When the Barefoot Blogger decided to run off to France, I learned the hard way how to do some of the basics: rent a French apartment, open a bank account and obtain a visa. Here are some expat moving tips.
If you’re contemplating a move to France, hopefully some of this will help.
If I can do it, anyone can!
Find someone you know who can understand French legal documents. I lucked out that my son has experience reviewing similar paperwork. He served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon and worked with French banks that use some of the same legalize.
Google Translate is second option. Copy and paste the content into Google Translate. The translation may not be the best, but it can help you with the highlights. Then ask your rental agent in France to go over it with you. You should be able to communicate with your agent by email. (Be sure to get an agent who speaks English!)
Be especially mindful of the charges from the rental agency. I was surprised with the cost of a “honorarium” that was owed to them by both the owner of the apartment and by me — more than the cost of a month’s rent! When I complained about the cost, the agent stated it is the customary way to work with rental agencies in France. To pacify me, he moved my closing date so that the overall price was reduced.
Inspection Prior to moving into your apartment you will be required to make an inspection. It is very important that you go over everything, every cubbyhole, and note any problems on the inspection document. A friend inspected my apartment for me since I was not in France at the time. There was a crack at the bottom of the toilet that wasn’t noted. After I was in the apartment for six months or so, the toilet started leaking. When I called the rental agency to send a plumber, they found I needed a whole new toilet. Since it wasn’t noted on the inspection, guess who ended up paying for it? Me!
French bank account
Opening a bank account in France is a requirement for renting an apartment. The agent and apartment owner like to have monthly payments set up through a draw on the account.
Fortunately I was told it was easier to open an account in person in France than from the US. Believe me, it’s really a smart thing to do. I opened my account before I left to return to the US to pack for my move. If you speak little or no French, do a little research to find a bank with an English-speaking manager. You’ll be forever glad to have a bank manager in your town to help you with various banking and non-banking issues. (Love Mr. Lamur at LCL in Uzes!)
One item that stopped my progress opening the account was that I had to show proof that IRS taxes are paid in the US. I contacted my tax man in the states. He emailed the cover page from my most recent tax forms.
You must also show proof of residence in France. Use the paperwork from the rental agency as proof.
Don’t ask me how crooks get away with foreign bank accounts! Guess they know all the angles.
Long stay visa
Assuming you are moving to France to retire, you must have a “long stay” visa to stay in the country longer than 90 days per semester.
Look on the Internet for the French consulate that serves the area where you live. For example, the southeast consulate in Atlanta serves South Carolina. You must have an appointment at the consulate to apply in person for the visa. Appointments are made through an online tool.
When I first checked, there were no appointments available for the next 3 months! So I called the consulate (which they advise NOT to do) and I was lucky enough that someone answered the phone. The lady who answered graciously took my name and promised she would call me when there was a cancellation. I got a call for an appointment in three weeks. But don’t trust your luck. Start out in plenty of time to get an appointment.
There are a number of forms on the French consulate website that must be filled in to accompany your application. The directions on the forms are pretty clear. One very important fact is that they want proof of everything! That includes a rental agreement, French bank account, your financial statement and an airline ticket to France.
Yes, you’ll need to buy a “refundable” ticket for your flight to France — just in case you don’t get all your paperwork approved in time.
For example, I messed up on proof of medical insurance. All the information was there about my coverage but not there was not a statement about services outside the US. I told the interviewer I talked with the insurance company and that I had travel insurance for part of the year. The first 60-days out of the US would be covered by my current health insurance. She wanted to see it in writing from the insurance company.
Getting the letter about the insurance meant I had to stay over in Atlanta an extra day. Lesson learned: don’t be vague about anything.
Just do it!
All this might sound like a lot of trouble. It’s worth it. Promise!