10 Tips for Moving to France
By Finn Skovgaard
Finn offers straightforward advice for those moving to France and living in France. Some tips may seem like common sense, like learning French, but many expats ignore them and miss out on unique cultural experiences!
- The Language
The language of France is French, not English. This may seem trivial; yet many expats in France seem to ignore it. Foreign languages are not commonly spoken in France, and the French take pride in their language. Whereas people in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands will do an effort to speak to you in your language, the opposite is the case in France. No matter how little French you speak, demonstrate the few skills you have and your willingness to try. Also, do an effort to improve your skills over time. You may ask if it really matters. The answer is: Only if you care if you will be welcomed and respected, or ignored and despised.
As it's the case for the language, the French care about their culture and traditions. Even though things have changed over the last 50 years in the direction of "Anglo-Saxon" habits, the French still have their sensibilities. Making acquaintances takes longer time in France than in English-speaking cultures. The way the French interact is less casual than what you may be used to. Colleagues shake hands every morning and say bonjour. They don't just walk straight to their work place, shouting hi to everybody. Lunch breaks are respected. Be sensitive to such differences.
The French seem to love paperwork as much as their mistresses. Be sure not to underestimate the importance of certain formalities in France. There is too much to go through in this article. Be sure to know the formalities you must accomplish before moving to France. If a foreign employer sends you to France, ask if there's someone in France to help. Read a book about moving to France. There are several on the market. Consider contacting a relocation agency with local knowledge.
- Rented property
Some French landlords tend to abuse foreign tenants. Before signing a tenancy agreement, try to get an independent person to look it over. Again, telling you all about French rental law exceeds the scope of this article, but to start with, you should be aware that furnished and unfurnished lettings fall in two different categories under French law. There's a whole host of protective measures for unfurnished lettings, all stipulated in a separate rental law. Furnished lettings are subject only to common law, and the landlord and tenant is fairly free to agree what they like in terms of duration, notice etc.
- Social benefits
During your stay in France, you may be entitled to social benefits from France, your home country, or the last country where you lived. No one will tell you if you don't seek information about entitlements yourself. Families with children may be entitled to significant tax-free benefits in France. If you lose your job while in France, you may be entitled to French unemployment benefit. This is a complex subject that could cost you dearly if ignored.
- Health insurance
Before splashing out on a five-star, international, expensive health insurance, find out if you are entitled to health cover under the French public system. French health care is one of the best systems in the world, and there's no need to cater for being transported out of France in case of serious illness. If you are not entitled, you still have the option of joining it against paying 8% of your income. The public system refunds roughly two thirds of medical expenses, within the limits of the official rates. A doctor who is conventionne conforms to these rates. Other doctors and health professionals are free to set their rates. Most people in France pay for a complementary insurance to cover the difference.
If you live in France, then you must register your car in France. Taking your car with you from another EU country is not too difficult, but cars from other countries are subject to individual type approval before you can register it. You may be required to modify a non-EU car to conform to French standards. This can be costly and difficult, and in many cases, it's not worth the trouble. If buying a new car, be aware that many models are cheaper in neighbouring countries; not least French-produced cars! The European Commission's web site offers an index of car prices in the EU.
- Driving and licence
A driving licence issued by an EU country is fully valid in France. Other driving licences may be valid for a limited period before they must be changed to a French licence. As for French driving, it's as bad as its reputation. It's "Latin" in the sense that rules are merely interpreted as guidelines. Drive carefully in the beginning, until you know which rules are most frequently broken. Be aware that unless you drive on a national highway, traffic coming from the right has priority unless a "stop" or "yield" sign has been placed for them. A final advice: Even when passing through a green light, look left and right!
- Residence and work permits
EU nationals and a few others are entitled to work in France without any formalities. In April 2003, the government proposed to abolish the requirement that EU nationals must apply for a residence permit (carte de sejour), but until it becomes law, it remains a requirement for any foreigner living in France. Non-EU nationals who want to work in France must follow a stricter procedure. The prospective employer must request a work permit from the authorities. A long-term visa must be issued before moving to France. If you skip this, you may not be able to obtain a residence permit once in France.
France is a modern country. France has one of the most extensive and well-maintained motorway/freeway networks in Europe (most are toll roads). High-speed trains connect Paris with Marseilles in 3 hours, cruising at 300 kph or 190 mph, Bruxelles in less than one and a half hour and London in just over two and a half hours (from autumn 2003). The telephone network is entirely digital. Except for the fixed connection, competition is free. There are three mobile GSM networks. ADSL is available in general, except for less populated areas. Cable TV is available in cities and many towns. Two French satellite networks are available. Postal services are normally reliable, although plagued by regular strikes, as it is the case for trains.
© Copyright Finn Skovgaard 2003. All rights reserved.
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About the Author
Skovgaard Europe helps businesses and individuals with all aspects of immigrating to and living in France. We adapt our services and working hours to your needs.
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First Published: May 26, 2003