Moving to France
Annie and guest Mike August discuss their experiences moving to France and some of the complexities involved in that endeavor. We’re not immigration lawyers or relocation specialists, we’re just two people who went through the experience and want to discuss some of the gotchas you may encounter in your own road towards a move to France.
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- Here are some things you need to consider if you’re thinking about moving to France
- Is your French good enough?
- You will need mountains of paperwork
- Hurdles even if your French is great
- Types of Visas You Can Apply for to Move to France
- Long-stay tourist visa
- Student visa
- Work visa
- Talents and abilities visa
- France Has a High Unemployment Rate
- CDI work contract
- CDD work contract
- Work Culture in France
- Work-Life Balance in France
- Health Insurance in France
- Health Care Is Inexpensive in France
- Advice on the Logistics of Moving to France
- Bringing Pets to France
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Thinking About Moving to France?
Here are some things you need to consider:
- Is your French good enough? One of the major obstacles for people who want to move to France is the fact that they can’t speak enough French. If you do not, it will take you months to feel at home, even if you work very hard at it. Poor French also makes everything else more difficult than it needs to be, and it’s hard enough for people who speak French! Consider preparing in advance, by attending classes at Alliance Française either in the US or in France before your move.
- You will need mountains of paperwork. France is not the kind of place where you can show up and make things work without any kind of plan. If you don’t anticipate all the documentation that will be required, you will have a very difficult time.
- Hurdles even if your French is great. When moving back to France for French nationals who lived away for a long time, there is no language difficulty, but the issue is that French people use a lot of acronyms, so it’s possible to understand all the words, but none of the meaning. Sometimes people who have a foreign accent have an advantage because the people you are dealing with can hear that you’re not from here and will explain things more clearly.
Types of Visas You Can Apply for to Move to France
- If you are not an EU citizen, you can apply for one of the following visas:
- Long-term tourist visa. You can come to France on a long-stay tourist visa, to do so, you have to deal with OFII, that’s where you need to go to validate your visa, go through medical checks and interviews, bring in all your documents, etc.
- Student visa. You could come to France on a student visa, but students have a hard time finding paid work and there are no on-campus jobs. Students also have to have their own funds to sustain themselves while in France.
- Work visa. You can also come to France on a work visa (if you are working with a specific employer willing to offer you a long term work contract or CDI), and in that case you go through the Préfécture de Police. It is possible see what times are busy and not busy on the Préfécture de Police website, so long as you speak enough French to make sense of it.
- Talents and abilities visa. You can apply for a “Talent and compétences” visa (talents and abilities visa) for performers and artists. One of the clauses that you need to meet in order to qualify is that you have to create a project that will contribute to the French cultural heritage. You need to create a complete dossier that outlines all the different things you are going to do on a specific project that will achieve that goal. That makes it difficult to get this type of visa, but it works well for creative types who want to stay a few years.
France Has a High Unemployment Rate
Before moving to France you should be aware that France has a high unemployment rate. The French employment system is very rigid, employers are not in the habit of hiring and firing quickly, and by law they cannot fire quickly or easily. As a result, they tend to hire only people that they know of from their professional circles or have worked with in the past. CDI is a long-term employment contract and CDD is a short-term employment contract. One of the best ways to make a name for yourself if to find employment through temporary agencies, which works well for young people.
People who can work from anywhere and retirees have it easier than people who need regular income to live on. Sadly, a foreigner’s chances of getting a long-term work visa in France are slim to none.
Work Culture in France
If you don’t speak French in France, things are not going to go well. Even when corporate meetings are held in English (for example at Airbus), it’s not the kind of English you’re used to speaking. It’s English that French people use between themselves and difficult to understand if you speak native English.
The French workplace is also heavily regimented. French people do not like to work overtime and nobody wants to be seen as the person trying to kiss up to the boss by working crazy hours. However, when French people are at work, they are really working. They don’t have entertainment at work, the boss won’t buy pizza to keep you working longer, etc. You work your hours and then it’s expected that you go home on time. It’s expected that you take your vacations too. Responding to emails after work hours or on the week-end is seen negatively and law-makers are trying to make it illegal for corporations to ask people to check their work email outside of work, etc.
Work-Life Balance in France
French people work hard and overall are very competent at their jobs. But don’t expect them to be working non-stop. When you show up at work you start by kissing everybody hello and chatting for a few minutes. Then you turn on your computer. You can’t go get a coffee whenever you want one. Wait until it’s coffee break time and everyone goes to get coffee at the same time. French people do not eat at their desks.
Health Insurance in France
As part of the application for the long-term tourist visa, you have to prove that you have health coverage. There are specific guidelines that you have to follow to show what kind of coverage you have. They require global health coverage and depending what French Consulate you apply through, they have different requirements.
French people have a “Carte Vitale” which is the national French insurance card. Only certain visas can apply for the Carte Vitale.
In France, the insurance is national, health providers are independent. Once you start working in France, you become eligible. So the way in to the French health care system is work (or being a student, or being eligible for unemployment.
Health Care Is Inexpensive in France
Most foreigners who come to France are surprised how inexpensive health care is in France. You can just pay out of pocket, it will not break the bank. Providers could ask for any payment they want to, but if they are too far outside of the “normal rate”, they won’t get enough customers.
Doctor’s offices are run efficiently. Many doctors work alone and don’t need any staff. That’s because having the one national insurance makes things very easy. All doctors fill out the same form on-line and they are done. When they insert your Carte Vitale into the card reader, it triggers a cascade of payments and reimbursements that are automatic. Mutuelle is a top-up insurance, the national health insurance messes with the complexities of dealing with many top-up insurance systems.
SOS Médecins is a service mobile doctors who make house calls if needed. It is available in large cities. House calls are not unheard of, elderly patients or people with chronic conditions often need house calls and once the doctor knows you and agrees that it’s necessary.
Advice on the Logistics of Moving to France
- Find a school. Mike’s daughter attends an international school which they chose carefully to meet their needs.
- Find a relocation agent who could help with the French visa process and knows landlords in Paris.
- Securing housing in France is not easy for foreigners. Having the relocation agent was vital for Mike and his family.
- The many catch 22s of moving to France: because French people are procedural and somewhat rigid in their approaches, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s easiest if you can start with a bank account and a lease, then you can sign up for utilities, use utilities bills to prove your address, it’s all confusing to newcomers. Knowing people helps greatly, that’s why you need a relocation specialist or good friends who can help you, even if you speak French.
- If you don’t have connections, try to rent a Gîte, because those are places where they are used to signing short-term leases to people from anywhere in the world.
- In France, most paperwork has to be dated 90 days or less. So you may be asked for a birth certificate that is less than 90 days old, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it does in French terms because of the way we keep records.
- You should read this article from The Local.
- You can only apply for a visa from the French Consulate for where you live. The rules are not 100% the same in each locale. Make sure you have the right paperwork for your consulate!
- Administrative French is often worded strangely, so even if you are fluent, it may be hard to understand, but consular websites will give you paperwork in English.
- Offering to prepay a year of rent in advance normally does not convince landlords.
- Bring 90 days’ worth of medications with you.
- Getting DSL takes a while, have a plan B because there may be delays.
Bringing Pets to France
There are no quarantines to bring a pet to France, but if you are going to move to France, it is best to hire a consultant to get the paperwork done for you pets. Veterinary care is very good in France, not glamorous, but professional and cheaper than in America.
Moving to France is a difficult thing to do but thousands of people do it every year, it can be done.