Living in France
Citizens of European Union countries
Citizens of EU countries can now live and work freely in France. No visa is required but a valid passport or identity card
must be shown in order to enter the country. EU citizens no longer need to apply for a residence permit (carte de séjour) nor for a work permit. They have exactly the same rights to work as a French person, though some jobs having fonctionnaire (civil servant) status can only be held by French nationals. The state competitive examinations, the CAPES and the agrégation, which give access to tenured posts in the state education system are also only open to holders of French nationality.
Students are also free to live in France, as are retired people drawing a pension from another EU country such as Britain
or Ireland, providing they hold a valid EU passport.
If you are receiving Unemployment Benefit in the UK, this can be transferred to France for the first three months while you
look for a job. You should inform your local benefit office in Britain of your intention to move to France at least five working
days before leaving. You will receive an E303 form which you should take to your nearest ANPE (Agence Nationale pour l’Emploi) office within seven days of your arrival in France. If you are over 25, you may also qualify to receive the RMI (Revenu Minimum d’Insertion), the equivalent of Income Support.
If you are living and working in France you are entitled to Family Allowance (Allocations Familiales) from the birth of your second child until the child is 20 years old. You should enquire at your nearest Caisse des Allocations Familiales.
Health and Social Security
Before going to France, you should apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) at www.dh.gov.uk/travellers or by calling 0845 606 2030. In the Republic of Ireland you can apply to your local Health Office or at www.ehic.ie. Once in France, you should contact your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie in order to register with the French system. You will then get the Carte Vitale for use when visiting a doctor or getting medication on prescription. Beware that health care costs are not refunded in full
by the state and most people have supplementary health insurance. Your employer will be able to advise you on this.
In order to benefit from French health cover, you need to have a Social Security Number (numéro de Sécurité Sociale). If you are a student, you will be given a number through your university or other institution. If you are taking up employment
in France, your employer is obliged to register you and you will subsequently receive your number. For enquiries and further
information, contact the DSS Overseas Branch on 0191 213 5000 in the UK, or in France call 01.53.38.70.70.
American visitors arriving in France will be given a visitor's visa for a period of ninety days, providing they hold a valid
US passport. Those wishing to stay for longer than this must apply for a visa before leaving the US. This is done through
the French Consulate for your area of the US. You can find the list of these on http://www.consulfrance-washington.org. The procedure is fairly complicated and takes at least two months. There are several types of visa depending on the circumstances.
Once you have entered France with your visa, you must apply for a carte de séjour (residence permit) at the Préfecture for the département you will be living in. If you plan to retire to France, you will need to produce documentary evidence to show that that you
have the means to support yourself, that you have somewhere to live, and that you have medical insurance. Full details are
available on French Consulate websites.
American citizens planning to study in France for less than ninety days have to apply for a short-term Schengen visa; for
between ninety days and six months, for a temporary long-stay visa; for more than six months, for a long-stay visa, all at
least two months before leaving the US. In the case of a long-term visa, a residence permit (carte de séjour) must be applied for on arrival in France.
It is on the whole difficult for American citizens to work in France unless they are posted to France by an American company.
An American citizen can of course apply for a job in France and the employer must then obtain authorization from the French
Ministry of Labour. However, in practice this is difficult, as unemployment is currently high and priority for jobs is given
to French and EU citizens.
Bringing a car to France
EU citizens are free to bring their cars to France and can drive freely in France for as long as they wish on a valid licence
issued by an EU country. They must, however, change the registration within six months of arrival if they are planning to
stay in France. To do this, contact your local Préfecture or Sous-Préfecture. A fee will be charged. Until October 2009, the last two figures of French vehicle registration plates indicated the number
of the département in which the registered owner was resident, but now each vehicle is assigned a unique registration number which lasts its
whole life. However, the owner still has the option of displaying a departmental number and regional badge of their choice
to the right of the number plate if they so wish.
