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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 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, the 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 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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PROPERTY

VIDEO: The French château that could be yours for €750k

For most of us, owning our own château in southwest France is probably in the realms of lottery-winning dreams - but someone could soon own one such historic building. 

VIDEO: The French château that could be yours for €750k

The beautiful 16th-century Chateau De Saint-Elix, half-an-hour from Toulouse’s Blagnac airport, will be sold in a 24-hour online auction, starting on Tuesday, June 21, at 1pm and running until Wednesday, June 22, at 1pm.

Built between 1540 and 1549, the Renaissance-style building is a Historic Monument and has been twice put up for sale in recent years – in 2014 and 2018 – without success.

Now owned by the French State, the 2,000 square metre building, complete with four romantic towers, a recently renovated slate roof and nearly 3 hectares of land is again back on the market. 

You can even take a virtual tour of the building, which has 25 good-sized rooms, including 14 bedrooms, spread over three levels.

The starting price for the auction is set at €750,000.

Potential vendors should also keep in mind the extra costs of buying property in France, from taxes to notaire fees. We imagine the heating bill would be quite hefty in the winter too. 

READ ALSO The ‘hidden extra costs of buying property in France

Saint-Elix has a rich past. It was notably the home of the Marquis de Montespan after his wife became mistress to Louis XIV. It was partially destroyed in the Revolution.

Photo: CESSIONS IMMOBILIÈRES DE L’ETAT

More recently, it was listed as a historic monument in 1927, but was ravaged by fire in 1945.

In the 1980s the castle underwent a vast renovation project that lasted eight years. 

The pleasure garden is listed in the pre-inventory of remarkable gardens. The park, the regular garden, orangery, enclosing walls, stables, basin and dovecote were also registered as historic monuments in 1994.

Full details of the property are available here. More detailed information, including legal requirements for the purchaser, is available as a series of pdf documents here.

Photo: CESSIONS IMMOBILIÈRES DE L’ETAT

It should be noted that any non-France resident interested in purchasing the property must supply an avis juridique – translated into French attesting to that they have the legal and financial requirements for buying and owning the property, on top of all other necessary documents.

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