What to Know About Moving to France
Are you about to pack your bags and move to France? Get the information you need before you make the move.
Moving to France is a dream for many people. Whether it is the French countryside, a charming coastal village, or the cosmopolitan city of Paris, you are sure to find deep history and culture within the hexagon of France. A life in France brings the promise of new adventures in food, arts, and travel. Indeed, living there positions you centrally for cheap travel to many top European travel destinations.
Before you put your house on the market and start selling your stuff, there are a few things you need to know. Starting over in France is possible, but getting there does not happen without obstacles. Here are some things to know in advance.
First of all, your dream will take time. There are many paths to navigate and it will require months of preparation. Give yourself at least six months to a year. Start by preparing a checklist of all of the tasks that need to be completed.
Get OK With Paperwork
There will be a great deal of paperwork to complete. While some resources claim that there is an inordinate amount of French red tape to manage, it is more likely that the amount of red tape involved in moving to any new country seems insurmountable. Just know, the requirements to move come with plenty of paperwork. Keep track of everything and stay organized. Keep a note in your folder with important phone numbers, email addresses, and contact names.
Getting a Visa
Here’s where things get real. You will need to contact the French Consulate for your area. It may be possible for you to get all the information you need online, but be prepared to contact them more directly. Note, that some regional offices are more willing to answer your questions by phone than others. Some consulate offices will not answer questions by telephone and will require you to send your questions by email instead. If so, you can still expect a quick response. Warranted or not, the French are notorious for bureaucracy. The most important thing to note is you must be persistent. If you are not getting the answers you need, do not give up.
At some point, you will have to visit the nearest French Consulate for an in-person appointment. Locate one nearest you and be prepared to travel if necessary. If travel is required, it's important that you have everything you need before you go to avoid a return trip.
Know what type of visa you will be requesting — Americans staying in France longer than 90 days are required to obtain a visa. You can apply for an extended visitor's visa and stay in the country for a year. If you plan to stay longer, you must visit the prefecture (regional administration office) in your French city to request an extension.
If you are planning to work in France for a French company, you have another set of rules to navigate. Consult the French embassy website to get more information about your specific situation.
Speaking of visas (and a few other things), there may be some cases where you find yourself in a never-ending loop of nonsense. For example, to obtain a visa you must have a French bank account. To open the account, most French banks will require that you have a physical French address, which you won’t have without the visa. Never fear, there are solutions for all of it. It may not seem obvious at first, but with a little research, you will find the answers.
Finding an Apartment
Finding an apartment in France is much as it is in the U.S., but it is important to note that some French landlords are reluctant to rent apartments to foreigners. You will need to prove that you have the income to pay for your lease for the term. The deposit will likely be more than one would pay in the United States and in some cases, property owners may ask for up to six-months rent in advance.
The public transportation system in France is great. If you live in a major city, there will be a metro system or trams (or both) in addition to buses. Of course, there are several airports, but France also has high-speed trains that take you to all corners of France and its neighboring countries within a day.
If you want to drive when you move to France, you may find it a bit tricky. The easiest thing to do is obtain an international driver's permit. If you plan to stay in France long-term, get a French driver’s license. There are some states that allow you to exchange your state driver’s license for a French one, but that list is limited. If your state does not allow it, you need to pass a French written and physical driving test.
Opening a Bank Account
Many of the rules around opening bank accounts in France are similar to America. However, there are some additional hoops to jump through and some general things about French banking that are quite different from the United States. If you will be traveling to France in advance of your move, you can open an account in person. To do this, most banks will require you to have documents from a French host, which will likely include a copy of their identification, proof of residency (such as a utility bill), and a signed letter from them indicating that they will host you in France.
Next, it is important to know that banks (and businesses in general) do not operate quite the same in France. First of all, the French believe in lunch. Whether you are visiting in person or calling from home, do not expect to reach anyone from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. local time. Also, many banks are open on Saturday but closed on Sunday and Monday.
It's possible to open an account online, but not every French bank will do this. Do some research to find one that will open the account online, and narrow your choices to a bank that suits your needs.
In Paris, it is becoming more and more common to find residents who speak English, especially the younger population. Many employees in museums and retail shops are more than willing to assist you in English. However, this isn't common in rural areas. To be on the safe side, learn a basic level of French before your move. The French are generally friendly and happy to help, but you will have better success if you at least attempt to speak their language.
Embracing the Differences
Things are different in France — people smoke more, drive less, air-kiss, and really, really love bread. There is a long list of cultural differences, so do a little research in advance to avoid any faux pas. While there are subtle differences in etiquette, most common courtesies are the same. The real difference lies in our approach to life. In France, meals are important, especially with family. The French work less than we do and seem to place more value on personal time and family time than Americans in general.
Understanding the subtle societal differences will help you prepare better for a new life in France. To learn more, consider connecting with French citizens through an online forum or one of many sites that link people together for conversation partnerships. Not only will you learn about the country, but they can help you practice French and teach you colloquial phrases that you won’t find in any grammar book.