US citizens arriving with a car are obliged to apply for French registration of their vehicle within four months of arrival.
They may also have to pay import duty and have modifications made to the vehicle to comply with French safety regulations.
American citizens moving to France may drive on their American licence for a limited time only. This varies according to the
state which issued the licence. France has agreements with some American states by which a French driving licence can be obtained
by applying to the nearest Préfecture but in most cases you will be required to pass the French driving test in order to obtain a French licence.
Renting a property
There are no restrictions on non-French nationals renting property in France. You can do this through an estate agent in France,
through specialist estate agents who advertise in the UK and the US, via specialist publications as well as local and national
newspapers in France. Once you have found the property you want, you will have to sign a bail (lease). By law a lease must be for a minimum of three years and a maximum of six. The period is contractually binding for
the lessor but the lessee may cancel the lease at any time. However, three months’ notice is obligatory (though in some special
circumstances this can be reduced to one month) and must be sent by registered post with acknowledgment of receipt (recommandé avec accusé de réception). The lease may impose conditions and restrictions and should be read very carefully before signature.
If you are renting an apartment, the lease will specify a fee (charges) in addition to the rent for the upkeep of the building, the maintenance and cleaning of shared spaces, lifts and so on.
This can add considerably to the rent. You will normally be asked to pay a guarantee (dépôt de garantie or caution). By law this cannot exceed two months’ rent, excluding charges. You will also be asked to name a guarantor (personne apportant caution solidaire) who undertakes to make any payments due that the lessee fails to make.
You will also need to sign a separate document, the état des lieux, which gives a detailed description of the property, the state of repair, contents etc. It is essential to check the details
meticulously and in particular to bring to the attention of the lessor or his or her agent any damage or wear and tear not
noted. You will be obliged to have an état des lieux done at the end of your tenancy and to pay for any damage or deterioration, though allowance is generally made for reasonable
wear and tear.
The above applies to unfurnished property. The legal requirements for leases for furnished property are less stringent but
you should still insist on a proper lease being signed and, if you have any doubts about the lease, consult a notaire (notary public, lawyer).
If you have to apply for a carte de séjour, you will be required to show a rent receipt (quittance de loyer) as proof that you have somewhere to live. Your landlord (propriétaire) or letting agency is legally obliged to provide this free of charge.
Buying a property
Properties for sale can be found through the same avenues as those given above for renting. The sale may be handled by either
an agent (agent immobilier) or by a notary public (notaire), in this context roughly the equivalent of a British solicitor, except that the notaire acts impartially to conduct the sale as an officer of the state. Once an offer has been made and agreed, the rest of the
sale is generally conducted by the notaire and if not, all the stages and documents must be approved by the notaire.
Le compromis de vente
The first formal and legally binding stage is the compromis de vente (preliminary sale agreement). You should query anything in this document that you are unsure about with the notaire. When you sign the compromis de vente, you will have to pay a deposit, usually 10% of the agreed price. You have a cooling-off period of seven days after receiving
the compromis signed by both parties. During this period, you can withdraw from the sale. Subsequently you cannot do so without losing
A target date for completion of the sale will be set but it is wise not to rely too much on this for travel arrangements,
removals and so on and to wait until the process is well under way.
Searches on the property
The notaire is able to conduct some searches concerning the property but you should check at the Mairie of your local commune the details of the property in terms of access rights, proposed developments on adjoining land, restrictions on planning
permission, and so on. If you need information to be translated into English, you must arrange and pay for this yourself.
L’acte de vente
Once the interim stages are complete, you will proceed to the acte de vente (Contract of Sale). This must be signed in the presence of the notaire after he has read it aloud to both parties.
French inheritance laws
It is extremely important to be aware that property bought in France by foreign nationals is subject to French inheritance
laws which protect the rights of children and other blood relatives. You cannot will or gift your property outside these laws.
Therefore you must not assume, for example, that a spouse acquires ownership of a joint property on the death of the other
spouse. All prospective buyers should be careful to ask the notaire to explain the rules carefully as the implications can be very serious. The notaire may be able to suggest some ways to mitigate them.
