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Living and Moving to France: The Key Resources
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Moving to France

Everything You Need To Know to Settle In

Here are the ground rules for moving to France: The French allow you to stay in France on a tourist visa for three to 12 months with little bother. If you wish to remain as a tourist for over a year, you will have to get a one-year permit and renew it each year until you are allowed to stay indefinitely. This can take from three to 10 years. After a year, you will be obliged to start paying French taxes on worldwide income, obtain a French driving license, etc.

The Long-Term Visa

Assuming you are not a student and have not found a large corporation to fund your move and support your legal procedures in France, you will need to do the following:

Fill out an application form for a long-term tourist visa before arriving in France. Applications are available from the French embassy or consulates. Call the embassy at 202-944-6195 for the consulate in your area. You’ll need eight copies of the application forms in French. No photocopies. The cost is $120. You must explain how you will support yourself in France. Include as much information as possible about your financial status. The major purpose of the lengthy visa process is to make sure you will not be a burden to the state.

Once you submit your visa application to the nearest French consulate, you must sit and wait. The approval procedure can take from two to six months. Once approved, you will have three months to enter France.

Upon arrival in France, you have eight days to visit the appropriate préfecture’s office. Go to the central Préfecture of Police at 1 rue de Lutèce, just as you get out of the Cité metro stop. Bring your passport and you will be given a “rendez-vous” or an appointment back at La Cité several weeks later. (Bring plenty of reading material; the appointed time is merely an approximation.)

The prefecture will also give you a list of required documents to bring, including identity photos, financial statements, proof of insurance (in French, of course), and a copy of your marriage license if you are a married woman. My husband and I have been married for 28 years but not bringing my marriage certificate threw a monkey wrench in the works!

Other necessary steps include a physical examination at the Office des Migrations Internationales. The exam costs about $180 and assures the French government that you are not a tuberculosis carrier or a drug user. When everything is finally approved, you may return to the Préfecture of Police and receive your Carte de Long Séjour, which is valid for a year.

In other words, it isn’t quick and it isn’t cheap, but it is manageable. Follow the above directions carefully.

Living Arrangements

You will, of course, need somewhere to hang your beret once you arrive. A popular choice is to rent a furnished apartment. Several companies now let you browse through available apartments online (see below). A furnished apartment saves you the hassle of organizing utilities and telephones. Many short-term rental agencies will insist on payment in advance in cash or traveler’s checks. Credit cards may not be accepted.

Be aware if you decide to rent an unfurnished apartment that it is just that, unfurnished: no cabinets, no sinks, no appliances, no light bulbs, no nothing. We rented an apartment with nothing except the kitchen appliances. On the one hand, it was a true-life experience of setting up life in France as the French do it; on the other hand, furnishing the apartment took three months of our time.

We were also faced with the need for a “guarantee” on the rent. Most foreigners who rent apartments in Paris have an employer to guarantee that the rent will be paid. As we had no employer, we had to pay the full year’s rent in advance.

You can arrange for a short-term rental while you hunt around Paris for the ideal place. There are no multiple listings in France. Each rental agency carries its own list of apartments for rent, usually listed in the window. Therefore, you will need to decide which arrondisement, or area of town, you want and then walk from immobilier to immobilier to see what is available.

Here are some rental agencies that provide short-term furnished apartments in Paris:

Money Matters

For a long stay a checking account is indispensable. One of the vagaries of living in France is that you cannot get a checking account without an apartment or permanent address. Naturally, you cannot get an apartment without a checking account.

Fortunately, exceptions are made as long as the banker is comfortable with you. To that end, bring documentation and money. Be prepared to set up an account with several thousand dollars, if possible, and bring along a letter from your banker at home. Any papers you can bring (stock broker reports, tax returns, etc.) can be photocopied and put into your dossier. If you make things easier for your banker, he or she will make it easier for you.

If you think a checking account is not critical, think again. You cannot get a telephone line from France Telecom without a checking account; they debit the amount directly from your account. You cannot get electricity without an account. And so on. As an extension of this, don’t ever let your account become overdrawn. Bad things happen if you do.

Once you’re established in France, one of the easiest ways of transferring funds from the States is your ATM card. The exchange rates are the best you will find; there is no delay while international checks clear, and there is no commission charge.

Friendly Voices in English

There are a variety of excellent sources for information on life in Paris.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris publishes the Guide for U.S. Citizens Residing in France.

FUSAC (France USA Contacts), www.fusac.fr, is published biweekly with ads for housing, jobs, and services required by most expatriates. FUSAC is free and is available at many sites around the city, including W. H. Smith and Brentano’s bookstores. These two bookstores, on the Rue de Rivoli and the Avenue de l’Opéra respectively, are excellent sources of English books.

Living in France, www.parisfranceguide.com, another free publication, is a comprehensive guide for everything from absentee voting to French taxes to buying property.

The American Church in Paris, www.acparis.org, 65 quai d’Orsay, 011-33-1-40-62-05-00, is a general meeting place for expats. You can attend classes and meetings and check out ads for garage sales, rooms for rent, etc...

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