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Moving to… France – the basics

The Basics:
registration, housing, money, healthcare

Here are some answers to some commonly asked questions for anyone thinking of moving to France.

If you speak a little French, things will go easier than if you don’t, although in a big city it should be less of a problem. I live in a small town (8,000 people), so things could be a bit different in a big city.


Q How do I make sure my stay in France is legal? What paperwork do I need?

You no longer need a carte de séjour (ID/residence permit) as an EU citizen. The local Préfecture or Sous-Préfecture will have a Bureau des Etrangers (Foreigners’ Office) which will be able to advise on other things you might need legally.

Your local mairie is the place for basic information and help, and they also deal with voter registration (for local and MEPs but not national politicians), planning permission, licences for hunting, shooting, fishing and almost everything else. In big cities, there are usually different mairies for different arrondissements (areas or boroughs).


Q How do I go about finding somewhere to live?

A Immobiliers are estate agents, and a good place to start, or there are small ads in newspapers, or on cards in supermarkets and other places. The word for “furnished” is meublé.

Q Contents insurance – do I need it?

A Depends if you value your contents or not! By law you have to have building insurance for rentals, which you will have to produce before the contracts are signed. This covers the owner and third parties, but not you or your contents.

Money Matters

Q French Tax System – how does it work?

A The French tax system, like most countries, is complicated. There is no PAYE in France. Everybody gets a self-assessment form (4 easy pages), which you send off before the end of July, and they bill you in January. However, the bands are different, and around 40% of French pay no income tax. In fact if you are on minimum or low wage, there is a thing called prime pour l’emploi in which you get a tax rebate even though you’ve paid no tax at all (eat your heart out, Gordon Brown!). There’s a small discount if you submit your assessment online.

Q Local Tax – how does it work?

A The local tax is the taxe d’habitation. It’s set locally, but will be communicated to you with the main assessment. For info, check with your local mairie, which is a good start for lots of things and info. It varies from place to place, but is generally about €200-€300 a year, a lot less than the council tax!

Q French Bank Account – Who’s good? How do you set them up?

A Most of the big national banks are pretty much on a par and similar to UK banks: Societé Générale, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas, Crédit Lyonnais. Same as UK, walk in and ask to open an account. It is illegal to have an overdraft in France, though many banks have accounts that let you go over slightly for up to 15 days at the end of the month. Bouncing cheques is a serious no-no in France. You get one warning from the Banque de France, and the second time they will ban you from having a bank account for 10 years. Basically for any transaction it is assumed you have the funds in your account, so beware of writing cheques against monies that haven’t cleared!

The standard bank card is the Carte Bleue (CB), which is both a cash machine card and a direct debit card like Switch. It may also have a Visa or Mastercard facility, but that acts like a debit card rather than a credit card. You’ll probably need a separate credit card, although credit cards are rarer in France than the UK, as is the level and amount of personal debt. You’ll want to make sure your CB can be used in other countries and is therefore not a Carte Bleue Nationale.


Q Doctors/Dentists – What is the health system like in France?

A The WHO rate the French service as the best healthcare system in the world, so you can’t really get much better. There are no waiting lists and they spend their money on the important stuff like the care rather than new logos, administrators, or painting the walls. Stays in hospital are generally longer than in the UK, which means they have fewer readmissions and post-operative problems.

You will need a health card, a Carte d’Assurance Maladie, also known as a Carte Vitale, which has a chip on board, and also has your equivalent of your NI number (immatriculation). Hopefully your employer will help you get this, and they will send you the card automatically. Otherwise initially you have to register with Assedic, but the main offices dealing with health, benefits, cards etc is CPAM (Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie). A UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will not cover you if you are resident.

