Essentials: Moving to France

How can you avoid mistakes when you move to France?

How can you avoid mistakes when you move to France?
Photo: AFP
Is it possible to avoid making mistakes when you come to France, whether it's where you move to, the house you buy, or the friends you meet? Members are encouraged to log in and share their advice and experience in the comments section below.

Everyone makes mistakes when they first move to France, don't they?

Perhaps they are inevitable. Some mistakes might even be beneficial and help you avoid making bigger mistakes down the line.

These mistakes vary depending on people's situations. For some it's the part of France they move to.

While Brittany and Normandy might seem attractive at first due to their proximity to the UK and Ireland, or the free flowing cider on offer, some new residents realize that it was the sun they were in need of, and wished they had moved down south.

The wrong region, house or village?

For others they get the region right but not the right village. They wish they had spent some time there in winter when everything was closed up and the trees were bare before they had bought that house.

Then there are others who get the right village but the wrong house. They overspend and leave little for the urgent renovations which forces them to accept a low quote from a so-called builder who botches the job and leaves them in debt.

Suddenly their life savings have been turned to dust and rubble.

Perhaps better research on the house and a better idea of the budget you have for renovations would have helped to avoid that mistake.

READ ALSO: How foreigners in France fall victim to being conned by fellow expats

Was it a mistake not to learn French before I came?

For others the error comes in the form of language. Mainly that they underestimate how difficult French can be to pick up or perhaps what level of language you really need to feel comfortable living in France.

Should people do more to learn French before they come? And for those whose move to France is more sudden, perhaps they need to spend more time on making efforts to learn the language in their first six months.

Because a lot of the mistakes that people make in France stem from a lack of language ability.

And not having adequate French can lead people to making the error of not putting in enough effort to grow relationships and then friendships with locals.

It might push them into surrounding themselves with expat friends, which is fine, but anyone who has made French friends will tell you how important they become in helping you settle in. Even if it's just so they can help you with your tax returns.

ESSENTIALS: A collection of articles about living in France

I knew about the red tape but…

And while everyone knows about the reputation of French bureaucracy, many people who come to France underestimate just how difficult it can be to navigate.

Although with so much online help these days things do appear to be improving.

But many people who move fail to do their research to find out what red tape will stand in their way of a happy life in France.

Whether it's getting qualifications recognised or cars registered or even just setting up as a freelancer, the form-filling leaves many thinking about how easy everything was back home.

'We were great in the States but it doesn't work in France'

For some the mistake comes in their relationship with their partner. 

While life might be rosy for an American woman and her French husband in New York and everything easy for a British man and his French wife in London, it doesn't mean things will continue like that when they move to France.

The dynamics change and they change quite rapidly. Suddenly you are a foreigner in your partner's home country with no friends of your own and perhaps no job and you lose your independence. And you are left asking if you've just made a life-changing mistake in coming to France.

Could you have been better prepared? Perhaps made contacts in advance or really researched whether it will be possible to find work. Again, mastering French in advance will help overcome many of these problems.

So can we avoid mistakes to ensure an easy ride or is it just part of the challenge of moving to a new country?

What's the worst mistake you made or the big regret you have?

Share your priceless knowledge and leave a comment below

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Member comments

  1. We’re looking forward to moving to Nice (or thereabouts) in the fall, so I’m interested in seeing what everyone’s comments will be.

  2. I wish I had access to The Local France when I moved to Nice 8 years ago. Not sure if it existed then? But the information you write about is invaluable. The every day stuff that people need to know, for eg. info about the strikes, areas where there are other English speaking people, being aware of Expats who con you, and more.
    The article about saying “Bonjour” when addressing a French person, BEFORE speaking to them, was brilliant. Being English speaking, I would always politely say “excusez moi” then direct my question. This doesn’t work in France. Now I say Bonjour everywhere I go, and the smiles I get and the willingness to help me is amaising. Who would have known that something so little would mean so much. I don’t mind paying for the subscription, it’s worth it.

  3. The automatically renewing Assurance. In the UK you normally have to give your authority every year for a new insurance premium to be paid. In France it seems you have to notify the insurer with a ‘signed for’ letter two months before the end of your policy that you don’t want to renew, or they automatically renew. This wasn’t explained when I took out the policy originally, so I ended up paying two Assurances for rental in my second year.

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