Would you miss your bacon? Most people who relocate to another country have some regrets at some time. Among the regrets for the British in France was the loss of English food! Bacon sarnies and crumpets?
France was a founder member of the EU in 1952, and is a member of the Schengen area. The capital is Paris and the currency is the euro.
Despite the odd niggles, France has some truly magnificent countryside, a wealth of culture, architecture and history to delight you — and although the people are, on the whole, not fulsome in their welcome, they can be superbly kind in the right circumstances.
Although Britain is not a member of the Schengen area, and therefore customs formalities apply, because we are members of the EU, there is little of consequence to concern the average Briton relocating to France.
Currency — there are no restrictions. Free import of goods bought from the EU with some restrictions on the amount of alcohol and cigarettes. Medicines for personal use only.
Dogs and cats require their own pet passport, microchips, rabies vaccinations within 1 year, but not closer than 21 days from departure, and up-to-date routine vaccinations. An alternative for cats and dogs from the United Kingdom to the rabies vaccination is to have a Sanitary Certificate issued 10 days or less before transportation; and a Certificate that the pet has been residing in the United Kingdom for at least 6 months prior to departure or since birth.
But if you want to return to the UK with your pet you should get the rabies done.
You could contact the French Ministry of Agriculture for details concerning other pets and your personal circumstances. Note that animals without the necessary certificates will be returned to place of origin or destroyed. If you intend to bring the pet back to the UK you must ensure the rabies vaccinations are kept up to date.
Although prior to 2003, you needed a “titre de sejour” if you stayed in France for any length of time, you no longer require these by law, but they can be useful. They are free, and may speed up other administrative processes. You may find French bureaucracy exhausting. You will need:
You must register with your local town hall as a resident after three months, or face fines. Children must also be registered. You do not need a residence permit, as the UK are members of the EU, but you may apply for an optional EU-citizen residence card if you wish. The whole process takes 6-8 weeks. After five years you can apply for permanent residence status if you already have a titre de sejour.
The official language of France is French, although there are several regional dialects: Alsatian, Breton and Occitan, each being spoken by about between 0.6 and 1.5% of the population.
Government business is carried out in French. Many expats regretted not learning French soon enough so you would be well advised to learn as much French as you can, because, in general, although the French may laugh at your attempts, they will try to understand and help you if you make the effort. Very often they do speak good English, as English, Spanish, Italian and German are the commonest languages taught in secondary school. The teaching of minority languages is controversial, since the timetables are already stretched, but the preservation of these languages would be interesting.
The great thing with relocating to France is that if you have children they do seem able to absorb languages easily, and unless your French is very good, they will soon be translating for you.
Buying houses in France is fairly straightforward. There is a clear registration system but there are some things you do need to know, rules to follow and pitfalls to avoid. It is a good idea to visit the area of your choice during the worst weather to check out the amenities, and get a feel for whether you would really love to live just here.
It usually costs more than you expect, so check your finances carefully. Currency rates will affect you and rentals are expensive, and if you can get at least a year’s lease it is usually worth doing so.
Useful information can be gleaned from the estate agent — who actually works for the seller. You will need a notaire, by law, who will take care of the legal properties. Ensure that any mortgage held on the property is repaid before you take over. Do check the planning situation — and go over the documents yourself with care. You need to read and understand the small print — have a translator if necessary. Although the use of a solicitor is not mandatory, it could save you hassle now and grief when you come to sell up. Never sign anything unless you really do understand it.
Fees at present cost around £1 500. Mortgages are quite low and you may even get some tax benefits if you move. These are the steps you must take:
You and the seller attend the notary’s office for this, around 4 months after the agreement to purchase was signed.
A word of warning to those employed under special tax arrangements for foreign executives — you need to ensure that buying a property does not invalidate your tax benefits.
You need to register with one of the state health insurance companies (Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie – CPAM). Then you’ll be issued with a carte vitale which you need to present when seeing a health professional or going into hospital. You have to pay a monthly health insurance premium and a contribution to the costs at the time. For further information call the advice line at the Assurance Maladie. The service is provided in English. Call 0 811 36 36 46 from within France and 0033 811 36 36 46 from abroad. The quality of healthcare is generally excellent, with good facilities and pleasant clinics.
