When you arrive in France, there are certain essential tasks you need to do. This checklist for your first week in France explains how you can make your transition as smooth as possible.
There are many different things to think about when you’re planning on moving to France, not least dealing with how to relocate your belongings. But it doesn’t have to be stressful. While it’s tempting to dive into exploring the French food or the best places to visit in France, certain tasks have to be completed within a set time-frame upon your arrival there. So get the boring things out of the way early on so you can get on with the important stuff: settling into life in France.
Besides brushing up on facts about France and French politics, here’s a checklist of what to prepare. This guide covers the bureaucratic aspects of moving to France, such as registration with authorities and compulsory health insurance. Plus tips on useful tasks, from setting up internet and television and opening a bank account, to purely enjoyable tasks like immersing yourself into French culture and starting your new life abroad in France.
1. Register with the French authorities within three months
Once you move to France, you must register with the French authorities. This includes European or Swiss citizens moving to France.
Depending on your personal circumstances, if you hold a visa de long séjour (long-stay visa) then you will need to register with the Office Français de l‘Immigration et de l’Intégration (OFII) within three months of arriving. As it can take a while to process your registration (which includes an interview and medical), it’s best to start the procedure as soon as possible. Others must visit the local government in their area instead to register their residence. Find out which French visa you need and the conditions for registration.
2. Open a French bank account and set financial matters
Opening a French bank account (compte à vue or compte de depôt à vue) will make payments easier in France, and in some cases may even be required, for example, to pay wages or rent. Some banks allow foreigners to open a bank account before they move to France; ask at your chosen bank for their processes.
To open a bank account in France, you’ll need to take along your passport or ID, proof of your French address (e.g., a lease agreement), and residence permit (if you have one). You can open the account in a day and get your bank card and checkbook (still used in France) a week to 10 days later, so make sure you have some euros or an international bank card for when you first move to France. Read what you need to open a French bank account.
If you are considering French retirement, see what you need to do in our guide to retiring in France.
3. French health insurance is mandatory
After you move to France, you must have health insurance in France to access the excellent French healthcare system. Most people will qualify to be covered by the state French health insurance (sécurité sociale) and will need to register with CPAM (Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie) before using French healthcare. If you want to top up your insurance coverage (it doesn’t cover 100% of medical costs) or you don’t qualify for the state option, then you will need to take out private health insurance in France.
You should also register with a doctor and dentist near where you live. You need to nominate a doctor in France who will oversee your medical care and co-ordinate your medical records. Ask colleagues or neighbors for recommendations, look in the Pages Jaunes (Yellow Pages,) under médécin, or on CPAM’s online directory (in French). Read more in our guide to the French healthcare system and how to find a doctor in France.
4. Find a home and getting insurance
By law, a landlord can request you to take out insurance in France to cover water damage, fire, explosion, and – in some cases – against theft. If you fail to present proof of insurance each year, the landlord has grounds to evict you (if there’s a lease clause) or buy the insurance on your behalf and seek reimbursement.
If you have children, you will also typically be limited to the school in the catchment area where you live, unless granted special permission by the local mairie. This might be a consideration when choosing a home in France. Read how to choose a school in France, how the French education system works, and about international schools in France.
Before you move to France, you should decide if it’s better to buy or rent a property. There are advantages to both options, but the decision will ultimately depend on a number of factors. Read about renting and tenant rights in France or buying French property to see what’s best for you.
France has been popular with expats for years. There are many beautiful French cities in which to start a comfortable life; read about where to live in France. If you’re considering renting in Paris, you’ll find a competitive housing market, particularly if you are looking to live in best central neighborhoods of Paris. However, there are many great towns near Paris that offer more space and lower prices.
Check out local French transport facilities and work out the quickest (and nicest) routes for your regular journeys. Discover what sports facilities, cinemas, or other entertainment are nearby. Be sure to have access to programs of activities and events to start socializing.
5. Setting up your home in France
Finding furniture and doing renovations
If you need to buy furniture in France or undertake minor renovations, you can find a list of the main furniture and hardware shops in France. You can also see our listings of companies for interior design and home repair.
Telephone and the Internet
France, like the rest of Europe, uses a GSM mobile network – does your cell phone? If not, it won’t work here and you’ll need to get a new phone once you move to France. If it does, consider getting a French SIM card to avoid being charged international rates when you’re calling within France.
How you set up landline telephone and internet services depends on where you move to. You may be able to shop around for a combined package from a range of different communication providers but in some cases you will need to contact France Télécom to set up a line. Consider VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocols), such as Skype, which use the broadband service for international calls. Read more about setting up a telephone and internet in France.
Radio and TV
There is no tax on radios but you will need a TV license (redevance audiovisuelle) per household to watch TV. This is collected with the local annual taxe d’habitation (occupier’s tax). Read more in our guide to communication services in France.
Make a note of any meter readings and pass them on to the provider or your landlord to ensure your bills are correct. If you’re setting these up, make sure you let the provider (usually EDF for electricity, or GDF for gas) know as soon as possible or you will be disconnected. Read about setting up utilities in France.
Make sure your name is on the door or your mailbox to ensure you receive your mail. After moving to France and finding a home, you can also arrange to redirect mail from your home country.
Find out from your neighbors what you can and can’t throw into the poubelle (rubbish or garbage bin). Check which day of the week the bin and any recycling are collected. It varies from area to area.
If you are moving within France, find out what you need to do before moving out of your French apartment.
6. Make a list of French emergency numbers
There are different French emergency numbers depending on the accident, illness, or support required. You can also dial the pan-European number 112 to reach all services.
