‘Keep all paperwork and learn patience’ – What you need to know about moving to France

While we would recommend moving to France to anyone (although we might be biased) there's no getting away from the fact that moving countries is not an easy thing to do - so we asked our readers for their advice for newbies.

'Keep all paperwork and learn patience' - What you need to know about moving to France
If you're fresh off the boat, check out our readers' helpful tips. Photo: AFP

From the practical problems to the emotional upheaval of uprooting your life and arriving in a new country, the first few months can be a difficult time.

So whether you've just arrived or you are thinking of making the move, check out this advice from The Local's readers, who have been there, done that and got the beret.

READ ALSO Six tips to make that daunting move to France run smoothly

You will fill in a lot of forms in your first few months. Keep a pen handy. Photo: AFP

The bureaucracy

Okay this is not exactly a well-kept secret, but France does have quite a lot of bureaucracy.

Even the French struggle with some aspects of the country's famous paperwork, but at least for them it's generally spread out over a lifetime – new arrivals have to organise a bank account, somewhere to live, insurance, utilities, health cover, residency and much more all in the space of a few months.

Emma Smreker, who moved to Amiens in northern France a year ago, advised: “Keep everything! Every document, every bill. Make several copies of these documents because you never know when you might need to produce an electricity bill, passport, or proof of residency.”

Susan Smith, who has lived in France for 16 years, echoed this advice, saying: “If any agency gives you a piece of paper/document of any kind, keep it.

“All documents that you already possess (English and French) concerning anything and everything, keep them. The French love paperwork and, at some time, you will need to show someone some, or all, of your documents. Develop a good filing system and be prepared to pay to have English documents officially translated into French.”

READ ALSO Certified translations: What are the rules for translating documents into French?

Francis Reinbold, who moved to Normandy in 2016, added a handy tip: “Bring a decent printer/scanner/copier with you. We spent hours completing forms and making copies of documents – still do!”

But it's not all terrible –  Christine Dempsey, who moved from Australia to Paris 12 years ago, said: “I even found bureaucracy to be easy and straightforward, but the secret is to diligently reading every pertinent article, and having every document they want.”

It's also well worth adjusting your timescales – completing the process to get a carte vitale health card can take up to six months and if you're doing something complicated like getting French citizenship, that takes between 18 months and two years.

The patience

Somewhat linked to the bureaucracy is the need to develop a more zen-like attitude. There are things that will frustrate you, especially when dealing with paperwork, and getting angry is rarely helpful. 

Some people believe that if you're sarcastic to a French fonctionnaire they immediately shred your dossier and make you start the whole process again. That's not actually true (we don't think) but certainly getting irate or abusive with someone who is just doing their job will not get your carte vitale/ driver's licence/ bank account any faster.

Emma Smreker said: “Learn patience when it comes to getting a bank account, a cell phone plan, the CAF, etc. Nothing is as quick as some might be used to. There is a lot of red tape and steps you must take to do everything. It's very easy to become frustrated with the process.”

Christine Dempsey added: “Most importantly, be pleasant, and don't argue!”

But it's not just the bureaucracy that moves slower – the pace of many aspects of life is slower and that's exactly what a lot of people love France for.

Clyde Acosta, who moved to Paris from the USA six months ago, said: “I am learning to be patient here and not to rush rush like I'm always late to something, and be patient at the restaurants.”

The pace of service in French restaurants is a lot slower than in many other countries, but that's deliberate – why would you want to rush through a delicious meal?

Do as the French do and give yourself a couple of hours for lunch.

READ ALSO How much should you tip in French restaurants?


Don't rush your lunch, or expect anyone else to rush theirs. Photo: AFP

The local customs

And of course if everyone is lingering over a lovely lunch it means that not very many people are tending to business.

The traditional lunchtime closure of everything between 12 and 2pm is starting to change, and certainly in the big cities most shops stay open all day.

But in smaller or more rural places you will still find it, and most public buildings close down for (at least) two hours over lunchtime. Turning up with a complicated request at 11.57am is unlikely to make you many friends.

Jane Le Maux, who moved to France 13 years ago, said: “I wish someone had told me how big an impact the legendary two hour lunch break would have on our ability to get things done.

“Things have changed in the last 13 years, so it's not such a big deal now.