If you are planning to work between two and five years in France, your employer should contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for the following forms:
HMRC Charity, Assets and Residence Room BP1301 Benton Park View Newcastle upon Tyne NE98 1ZZ
If you receive a UK state retirement pension or long-term incapacity benefit, you may be entitled to state-funded healthcare paid for by the UK. You’ll need to apply for form S1 from the International Pension Centre (tel: 0191 218 7777). You need to register your S1 with the French CPAM. This entitles you to an EHIC issued by the UK, which allows access to medical care in other EEA countries, including Britain.
Note: In France, a doctor has to confirm that you are really in need of an ambulance service, otherwise you’ll have to carry the cost of the ambulance transport. Alternatively, you could use a light medical vehicle (vehicule sanitaire leger – VSL) to get to hospital.
It is advisable to KEEP YOUR OWN ACCURATE AND DETAILED MEDICAL RECORDS! One good thing for us is that many doctors speak good English and are often happy to practise it in the medical field. The NHS website gives excellent advice and up-to-date.
The European Free Movement of Workers agreement means you can live and work in France without a visa or work permit. Your ability to find work depends upon your language skills. English is a bonus, but it helps to be fairly fluent in France. In France you are expected to speak French, and the work environment is French, with perhaps a more formal attitude than in most offices in the UK. If you are moving for employment, the administrative details may be handled by the employer. It is wise to get a written contract if possible. A verbal contract gives little protection.
The regulations regarding working in France are quite complex and differ according to your personal situation. The AngloInfo website gives clear details on requirements.
If you are a pensioner, you need to inform the IPC (International Pension Centre) to prevent problems with your pension payments (tel. 0191 218 7777). France has double taxation agreements with the UK so you will not be taxed twice, provided you ensure that the tax offices are aware of your circumstances. You can arrange to have your pension paid directly into your French bank account, and still benefit from the increases as if you still lived in Britain. Contact HMRC and your pension providers well before you leave the UK.
If you’ve only worked, lived or are working abroad then you must claim the state pension through the relevant authority of the country where you currently live and have worked in.
France is well served by air with many regional airports. The domestic market is dominated by Airfrance, but budget airlines from Britain are also available.
Trains in France are efficient, clean and punctual, and will transport you to major cities, but rural areas may depend upon buses which can be slow and infrequent. Travel between some cities is faster and easier by train than by air. The Eurostar goes to Paris, Calais, Avignon and Lille and onward train transfers are easy to manage.
Driving in France can be very pleasant, with the same population as in the UK but with twice the space. Apart for driving on the right, you should find no special problems. Speed traps have been increased with many mobile traps, especially on the motorways, and they are hard to detect.
France has another quirk — you must carry a breathalyser — but if you are found without one, there is, as yet, no penalty. The limit is 0.05%.
Beware the priority from the right rule; the French are very keen on this rule. Avoid Paris if at all possible. Many of the motorways are toll roads, and they are often worth paying for, they are fast and pleasant to drive on.
Documents you MUST carry:
Equipment you MUST carry:
The French are a proud nation, of their culture, their language, their achievements. Come prepared to speak French (and if your French is truly awful, they may feign incomprehension). Be prepared to find praise for their culture, food and wine. Even if they disagree with their politicians, it would be unwise for you to openly do so. It’s better to chat about their renowned cuisine, films or exhibitions. France is sophisticated and good manners are expected. One does not groom one’s hair, pare one’s nails or sneeze loudly in public.
If you are invited to someone’s home, leave the choice of wine to your host, a different small gift will be appreciated. The French know how to take their time to enjoy the pleasures of life, to relax and watch the world go by. And if you are prepared to let your hair down and join one of the many clubs on offer you will almost certainly find something you enjoy (and improve your language at the same time?) Sports give many opportunities to make friends, and with the varied terrain there are a variety of sports on offer, some to a very high standard.
Tourist information centres have a generous amount of information on the sites to visit, and the local library will have details of the culture — theatre, music, art and exhibitions.
French nightlife is very varied, and is certainly not restricted to Paris or the French Riviera. The Internet has a host of sites to help you choose where to go.
When you’re relocating, it is important to know that there are many sites where you can get information about expat clubs, news and communities. Especially for those considering relocation to France, the below three sites will provide an example of what is available.
Learn the language. This has to be the single most important thing you can do to make your stay in France pleasant.
Contribution by Michael Pawlicki
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