French administration: 12 steps for a New Life in France
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France remains the No. 1 most visited country in the World with over 90 million visitors each year, accounting for over 10% of its GDP. The French health care system is widely regarded as the best in the World, with life expectancy rates running at 82.5 years and a universal health insurance scheme reimbursing 70% of medical costs for its citizens and long term residents.
France has 44 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, only matched by Italy, Spain and China. French cuisine is famed throughout the world and France is home to over 594 Michelin star restaurants, including 25% of the World's 3 Michelin star restaurants.
France also has over 1,600 different types of cheese and 360 different vineyard regions. The climate in France is exceptionally varied from North to South and East to West, but the country benefits from long hot summers, mild winters (apart from the mountainous regions) and glorious weather in the Spring and Autumn. The Southern French city of Marseille is the second most sunniest city in Europe (with more hours of sunshine per year than Madrid, Athens and Lisbon).
It is not hard to understand why people in increasing numbers are relocating to France each year. The Southern French city of Pau, was recently voted by Currency Exchange company OFX, as the No. 1 destination for Retiring in the World (10 best places for Retiring overseas). France was also voted the 9th most desirable location to live in the World by American ex-Pats, with healthcare, quality of life and culture being identified as the main attractions (Source: Business Insider).
Moving to France long term
You would think that in the midst of a Global Pandemic, people would be putting on hold their plans to relocate to France. But, our personal experience of providing long term rental accommodation for Ex-Pats in France, shows that this is anything but the case. We have been inundated with clients from Canada, the UK, America, the Middle East, Scandinavia and beyond - all desperate to set up a new life in France. If anything, the experience of COVID-19 and the response of different Governments to this situation, have led to people accelerate their plans to move to France.
Checklist: setting up a new life in France
So how do you turn a dream into a reality? How do you make sure that your new life in France is going to be a success? This is a checklist of all the things that you need to do to get set up for living in France. If you are moving to France on a permanent or long term basis (longer than 3 months), there are many administrative hurdles you need to overcome to get yourself established. Here is a quick guide on how to navigate your way around French bureaucracy and get yourselves all set up for a successful life in France.
1. Opening a bank account in France
Probably the first job that you need to do, is to set up a French bank account. Ideally, you need to do this before you arrive in France. There are apparently, over different 400 banks in France. Generally, on the high streets of most towns you will see the following 'retail banks':
- Banque Populaire
- BNP Paribas
- Credit Agricole
- Credit Lyonnais (LCL)
- Caisse d'Epargne
- Société Générale
- Crédit Mutuel - CIC
- La Banque Postale
- Credit du Nord
In addition to the French banks, there are a number of international banks that operate in France. :
- AXA Banque
- Deutsche Bank
It is unlikely that you will find a local branch of these banks, except in some of the major cities like Paris, Bordeaux, Marseille and Lyon. The exception being AXA Banque, which has a national chain of independent insurance brokers throughout France.
Another option for setting up a bank account in France is to register with one of the newer Digital or Mobile banks, such as:
- Hello Bank
The benefit of considering these banks, is that the account set up process is quick and easy. The accounts can usually be set up before you arrive in France (provided that you have an address in France). They also give you 24/7 access to your account and finally, cross-border payment transactions are usually quicker, much cheaper and you receive immediate confirmation (on your phone) that the transaction has been completed.
If you are looking to open a bank account with one of the larger high street banks in France, then usually you will need to make an appointment to see one of the local Account Managers. You will generally need the following information:
- passport or ID
- proof of your French address (e.g., a lease agreement, utility bill, etc)
- residence permit/long stay visa (if you have one)
Normally, you can open the account on the same day and receive your bank card and checkbook about 10 days later. The key thing that they will provide you with is something called a RIB. This is a document which contains your Account number, Account name, BIC (bank identifying code), IBAN number and a funny 2 digit number called a Clé Rib (which I have never been entirely sure what it does or why it is needed). But the RIB is something that you will be asked for time and time again if you arrange insurance in France, set up a utility bill or need somebody to make a payment to you.
