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MOVING TO FRANCE

10 things to think about before moving to France

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.

Map of France
Being able to locate France on a map is a good start. Photo by Danielle Rice on Unsplash

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

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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PROPERTY

Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

Plumbing ermergencies are common in France, so here's our guide to what to do, who to call and the phrases you will need if water starts gushing in unexpected areas.

Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

How do I find a reliable plumber and avoid getting scammed?

First, try to stick with word-of-mouth if you can. Contact trusted individuals or resources, like your neighbours and friends, or foreigner-oriented Facebook groups for your area (ex. “American Expats in Paris”). This will help you find a more reliable plumber. If this is not an option for you, try “Pages Jaunes” (France’s ‘Yellow Pages’) to see reviews and plumbers (plomberie) in your area. 

Next, educate yourself on standard rates. If the situation is not an emergency, try to compare multiple plumbers to make sure the prices are in the correct range. 

Finally, always Google the name of the plumber you’ll be working with – this will help inform you as to whether anyone else has had a particularly positive (or negative) experience with them – and check that the company has a SIRET number.

This number should be on the work estimate (devis). You can also check them out online at societe.com. If you want to be extra careful you can also ask to see their carte artisan BTP (craftsman card). 

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?

Who is responsible for paying for work?

If you own the property, you are typically the one who is responsible for financing the plumbing expenses.

However if you’re in a shared building, you must determine the cause and location of the leak. If you cannot find the origin of the leak, you may need a plumber to come and locate it and provide you with an estimate. You can use this estimate when communicating with insurance, should the necessity arise. 

If you are a renter, the situation is a bit more complicated. Most of the time, water damage should be the landlord’s responsibility, but there are exceptions.

The landlord is obliged to carry out major repairs (ex. Natural disaster, serious plumbing issues) that are necessary for the maintenance and normal upkeep of the rented premises (as per, Article 6C of the law of July 6, 1989). The tenant, however, is expected to carry out routine maintenance, and minor repairs are also to be paid by the tenant. If the problem is the result of the tenant failing to maintain the property, then it will be the tenant’s responsibility to cover the cost of the repair.

Legally speaking, it is also the tenant’s responsibility to get the boiler serviced once a year, as well as to maintain the faucets and joints, and to avoid clogging the pipes.

READ MORE: Assurance habitation: How to get home insurance in France

If you end up in dispute with your landlord over costs, you can always reach out to ADIL, the national Housing Association which offers free legal advice for housing issues in France. 

What happens if the leak is coming from my neighbour’s property?

Both you and your neighbour should contact your respective housing insurance companies and file the ‘sinistre’ (damage) with them.

If you both agree on the facts you can file an amiable (in a friendly fashion), then matters are much more simple and you will not have to go through the back-and-forth of determining fault.

If having a friendly process is not possible, be sure to get an expert to assert where the leak is coming from and file this with your insurance company.

As always, keep evidence (lists and photographs) of the damage. Keep in mind that many insurance providers have a limited number of days after the start of the damage that you can file. Better to do it sooner than later, partially because, as with most administrative processes in France, it might take a bit of time.

Vocab

Plumbing has its own technical vocabulary so here are some words and phrases that you’re likely to need;

Hello, I have a leak in my home. I would like to request that a plumber come to give me an estimate of the damage and cost for repairs – Bonjour, j’ai une fuite chez moi. Je voudrais demander qu’un plombier vienne me donner une estimation des dégâts et du coût de la réparation. 

It is an emergency: C’est une urgence

I have no hot water: Je n’ai pas d’eau chaude

The boiler has stopped working: La chaudière ne fonctionne plus.

I cannot turn my tap off: Je ne peux pas arrêter le robinet.

The toilet is leaking: Mes toilettes fuient.

The toilet won’t flush/ is clogged: Mes toilettes sont bouchées

There is a bad smell coming from my septic tank: Il y a un mauvaise odeur provenant de ma fosse septique

I would like to get my electricity / boiler safety checked: Je souhaiterais une vérification de la sécurité de mon installation électrique / de ma chaudière

I can smell gas: Ca sent le gaz

My washing machine has broken: Ma machine a laver est cassée

Can you come immediately? Est-ce que vous pouvez venir tout de suite?

When can you come? Quand est-ce que vous pouvez venir?

How long will it take? Combien de temps cela prendra-t-il ?

How much do you charge? Quels sont vos prix? / Comment cela va-t-il coûter?

How can I pay you? Comment je peux vous payer ? 

Here are the key French vocabulary words for all things plumbing-related:

Dishwasher – Lave vaisselle

Bath – Baignoire

Shower – Douche

Kitchen Sink – Évier

Cupboard – Placard

Water meter – Compteur d’eau

The Septic Tank – La fosse septique

A leak – Une fuite

Bathroom sink – Le lavabo

The toilet – La toilette

Clogged – Bouché

To overflow – Déborder

A bad smell – Une mauvaise odeur

The flexible rotating tool used to unclog a pipe (and also the word for ferret in French) – Furet 

Water damage – Dégât des eaux

The damage – Le sinistre

And finally, do you know the French phrase Sourire du plombier? No, it’s not a cheerful plumber, it’s the phrase used in French for when a man bends down and his trouser waistband falls down, revealing either his underwear or the top of his buttocks. In Ebglish it’s builder’s bum, in French ‘plumber’s smile’.

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