Moving to France - how to go about it

A guide to the practicalities involved in moving to France

Moving to France - romantic and exciting

Whether you are doing your house hunting in person in La Belle France, or back in the UK, on the internet, gazing at estate agents details until long into the night, perhaps browsing through the properties on this site, French Property Links, learning about your chosen areas and towns, your dream of moving to France is undoubtedly full of romance and excitement. France is, after all, the most romantic country in the world, and planning a new life here is usually done through slightly rose-tinted spectacles.

Be prepared for the paperwork in France

That is not to say that a life in France is in any way a let down, far from it. My family and I have been living the dream since 2004, and so far have no regrets at all (Living in France). It is just that when you come to actually moving, when the decision is made, the house is secured (rental or purchase) and the tickets booked, there is a little more to do than to simply wallow in the romance of it all. Life in France has a very prosaic side too, and you won't have moved far into your new life before you begin to understand what people mean when they say that France is drowning in a sea of paperwork... and that bureaucracy is France's second name! Fortunately, it is no longer necessary to obtain a "Carte de Séjour" (French residence permit), as this is no longer a requirement for EU nationals. There is still plenty to do, though, before you are officially a French resident!

Moving to France - make a list!

There is a long, long list of things that must be done when you decide to move to France, and writing that list is possibly the best thing you can do to begin! Top of the list has to be checking the dates on your passport, as although France is a European country and technically a passport should be unnecessary in order to cross from Britain to France and back again, in practice it doesn't always work that way... especially when you are travelling to France. Once you have officially taken up residence in France you will need to renew your British passport through the British Embassy in Paris, and whilst this is not difficult or particularly expensive it can take a while as it has to be done by post unless you live close to the capital. It makes sense to renew your passport before you leave Britain, if it is likely to fall due for renewal just a short time after your planned move takes place.

Moving to France with children

If your family includes children, there are further things to consider before moving to France.

Moving to France and schooling in France

Firstly, you will need to inform the schools that your children will be leaving, and on what date. You will then need to set about finding a suitable school in France, and there are several different ways of going about this (French Education System - Schools in France, International Schools in France). One of the easiest to begin with is once again that essential tool of modern life, the Internet. Most schools now have web sites where you can at least begin to formulate an idea of what the school will be like, and whether or not it may suit the needs of your child. Having said that, if your child is young and likely to be attending a small village establishment, it is possible that there will be no details available on the net, so you will have to move to the next stage. (Starting School in France.)

Use an agency to help with moving to France

It is possible in most areas of France these days, that there will be a bi-lingual agency operating who are able to offer the services that you need to help you find suitable schools for your children. These include organisations such as Help in France (www.help.in.france.free.fr) and Oui Can Help (www.ouicanhelp.com) who, for a small one off charge or for a membership fee, will do the groundwork for you on this and other important issues. If you don't have a good grasp of French, such services can be a good help, especially when it comes to finding such an important item as a good school.

Where you live will depend on the schools available

You should be aware, however, that the schools available to you will depend on the exact location of your house, as schools operate on a catchment system much as they do in Britain. There are, however, a number of private schools in most towns, and these are much more accessible and extremely inexpensive when compared to UK private schools.

Moving to France and child benefit

You will also need to notify the relevant authorities that your children are moving to France, and arrange to stop the child benefit payments from the UK if applicable. Once your child is accepted into a school in France, you can obtain a paper from the school (Certificat de Scolarité) which you take along to the local CAF (Caisse d'Allocations Familiales), and here you can apply for child benefit payments in France. Note though, that although the benefits are excellent, they are usually only payable to families with two or more children. You will also need... (this is France, remember?) your children's birth certificates, school records from the UK, a letter from the Child Benefit Offices in the UK stating the date on which they stopped payments, proof of residence and possibly more besides! As a general rule of thumb, whenever you are trying to do anything official in France, take as much paperwork as you can possibly find, or undoubtedly you will be sent away to return at a later date with more. This will probably happen anyway, but at least you can say you tried!

Moving to France and health care

You will, of course, need to inform the NHS that you are leaving the UK and moving to France, and this is best done through your own family doctor, who should be able to advise you on what you need to do. It may be a good idea to ask for your medical records, as in France you are expected to take charge of these yourself, with X-rays and other important reports being kept by you and not by your doctor (Health Care in France: a French Hospital Experience). A French doctor will ask you to bring relevant items to a consultation, so it is a good idea to have these before you leave the country.

Moving to France - temporary health care cover

Temporary cover for medical expenses can be provided through the European system of "E" cards. Your doctor or post office should be able to inform you of the correct type of card for your personal circumstances. It is always best to check with the relevant authorities as France is currently experiencing a change in the rules governing health care for foreigners under the new Sarkozy regime. (Health care in France.)