Some French banks do offer non-resident accounts that can be operated from overseas. So this could be useful if you haven't yet arranged your rental accommodation or purchased your house. But normally, you will need to set up the account in person at the bank (in France), as well as making a minimum deposit.
If you have your rental accommodation arranged, but you have not yet moved to France, most French banks will let you set up an account before you move. But, you will need to provide some evidence that you will be living in France on a long-term basis (i.e., 6-12 months) and can provide a French address.
Setting up an account with a Mobile bank such as N26, bunq, or Revolut, maybe an easier option for non-residents. To open up a mobile-only bank account, you usually need to provide a physical address, email address, and mobile number and select the countries/currency you wish to operate under.
2. Registering your residence in France
Once you move to France, there is a legal requirement for you to register with the French authorities. This includes Australian, Canadian, American and New Zealand nationals, as well as some European or Swiss citizens moving to France.
If you hold a 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 in France. 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.
If you are a citizen of one of the 27 European Union countries, you don't need to register after 3 months in France. France is currently the only European Union country that hasn't required EU citizens to register as a legal resident after 3 months or to hold a work permit. All EU citizens have the right to live and settle in France, provided that they are :
- employed or self-employed
- economically inactive or seeking employment
- family members of an EU citizen
From 30 December 2020, UK nationals arriving in France, will have to apply for a long stay visa to remain in France for more than 3 months. Further details on the French residency application process can be found in our article Applying for French Residency.
3. Arranging Health Insurance cover
The French health care system is widely regarded as the best in the World. France spends 11.5% of its GBP on healthcare, it has one of the highest Doctor-to-Population ratios in the world and a high life expectancy rate of 79.5 years for males, 85.4 years for females.
If you are planning on moving to France and to live here for more than 3 months at a time, then it is a legal requirement for you to have health insurance in place. There are 4 different ways to arrange healthcare coverage in France:
- Private health insurance - you can arrange comprehensive private medical insurance to cover your stay in France
- Private-State health insurance - you can buy-in to the French state insurance scheme under the PUMa scheme
- State health insurance - you apply to join the French universal health care system and receive your Carte Vitale medical card
- Reciprocal healthcare - if you are a citizen of another European Union country or from an EEA country (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), Switzerland or (after 30 December 2020), from the United Kingdom, then you may be covered by a reciprocal healthcare agreement.
To understand each health insurance option and which one will suit your particular circumstances, you can read our comprehensive guide to Health Care in France. This also explains the process for applying for French healthcare insurance (Carte Vitale). Most people will qualify to be covered by the state French health insurance and you will need to register with CPAM (Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie) before using French healthcare.
4. Registering with a French Doctor
Once you arrive in France you should also register with a doctor and dentist near where you live. You are free to choose which medical practtitioner you use, although you will need to specify the name of your Doctor when you set up your French health care insurance with CPAM. CPAM has an online register of Doctors in France (by location) or you can ask around or consult various Ex-Pat forums (especially if you are looking for an English speaking Doctor.
5. Setting up Insurance in France
We have talked above about the legal requirement to take out health insurance in France if you are staying for 3 months or longer. There are also some other mandatory insurances that you must take out.
School insurance in France
If you have children, who will be attending school in France, then you will be required to take out a special civil liability insurances for your children, called assurance scolaire. This insurance covers your child against damage caused or suffered in school, college or high school. Whilst, in principle, assurance scolaire is optional, in practice it will be unlikely that your child will be able to register with a school and partake in school sports or field trips, without you providing the school with a copy of your insurance policy.
Tenants insurance in France
It is a legal requirement in France for Tenants to be required to take out home insurance on their rental property by the landlord. In fact, if your rental contract specifies that you must take out insurance and you fail to do so, then this is a clear grounds for terminating your lease. 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.
It is not a legal requirement for you to take out home insurance in France, if you are a property owner. However, if you purchased a property with a French mortgage or bank loan, then normally your bank will insist that you take out buildings and contents insurance. Similarly, if you are planning on renting out your property (or even receiving guests at your house), then you would be very unwise not to have some form of public liability insurance in place to cover you in the event of an accident.
