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10 things to think about before moving to France

Map of France
Being able to locate France on a map is a good start. Photo by Danielle Rice on Unsplash
It can be hard to know where to start when moving countries, so here are our tips for the things you need to think about before making the move, and to smooth your path once you're here.

Learn French

There are some countries that you can live in without ever learning the language, but France isn’t one of them unless you are prepared to miss out on a lot and you have a very patient French-speaking friend/partner/family member who is willing to do all your admin tasks for you.

READ ALSO How easy is it to move to France without speaking French?

That doesn’t mean you need to be fluent when you arrive, but learning at least some French before moving is a good idea and be prepared to keep working at it once you arrive.

Yes, we said work – a few gifted linguists might just ‘pick it up’ once they arrive, but for most people learning French involves classes, sweating over grammar books and regularly making excruciatingly embarrassing mistakes – the French language has many traps for the unwary foreigner.

Beautiful butts and condom-free baguettes: Readers reveal their most embarrassing French mistakes

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Be legal

It’s boring but also important to make sure that you are in France legally. For non-EU citizens this will usually involve a visa and if you intend to work you may also need a work permit.

EXPLAINED How to apply for a French visa

It’s important to get these things sorted before you move and you need to have at least looked into the practicalities before you consider buying property. Contrary to what many people believe, owning a house in France does not give any special privileges within the visa system.  

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

Visit in the winter

Many people fall in love with France through holidaying here, but living in a country is a very different thing.

If you intend to live in a rural area you should visit in the winter as well as the summer to see if you still like it when it’s cold, damp and largely deserted. Conversely, not many people have written songs about Paris in August when it’s brutally hot, crammed with tourists and most of the good shops are closed.  

Cost of living 

Another deeply unromantic one, but do make sure your sums stack up and you have enough to live on, especially if you don’t intend to work in France.

If you want to be in Paris be aware that it regularly tops league tables for the world’s most expensive cities, while country living comes with its own expenses such as having to run a car in many places because of the lack of public transport.

Those French taxes also add up and if you’re relying on an income in another currency (such as a pension from your home country) remember that currency market fluctuations can have a dramatic impact on the money that ends up in your pocket.

Zen and the art of waiting

Be prepared for the fact that some processes might be slower than you are used to. French bureaucracy moves at its own pace and a good rule of thumb is to expect it to take six months to get all your administrative affairs in order after you move.

Railing at the system won’t make things move any faster and railing at bureaucrats is more likely to get your file ‘accidentally’ shredded, so practice the art of acceptance.

Internet connections

It sounds obvious, but if you intend to work from home in your French property then do make sure in advance that it has a good internet connection and, if necessary, your phone can get a signal.

Things are improving but many rural areas of France still have very patchy internet connections and buying extra signal boosters doesn’t always solve the problem.

Also, don’t believe anyone who tells you that high-speed fibre connections are coming ‘soon’ to the area, various companies have been making this promise for years.

READ ALSO Remote working in France – what are the rules for foreigners?

Making friends

Think about your social circle too. Moving to a new country can be lonely and making French friends might not be as easy as you think.

It’s not impossible of course, but give some thought to who you will socialise with and research in advance ways you might be able to meet people, whether it’s getting involved in village activities, joining a yoga class or setting up a conversation exchange group where you can improve your French and help others to improve their English.

READ ALSO Why finding French friends in France might be trickier than you think

Have documents ready

Most administrative tasks in France require a dossier – a file of documents – and you will save yourself much time and frustration if you get this ready in advance.

Expect to be regularly asked for your (full) birth certificate and if applicable marriage/divorce certificates, passport (and visa/residency card if necessary), bank account details, proof of address such as a rental contract or utility bills, proof of income such as payslips or pension details and proof of health cover. It’s a good idea to have some passport-sized photos ready as these are also often required. 

READ ALSO The essential documents you will always need in France

Be prepared for problems 

As well as practical matters, it’s important to be emotionally prepared for your move and any problems that come along.

Sooner or later you will hit a problem, particularly with the bureaucracy which is not always user-friendly, and if you have been imagining that every moment of your new life in France will be a paradise then this can be emotionally difficult.

There are few newcomers to France who haven’t cried at least once while trying to sort out everything that moving countries involves so expect problems to occur, but also know that they will be resolved eventually.

But remember to enjoy it

Hopefully this list doesn’t sound overly negative – it’s more about being prepared than putting you off France – but also take time to enjoy the small things (and the big things) about living in France.

From unexpected days off on obscure Catholic holidays to giggling like a child at French brand names that sound like rude words in English, there are all sorts of small pleasures to moving country.

And that’s before we get to the things that people move for in the first place – the more relaxed pace of life, the stunning countryside, the beautiful cities, the gastronomy, the wine, the culture, the cheese and did we mention the wine?  


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