- Europe-wide SOS emergencies: 112
- Medical emergencies (Service d’Aide Médicale d’Urgence or SAMU): 15
- Police: 17
- Fires/accidents (fire brigade, sapeurs pompiers): 18
It’s important to make notes of France’s emergency numbers before an accident happens. Save this list of French emergency numbers in a handy place. These lists of French medical terms and hospitals around France may also be useful.
7. Getting around: French public transport, cycling and driving in France
Cycling in France
Many French cities have cheap, self-service bike rentals available 24/7. Once you sign up, you can pick up and drop off the rental bike at bike stations located around the city, as and when you please. The system in Paris is Vélib. You could also follow the locals and hire a moped – although, they don’t wear helmets but you might want to.
Using France’s bus, tram, metro (not only in Paris) and train networks are an affordable way to travel around France. Check out different ticket options, for example, in Paris there are different zones that have different ticket prices. Zones 1 and 2 cover the city center and all Métro lines. Read more about the public transport system in France.
If you drive, venture out into the French countryside: rural roads are generally in excellent condition and traffic-free. EU/EEA driver’s licenses are valid in France; non-EU licenses are valid for a year but must be accompanied by an official French translation. Read about exchanging a foreign license in France and the rules for driving in France.
8. Make sure you receive a French tax return
After you move to France, you will be liable to pay French taxes by 31 May (or June if you file your French tax return online) each year. Otherwise, you’ll potentially incur a fine of 10% of your tax bill.
You’ll usually get a tax return form sent to you. If it’s your first time or you don’t get one, you need to get one from your local tax office (centre des impôts) or mairie, or online through www.impots.gouv.fr (in French). Even if you think you will fall below the tax threshold level, it is still your responsibility to make sure you file your French tax return on time.
If you will be living and working in France for more than 182 days, then you will be classed as a tax resident the day after your arrival in France, so you’ll need to register at your local tax office (Hotel des Impôts) or town hall (mairie) and pay social security in France. Read about the French tax system or French corporate taxes.
9. Learn French to find a job and write a French-style CV
In many cases, speaking French is essential for getting a job in France. This should be a priority before and after you move to France. If you don’t speak French, you may be restricted to only the most menial jobs. Read what is required to work in France.
You should also consider adapting your CV and interview techniques to meet the expectations of French employers and recruiters. Read a guide on how to prepare a French-style CV and French interview tips and French business culture.
You can learn French in a course at a language school in France, or consider an online course. You can also seek out a language swap with a native French speaker by posting a note on a work or college noticeboard or online. Tune into Radio France International for programs aimed at those learning the language, including simplified news round-ups, bilingual dramas, and lessons.
The French are extremely polite, so always greet the shop staff, and even other customers in a small establishment, with a bonjour (or bonsoir in the afternoon) when you enter and an au revoir when you leave. Try out your French, even if you’re not feeling very confident, it will be appreciated. Remember to use the formal vous when meeting people for the first time or older people, and tu for friends and children. You only need to shake hands at this stage, the French bisou (kissing on both cheeks) comes later.
10. Accustom yourself to the French way of life
After all the hustle and bustle of moving, the hardest part is settling into the French lifestyle. There are important French social rules you need to follow – or risk humiliating yourself in France – and business etiquette or French dating might also be different to what you’re used to at home.
Many expats experience culture shock when they first move to France and adjust to the French calendar – but life does get easier and more familiar with time and patience. Rocking up when the shops are closed on public holidays and important dates in France can be annoying, although no-one complains about the vibrant French festivals all through the year. It also helps to join clubs and groups as does learning some of the local customs below.
It’s advisable to find out where the local shops are, their opening hours (most close Sundays) and what they sell, and you can always pick up any loyalty cards to start straight away. Supermarkets like Leclerc and CarreFour all have them. Some type of shops may be new to you. Tabacs (look for the cigar-shaped sign outside), for example, are tobacconists but also sell stamps, stationery, pre-paid mobile phone cards, and you can pay certain official taxes there too.
For news, La Monde and Le Figaro are the two main quality newspapers but you’ll find a wide range on newsstands called presse, so take your pick.
You’ll quickly see that France is a sporting nation with football and rugby being the subject of many a heated discussion in bars and cafés after a big match over the weekend. Check out fixtures for your local team or sign up to play yourself. For something more sedate and very French, seek out a game of pétanque or boules – most towns have playing areas.
Eating like the French is one of the best things about moving to France. Find out which day your town or area has its market – there will be one. The streets or square will be lined with stalls selling everything from locally produced fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and shellfish, charcuterie (cured meats) and cheeses through clothes and household products to parts for cars – as well as a basket to carry it all home. Follow your nose to find rotisseries of roasting chickens and huge vats of paella to take away. See our guide to markets in Paris.
Bread (pain) is baked several times a day in France. Look for the boulangerie with the longest queue to find the best bread in town, and don’t hesitate to practice your French on the locals while you wait. Bread comes in all shapes and sizes from the long and very thin ficelle to the chunky, crusty pain de compagne.
Enjoy a long, long lunch
Around noon every day, most people close shop or leave their offices and go for a long lunch. So find a restaurant or café, peruse the menu (fixe prix – fixed price – is usually very good value), order a pichet of house wine and sit back and enjoy. Warning: if you choose the classic steak frites, be aware that ordering it bleu means virtually raw and while bien cuit means ‘well-cooked’ it will still be pink in the middle. Read about which French foods you have to try.
If that’s too much, ask for un ballon de rouge or a un petit blanc (a glass of red or white wine, respectively) and a plate of cheese or charcuterie (cured meats), or un espress or un petit noir (a minuscule cup of espresso black coffee). If you get chatting to the barman, get the lowdown on local places and events.