Car Insurance in France
As we outline below, if you are bringing your own car to France or plan on purchasing a car in France, then it is a legal requirement that the car is properly insured (comprehensive cover or third party cover). If you fail to insure a vehicle in France and you are stopped by the police, then you can be fined up to €3,750 euros. Insurance must be obtained for all vehicles, whether they are used or not. The only way you can avoid taking out insurance, is if you remove all four wheels and detach the battery.
6. Setting up a French mobile phone, internet and TV
I always describe this as the great French Catch 22:
You cannot open a bank account in France unless you have a utility bill in your name. But you cannot get a utility bill in your name unless you have a French bank account.
To be fair, it is not as bad as it used to be, especially with the new mobile banks like Revolut or N26. But it still remains the fact that to set up a French mobile phone (cellphone) or internet account, then you will need to provide:
- a copy of your passport (with date of birth and place of birth)
- your RIB (bank account number, account name and bank identifier code)
- proof of address
Most mobile phone operators in France (Orange, SFR, Free and Bouygues) also offer bundle accounts where you can set up internet, TV and mobile phone deals under one package. There is also a great website in France called Ariase (www.ariase.fr) where you can compare the prices of the different mobile phone packages, data bundles and network coverage for your location. You can also get a report on internet speeds for your address and whether Fiber or 4G WiFi boxes are available in your location.
Generally in France, the main towns have good internet speeds, but rural areas still lag behind. In 2013, The French government gave a commitment to roll-out high speed Fiber internet to every household in France by 2022. To be honest, I can't see them ever achieving this. I would say at best, 90% of households will have an option for Fiber internet and the remaining 10% of mainly rural or isolated households will receive 4G Wifi connections.
If you are coming to France from North or South America to France, you just need to check if your current cellphone will work on a GSM mobile network (which is used in France and most of Europe). If your phone is compatible, then you will just need to arrange for a French SIM card.
TV in France
In terms of setting up a TV package in France - with a lot of content now available on streaming sites, as long as you have a decent internet connection you should be fine. France has a digital terrestrial system called TNT which provides around 20 channels free of charge. If you set up an internet package with one of the main operators, these normally provide an option to add additional TV channels (either free of charge or with a small monthly fee.
What I would say however, is if you need to brush up on your French, then don't set up an international TV package. Watch French TV instead with English subtitles turned on. There is science behind this - it is all about attuning your ear to French vocabulary, accents and intonation. You are actually learning French without realising it, because you are relaxed and the sounds are reaching your brain subliminally. If you like your sports, I would also strongly recommend the Sports channel RMC Sport. After years of trawling dodgy download sites, I can now watch most soccer and rugby games for 20 bucks a month, without the stream freezing at the vital moment.
More information about setting up TV in France can be found on the Expatica France website.
7. French utility bills
Getting your name on a Utility bill in France is like the Holy Grail. It just opens so many doors. With your name on a utility bill you have the magical justificatif de domicile (proof of address). You will now be able to set up a mobile phone, apply for French residency, set up a bank account, buy a car, take out insurance, etc, etc. The list goes on and on.
If you’re renting a French property, your new home will already have utilities set up by the landlord. Your landlord may allow you to change providers, or depending on how long you are renting for, you may be allowed to change the utility bills into your name (for short rental periods it is just not worth the effort of changing the name on the utility bill). You will certainly need to take meter readings when you arrive (although with the roll-out of Smart meters for the electricity supply in France, this may not be necessary for the electricity readings).
Setting up an account with an energy supplier in France is fairly straightforward and you can often do this online or over the telephone. EDF has an English-speaking helpline and they are normally supper helpful. To sign up for a French energy provider, you’ll need to provide the following information to your utility company:
- proof of identity (passport, residence permit)
- proof of address (rental contract, bank statement)
- French bank account details - your RIB
- Possibly - contact information of the previous occupant
Electricity is generally quite expensive in France, especially for heating (from wall-mounted electric radiators). There are a growing number of energy suppliers in France, each offering a range of energy options and tariffs. Due to their legacy of being the state-owned suppliers, EDF and Engie remain the most popular providers across the country. However, with the creation of a number of price comparison websites in France, more French residents are choosing to switch their provider for electricity, gas and internet. When it comes to water, you typically won’t be able to choose a provider in France. That’s because the supply is normally organised by local councils who sign a contract with a larger water supplier.