The French system is part paid for by you and part paid for by the State. The principle is that you get the treatment and then get billed. For most things, you will get reimbursed 75% of what you have paid. The Carte Vitale makes life easier, as at more places you can present it and only pay the 25%, rather than have to go through the claiming back process. This includes prescriptions and doctor visits. You now have to register with a GP (Médecin de Traitement) but you are free to get any second (or third etc) opinions you want (you pay each time, of course), which includes specialists. Stuff like test results, X-Rays are your property, which you keep. It’s €20 to visit your GP (but you get 75% of that back if you have a Carte Vitale).

As in the UK, you get little paid by the State for spectacles and dentistry. For health insurance, you can buy a mutuel. There are a myriad forms of cover, which will pay for your share of medical bills, sickness benefit, and some cover all spectacles and dentistry too. Statutory sick pay is paid by the State and is 50% of your salary without top up by your mutuel. Unlike the UK, by law a mutuel company has to take you, even if you have a known and declared previous medical condition. If you have a problem getting one, there is an ombudsman who will appoint one.

As an example, I had a hernia earlier this year, and from my GP it was eight days to see the specialist, and a further seven days for the op (the surgeon was basically filling in his diary for the next week) – total 15 days from GP to knife. By contrast, the official UK goverment site lists the UK waiting times for the same op as a minimum of 30 days for the Black Country and a maximum of 194 days for North West London. Surgery itself, at least for non-elective stuff is free, but you do get a small charge for food, use of room etc. For three days, mine was €60.

Of course, if you travel in Europe, you will want the French EHIC, the Carte Européenne d’Assurance Maladie.

Some other thoughts…

What else? As I’ve said, your local mairie is the place for basic information on government matters. Beyond that, for local information and good tradesmen, you really can’t beat your local bar or café. The best thing to do is go a couple of times a week for apéro, roughly between 5:30-6 and 7pm, when people stop off on the way home for an aperitif, to read the paper and catch up with their friends. You don’t have to go every day, but if you’re regular enough the locals will start talking after a couple of weeks. Between the mairie and the local bar, you should be able to find out where you need to go to do anything.

Lunchtimes are pretty sacred in France, and generally the main meal of the day rather than the evening, two hours for lunch often being the norm, although certainly in Paris people sometimes take only half an hour. Sundays are pretty quiet, not the 24/7 life you get in the UK.

Hope that helps a bit, and above all: enjoy!

4 Responses to “Moving to… France – the basics”

  1. Jerry Owens

    This is a really helpful article. My wife and I have owned a house in the Chalosse for 4.5 years and are about to begin to live part time in France – maybe 4-5 months a year. I am retiring on a teachers pension and we expect to spend the rest of the time in the UK mainly – 4-5 months – and now that our daughter has moved to South Africa we will spend a month of two there each year. We sold out UK home last year and will be either renting a flat or living with my parents – so we will have a base in the UK.

    We have been investigating the tax issues surrounding this proposal with HMRC and also with some professional private advice. There seems to be no clear and certain advice on this.

    We do not want to pay tax in both UK and France. We want to be free to move around according to our needs without having to count the days each year. Is there anywhere we can go to get simple advice on what we can do and what we cannot?

  2. Dave McMahon

    Hi, welcome, and thanks for commenting.

    You might like to try asking on the Money Matters board on our France forum – someone may be able to help there, although recommendations of specific businesses are only allowed on our premium boards.

    British Expat Forum: France

    You shouldn’t have to pay tax on the same income twice. On the face of it, though, if you’re spending more than 90 days a year in the UK on average then you’ll still be treated as resident in the UK for income tax and so will have to do a self-assessment.

    HMRC: Income tax when leaving the UK

  3. Mike K-H

    There is a fairly good Dual Taxation agreement between the UK and France. The bits that need checking professionally are ones where there’s no direct match between the two systems, and government employee pensions is one of them.

    Your local French tax office will be friendly and helpful, but may not have the necessary experience to to advise you in this case.

  4. fiona

    Do you have to pay water rates in France, and if so can you give me a rough idea how much?

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