“That and the fact that you have to buy it when you see it as you can never guarantee the shop will stock that item again.”

Cylde Acosta added: “I am learning to get used to midday closings of stores which never happens in the US.”

READ ALSO Why do the French take such long lunch breaks?


Get a dictionary (or a translation app) to help you with the language. Photo: AFP

The language

And of course this is the big one – you need to learn French and what they taught you at school will almost certainly be useless when a Parisian starts gabbling verlan at you at a million miles an hour.

Christine Dempsey cautioned: “Don't think your school-days French is even remotely good enough!”

Having the courage to speak a new language is hard, but you might be pleasantly surprised by how warmly your efforts are received – even if all your verbs aren't correctly conjugated and your adjectives don't agree.

Susan Smith advised: “Be brave enough to speak French, despite making mistakes. The French, in general, really appreciate it if you try to speak their language and respond accordingly. And remember, most French people really like the English accent. You may think your French accent is dreadful but the French usually find it “adorable!”

Mary Ann Klein, who moved to Brittany nine months ago, said: “It is very important to take your move and integration seriously. France gives you the tools, use them! Learn the language, it's tough but beautiful and when you start to speak your world opens up. Do not form little tight communities with other expats.”

Caryl Prat, who lives in Toulon, said: “We found that when we made the effort to speak in French, people were polite and friendly. We were treated with respect and all our questions were answered.”

READ ALSO Six things I wish my French teachers had told me


At some point, there will be a strike. Photo: AFP

The locals

And the one theme that emerged again and again was how friendly and helpful people found their French neighbours and acquaintances, with many tales of local people going out of their way to help the newcomers settle in and navigate their way through unfamiliar French customs.

Mary Ann Klein said: “There are such friendly and helpful people in Bretagne – the best place to live.”

Louise Rollason said: “Our village is amazing and the people are so lovely. I am learning to be more patient with life.”

Francis Reinbold said: “Most French people we met were very accommodating and helpful, despite our limited French.”

William Richardson, who has been in Carcassonne for four years, said: “The people in general are so welcoming and friendly.”

Fay Rension, who has lived in Lyon, Calvados and Reims, said: “I was so surprised with how helpful the French people are, such as a shopkeeper not having what I wanted walked me outside the business and literally walked with me to show me where I can find what I was looking for.”

Jane Le Maux added: “It was a welcome surprise how friendly and polite French people are.”

The strikes

And yes this is France, so we do have to mention the fact that occasionally there are strikes.

Camryn Okhara, who lives in Besançon, said: “Be prepared for strikes and for things to not be as easy as they were in your home country.”

Thank you to all our readers who generously shared what they have learned, if you are planning a move to France, head to our Moving to France section for some more practical tips and information.


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Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

If you're looking to rent an apartment in a larger city in France, you're likely to see announcements that require a 'garant'. Here is what you need to know about finding a guarantor in France.

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

Renting in large cities in France – particularly in Paris – is a known challenge for foreigners, especially new arrivals. In the countryside, it’s a bit easier, with less competition properties, but in the big cities compiling your dossier and landing the right place can be a challenge.

One of the biggest surprises for many people is that most landlords ask for a guarantor (garant) in order to sign a lease for an apartment. It is not a legal requirement, but in competitive real estate markets, it certainly feels like one.

Though asking for a garant might feel a bit juvenile, it is quite common, and applies to a lot more people than you might realise. Here is what you need to know:

Who typically needs a guarantor?

The most common group to need guarantors are students. However, if you are a foreigner who is not employed with a CDI (indefinite contract) and if you do not make over three times your monthly rent, you will likely need a guarantor as well.

If you don’t collect your income in France (or if you don’t have an income) you will need a guarantor.

You will also likely need one if you are still in the probationary period of your CDI, or if you cannot show three months worth of pay stubs from your job yet (even if you pay meets the three times a month requirement). If you do have a CDI, you could ask your employer to sign you an attestation d’employeur which verifies your monthly income. 

If your income is not steady or consistent (perhaps you are a freelancer). Typically, if you use an agency during the leasing process, they will require a guarantor, especially if any of these conditions apply to you. 

It is worth noting that showing bank statements typically do not suffice – landlords are looking for proof of ongoing income, not savings.

