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The questions Americans should ask before moving to France

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The questions Americans should ask before moving to France
Photo: AFP
16:20 CEST+02:00
Hundreds of Americans move to France each year while many more dream of doing so. Here are some answers to the questions Americans ask about moving to France.
Where are you going to live?
 
According to the official stats obtained by The Local, there are around 31,000 Americans living in France and most of them, unsurprisingly, live in or around Paris and France's big cities
 
There are good reasons for this. Paris, you'll have guessed, is home to the largest US expat community. The City of Light has great cafés, culture, and beautiful architecture of course, but it's also where Americans stand the best chance of getting a job.
 
Many US companies have headquarters in or close to the capital and other American groups and organisations such as the American Library and the American Church based in the capital provide opportunities for work and networking that aren't found elsewhere in France. 
 
 
Where in France do all the American expats live?
 
Other favourite areas for Americans who have settled here are the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region in central France with the country's second largest city of Lyon, famed for its food, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in the south of France, home to Nice and the glamorous French Riviera. These are all places with large cities and good transport networks. 
 
Another reason so many Americans settle in the French capital and other big cities is the paperwork. Visa and immigration issues Americans face in France, which the Brits don't, make it hard for them to live away from big cities like Paris.
 
"While I love Paris, I'd happily consider somewhere else if I didn't have to worry about labour/immigration problems," one American reader of The Local, named Joey Beaudreau, points out. "Most of us have to be near big cities with jobs that will sponsor us. The French government makes it quite difficult".
 
It fits that, unlike the Brits who don't have to worry so much about paperwork and who love the French countryside, most Americans stay away from France's rural regions.
 
While life in France Profonde is much cheaper than in the busy hubs (and the landscape can be stunningly beautiful), the French countryside has fewer services, less transport and fewer job opportunities. In small towns and villages, people may not speak English and it may be a bit isolating at times.
 
Whatever your plans, take your time before settling down, advises Jeff Steiner. 
 
"Don't dive in too fast. Wander around and find a place that you like," Steiner suggests. "If you're retired, then you can live in the country because it's cheaper, but the services may be lacking because it's rural. If you're working, Paris, Lyon - the big cities are the places to go."
 
 
Can I find somewhere to live easily?
 
This of course depends on where you want to live. In Paris where most Americans tend to live it can be difficult to find an apartment. It's even difficult for French residents to get a place to live, such is the demand and the amount of paperwork needed.
 
To get an apartment you'll need a lot of paperwork and proof that you can cover the rent. If you can't get all the paperwork together, which will include job contracts, tax receipts etc, some landlords might ask you to pay several months rent up front. That's not ideal but it's proved to be the only way for many Americans, who don't have the necessary guarantor (someone who'll cover your rent if you can't) to appease their landlord.

American food blogger Julie Nies tells The Local: “People are so reluctant to rent to expats. Even if I can prove I have plenty of money in the bank to pay rent and that my salary is high enough, it doesn't matter. They want a French bank guarantee. What French bank is going to give an expat a guarantee? 

"My first apartment rental in Paris required me to pay all six months rent in advance, which I of course had to borrow from my parents.” 

She says that it's because the landlord “feels the pressure to find someone who is a 100 percent financial guarantee with official back-ups because it's nearly impossible for them to evict someone.”

And remember there are more practical things you should be prepared for. Apartments in French cities will likelier be a lot smaller that you are used to, especially in the centre of Paris. The older apartment blocks may have no elevators. And you can expect to hear the noise from the street and from your neighbours. But that's part of life in a Paris apartment.
 
 
How Americans can move to France (and stay here)
 
 
Finding work  
 
What you can do will depend on the type of visa you have but there are plenty of options for finding work in France.
 
As we mentioned before, many US firms have offices in France (especially around Paris). There are also more niche options such as the US embassy and think tanks like the OECD.
 
There are the obvious jobs like teaching English although that might require you to live in or near one of the countries big cities like Paris, Bordeaux or Lyon.
 
One tip: if you have contacts, use them. Unemployment is high in France and getting jobs, even for the French, is not always easy. Networking goes a long way.  "In France, it's all network. Half of the jobs I got here was through word of mouth," says Steiner.
 
And remember you don't always need to speak French to find work. There are plenty of ways of earning money in France without speaking French (see links below), such as bar work, being a tour guide or a nanny.
 
 
 
The jobs in France where you don't really need to speak French
 
What's the exchange rate like?
 
It's not great right now. But it has been worse.
 
One US dollar will get you around €0.85 these days. That's a rise from January 2018 when one dollar was worth around €0.80 but a drop from a year ago when one dollar was worth €0.88.
 
 
Life in the big cities is expensive, so you'll want to budget carefully - especially if you're being paid in US dollars. And speaking of money, something else you'll need to consider is your tax situation.
 
