Moving to France: What should I do first, residency, healthcare or driving licence?

Moving to France: What should I do first, residency, healthcare or driving licence?
You may need to buy a new filing cabinet to deal with the French paperwork. Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash
So you've closed the door on your lovely new French home, figured out where the nearest boulangerie is and uncorked a bottle of local red and then it hits you - now you have to deal with a mountain of French bureaucracy.

While the paperwork in France is undoubtedly daunting, even to hardened locals, you will get through it all eventually, you just need to figure out what you need to do first and what can be left until later. As well as the obvious things like sorting out utilities and insurance, there are also some things that are specific to France.

READ ALSO From dossier to notaire: French bureaucracy explained

The French carte de séjour residency card requirements vary depending on where you are from. Photo: AFP

Here's our guide to some of the most important bits of French paperwork so you can prioritise one (endless) form at a time.

1. Residency

Having made it to France the key is obviously being able to stay here and how you go about this depends on where you come from. If you're a citizen of an EU country – lucky you! You don't need to do anything for residency other than checking that you fulfill the criteria for being legally resident.

If you're British and move to France before December 31st, 2020 you are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement which means you get a special deal when it comes to establishing residency – find out more here.

If you come from a country which requires a visa (such as the USA, Australia or India) you need to arrange that before you arrive. Once here you will need to get your application in for the carte de séjour residency card, and usually that needs to be made two months before your visa expires, so this should definitely be your priority. Find out more here.

READ ALSO The hardest parts about moving to France as an American

2. Bank account

You may think this is something that you can do in advance, but most French banks require proof of a French address before opening an account, which you won't have until you move here. Opening a French bank account can be quite complicated and requires a lot of paperwork – find out more here.

Americans in particular have reported problems in opening accounts at French banks because of the FATCA legislation which imposes extra checks on French banks. Be prepared to shop around as you might be turned down for an account altogether by some banks. 

Getting a carte vitale will mean the French government will reimburse your healthcare costs. Photo: AFP

3. Health cover

Next on your list should be making sure that the costs of your healthcare are covered should you fall sick or have an accident. This isn't quite as urgent as you have to have been in France for three months before you can start to register, so it's not something you can do on your first day. That said, however, you should start as soon as you can because a) healthcare is important and b) the process can be quite slow. It's not unusual for getting fully registered in the French system to take six months.

In France the health system works by charging you upfront for doctors' appointments, treatments, prescriptions etc and then reimbursing you some or all of the cost. The magic card that sends the reimbursement straight into your bank account is the carte vitale and there are several different routes to getting one of these. If you are working you apply directly, if you are receiving a pension from the UK you are covered by the S1 scheme and if you are not working but not receiving a pension then you are covered by the PUMa scheme.

READ ALSO How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one

The state healthcare doesn't reimburse the full cost of all treatments, so you may also wish to arrange for yourself a mutuelle, which is top-up health insurance that covers the rest of the costs.

After the carte de séjour and the carte vitale comes the carte gris – your French vehicle registration documents. Photo: AFP

4. Driving

If you're in Paris it's unlikely that you will need a car (or want to face Parisians' rather robust driving style) but in many parts of France a car is a necessity. If you bring a car with you from another country you have to change the registration to French if you intend staying for more than six months – find out how here. This rule is frequently either misunderstood or ignored and in some places you will see people driving for years on foreign plates but it is actually illegal and can invalidate your insurance.

The rules on driving licences vary depending on where your original licence is from. British people only have to exchange their licence for a French one in certain circumstances – more on that here – and if you're American it's even more complicated.

Some US states have bilateral agreements with French authorities and some don't so depending on where your licence was issued you can either do a simple swap or you may have to retake your driving test in France. The general rule of thumb is that you have one year to exchange your licence for a French one, but full details here.

5. Registering a business

Obviously not applicable to everyone, but if you have moved to France to set up your own business you will need to make sure it is correctly registered so you are operating legally.

France operates a scheme called micro entrepreneur (previously called auto entrepreneur) which can be used if you're either setting up a business or working as a freelancer. There are limits to how much you can earn in a year under this scheme, but it's designed to be a simplified system which is handy if you're just starting out.

READ ALSO How to set yourself up as a micro entrepreneur in France 

Filing in a French tax return is no fun but is compulsory if you are a resident. Photo: AFP

6. Taxes

This is not something that you to do straight away but also not something to forget about.

Everyone who is resident in France needs to fill in an annual tax declaration, regardless of whether or not you actually earn any income in France. The tax year runs from April, so you fill in your first return the April after your first April in France. Likewise the two taxes connected to property – the taxe d'habitation for (some) householders and the taxe foncière for property owners – run from January 1st, so you pay for the property you were resident in the previous January 1st.

READ ALSO The French tax calendar for 2020: What taxes are due and when?

Above all – be patient. French bureaucracy is notoriously slow and you have a lot to get through. Most new arrivals find that it takes them about a year to sort out everything and you will inevitably be told at some point that you have filled out a form wrong or that your dossier is incomplete.

When we asked readers of The Local who had already made the move for their advice, the number one tip was about preparing for the bureaucracy – keep every item of paperwork and learn patience.

Bonne chance!

READ ALSO The essential documents you will always need in France


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  1. Enjoyed the article about moving to France. Can you or anyone tell me how long you can be out of the EU/France each year and still keep your yearly-renewed Titre de Sejour valid? I have heard two answers: 3 and 6 months?

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