found some groups that interest you, you can draw on the wealth of experience in there.
You will be able to seek advice from real people about anything and everything; schools, areas, days out, doctors, where to buy your firewood, how to maintain a swimming pool. As with anything on the Internet, you will have a wide range of personalities and opinions. Treat it as a research exercise - gather all the information and sift through what is the most useful and relevant for you.
Best of all, these communities are a great way to meet people and make friends. Everyone has been new at least once!
3. Consider getting a relocation expert
Get help from a local relocation agent if you can. Their expert local knowledge can be invaluable, especially if they’re bilingual. They will also have contacts that they can recommend which can save you a lot of time and effort. But, do your own homework too.
What a relocation expert may think is perfect for most expats, or they assume is for you; may not be. For example, if it not your first foreign move, you may be quite happy to be further out in the countryside, for a more French experience perhaps, rather than living in the middle of a known expat area or suburb (where things will probably be a bit easier). Obviously communication is key, but it often really takes you having an advance trip to a place for you to know what you really want from an area/house.
Also, being on the ground, seeing and getting a feel for a place is really important. How far is your local boulangerie? Is there a park nearby? Can you walk to amenities, or would you always need to drive? Is there graffiti and litter everywhere, or is the area well maintained?
4. Make an Effort to Learn the Language
Learning a language comes more easily to some people than others. Don’t be disheartened if you find it difficult. If you make an effort it will always be appreciated and everything you learn will make your time in France easier.
From the point that you know you will be moving to France, start learning French. Once you arrive, continue learning. Have lessons if you can, or there are audio resources and apps available. French conversation classes are good, to get you “up and running”, and of course, make French friends and talk with them as much as you can.
Try your best to speak French in all of your day to day interactions too. Don’t worry about getting grammar wrong, not structuring your sentence correctly, or not having all the vocabulary initially. Welcome people correcting and helping you. It is far better that you try, rather than being too afraid to talk. You will learn more than you realise if you do this every day.
5. Get out and meet people
You can find a great job, area, school, amenities… BUT without a support network and friends it can be lonely relocating. So, the sooner you start reaching out online and finding out about, for example, meet ups and coffee mornings, the sooner your new location will start to feel like home. If before you move you can have something social planned for your first week, or fortnight, it will give you something to look forward to, and feel like you are already part of your new community in a small way.
Once you have arrived, there is so much to do. It is daunting making a new start, but it is so important to make sure that you get out of the house and explore. Accept that invitation for coffee, or a play date. Grab every opportunity and olive branch offered.
This is how you meet people, and make friends. And this is how you build a life for yourself.
Fellow expats are a wonderfully welcoming and supportive group of people. Everyone has been new before.
But, don’t forget French friends as well. And don’t be put off if you don’t speak very good French. There is no better way to learn than doing (trying!). You can ask around, or look online, for local activities, groups or sports. Visit your local Mairie, and look in the town magazine that will probably be delivered.
If you have children, sign them up for local sports groups, or consider sending them to the local French school or a bilingual school. You can get involved in local social events from there. Another easy way to meet French people can be through English speakers who have lived in the area for a long time and can introduce you to their French friends.
6. Get out of your comfort zone
It may sounds stressful, but you must take a deep breath and explore beyond your comfort zone. One way to do this is to join groups. If you move to a new area and can’t find a bumps and baby group, or a dog walking group, or cycling group, or whatever your interest is; you could start one. It doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as meeting in someone’s house every week, or setting a meeting point and time. You can use social media groups to spread the word.
What I can promise you is that pushing yourself is worth it. As always with meeting up with new people from the internet, be careful and make sure someone you know is aware of where you are. Generally though, expat communities are fairly small and friendly, and most people know or know of each other.
Most things in life that are worth doing, take a bit of effort. Don’t forget, you are setting up every single element of an entirely new life. Be kind on yourself, and enjoy your big adventure.
Kate Redfern is British copywriter and blogger at Five Little Stars. She lived in Paris with her family for three years. Recently they relocated to the south of France, seeking more sunshine and new adventures in Toulouse. She has fully embraced French expat life and heartily recommends it.