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MOVING TO FRANCE

Checklist: 10 things to do before moving to France

If you are thinking - or even just daydreaming - about moving to France it can be hard to know where to start in your preparations. Here's our checklist for the essential things to do before the move.

Checklist: 10 things to do before moving to France
Read our checklist before signing on the dotted line. Photo by FRED TANNEAU / AFP

Many people dream of moving to France. It is a country steeped in culture and beautiful natural landscapes. It also has a remarkable work-life balance and social safety net. 

But before making the move, there are a number of things you need to do. 

Check residency rights

Firstly you need to make sure your stay will be legal. If you plan to stay in France for a period of more than 90 days and do not have citizenship of an EU or Schengen zone country, you will likely need a visa. 

Staying in France or another EU for a period of more than 90 days could land you in legal trouble. Bear in mind that without official residency status, you may struggle to open bank account, rent or buy a property and register for social security. 

We have written extensive guides of obtaining visas to stay in France. The process varies a little depending on your nationality and motive for coming to France. 

Decide where you want to live

Where you decide to move is a matter of personal choice. If you have cash and enjoy the hustle and bustle of a capital city, Paris is the obvious choice. 

If you would rather be living in an area with lots of English speakers but also want to enjoy the countryside and warmer weather, you may be best off moving to a region like Nouvelle-Aquitaine (southwest), Occitanie (south) or the Provence-Alpes-Côte-D’Azur (southeast). 

If you really want to get away from it all, France’s sparsely populated but stunningly beautiful central region is the place for you.

Ultimately, France is an incredibly varied country with cities, forests, mountains, beaches and lakes. You will be able to find the place which is right for you – but it will take some research. 

Find somewhere to rent or buy

Once you have zoned in on a geographical area, the next step is finding somewhere to actually live – unless you plan on sleeping in the street. 

Finding somewhere to buy can be a long process wherever you are, but the French system has some traps for the unwary. 

Fortunately, we have written extensively on the topic of house buying in France and have a wide range of articles to help you through the process including the following:

You can also sign up to our property newsletter here

Initially, you may be best-off renting, even if this too can be complicated. You will typically need as many of the following as possible: a French guarantor, evidence of your income, a French bank account, an employment contract, your most recent tax return, and receipts of payments made to your previous landlord. 

Whether renting or buying, there are plenty of relocation agencies which, for a fee, will help you find your dream place and sort out all the necessary paperwork. 

Get your banking situation sorted  

To open a French bank account, you normally need the following:

  • proof of your right to residency
  • proof of address in France
  • proof of income
  • proof of your identity

It can be difficult to buy or rent without a French bank account. But it can be difficult to set up a French bank account without a fixed address in France, and if you are a US citizen there are some extra challenges

Some banks are more flexible than others when it comes to requiring proof of a fixed address in France. Online banks and those with an English-language service are more likely to be accommodating. Some banks have different policy on a branch-by-branch basis, so be persistent. 

Once you have gained residency status, if you are unable to open a bank account, you can make a request to Banque de France (the French central bank) to force a high-street bank to open an account for you under a clause known as the Droit au compte. You can make such a demand here. The downside is that it might not be the bank you would choose. But at least you’ll have an account.

It is worth checking that the bank in your home country allows free or low cost money transfers to an EU/French-based account. If it doesn’t you may want to consider changing bank. 

Prepare important documents 

France is not known for its smooth administrative processes (although it’s definitely getting easier as more things move online).

Before you arrive, it is worth making sure you have a good number of recent ID photos, photocopies of your identity documents, a copy of your full birth certificate (the French are weirdly obsessed with these), proof of health insurance and a copy of your most recent tax return. 

Check your driving license 

If you plan on living in the countryside, you are probably going to need a car. To do this, you will of course need a driving license. 

If you already hold a driving license, issued in a country other than France or another EU/EEA nation, you will likely need to swap it for a French one. 

The procedure for doing this depends on where your original license was issued.

If you were issued with a British driving license before January 1st 2021, you don’t need to swap it for a French one. Those whose licence was issued after January 1st, 2021 will need to exchange it for a French one within one year of moving to France. 