Getting work done
This can be daunting at home, let alone in a foreign country. On the whole it is unusual to find builders, carpenters and
so on in France who speak English, so if your French is not perfect, you may be tempted to use British or American native
craftsmen, of whom there are now a good number in certain areas of France. However, the advantages of dealing with someone
who speaks your language need to be weighed against the undoubted advantages of someone who knows local building methods and
materials and is used to working closely with other local artisans (craftsmen) and suppliers.
If you are planning to undertake works to modify the exterior of your property (for example by adding or modifying windows
or doors), to modify radically the distribution of the interior space, or to change the use of any part of the property, for
instance by turning a stable or outhouse into living accommodation, you are obliged to request a permis de construire (Planning Permission) from your local Mairie. It is wise to enquire in advance exactly what sort of improvement comes into this category and find out about the procedure
and the time involved, as this varies considerably. You will normally need to supply architects’ plans along with a description
of the work involved.
It is standard practice to request a devis (estimate) for every type of work concerning a property. You will receive a detailed estimate and it is not at all usual
or acceptable for a craftsman to charge more than the estimated price unless circumstances have changed, for example because
you have let enough time lapse between receiving the estimate and accepting it for prices to have risen, or you have modified
the specifications after work has started.
You will generally be required to make an advance payment (versement d’un acompte) of around 30% when accepting an estimate. You may also be asked to make a further payment of 30% in the course of the work.
These conditions will be stated on the devis.
The conventions and processes of personal banking in French-speaking countries in Europe do not differ greatly from those
of English-speaking banking culture. It is entirely straightforward to open a French bank account, whether or not you are
resident in France, providing you have a French address. If, for example, you have a holiday home in France, you can easily
set up a French account in order to pay your household bills.
Banking is as competitive in France as it is elsewhere, so it is wise to compare what various banks are offering in relation
to your particular needs. In particular, interest rates on both loans and investments vary greatly, so if you are looking
to borrow in order to buy or make improvements to a property or else to invest savings, you should look very carefully at
what is on offer. The overseas branch of your home bank should be able to offer guidance on this.
Some types of account
Different banks have different account possibilities, particularly those offering high interest for savings accounts. However,
banking operations are ultimately governed by the national bank, La Banque de France. Banks will generally offer the following basic account options (plus a wide variety of services catering to particular groups
(students, first-home buyers, retired people, pension plans, loans etc.):
Compte courant (current account, checking account)
This is the standard current account. There is no charge for opening an account. You will be asked to deposit a minimum sum.
This varies from bank to bank. You will then have free access to a number of basic banking facilities: chequebook, withdrawing
and depositing cash and cheques, withdrawing money from a cash dispenser. Further than this, your bank is legally obliged
to supply written information concerning charges and it is wise to look carefully at these.
A current account allows you to have a debit card or a credit card (or both). There is generally an annual charge for any
type of card, including a simple debit card. The charge varies very widely, the more expensive credit cards attracting the
usual extra options, offers, insurance, etc.
The compte chèque does not usually offer interest on the sums deposited. If you are transferring large amounts of money to France, you should
consult an adviser from your chosen bank. French bureaucracy is complex in all domains and it is a good idea to insist—or
look elsewhere—if you think your questions have not been satisfactorily answered.
Compte d’épargne/compte sur livret (savings account)
The compte sur livret is the basic savings account offering an annual payment of interest at the particular bank's current rate. The interest is
paid at the end of the financial year (31 December).
