I’m often asked for tips about moving to France from the UK. And though most people have different needs, there are some things that are the same for everyone. Moving to France is a bit like a marriage – sometimes you have to work at it if you want to be happy! So I’m not going to gloss over any issues with these tips, but just think – street markets, cheese, wine, boulangeries, laid back lifestyle, history and traditions, fabulous events and so much more await at the end of your journey…
It’s one of the most important things you can do before and when you move to France. Ask any expat who lives in France what their no. 1 tip is and it’s bound to be: “learn some French – actually learn a lot of French.”
Without it life will definitely be more complicated. Most French people are really happy to try to help you speak French but if you don’t make the effort in the first place – you’ll be missing out on the chance to make new friends and enjoy your new life to the full.
Join useful Facebook groups
Join Facebook groups where you can ask questions. There are lots of local expat groups as well as pages that help with specific issues such as Strictly Fiscal for finance questions, Strictly Santé for healthcare questions, Living in France etc. Most of them are closed groups and you’ll need to apply to join; they can be really helpful with lots of useful information from people who’ve been there and done it.
Location, location, location
Choose an estate agent you trust. A good estate agent will help you with many aspects of life in France from getting the electricity switched on, recommending schools, and much more.
If you can, it’s worth renting in an area before you buy.
Famous French Bureaucracy
Living in France is very different from being on holiday in France. Don’t swap your sunglasses for rose-coloured glasses.
There are bills to pay and heaps of paperwork to deal with. France loves its paperwork. If there was an Olympic gold medal for paperwork, France would be on the top podium every time.
Make sure you know all the tax dates and pay on time – from taxe fonciere (local residency tax) to income tax.
There are challenges when it comes to French admin, but it’s worth it. You may need to sort out a visa (if you’re from outside Europe including the UK), and a Carte Vitale to access the health service. If you intend to work while living in France whether it’s for a company, running a gite, freelancing you’ll need to register for things like a Siret Number, a fiscal number and a few more numbers.
One of the things that makes it more difficult than you’d like in order to get all your paperwork done, is there seems to be no one place listing all the requirements since the regulations seem to change so often. There are plenty of “hand holder” companies that will help you with the paperwork and help you get it all set up. It’s their job to keep on top of the changing regulations, especially post Brexit. Fees vary widely but, if you don’t speak French or don’t have a lot of time, appointing a hand holder company can be a bit of a life saver.
Think about the future
Every estate agent in France will have a tale of someone buying a big house with a big garden and then realising that it takes a big effort and a big bank account to renovate and maintain them. The bigger the house the more the heating bill and everything else. We never think it’s going to happen to us but there may come a day when that big property you love, is too big. When the stairs are too much. Or when living in splendid rural isolation is too isolated. If that day is potentially within ten years – it might be worth a rethink.
Some things are cheaper in France than in the UK, some things are not. Local taxes vary not just from department to department but even from town to town. Ask your estate agent for details of local taxes.
Get your paperwork in order
Get all your paperwork – passport, marriage, divorce, birth certificates, adoption papers etc. together. And scan them all so that you can access them when you need them. If documents are too big to scan in one go, take them to a professional scanning agency. Take at least three copies of everything because you’ll need these when you apply for things like the Carte Vitale and various other cards.
And when you set up your bills – phone, electric, water etc, if you’re a couple, put both names on the account, you are very likely to both need a paperwork trail at some point and having only one name on everything makes life harder.
Sort out banking and insurance
A French bank account will make life a lot easier when it comes to paying for things. Some banks allow you to open an account before you move to France – and you’ll need copies of your passport, ID etc.
Health insurance is mandatory if you live in France. If you’re waiting for your Carte Vitale which gives you access to the superb healthcare service, you will need health insurance. There’s a lot of choice and the cost varies widely. It pays to shop around to find the best deal for you. When you do get your Carte Vitale, you might want to consider top up insurance, called a mutuelle. French healthcare doesn’t cover 100% of medical costs so an additional insurance is normal in France to cover the extra costs.
Sort out your will in advance if you want to choose who inherits what. France has a rather archaic system which means that unless you specifically organise an iron clad will with details of who you want to inherit what, your assets will automatically be dispersed according to state regulations. For instance if your spouse dies and you have children, assets will be split between them.
Finally – be happy
Enjoy going to the street markets and buying fresh, seasonal food. Make the most of the wonderful cuisine, the fabulous fromages, wine, bakeries, bread and cakes. Explore your new home, discover its wonderful history. Get caught up in the French love of traditions, patrimony and heritage. Settle into a more laid back way of life where a two hour lunch is still normal and most shops close on Sundays so that people can enjoy family time.
Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream – ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online, and My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life