People moving to France from a non-EU/EEA nation or the UK may even need to re-sit a driving test in France to be able to legally drive here. We have put together a guide on this subject below:

READ MORE How hard is it to swap your driving licence for a French one?

Ensure you have health coverage

Getting sick in a foreign country without health insurance can be costly and dangerous. 

Fortunately, France has an amazing public healthcare system, but it can take some time to register to use it (you must have been resident in France for at least three months before applying for a Carte Vitale). 

Once registered, it may also be worth taking out a private health insurance policy, known as a mutuelle

Many people, including people certain groups coming from the United States, will only be granted visas if they have private health insurance coverage. You can cancel this coverage once you are enrolled in the French social security system.

Americans in France: What’s the deal with health insurance? 

Network with other foreign nationals 

One of the benefits of being alive in the 21st century is the wealth of information available at our fingertips online. 

Not only are websites like The Local full of practical tips to make your move to France easier, but there are also a plethora of social media communities full of foreign residents and locals happy to share advice. 

The Local also has its own Facebook group – Living in France – that is full of nice people swapping helpful information. You can find dozens more such groups online, run and moderated independently. 

Real people in these online communities will be able to give you guidance on everything: from schools, to healthcare options, to fun days out and where to buy firewood. 

Have a French CV ready 

Many people come to France and hope their English CV will be enough to get them a job. While this might be true in an Irish/English pub or at an English teaching academy, it will not be the case for most companies, even if the HR department is fully bilingual.

French CVs typically follow a slightly different model to those used in English speaking countries. 

You will generally need to include a headshot of yourself, a brief ‘bio’, an address and your date of birth, along with the usual professional experience and educational details. 

READ MORE How to write the perfect CV for getting a job in France

Have a stab at learning French 

While you might be able to get by in some areas without speaking French, it is is seen as polite to at least have a go at the language. Having a working knowledge of French will also help you with various bureaucratic tasks and when it comes to understanding the culture – and you’ll find it much easier to make friends and feel settled in the country.

READ MORE How easy is it to move to France if you don’t speak French

Before coming to France, you could try taking French classes or using a language learning app such as Duolingo or Babbel. 

If you are just getting started, it is worth listening to Le Journal en français facile – a daily news programme available online from Radio France Internationale, broadcast in slow, easy-to-understand French. 

For those of you with a Netflix subscription, you can also try watching French language shows and films on there. 

READ MORE Five Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it

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For members

FRENCH BUREAUCRACY

Everything you need to know about your vital French ‘dossier’

It's a crucial part of life and an incomplete one can bring about a whole world of pain - here's what you need to know about your French dossier.

Everything you need to know about your vital French 'dossier'

The French word un dossier simply means a file – either in the physical sense of a plastic or cardboard item that holds documents together or the sense of a collection of documents. You might also hear civil servants use dossier to refer to the responsibilities they hold, as in English we might say their ‘brief’. 

But by far the most important use of dossier, particularly to foreigners in France, is its use to indicate the collection of documents that you must put together in order to complete vital administrative tasks, from registering in the health system to finding somewhere to live.

When you begin a new administrative process, you will need to put together a collection of documents in order to make your application. Exactly what you need varies depending on the process, but almost all dossiers will include;

  • Proof of ID – passport, birth certificate or residency card. If a birth certificate is required check carefully exactly what type of certificate is being asked for (and don’t freak out if they’re asking for a birth certificate no more than three months old, it doesn’t mean you have to be born again).

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

  • Proof of address – utility bills are usually the best, if you’re on paperless billing you can log into your online account with your power supplier and download an Attetstation de contrat which has your name and address on it and also acts as proof of address
  • Proof of financial means – depending on the process you might have to show proof of your income/financial means. This can include things like your last three months payslips or your most recent tax return. If you’re house-hunting you might be asked for your last three quittances de loyer – these are rent receipts and prove that you have been paying your rent on time. Landlords are legally obliged to provide these if you ask, but if you can’t find them or it’s a problem you can also ask your landlord to provide an attestatation de bon paiment – a certificate stating that you pay what you owe on time.

