Amazing things to know before you move to France
France, the land of fine wine and cheeses, is regarded as one of the best destinations whether for leisure or retirement. The European superpower is a member of the Group 7 or the world’s largest economies. It is also one of the biggest economies in the European Union, which also means that it can be quite expensive in terms of cost of living.
France is the most visited country in the world, welcoming roughly 83 million foreign tourists each year. It is home to 37 sites in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List including the Mont Saint-Michel, the Chartres Cathedral, the Palace and Park of Versailles and the Vézelay Abbey. The country is also a premiere choice for colleges and universities, and countryside retirement homes.
"France is not a pleasant country for paperwork, this is something you have to be prepared for when you come (it's the trade-off I guess for the good food and vacation time!). Government paperwork often takes a long time and can be inefficient (e.g. papers getting lost)."- J. Jacobson, Expat in France
France, surrounded by Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, is called L'Hexagone by its people because of its roughly six-sided shape. France makes a good base camp for travel to other great European cities, but, of course, stands on its own as a magnificent destination. Travelling around neighbouring countries is just one of the perks of living and working in France, but there are many other things that you should know before you move.
"I recommend having a storage space outside of Manhattan, as it’s been the price of a second mortgage that I only solved recently! There’s a great concierge company called Savoir Faire Paris (SFP) who can help with expats moving to Paris from moving and movers to visas and schools, etc."- Daisy de Plume, Expat in Paris, France
What you need to know
1. Know your visa requirements
France is a dream destination for many tourists and expats. As a general rule, foreigners are required to secure a visa unless they are exempt from the requirement. France extends visa exemption privileges to nationals of the European Union, the European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore, the US and several other countries. Those holding a British passport marked “British Overseas Territories Citizen” or “British Dependent Territories Citizen” may also enter France without a visa.
The types of visas granted for entry to France are:
a) Short-stay visa (“Schengen visa”) – This allows holders to stay in countries in the Schengen Area for a period not exceeding 90 days for every 6-month period. This visa is usually issued for tourism, family visits or business travels. The Schengen visa is also used as a transit permit through France.
b) Long-stay visa – This visa is valid for stays longer than three (3) months, and typically issued for study, work and family reunion. Holders of this visa are required to register with the French immigration and Integration Office (OFII), or apply for a residence permit at a specific prefecture.
Foreigners with long-stay visa marked “carte de séjour à solliciter” (residence permit to be applied for) are mandated to secure a residence permit within two (2) months of arriving in France.
2. The three stages of higher education
Are you considering of entering a university in France? There are three stages of higher education in the country, namely:
- the Premier cycle, two-year course up to DEUG (Diplôme universitaire d’enseignement général) level
- the Deuxième cycle, third year up to the licence followed by the one-year maîtrise
- the Troisième cycle or higher postgraduate study beginning with the Diplôme d’études approfondies (DEA) or with the Diplôme d’études supérieures spécialisées - DESS (diploma in an applied subject)
Students prepare for the entrance examinations to the Grandes écoles during the two-year classe préparatoire (preparatory class). Thereafter, they may choose to enrol for a three-year Baccalauréat course.
As a foreign student, you are required to prove your command of French by completing a French baccalaureate or any equivalent course. You would need to pass a written and oral examination to test your proficiency. Your target educational institution shall set other requirements depending on their qualifications and offered programs.
3. Foreigners domiciled in France are subject to personal income tax
If you’re domiciled in France, whether you’re a French or foreign national, you’re likely subject to personal income tax (PIT) on worldwide income. Certain tax treaties may exclude from PIT.
France has a progressive tax system and imposes income-splitting rules where the total income is split according to family status. A family with two parents and three children shall have their total taxable income divided by 4 – two shares for each taxpaying parent, ½ share for each first two dependent children, and 1 full shall for each subsequent child. The income-splitting rules are subject to limitations on the net taxable income.
PIT rates in France range from 0% to 45%. A 3% surtax is levied on income exceeding EUR 250,000 for a single person and EUR 500,000 for a married couple. 4% surtax is applied on a single person’s income exceeding EUR 250,000 and on a married couple’s earnings exceeding EUR 1 million.
4. Finding an apartment can be hard
Looking for a housing accommodation in France especially in Paris is no easy feat. Hunting for an apartment for lease can take weeks, even months. The only period when the hunt is less of a pain is between May and July. Many expats secure the services of real estate agencies (agences immobilières) to help them secure a leasing contract.
If you’re doing the hunting yourself, you can start by asking family, friends or work colleagues if they have recommendations. Many of the best accommodations for rent are not advertised. You can also check ads in local newspapers including De Particulier à Particulier, FUSAC and Le Figaro.
