Checklist for expatriates in France
Before you move
Get a long-term VISA
If you want to stay in France for more than three months in a row, you’ll need a long-term VISA. This needs to be acquired in your home country. The first step is to get an appointment at your local embassy. Once you get the appointment, the average wait to get your VISA is two to three weeks (assuming your file is complete at the meeting). When a file fails to meet the requirements, it’s very often because of a lack of insurance, so make sure you get a VISA-compliant insurance policy. Some insurance brokers have dedicated offers, and you can check Fab French Insurance, for example.
Open a French bank account
Although it’s not a direct requirement, you’ll soon find out that many companies in France will require a French bank account (IBAN starting with FR). Many readers will argue that under EU regulations, any bank account in the EU zone should be accepted, but “on the field”, the reality is different, and many insurance companies won’t accept a non-FR-starting IBAN number. Some utility companies will also refuse non-French bank accounts, so make sure you get a bank account with a French IBAN (starting with FR). Beware, some banks operate in France without having an FR-starting IBAN; that’s often the case with online banks such as Revolut or N26, but this could change in the future so just make sure the bank you are going with will be able to provide you with an FR-starting IBAN number so that you’re on the safe side.
As a side note, it’s also important to know that most French providers won’t accept anything but a direct debit as a means of payment (insurers, utility companies, etc.). A “one-off” payment isn’t really a thing in France since most contracts are automatically renewed from one year to another.
Find a place to stay
Depending on your situation, you may either be renting a property or be one of the lucky ones that is buying.
Renting is usually easier at first as it’s quite a similar process to that of other countries, but buying is a different story. You’ll have to go through the “notaire” in France to make it official, and if you’re planning to have some work done on your property, make sure you hire qualified professionals since construction laws in France are amongst the strictest in the EU. For example, having 10 years’ insurance is mandatory for all builders in France (even painters, so all means everyone), which is actually quite nice as you’re covered for 10 years should anything go wrong, but make sure you ask for the “attestation d’assurance décennale” (proof of insurance) before you send any money. And for your information, architects are required to be insured as well for the 10 years’ insurance so that they have a co-responsibility with the people they hire as well as coverage for their drawings/plans.
Shortly after you’ve moved
Convert your driver’s license
Actually, not all need to convert or renew their licenses. For example, every driving license from the UK that was edited before the 1st of January 2021 is accepted in France and doesn’t have to be converted or renewed as per post-Brexit agreements. Any license from the UK edited or renewed after that date will need to be converted into a French one, though.
EU licenses are accepted in France, but non-EU licenses are subject to different rules, depending on the country. For example, a license from the US needs to be converted into a French one, but depending on the state, France may not have agreements with the said state, and, therefore, you may need to go through another driving license exam in France. To know in which situation you are you should check the official website here.
If you intend to stay in France for “a while” (more than a year), you may want to consider having a “carte de séjour.” Sure, you can use your VISA and renew it each year, but that’s a bit tedious, so instead, you can get a 10 years’ carte de séjour (for example) and be done with the paperwork for the next 10 years.
Make sure you take care of that shortly after your arrival (and not before – it can be done as soon as three months after you set foot in France) since you’ll have to go to your local “prefecture” (in France), and the process to get the document varies quite widely, depending on where you are in France (some prefectures are busier than others, and some periods are more intense as well). The paperwork required is also more complex (copy of birth certificate, official translations of the documentation are required, etc.), so the sooner you get started, the better to avoid having your VISA expire before the carte de séjour is expired.
If you’re not in the EEE, you’ll need to have a VISA in the first place to apply for residency, so the insurance contract that you have for your VISA will also work for your residency application.
Being affiliated with the French medical services, “la sécu”
This is not something done automatically even if you got a “carte de séjour,” so this needs to be completed manually. This can be accomplished using the official form here, but it can be quite a complex process to be affiliated with the French CPAM (social security). You can also ask for assistance using the services of hand-holding companies.
Once you’re into the French system, you can forget about private medical insurance (at least while in France), and you can switch to top-up health insurance instead.
Get a French phone number
This one is not a direct requirement, but you may be required to provide “proof of residency” with some utility companies or public administration. An invoice from a French internet provider is accepted as such “proof of residency,” so it’s best to consider having a French number as part of the internet package for future paperwork 😉
Import your vehicle
It should be noted that some French insurance companies can also convert your foreign insurance history into their French equivalent, but just keep in mind that France is quite picky when it comes to an insurance gap. More than three months, and it’s almost certain that you’ll be in trouble… more than six months, and that’s a certainty, so don’t wait until the gap is too big or risk losing that discount that took years to build.
You may want to keep the vehicle you’ve had in your home country. Once you’ve been in France for 90 days, the importation process should have started, so make sure you get it done ASAP. For example, UK insurers can only insure for a limited time period abroad anyway, so time is of the essence here. Some French insurance companies can insure you whilst under foreign plates waiting for your vehicle to be officially imported under French plates, but not all insurance companies can do that in France, so make sure you contact an insurer that can insure a foreign-registered vehicle in France.
Once you’re settled
Declare yourself to the Mairie and the taxman
Most of this can be done online via cfspart.impots.gouv.fr, but connecting to this entity requires you to have “France connect,” which implies having either a French social security number or already being registered with the tax office. If you feel lost, you can also inquire with tax lawyers or accountants to help you get through the first year.
The same goes for national taxes. You’ll need to declare that you’re not a resident in France and pay your taxes accordingly.
Well, not really the taxman, but don’t forget to wave in at the Mairie eventually so that they know you’re around since you’ll need to pay local taxes (impôts locaux/taxe d’habitation). Although not everyone has to pay them, just make sure you’ve declared that you are now living in France.
This list is not exhaustive, but I hope this will help you on your journey to France.