Who can count as a guarantor?

The guarantor should be a third party, such as a parent or close relative who agrees to pay your rent if you fail to pay.

This person must fulfil all the requirements outlined above (ie earning more than three times your rent with an indefinite contract).

The other tricky part is that this person must work and live in France, and usually it’s best that they are French themselves.

However, this can pose a problem for foreigners who might not know anyone that fits that description, so thankfully there are some other options fill this requirement, like taking out a caution bancaire or using an online agency. We explained the ins-and-outs of these bellow.

What does my guarantor need to show?

The guarantor needs to put together a dossier of documents including;

  • Proof of identification (a passport or French ID card)
  • Proof of residence that is less than three months old (eg utility bills).
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Employment contract and typically three months worth of payslips
  • If they earn money via real estate, they must also provide documentation for this
  • If the person in question is retired, they must provide proof of pension (again, this must exceed your monthly rent threefold). 

So, what if I don’t have a French person who can be my guarantor? There are a few options for you:

Use an online service

There are two main online services that can act as guarantors for foreigners in France.

The first is Visale, which is accessible primarily to foreign students.

This is a programme offered via the French state through “Action Logement” and it covers up to three years of unpaid rent. You must be between 18 and 30 years old to apply, and you must hold a long-stay visa (VLS-TS) – either a student visa or a ‘talent’ one.

For students who are already citizens of a European Union country, then simply presenting a student card and a valid passport will be sufficient. It can be applied to private housing and student residences, but it is ultimately up to the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who uses Visale as their guarantor. The main benefit to Visale is that it is free for the user.

Visale does come with some restrictions, however. Your rent (including charges) cannot exceed €1,500 in Paris, and €1,300 in the rest of the country. In addition, the lease must be for a primary residence, and your rent should not exceed 50 percent of your total income.

Another option is GarantMe, a paid online website that can also serve as an official guarantor.

Landlords might actually prefer this service over a physical guarantor who might refuse to pay or for whatever reason not have the funds to do so. The benefit to GarantMe is that they accept a wider range of tenants for their service, but the downside is that there is a fee. The minimum payment (per year) is €150, but the fee is normally 3.5 percent of the annual rent (including charges) and it renews automatically.

The nice thing about GarantMe, is that in order to apply for the service, you basically need to create a full dossier that will be identical to what you’ll need for your apartment search anyways.

Take out a Caution Bancaire

Basically, a caution bancaire is a bank guarantee, and typically its a bit more of a last resort option because it is quite restrictive for the tenant. It involves blocking off a large sum of money to be used to pay rent if you fail to do so.

Depending on the landlord (and the bank), they might ask you to block between six months worth of rent to sometimes up to two years. This would be used as guarantee during the duration of your lease, but it takes a bit of administrative coordination and obviously requires a large sum of liquid funds.

Sometimes activating a bank guarantee can take a few weeks, and for foreigners, of course, this would require already having a French bank account. There can also be fees, depending on the bank, for using a caution bancaire, and simply closing of caution bancaire account in itself can involve fees.

The other downside to this is that not all landlords will accept it, which is why this option might be best served as a last resort.

Attempt to find an apartment that does not require a garant

This is quite difficult in Paris (and other large cities around France). It is possible sometimes if you stick to foreigner-oriented sites like NY Habitat or Paris Attitude. Another possible loophole could be to see if your insurance plan offers coverage of unpaid rent. This is quite uncommon, but could be a possible option. If you rent specifically particulier-à-particulier (meaning you do not use an agency at all) you might be able to negotiate with the landlord, or if you have a sub-lease you might not need to show proof of a guarantor.

Ultimately, however, in most cases when renting in France’s large cities, you’ll likely need a guarantor.

What should I be aware of when it comes to guarantor websites?

As mentioned previously, Visale is only for people in the 18-30 age group, so unfortunately it does not apply to everyone. It is also intended for lower income people or students, so if you are a high earner you might be rejected.

Regarding using a website like GarantMe, beware that they will charge you every year – it is not a one time fee. This will be deducted from the card you put on the site and the only way to cancel the charge will be to show proof that you have moved out (i.e. an état des lieux or letter releasing you from the obligation signed from your landlord)