8. French driving licence & Registering a vehicle in France
You can drive in France using a foreign driver’s license, but after a certain time, some nationalities need to exchange it for a French driving licence.
If you are arriving in France from another European Union country or from Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Lichtenstein; then you can use your existing licence to drive in France. You do not need to exchange the driving licence or apply for a French driving licence. Once the licence expires, you can either apply to your home country for a renewal licence or apply for a French driving licence.
Following Brexit (30 December 2020), UK nationals will need to apply for a French driving licence if they remain in the country for more than one year. However, you will only need to apply for a French driving licence if your current license has less than 6 months before expiry.
France has agreements with a number of countries – including the United States, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada - which allow citizens of these countries to drive in France for up to one year without needing to exchange their licence for a French driving licence. The only requirement is that you are over the age of 18 (it is not possible to drive in France under the age of 18 years) and your licence remains valid for at least 12 months. Furthermore, as long as they apply for a French driving licence before the 12 months is up, they will not need to sit a French driving test before applying for the French license.
You can find further information about how to apply for a French driving licence in our article Move to France: Driving in France.
If you purchase a vehicle in France (new or second hand), or if you import your existing vehicle into France and will be using it for more than 6 months (European Union registered car) or 1 month (non-European Union registered car), then you need to register the vehicle in France. Similarly, if you move house, you need to change the address on the registration document.
The registration certificate for a vehicle in France, is called a "carte grise" (basically because it is printed on a grey form). Every owner of a motor vehicle in France, whether it’s a motorbike, car, motorhome, trailer or truck, must have a carte grise in order to legally drive on public roads. If you do not have the necessary paperwork for your car, then you can be fined €135 (or even up to €750 for serious infractions).
There is an online application process for the carte grise, run by an official body called the Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisés (ANTS). As soon as your application has been paid for and validated, you will instantly receive a provisional registration certificate (CPI) by e-mail, which will allow you to drive the vehicle legally for one month until you have your received the official copy of the carte grise.
9. Completing your French tax return
It is often said that France is a land of cheese and high taxes. Whilst the first part of that statement is undeniably true, I am not so sure about the second part. Yes, if you have a business in France, you need to be very careful how you set it up, but generally I find that personal income tax is fairly normal. What you also have to understand about France is that the taxation amounts are low, but the social security contributions are high. You also have to be careful about certain taxes and make careful plans in advance. So for example, inheritance taxes can top 50%. But no inheritance tax is applied on the first €100,000. Similarly, if you sell a property in France you are liable to a Capital Gains Tax of 19%, but the tax doesn't apply if the house is your principal residence. One other quirk about French taxes, is that whilst there is no personal tax allowance (i.e. a minimum income amount on which you do not pay tax), they do take into account the total household income and composition. So whilst tax can be levied on the first Euro that you earn, if you have children or non-working dependents, then you will pay lower taxes.
Once you have been living in France for 182 days or if you register for a long stay visa or residency permit, then you will become liable for submitting a French tax return and paying your taxes in France. You will still have to complete a French tax return even if you have completed a tax return in your home country. Some countries - America being the notable example - require you to keep on completing a tax return even if you are living out of the country. France does have a double-taxation with most countries (from Albania to Zimbabwe) - which in theory means that you will not have to pay tax twice on the same income. However, here is rub:
if you would have paid more taxation in France on the income you have declared in another country, then you can be liable for paying the difference in France
So, if in your home country, you are entitled to claim a personal tax allowance or apply for an exemption (which is not available in France), then you would need to pay the equivalent French tax and social charges on this 'exempted' income.