Compte épargne logement (savings account for buying or improving a property)
This type of account generally offers a better rate of interest and, after a certain period, usually three years, access to
loans for buying or improving your property at favourable interest rates. You may have to commit yourself to leaving money
deposited in this type of account for a pre-determined period.
|Brief glossary of personal banking terms
||branch (of bank)
|billet de banque
|carte bleue/carte de crédit
|chèque de voyage
|clore, clôturer un compte
||to close an account
||branch code, routing number (US)
||current account, checking account (US)
|distributeur automatique (de billets)
||cash machine, cash dispenser
||transactions (in chronological order)
|ouvrir un compte
||to open an account
|relevé de compte(s)
|retirer de l’argent
||to withdraw money
|RIB (Relevé d’Identité Bancaire)
||account details (supplied free of charge by the bank and required when setting up a direct debit)
|taux de change
||to pay (in)
||payment (into account)
Impôt sur le revenu (Income tax)
When you become resident in France, you will need to register with your local tax office (Centre des Impôts). If you are currently paying tax in the UK, you should obtain a form from the Inland Revenue in order to state your intention
of paying your income tax in France. If you are an American citizen, you should find out from your local tax office the procedure
for changing your tax base.
There is no PAYE (pay-as-you-earn) system in France. You have to file a tax return (déclaration d’impôts) once a year to be received by 1 March. The necessary forms will be sent to you if you are registered to pay tax in France.
The following categories of income are subject to income tax:
- profits from industrial or commercial activities (bénéfices industriels et commerciaux);
- profits from professional activities (bénéfices non commerciaux);
- profits from agricultural activities
- income from real property (revenus fonciers)
- wages and salaries, pensions and annuities
- income from transferable securities (revenus mobiliers)
- capital gains.
People resident in France are taxed on their total income from French and foreign sources and are legally obliged to declare
this. People who are not domiciled in France are nonetheless taxed on income from French sources. However France has double
tax agreements with many countries including the UK and the US. This means that you can get a tax credit in your own country
which can be offset against your tax liability in France.
You are liable to pay tax in France if:
- you spend 183 days or more in France in one calendar year
- your permanent home or principal residence is in France
- the source of your professional income is in France
- your main source of investment or business income is in France
As is notoriously the case with most of French bureaucracy, the tax system is complicated and you would be well advised to
consult an accountant (expert comptable), at least in the first year. You become liable for tax in France from the day you declare as your arrival date as a future
Taxe d’habitation (Community tax)
This is a tax paid on your dwelling, whether or not you are resident in France, and regardless of whether you are renting
the property or own it. It is calculated according to the surface area of the property and the amenities provided, and is
paid in January. The charge is not excessively high but you should check with your agent when renting or buying a property.
The taxe d’habitation now includes the redevance audiovisuelle. This is the equivalent of the television licence. You are obliged to declare possession of a television and if you buy a
television in France, the shop is obliged to inform the authorities and the redevance will appear on your next taxe d’habitation bill.
The taxe d’habitation, like the taxes foncières (see below) is approved by and divided between your commune, département, and région (the three principal levels of French administration below the State itself).
Taxes foncières (Property taxes)
These taxes apply only to property owners. If you are renting a property, the landlord is responsible for paying the taxes foncières. Charges are shown separately for property built on—that is to say your house or your share of the ground area of an apartment
block—and land which is not built on, for which there are different taxation rates according to whether the land is agricultural,
Utilities: electricity, gas, telephone
Before moving into a house or apartment, you will need to arrange with your agent to have the electricity, gas (if applicable),
and telephone turned on. Normally the previous occupants will have had the meters read and the facilities cut off. You will
also need to notify the services concerned of your billing address and so on.
As elsewhere, the formerly publicly owned service utilities are being exposed to greater market competition. There are a number
of very competitive telephone services (including Internet and mobile phones) on offer. Billing frequency depends on which
company you are using and is generally monthly, but France Télécom bills every two months.
The traditionally publicly owned electricity and gas companies, EDF (Electricité de France) and GDF (Gaz de France) are also going through changes and restructurings in order to promote competition.
You can easily arrange to pay your utility bills by direct debit. You will need to provide a RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire)—a form giving bank account details. You will have at least one of these in your chequebook and can request as many as you
need free of charge from your bank.