Moving to France without Losing Your Mind

Pimsleur Approach • FrenchComments (1)

Lavender fields in France - image via Wikipedia

The apartment balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower, the Provençal house skirted by lavender bushes, the seaside chateau backing onto the Mediterranean – there’s no doubt that moving to France is a dream for many. The reality of moving there, however, can be a difficult experience.

Difficult doesn’t equal impossible, however, and for those who are truly motivated to move to France, the key is get the relocation facts straight before starting to worry about the mortgage.

The Visa

Acquiring a French long-stay visa is a difficult endeavor. Americans (and other non-EU expats) in France commiserate over the status of their Carte de séjour, the residence permit, which is almost always in a state of flux, as the renewal of the one-year CDS generally occurs around the time when you need to start the application for a new one. In order to acquire your first CDS, however, you first need to procure an entry visa in your home country.

Entry visas to France are given for a variety of reasons, but the most common and easy to obtain are student visas, spousal visas and work visas. The last is the most difficult of the three: a work visa application requires an employer willing to sponsor you – and as sponsors pay a tax on any non-European employees, you really need to be offering something no French person or EU resident can. In addition, you cannot apply for this visa from within France, and finding a job in the country can lead to the absurd situation where you must return to the States to complete your visa application. Work visas can be more easily obtained by being transferred within your existing company to an office in France, which is, of course, a feat in and of itself!

A spousal visa is relatively easy to obtain… provided you already have your French spouse. Like with other long-stay visas, you simply present the required documents at your local consulate in the US – or if you want to marry the French citizen within France, you’ll be interviewed to affirm it isn’t a mariage blanc: a sham marriage undertaken in order to gain residency. Once you have obtained your visa, you can apply for a one-year, renewable CDS, then after four years (and the completion of an integration course in French culture and language) you’ll be eligible for citizenship.

However, if you haven’t met your Prince(sse) Charmant(e) yet, perhaps the easiest way to enter France legally is on a student visa. French universities are free to the public, with just a 300-euro fee to be paid at the beginning of the year, in order for those under the age of 28 to have access to the French healthcare system. An additional Mutuelle, which supplements things not covered by social security, is required and usually costs between eight and 50 euros per month.

When obtaining your entry visa, be sure to start the application process at least a month or two in advance. Missing papers, mishaps and long waiting lines can cause the process to be delayed, and if you don’t have your visa before boarding your plane, you won’t be allowed into France!

The Apartment

So the visa is tackled: now you just need to find an apartment or house. This can be a difficult undertaking, as French homeowners who rent property are bound by laws that make it difficult to evict a troublesome tenant, so applications for rental leases are often quite extensive. You will probably need recommendations from former landlords, and proof of your regular income.

To find apartments available for rent, you have several options. Particuliers à Particuliers is a company that matches up potential renters and potential landlords without charging agency fees. However, these apartments can range in quality, and many of the best are snapped up immediately, so it may be worth biting the bullet and coughing up for a reputable rental agency.

Once you have obtained your apartment, you may be eligible for financial aid from the state: the CAF website offers a free test that allows you to see how much you could receive. If you are eligible, the application forms can be printed off the internet and mailed directly to the CAF.

The Job

Getting a job in France is contingent on having your entrance visa: once you have this visa, you should be able to find a job easily enough… if you take into account the unemployment rates in France (about 10% as of June 2012).

Certain jobs, however, are very well suited to expats. Students have the right to work 60% of full-time, which amounts to about 20 hours per week, and whatever the working hours you will find many expats gravitating towards one of two fields: teaching English or giving walking tours.

The former can actually be accomplished by applying for an au pair visa, which is similar to a student visa – you are required to take language classes – but includes sponsoring by a family, which tends to make proving your financial independence during the visa process far easier.

Of course, there are many other jobs available as well, especially for those who already speak French. Check FUSAC, the free Anglophone magazine in Paris, for information on available jobs, or how about registering as an entrepreneur indépendent (you can obtain the status online)?

The People

It’s all very well and good to have a place to sleep and money to buy groceries, but what about friends to share it all with? Americans are accustomed to making friends easily – the stereotype is that those hailing from the US are a friendly bunch, a stereotype founded in truth – and it may just be something you miss when you encounter the tightly-sealed social circles in France.

Of course, every region of France is different, and you may find locals who are extremely easy to befriend, but as a general rule it takes time to grow close to others. Many French people don’t stray too far from where they were raised, so they often retain their childhood friends for life – and being a newcomer in a group of people who have known one another for over ten years can be a daunting experience. With a little bit of time and effort, though, you’ll probably persevere!

Bear in mind that it’s easier to meet people in large cities that welcome a lot of newcomers, like Paris, Nice, Toulouse or Lyon, while these cities have the added benefit of being home to large expat communities. But most of all, if it takes you some time to meet people don’t panic. It won’t be long before you’re settled down in France, enjoying a glass of wine with friends, and wondering whether relocating there was really such a challenge after all. Bon Voyage!

One Response to “ Moving to France without Losing Your Mind ”

  1. Lily Farley says:

    US citizens planning to enter and visit France as tourists do not require a visa, and are permitted to remain in the country a maximum of 3 months (90 days). Americans planning to stay in France for more than 3 months, or for purposes other than tourism, must have a long-stay visa (visa de long séjour) in their passports on arrival in France. They must apply for the appropriate long-stay visa issued in the US at the French Consulate having jurisdiction where they reside. It is not possible for an American to come to France as a tourist and then change his/her status to that of a worker, a student or a resident. The French authorities will require such individuals to return to the US to apply for the appropriate visa. Bearers of long-stay visas must apply for a Carte de séjour within a week of their arrival.

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