Even if you don't live in the States any more, as a US citizen you still need to file tax returns. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to pay double taxes if you move to France, but it's worth checking out what your fiscal situation actually is.
 
Can I drive in France?
 
You need to be 18 or over to drive in France. If you're considering driving in France, you will need a valid US driver’s license with an official 'notarised' translation.
 
If you decide to stay here long term, you'll have to get a French driving license. Some US states have a special agreement with France which allows people from those states to do a straight swap. But if your state isn't included in that list, you'll have to sit the French driving test. 

“As I wasn't from one of the states that lets you exchange an American driver's license for a French one, I had to go to French driving school,” Steiner told The Local previously. “I think along with visa issues this is a big problem for Americans. I know a few that have been here for decades and still drive on their American license.”

"Going to French driving school was more annoying than anything else and of course expensive. I was able to get my French license on the first try in about four months but I know of some Americans that have trouble passing the written test and even the driving test.”

READ ALSO: The questions fellow Americans ask about life in France

 

The questions fellow Americans ask about life in France

Do I have to speak French before I come? 

It's common sense and probably applies to most places you go to: if you speak the language, you'll be able to communicate better.
 
But in France perhaps more than in some places (in Sweden for example most people speak English), speaking the lingo will speed things up. One reason for this - yet again - the paperwork. France is bureaucratic and you may spend quite a lot of time setting up a bank account, going to the 'prefecture' to renew your visa or sorting out other paperwork. If you can understand what people are saying to you, it'll make things much easier. 
 
But the main reason to speak French is to increase your chances of finding employment. But as we said earlier, there are plenty of jobs you can do without French.
 
American Charli James, who recently set up home in Paris, tellsThe Local that those who don't speak French shouldn't be too scared by coming to France.
 
James says that essentially in places like Paris, enough natives will speak English, you should accept that "things won't be perfect" and must remember at least to say "bonjour".
 
She says: "The majority of students in my first language class after moving to Paris had lived in France for over a year – some as long as six years–and their French was still beginner level. They stay for the lifestyle, culture and beauty of the city and have carved out a nice little life for themselves 95% in English, Spanish, Arabic or whatever native tongue they arrived speaking."
 
Speaking French will also improve your social life! Coming to France can be a bit of a culture shock and it's not always easy to make friends, says Jeff Steiner. "French people can seem reserved to Americans and not very warm and interactions can be difficult. In France, people don't ask a lot of questions, that's considered being nosy." 
 
 
Members' Forum: Should you move to France without a word of French?
 
 
Can I open a bank account?
 
Yes, but be prepared for difficulties and enlist the help of a French friend if possible.
 
Americans living in Paris who were asked about this for this story all responded with an exasperated shrug. There are no legal reasons preventing Americans from opening a French bank account - and anyone who is a French resident has a right to - but it seems it can be hard going. New regulations mean banks dealing with American customers have more paperwork to do, which doesn't play in your favour. 
 
If you're already in France, you'll need a proof of address and an ID. Choose a bank that's close to home or near your office as many transactions in France are done face-to-face as you'll probably see your personal banker much more often than you did at home. And once you have an account, don't be surprised by the myriad fees (even if they're small) you have to pay for services like keeping an account open, or monthly fees for your debit card that you are not charged at home.
 
If you want to open an online account before leaving the US, you'll need to shop around as not all French banks provide this. 
 
What support groups are there for Americans in France ?
 
These are hosts of support groups you can turn to for information and advice. Here is a selection:
 
The Association of American residents overseas, based in Paris, has lots of practical information online. https://www.aaro.org/
 
The "Americans in France" website set up by Jeff Steiner when he moved from the US to France in 2001, offers a wealth of insights and practical tips. There are also numerous Facebook groups such as Americans in France and American Expats in France and The Local's Living in France group.
 
The Franco-American chamber of commerce is based in Paris but it has 5 chapters spread out in the rest of France.
 
FUSAC is an online magazine for the English-language community in Paris and it's especially useful for job and housing ads. 
 
The American Library in Paris not only has a good collection of US books, but also hosts regular cultural events.
 
And what if I want to stay in France?
 
At least two months before your visa runs out, you can apply for a residency permit (carte de séjour) so that you can stay longer than just 12 months. 
 
By now, you should have your papers in order (plus copies!), all of which you should take to your local prefecture in order to lodge an application. You'll have to prove things like your family situation, your financial resources, your employment contract, your address and more. 
 
Once you've been here for five (continuous) years, you're eligible for permanent residency. Just remember to bring all your documents along to the appointment, of course, and be prepared to prove that you can speak at least a decent amount of French. 
 
You could of course always find a French partner to settle down with which will help the settling in process on any number of levels both socially and administratively.
 
What other questions do Americans have about moving to France? Let us know and we will add in to this article.
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