Property buyers are advised to go outside Paris for affordable options. Travel south of France and see prices drop dramatically. Some of the notable areas are Massif Central, Finistère, Drôme Provençale and Le Loir.
5. You can drive in France with an international driving permit
Foreigners, regardless of their visa-type, may drive around France provided that they have a valid driving license issued in their country of origin and a valid international driving permit. The local license must be accompanied by a notarized translation in French. After twelve months of residency, a foreign long-term resident must secure a French driving license. The requirements for a French license are as follows:
- A valid identification (e.g. passport)
- A local driver’s license issued in the country of origin
- Proof of residence (e.g. lease contract, electricity bill, etc.)
- The carte de séjour or an official residency card in France, with photocopy of both sides
- Four passport-size photographs
Driving in motorcycle offers an opportunity to enjoy the amazing landscape. Take note, however, that all motorcyclists are prohibited from wearing headsets and headphones while driving. Helmets with an integrated sound system are allowed.
1. There are more tourists than locals
According to recent data from the World Bank, France remains as the most visited country in the world. As of December 2016, there were roughly 65 million residents in the country. It welcomes an average of 83 million foreign visitors each year. The other countries where tourists outnumber locals are Andorra with 33 visitors per resident, Macau (24:1), British Virgin Islands (13:1) and Turks and Caicos Islands (10:1).
"All the French people that I know are lovely people, and I’ve never had a bad experience with any locals before. As long as you consciously try to make an effort in learning the language, locals are more than happy to welcome you to their area!"- Roisin Astell, Expat in Paris, France
Paris is the most visited city in the country and in the world. Its main art museum, The Louvre, is the most visited anywhere. The other top attractions in the City of Lights are the basilica of the Sacre-Coeur, the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.
2. France, the land of wine
France only lags behind Italy as the largest wine producers in the world. The French drinks 11.2 billion glasses of wine each year. When you visit the European destination, make sure you drive to the top seven wine-producing regions by acres: Languedoc- Roussillon, Bordeaux, Rhône Valley, Loire Valley, Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace. The 528,000-acre Languedoc- Roussillon pumps out the biggest quantities of the well-loved drink. The best varieties of white wines in this region are Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. For red wines, try Syrah and Carignane.
3. Home of literary treasures
France has produced the most Nobel Prizes for literature of any country. The first prize was awarded to Sully Prudhomme in 1901, then to Frédéric Mistral in 1904. The other laureates from France were the following: Maurice Maeterlinck (1911); Romain Rolland (1915); Anatole France (1921); Henri Bergson (1927); Roger Martin du Gard (1937); André Gide (1947); François Mauriac (1952); Albert Camus (1957); Saint-John Perse (1960); Jean-Paul Sartre (1964); Samuel Beckett (1969); Claude Simon (1985); Gao Xingjian (2000); J.M.G. Le Clézio (2008); and Patrick Modiano (2014).
One of the most notable literary works produced by a French author is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. The novella was adapted into a play and several Hollywood remakes.
Living in France
1. The cliché of chic French café
Spending afternoons in a French café is a favourite pastime both among locals and tourists. The traditional Parisian cafes are found in the Latin Quarter and Saint Germaine. You may have a hard time getting a seat outdoors as patrons start flocking in cafes in the morning and stay until dinner. Outdoor seating is also for people watching, which the French are fond of.
"The locals are very kind here in Provence but difficult to befriend. That is one of the hardest things about southern France."- Ashley Tinker, Expat in Provence, France
The French love to enjoy their food and drinks. Keep the volume of your voice moderated when chatting in a café. The locals may not call your attention, but they can let you feel their annoyance.
Coffee and pastries are not the only items in café menus. Full meals like pasta and sandwiches and wine are bestsellers in a French café.
2. You really have to learn French
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that French people do not like speaking in other languages, especially in Paris. Most locals in France only speak French and they do not take kindly to people who try to get them to speak other languages. Try to learn even the most basic French to get by, but if you really want to live in France, you have to learn French, or you will have a really hard time.
"The French are wonderfully friendly people. If you make an effort with the language and have an open-minded, friendly attitude they will be welcoming."- Jason Barnard, Expat in France
3. Learn how to “bisous”
The French normally go for “bisous” greetings even upon meeting someone for the first time. Bisous is kissing people on the cheeks, and the French way to bisous is to kiss from both cheeks. By kiss, it doesn’t necessarily have to be lip to cheek, it can be a quick cheek to cheek smack on both cheeks. This is quite common so don’t feel weird about it, if someone gives you a peck from cheek to cheek.
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