Paper v online

The traditional dossier is a bulging file full of papers, but increasingly administrative processes are moving online, so you may be able to simply upload the required documents instead of printing them all out. 

If you have to send physical copies of documents by mail, make sure you send them by lettre recommandée (registered mail), not only does it keep your precious documents safe, but some offices will only accept documents that arrive this way. 

If you’re able to send your dossier online, pay careful attention to the format specified for documents – usually documents like rental contracts or work contracts will be in Pdf format while for documents like a passport or residency card a jpeg (such as a photo taken on your phone) will suffice. If you’re sending photos of ID cards, residency cards or similar make sure you upload photos of both sides of the card.

If you need scanned documents there is no need to buy an expensive scanner – there are now numerous free phone apps that will do the job and allow you to photograph the documents with your phone’s camera and convert them to Pdf files.

Some French government sites are a little clunky and won’t accept large files – if you get an error message telling you that the file you are uploading is too big, you can resize it using a free online photo resizing tool. 

Payment

If the process requires payment (eg changing address on certain types of residency card or applying for citizenship) you may be asked for a timbre fiscale – find out how they work here

House-hunting

If you are looking for a property to rent you will need to compile a dossier and if you’re in one of the big cities – especially Paris – landlords or agencies usually won’t even grant you a viewing without seeing your dossier first, so it’s always best to compile this before you start scanning property adverts.

The government has put together a tool called Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Find a full explanation of how it works here.

Attestations

For foreigners, especially new arrivals, it’s often a problem getting together all the documents required. It’s worth knowing that if you don’t have everything you need, you can sometimes substitute documents for an attestation sur l’honneur, which is a sworn statement. 

How to write a French attestation sur l’honneur

This is a legally valid document, with penalties for submitting a false one, and needs to be in French and written in a certain format – the French government website provides a template for the attestation.

Vocab

Déposer un dossier – submit your file

Pièce d’identitie – proof of ID eg passport, residency card

Acte de naissance – birth certificate. 

Copie intégral – a copy of the document such as a photocopy or scan

Extrait – a new version of the document, reissued by the issuing authority

Sans/ avec filiation – for birth certificates it might be specified that you need one avec filiation, which means it includes your parents’ details. Some countries issue as standard short-form birth certificates that don’t include this, so you will need to request a longer version of the certificate

Justificatif de domicile – proof of address eg recent utility bills. If you don’t have any bills in your name you can ask the person who either owns the property or pays the rent to write an attestation de domicile stating that you live there

Justificatif de situation professionnelle – proof of your work status eg a work contract – either a CDI (permenant contract) or CDD (short-term contract)

Justificatif de ressources – proof of financial means, such as your last three months payslips (employers are legally obliged to provide these), other proof of income or proof of pension payments or evidence of savings.

Avis d’imposition – tax return. Some processes ask for this separately, for others it can be used as proof of resources – this is not a copy of the declaration that you make, but the receipt you get back from the tax office laying out your income and any payments that are required. If you declare your taxes online in France, you can download a copy of this document from the tax website. 

Quittance de loyer – rent receipts

Attestation de bon paiment – a document from your landlord stating that you pay your rent on time

Un garant – for some processes, particularly house-hunting, you might need a financial guarantor. This can be tricky for foreigners since it has to be someone you know reasonably well, but that person must also be living (and sometimes working) in France, and they will also need to provide all the above documents. If you’re struggling to find an acceptable guarantor, there are online services that will provide a guarantor (for a fee).

En cours de traitement – this means that your dossier has been received and is in the process of being evaluated. Depending on the process this stage can take anywhere between hours, months or even years (in the case of citizenship applications).

RDV – the shortened version of rendez-vous, this is an appointment. Certain processes require you to first submit your dossier and then attend an in-person appointment.

Votre dossier est incomplet – bad news, you are missing one or more crucial documents and your application will not proceed any further until you have remedied this.

Votre dossier est validé – your dossier has been approved. Time to pop the Champagne!

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