The other important thing to remember is that on your French tax return, you need to declare both the income in your home country and any income received in France. This applies even if you have declared this income on your home country tax return. This is the official declaration from the French tax authorities:
If you are resident of France you must declare income received abroad by all members of your tax household when this income is taxable in France.You must also file a French tax return (no. 2047) when you receive income, other than salaries and pensions, which are tax-exempt in France but used to calculate the taux effectif.
a.) you have spent more than 182 days in France in a calendar year; or
b.) when you arrive in France you intend to apply for residency
You will need to make a tax declaration even if you have received zero income. To make your first tax declaration in France, you will need to create an account on the official French tax website www.impots.gouv.fr.
10. Enrolling your children in French schools
For a lot of families that we deal with, it seems that the natural choice is to look for an International School to send their children. I would say that this is not entirely necessary and may in certain cases, hinder their and your integration into France.
All 3 of our boys have gone through the French state schools system (from Maternal right through to University). Our eldest boy has graduated with a Business degree and has set up his own business. Our middle son is studying Medicine in Montpellier and our youngest is looking to study film & graphics editing, also in Montpellier. Our middle son is bright and studious, but the other two are your typical lazy, last minute students. I am not trying to show off, all I am demonstrating is that it is possible for Foreign children to pick up French quickly in schools (probably a lot quicker than in an International School) and the French state schools are successful in turning out well-educated and well-balanced students. All our boys have a good group of friends here that they have known since primary school and they were all pretty much integrated within 4 months and fully-bilingual after 6 months.
Only 15% of French children go to a Private school (either fully Private or Privately-run State school). We do know quite a few Ex-Pat families here who have sent their children to International schools. Some have done OK, but a large number have had difficulty integrating, with a good proportion returning to Ireland, UK, Canada to continue their studies. In fact, 3 families we have known quite well here have now completely left France, mainly due to school issues. So, I would certainly caution you if you are thinking of an International School, because it often doesn't equal happy kids.
In France, like most countries, it is compulsory for all children to be educated between the ages of three and sixteen. The French education system is divided into:
- nursery (maternal) - ages 2 or 3 to 5 years;
- primary level (école) - 6 to 11 years;
- elementary or middle school (collège) 11 to 16 years and
- high school (lycée) - 16 to 18 years.
You can choose whether to send your children to a French state school, a state-contracted private school or a fully independent school in France, which includes most international and foreign schools. It is also legal to home school in France. Most State schools will have a local catchment area (for primary and middle schools) and you’ll be assigned to a school based on where you live.
To register your child at a local French state school, you need to make an application by June of the year you want your child to start primary school and by the end of the spring term for collège. Normally, each local Mairie (town hall) will handle the registration process and you will need to complete a certificate d’inscription. You will need to provide the following documents:
- a birth certificate or extrait de l’acte de naissance, or a livret de famille (an official French booklet of family records issued by the mairie).
- immunization records or a carnet de santé (an official booklet with health records from all visits to a French doctor) or other official health certificate to show that the child is immunised against diphtheria, tetanus, and polio (DTP).
- proof of residence – a rental agreement or recent utility bill with your name and address
- proof of identity (parents and children)
- proof of insurance (assurance scolaire) - although this can be provided at a later date
Foreign documents may need to be translated by an official translator. For secondary schools, you may also be required to show end of term reports from the previous year and/or exit certificate from the primary school. If your child is arriving from outside France and is entering collège or lycée, you will need to contact the educational district’s administrative head, the rectorat.
For Private schools and International Schools you can contact the schools directly to arrange the inscription. If you do need assistance in registering your child in a school in France, then I would certainly recommend that you reach out to Sam Haacke (contact details below). Sam runs a Relocation company in France and he is very familiar with all the documentation and registration requirements. He can also assist you if your registration is non-standard (i.e., you are arriving mid-way through a school year or if you child will require intensive language tuition).
11. Setting up a company in France
Unless you are retired, employed or just plain loaded, then you will have to perform some paid activity in France. Unless your French is at a fairly decent level, it is going to be difficult for you to find work in France. So your next best option will be to work for yourself. This could be either in France or across the World from your base in France. One of the benefits of setting up a Company in France is that it gets you straight into the system - for health insurance, paying your taxes, establishing business contacts, establishing residency, etc. It can also open doors to business grants and professional training (including French tuition).
