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

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.

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

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


Member comments

  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?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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)