Moving to France - carte vitale and top up policies

When you arrive in France you will want to organise entry into the French NHS, and to obtain a carte vitale, or green health card that will entitle you to the same level of free and subsidised care as a French person. To apply for a carte vitale you need to submit an application to your local Caisse d'Assurance Maladie. If you are unsure how to locate this, the Mairie will advise. You may also wish to "top up" your health cover, as the state only pays for around 70% of the costs. There are individual health care policies available on the market that can be taken out to complete the cover, or to provide interim cover whilst you are being integrated into the system.

Moving to France and meeting the Maire

Once you are living in France you will begin to realise the importance of the local Mairie, the local heart and soul of French bureaucratic life. You need to visit your local Mairie within three months of arrival in France, to inform them of your address and your family details. Chances are that you will also be required to be formally "welcomed" by the Maire, and may be asked to present yourselves at the Mairie along with all your family for this important baptism into French life! Fail to make this initial contact and all that will probably happen is that you will receive a polite reminder, but you really should listen to this, put on your Sunday best clothes and do things the French way if you want to be accepted in your new community.

Moving to France and financial arrangements

It is, of course, vital that you make suitable changes to your financial arrangements to cover your new requirements and situation (Getting your UK pension paid in France). Inform the Tax offices, even if you are maintaining a bank account and an income from the UK, because if you are resident in France then that is where you should be paying your taxes (Tax in France). You needn't worry about paying twice, as there is a tax treaty that ensures that this will not happen. You will require a French bank account, and this is relatively easy to set up (Banking in France). Once more, agencies such as Oui Can Help or Help in France can advise, and there are also, frequently, local agencies such as Ma Maison, in my town of Castelnaudary (Castelnaudary Property Guide), which will physically help you to do these things by accompanying you and working through the process with you. Once you have a bank account you will then be able to establish services such as utilities (Connecting utilities (water, gas, electricity, telephone and sewage) in France), as you will have the all important RIB (relève d'identité bancaire) which is required for almost everything in France!

Moving to France with your pets

If your moving includes animals, then there are a whole lot more things that you have to consider. Preparation in advance is the issue here, as you need to co-ordinate things like vaccinations, blood tests (cats and dogs need to be vaccinated against rabies as well as the normal diseases, micro chipped and blood tested within a specific time of the date of travel), as well as arranging the actual travel requirements (Travelling to France with Pets). Consider whether you will travel the animals with you in your car, or whether you need to arrange for them to be transported professionally. Your vet will advise you on what is necessary from a health standpoint, and DEFRA can inform you of the vaccination requirements and any other legal implications. (Pets and Animals in France, Horses in France.)

Moving to France - driving and cars

Almost everyone needs a car these days, and that is never more true than for those who are contemplating moving to rural France. Typically, in rural France, there are less buses, less taxis, and less people around to offer you a lift... the trains are pretty good, but if you don't live within walking distance of a train station that doesn't really help. It follows, therefore, that you will need to become acquainted with the French system of driving and car ownership. A British driving licence should be fine, under European law, but if you receive a ticket for speeding or another motoring offence and this involves putting points on your licence (the French licences add points for misdemeanours, opposite to the British) then you will be required to exchange your licence for a French one. Some insurance companies will insure a UK plated vehicle for a limited amount of time (Car Insurance in France), but if you are planning to remain in France on a permanent basis you should begin the somewhat long winded process of re-registering your car in France (Taking a car to France and registering it in France).

Moving to France and registering a business

If you are planning to run a business in France, or enter into any form of self employment, you must register with the appropriate authorities. Different occupations are covered by different bodies, such as the Chambres des Metiers, Chambre de Commerce, etc. If you are uncertain as to which body you should contact, any of them should be able to put you in touch with the correct department for your business. It is very important that you register for work, as working "on the black" as it is called, is frowned upon in France and carries with it harsh penalties. There is an upside to this, however, because once you have registered a business you will find that you are automatically entered into the health care, social security and pensions systems. (Jobs in France, Working in France.)

Remember bureaucracy rules in France

Remember that life in France is, in general, more bureaucratic than in the UK, so be prepared for lots of officialdom and paperwork. Once that is sorted, though, life is sweet...

Additional articles which may be of interest:

Removals and moving to France
Sarkozy and French property owners
Savings and investments in France
Learning French

About the author

Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.

your questions...

1. A question about declaring items (added 13/8/09)...

Do we need to declare anything when you pass the border between UK and France? We are moving home soon and we have a full Luton van with our household belongings but we are not sure if we need to declare anything at the border.

Joanna Simm, author of the above article replies...

It really depends on what are you are carrying. You are supposed to declare animals travelling with you at the port or tunnel entrance, and possibly not meant to bring fresh meats or cheeses (though not sure about that). It applies to some places for disease control but can't think we were asked when we came into France. I don't think there is anything amongst the usual stuff that people will bring that needs declaring. We have done, or rather my husband has done the journey with van loads of stuff and has only had to have paperwork for a consignment of new motorbikes etc., never for ordinary stuff like furniture. Cash is I think restricted though.

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