France has a similar system for companies as most international countries. So you will find:
- SARL - Limited liability company
- Micro-Enterprise - Sole Trader
- EURL - Sole Trader limited liability company
- SELARL - Private limited liability company
- SA – Public limited company (PLC)
- SAS - Joint stock company
- SNC – General Partnership
If you want to start a business in France, you’ll need to have a residence permit or be an European Union citizen. There are generally two types of legal business structure in France:
- a sole trader
- a company (société)
In France a Sole Trader type business is called a Micro-Enterprise. The business administration is relatively simple (no accountant or book keeper is required) and the set-up registration process is relatively quick. There are a number of options available in terms of how you pay your taxes and social charges (Simplified - where a fixed percentage is applied to your business turnover or Reel - where you can deduct business costs and pay tax and social charge on the profits). Having run both a Company in France (SARL) and a Micro-Enterprise, I would advise anybody new to France to initially set up as a Micro-Enterprise. The business administration is far simpler and you always know where you stand in terms of social charges and taxation.
There are two main types of company in France:
- EURL or Entreprise Unipersonelle à Responsibilité Limitée is owned by a single person and run as a limited liability single shareholder company
- SARL or Société à Responsibilité Limitée is a limited liability company with between two and 100 partners.
Both types of Company will normally require you to have an Accountant to produce your books each year.
To register a business in France, you need to complete a registration form at the relevant Centre de Formalités des Entreprises (CFE) or online at www.guichet-entreprises.fr. There are different types of CFE for each sector of business activity:
- Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie (CCI) covering shops or a commercial company with no ‘craft, trades or artisan’ element
- Chambre de Métiers et de l’Artisanat (CMA) for manual/trades and crafts people
- Les Greffes des Tribunaux de Commerce for companies of regulated professionals, such as lawyers, Real Estate Agents, Medical Practitioners
- URSSAF for the professions and intellectual services like translators or website designers.
For your business registration, you will need to provide
- Proof of address (utility bill or rental agreement)
- Passport or ID
- Draft Company Satutes (for a Company, not a Micro-Enterprise)
- Publish a notice of incorporation in a Business Magazine or Trade publication (for a Company, not a Micro-Enterprise)
Once you have made your business registration, the CFE will then contact a number of other official bodies to provide key information for your business:
- National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), which will register your company with the national business directory and allocate SIRET and SIREN numbers. The 9-digit SIREN identification number for your business is official proof of your business registration and is used by all government and official agencies when referring to your company. The 14-digit SIRET number is normally sent to you within 14 days and is contained on a document called a K-BIS. The K-BIS is your business incorporation certificate and the SIRET number is your official business number that you will include on Invoices and business tax returns.
- Centre des Impôts (the tax office) - your business will be automatically registered for taxation and social charges
- Registre du Commerce et des Sociétés (RCS) – the commercial court register;
- Caisse regionale D’assurance Maladie (health insurance) - you will be registered for French Health Insurance and you can apply for your carte vitale health card
- Pole Emploi - unemployment insurance, pension
- Chambres des Métierset de l'artisanat - if you want to carry out a trade or craft you may have to provide additional information, such as qualifications and/or undertake conversion training, business courses, etc.
- Caisses Socials and Inspection du Travail - if you’ll be employing others.
Having run a couple of companies in France, I would firstly, strongly advise you to get proper advice before establishing a business in France. You also need to get yourself a really good Account (not most Accountants in France are effectively book-keepers and tax collectors, not real Accountants who can give you solid business advice). I always recommend a company based near Montpellier called Augefi. They really are excellent and very business focused. They have helped out a number of our clients.
Secondly, I would also counsel you against hiring employees in France, or certainly have a real hard think about this. I actually find most French workers very serious and professional. But the issue is that the labour law in France is stacked heavily in favour of the employee and the social charges that you will have to pay mean that you will have to pay employees a net salary plus a further 75 percent in employers’ and employees’ contributions (you will pay the employee contributions).
