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Explained: How to convert a French second home into your main residence

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
Explained: How to convert a French second home into your main residence
Decide to move to France full time? There are some admin tasks that you will need to do. Photo by SAMIRA BOUHIN / AFP

It's not uncommon for second-home owners to decide that they want to move to France full time and make their life here - but what are the admin steps that you need to take to make this happen?

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For some people it's always part of the long-term plan, while others just get seduced by France and decide that they want to spend more time here. But either way, it's far from uncommon for people to buy a French property, use it as a second home for a while and then decide that they want it to become their main residence.

And obviously this makes the whole process of moving to France a lot easier since you already have a place to stay and you know the area and probably know some of your neighbours.

Nonetheless, there are several crucial bits of admin that you need to do in order to ensure that you are legally resident in France.

Visa/residency permit

If you are not a citizen of an EU country then the first thing you need to think about is your legal residency status. Some non-EU second-home owners stay paperwork-free by limiting their visits to 90 days in every 180 while others get a short-term visitor visa.

Either way, this needs to change.

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If you intend to live full-time in France then you will need a long-stay visa. Exactly which type you need will depend on your plans - whether you want to work, study or retire. You can find full details HERE.

You need to apply for the visa from your home country before you make the move. While you're waiting for your visa to be processed there is no problem going back and forth to France to transport some furniture or make arrangements at your place, but you will still need to abide by non-resident rules (such as the 90-day rule) and cannot officially move until your visa comes through.

When you get your visa, it's important to note the next steps, which in most cases involve registering for a residency permit within three months of arrival.

Getting a French visa - what are the next steps?

Moving furniture

When you're bringing items including furniture, DIY items and household goods into France there is a value limit of €430 - anything over this amount can attract import duties.

There is, however, an exception for people who are moving to France to be able to bring with them furniture, white goods etc. In order to benefit from this, you will have to fill out the paperwork in advance - full details here.

Pets  

If you're bringing pets with you they will need their own paperwork - full details here.

Once you are living here and have registered with a local vet you can get an EU passport for your cat, dog or ferret which will make any future travel within the EU (or between the EU and UK) a lot simpler.

You can eventually apply for a French passport for yourself, but for humans the process is a lot more complicated and time-consuming and you need to prove that you can speak French. Pets just need a signature from the local vet.

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Children 

If you're bringing younger children with you then you will need to enrol them in school - and you may need to arrange in advance for extra language tuition for them, depending on their age and French-speaking abilities.

READ ALSO How to enrol a non-French child in French schools 

Although children do tend to pick up French faster than adults it can still be a difficult transition - find out more from parents who have been through it.

Change address 

Once you're installed in France comes the next layer of admin, including registering a change of address where applicable. 

Most second-home owners will have direct debits already set up for things like utility bills, but you will need to change the address on anything that still has your old address listed. You will also probably find that it's cheaper to switch your phone contract to a French one.

Explained: How to get a mobile phone contract in France

You will likely need to let your home insurance provider know that the property is now occupied full time.

If you're in a small village it's also a good idea to pop round to the mairie and just let them know that you're now living here full time - this is not required, but it's a courtesy if you have an active local mayor.

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Tax declarations 

As a second-home owner, you probably didn't need to make the annual income tax declaration in France (unless you had French income through renting out your property as a holiday let). But once you have moved to France you become a tax resident, and will therefore need to make the annual income tax declaration - even if all your income comes from overseas (eg a pension paid in your home country).

Tax declarations open in the spring and are for the previous tax year. The tax year in France runs from January to December, so you need to complete a declaration for the spring after you make the move - eg if you move in September 2024 then your first declaration will be spring 2025. 

You can find out how to fill out the declaration here.

As a second-home owner you will likely already have an account on the French tax website impots.gouv.fr and have completed the property tax declaration.

You will now need to update the declaration because your circumstances have changed, ticking the 'main residence' box rather than the 'second home' one - in happy news, this will mean a fall in your annual property tax bill since only second-home owners pay the taxe d'habitation.

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The property tax bills sent out in the autumn are based on the situation on January 1st of that year, so you will likely continue to pay taxe d'habitation for the first year after you make the move.

Register in health system 

Once you have been a full-time resident in France for more than three months, you are entitled to register in the health system and get the carte vitale which entitles you to state-funded healthcare.

Full details on how to register here.

Since the state only reimburses a percentage of health costs, most full-time residents in France also take out the top-up health insurance known as a mutuelle - full details here.

Change driving licence 

If you are a driver, then you will sooner or later have to swap your driving licence for a French one.

Exactly when you make the switch, and whether you can do a straight swap or need to take a French driving test, depends on the country (or in the case of Americans the US state) where your licence was issued. 

By country: How and when to swap your driving licence for a French one

If you bring a car over with you, you will also have to register it in France, which can be a complex process.

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Comments (1)

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John Ham 2024/04/04 16:35
I find that reusable heavy plastic crates with lids are ideal for shipping my children over.

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