Making a permanent move to another country is an exciting and also somewhat daunting prospect. Although you’re unlikely to experience a culture-shock, there are differences and intricacies that are going to take time to get used to.
People who are planning a move to France have noted that the main change they undergo as time passes is adaptation to a new mentality and a new way of thinking – a French way of thinking.
Yet it’s the little day-to-day things and practical aspects of living that take some unprepared expats by surprise, so we’ll make a short checklist of things people have to consider before moving to France.
Here in the UK we have come a long way since the Dickensian times of "Circumlocution Office" and although some compatriots still think we’ve got too much bureaucracy, the French “red tape” takes an even stronger pair of scissors to cut through.
Once you settle into the French way of living it’s not so bad, however as you are planning a move to France, expect a lot of paperwork. The best tip to give is to keep several copies of all your documents. You will be expected to hand in your documents to various offices and they tend to keep them in for a long time. At least you have all your copies for the event of emergency.
It is also helpful to have somebody local to help look after your affairs. If you can afford spending extra, you might want to consider a concierge – a company specialising in solving day-to-day problems.
Healthcare in France
Although many expats tout French healthcare as excellent, it may seem complicated to a newcomer. The main mistake is to assume that you can just click into place and make a seamless transition from NHS to the French healthcare system.
It was partly true with the European health insurance card (EHIC) that guaranteed UK nationals free emergency access to French doctors just like French tourists get free access to NHS. With Brexit looming, we just don’t know how EHIC is going to work in the future that’s why it’s better to get your “complémentaire” sorted well before your move. It’s a top-up medical insurance that is going to save you money in the long term.
The French healthcare system works in a way that you have to pay for access to medical service, and you get partial refund from the authorities. You will need to contact your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie and submit the Form S1 that you will have obtained from the UK’s DWP. Without an S1 you won’t be entitled to the state healthcare and will have to arrange for a private health insurance.
Brush up on the lingo
Although the majority of French population have learnt English at school, they are likely to pretend they don’t know any. The French are proud of their language and expect all newcomers to at least make an effort and speak French. It doesn’t matter that you don’t make much sense at the beginning. If you’re keen to integrate into your community, it’s the effort that counts.
Plan your accommodation
Most expats tend to rent first, get accustomed to the area and then make a decision on buying property in France. Keep in mind that French estate agents and utility companies will not speak English. One of the important criteria when renting in France is broadband speed. Generally, it’s not as fast as broadband in the UK. There are areas with poor coverage, so you should check the broadband speed map first.
Sort out your taxes
Make sure you’re clear on taxes both in the UK and France. When you are planning a move to France, you become a resident for tax purposes the day after your arrival. All French taxes are administered by Ministre de l’Economie et des Finances through a network of tax agents. You should get in touch with your local tax office as soon as you arrive.
Taxes in France are much more complicated than in the UK (see the Red tape section above) so it might be a good idea to sign up with a local accountant and let him sort things out for you. Make sure you keep on top of your pension affairs. It used to be an easy transfer as both UK and France were part of the EU, however, the laws are highly likely to change in the future.
Make a checklist
To make sure your move goes as smoothly as possible, it’s better to be organised. Make a detailed moving checklist detailing all the documents you need to prepare and affairs that have to be settled both in the UK and France.
You will need to notify your services and utilities providers, your bank, the local council, DVLA, HMRC and other authorities. Having a checklist lets you be in control and makes sure you avoid nasty surprises. Planning a move to France might be an exciting milestone in your life, if you come well-prepared.
Information correct at time of publication