Thirdly, always, always, always, set up a separate business account and have a savings account where you can pay aside your tax, social charges and TVA payments. The way the tax and social charge system works in France is that you have to pay in advance your contributions (even if you have not earned a penny in income). The State estimates what you should be paying. It is the cost of doing business in France. Ideally, you should set aside an amount of money when you set up your business, so that you always have the funds to pay your tax and social charges when these bills come in.
12. Learning French
I cannot stress this last point enough. If you want to have a good experience of living in France, then getting your French up to an acceptable level is absolutely mandatory. I know so many people living here in France who have absolutely rubbish French - not even holiday French. You can live in France without speaking French - but why would you want to do that? You just end up living in an Ex-Pat bubble and you miss out on so many wonderful experiences. Our French friends have introduced us to so many off-the-beat places and lots of weird and wonderful festivals to visit over the years.
My advice, both personally and what I have seen happen to other people is this:
- Learning French is not a linear process. Your progress goes up in leaps and then plateaus and goes backwards and then forwards again. Sometimes something just clicks and sometimes you are just left think whaaaattt?
- You have to work at it. There is not some magical formula. It doesn't arrive by osmosis. It needs inputs, you have to get the structure of the language clear in your mind, the mechanics of how a sentence operates, the verb endings, the different tenses.
- Learning styles is a big thing. How do you normally take in information? Reading? Watching TV or Video? Talking to someone? Making list or notes? Usually you have a preference. So you need to play to your strengths.
- Stop making excuses. If people like me who are less intelligent, have a shocking short term memory and zero gift for languages can speak French, then why can't you.
- French is a very inflexible language. If a French person stopped you on the street as said to you " . . . can me show how to went to the Otel Astora . . .". Well you would have to think what they were trying to say, but you could sort of understand the gist of it. But if you said a sentence like that in French it just wouldn't make any sense, especially with the tenses mixed up. Often friends say to me ' . . . the French deliberately misunderstand what I am saying . . . or they pretend not to understand . . .'. Well they don't do anything of the sort. Either the tense is wrong or the verb ending is incorrect or your pronunciation is way off.
- Conversation classes are not a waste of time, but I don't think they are the most effective use of an hour. Maybe you will learn something new, maybe it will reinforce something in your mind, maybe it will give you more confidence. But personally, I think one-to-one tuition with someone who is really strict and will keep pulling you up on your mistakes is a better use of your time.
- You need an objective for learning. Think in the future and identify an action or an experience you would like to achieve. I remember when I arrived in France I wanted to be able to speak to a stranger for 5 minutes just in French or tell a joke in French to our friends. Then once you achieve that, Identify a new challenge.
- Ignore the exceptions. I find with a lot of French tutors, they will explain something to you really well and you get it, but then they can't help themselves and they will follow up by listing all the exceptions to the rule. By which time, you are completely confused and you have lost confidence in what they have told you. Honestly, if I get something right 90% of the time, then I am good with that. I don't need to bother about remembering al the exceptions (which in real life you will probably neve encounter anyway).
- French TV, French sports, French films, French radio, French magazines, French anything you can get your hands on. It is about switching on your ears to actually listening intently to French, rather than it being a background noise. You can pick up expressions and see in what context they are used
- At some point in the future, you will speak French for 10 minutes and you will not translate it into English in your head and you will just be saying stuff that comes naturally without thinking. At that point you will think, yep I have done it !!
Where to Next . . .?
Read more about setting up a French Bank Account
Check the details relating to Driving in France
Discover the Income requirements for Applying for a French Visa
If you need assistance with planning your move to France and getting set up when you arrive, we are happy to recommend the services of French Expat Assistance (FEPA), a relocation agency run by Sarah MacGilchrist. Sarah has lived in France for nearly 40 years and has an in-depth knowledgle of French administration. Her company is based in Brittany, France and she works with a network of partners who can help you with everything from applying for visas, setting up a business in France, opening bank accounts, arranging health insurance and completing your French tax return.
Sarah can be contacted by email at: