Expat guide: France

This guide offers information and advice if you are moving to France. Read the page below to find out about anything from tax rules and banking to education and cultural highlights.

You can also read our expat guide to Paris.

Moving to France

Many expats dream of moving to France. Their imaginations are fired by visions of long country lunches, people-watching from cafés, strolls in lavender-scented Provence, sunbathing on the beaches of Nice, and immersion in the cultural riches of Parisian art and couture.

The French nation prides itself on its distinct identity and language and feels little need to accommodate outsiders. The language is the key barrier and any expat wanting to make France home will need to become fluent in French.

Paris and Lyon are justly celebrated for their fine dining. These two cities vie yearly for the honour of being the top culinary destination in France. Regional specialties are celebrated and brought to the cities for everyone to try; expats willing to let their taste buds do their exploring for them will seldom be bored.

Expats moving to France might not expect to find a vibrant business environment, rich with opportunity. However, this nation has produced the 5th largest economy in the world and its capital, Paris, has the largest city economy on mainland Europe. Expats account for 19 percent of workers in Paris, and businessmen value the new skills a foreigner can bring.

The country itself is old and highly cultivated. Fields and farms, elegantly bridged rivers, chateaux, estates and ancient cobbled towns dot the landscape. Bordeaux and Burgundy, the country's famous wine centres, bring endless vineyards rolling over their gentle hills.

Shipping and removals

France has plenty of ports and a high density rail system. This means that shipping to the country is a fairly painless affair. Be sure to check at the local embassy for customs restrictions.

Usually with removals you must keep all documentation provided by the shipping company. These items include, invoices, carrier arrival notices, and inventories. Often these are needed to track and reclaim goods. Most countries have differing licensing systems for motor vehicles, and it can be required to have a new road worthiness certificate or to make a new tax payment.

The BAR (British Association of Removers) are one of the watchdogs for the industry, and it can be useful to see what it has to say about a chosen removals company.

Working in France

France can be a difficult place to find employment. While speaking a foreign language is a valuable skill to have, it is important to speak French as well. It is possible to work as an au pair or language teacher while gaining enough proficiency in French to move into the general job market. The French prefer to do business with friends, and most people find employment through networking and alumni organisations.

France has one of the busiest tourism industries in the world. More tourists visit Paris than anywhere else on the globe. Those with experience in hospitality - waiters, bartenders, hotel staff - will find plenty of job opportunities if they look for summer work.

Applying for a job

The accepted etiquette for a job application is to leave a CV at the front desk, and then to pester the company until they make an appointment for an interview. Be polite but persistent. France is different from the Anglophone countries in that the French expect to be pestered. It can be useful for an expat to follow up an application with a number of calls.

Banking, money and taxes

Opening a bank account in France is simple. The bank will expect a passport copy, a resident's permit, a proof of residency (a utilities bill should suffice), a reference from a bank in which another account is held, and an amount to deposit into the account. Non-residents will also have to provide a signature witnessed by a solicitor. There are minor differences between a non-resident and resident account, with the former subject to more restrictions.

Standard bank accounts in France pay no interest, so it is worth opening a specific deposit account for any significant savings. By law, banks have to tell you the full extent of the charges they levy in an annual statement. Some banks will charge for different transactions and it is worth shopping around to find out which bank will most suit your lifestyle.

Once the account has been approved, a chequebook and debit card (carte bleu) will be issued. The carte bleu is accepted almost everywhere in France. A cheque in France is considered as cash, so a bounced check will result in a fraud report to the Bank of France. Post dated and open dated cheques are considered illegal.

'Compulsory deductions' is the combined term for income tax and social security deductions. Taxes are imposed on those who work, reside and invest in France. There exists a small tax on wealth applicable to a heritage of over €750,000. About 25 percent of a residents gross income will go into social security deductions. However, there is a further income tax of between 5 and 40 percent on net income. This progressive system means those with a high income will pay significantly more tax than a middle or low income worker. Those who own property or are self employed will be subject to additional taxes, which makes starting a business in France a slightly unattractive proposition.

All EU member states will pay VAT for goods taken out of the region when leaving the EU. For expats who only intend to stay a few years, it is worth contacting a VAT expert to discover what one will be entitled to claim, especially as this can translate into a hefty sum.

It is important to remember that income tax must be declared separately from social security contributions. It is advisable to set aside the expected amount every month so that when tax comes due there is enough cash available to pay the collector

Employment contracts

For an expat looking for permanent work, there are two types of contract to consider. The Contrat à durée indéterminée (CDI) is the full-time indeterminate term contract. There is a three-month trial period after which either the employer and the employee can terminate the contract. However, hiring someone with a CDI can be very expensive, and anyone on a CDI contract can expect a high degree of job stability. The Contrat à durée déterminée, or CDD, is a fixed term contract which has a maximum limit of 18 months. After 18 months the employer is required to either terminate employment or offer a CDI contract to the employee. There are other contracts for short-term and part-time work which are usually agency or hospitality related.

Most contract workers can expect two extra cheques a year in December and June. A contract worker can also expect around five weeks of leave per year, worked out at two and half days per month worked. It is best to discuss leave before a contract is signed as the vacation days are only accumulated from June 1st to May 31st. Beginning work in April for instance, will only oblige an employer to offer five days leave until the next May. Incredibly, a company employee, having worked for the same company for three years, can apply for a year long sabbatical. While unpaid, social security coverage is maintained, and the employee has the right to return to the same or equivalent position in the company.

An employer can propose an amendment to a contract based upon a change in economic circumstances. This must be done by registered letter, after which the employee has a month to file a refusal. A refusal will either result in a compromise, or a dismissal. Assuming a the minimum conditions have been met, the employee is entitled to notice and redundancy pay.

Visa and work permits

EU citizens do not need visa or work permits, although a residency permit is required for access to French Social Security. Non-EU citizens moving to France need a visa and a residents permit. French embassies and consulates are the places to apply for the visa, but the residency permit is only available in France. It is important to begin this process early as the French bureaucracy will take its time to process the request.

Note that the type of visa you have is seldom altered. A short-stay visa of three months cannot be changed into a long-stay visa. To become an expat in France an application for a residency permit must be lodged, but only after being granted a long-stay visa. This can done at the local Foreigners Office or town hall. After three years living in the country one can apply for a permanent residency.

Business culture

Business etiquette is important in France. A smart and fashionable personal appearance is essential, while punctuality is less vital and people are sometimes 'fashionably late'. Meetings are usually held over lunch, and the French love their food. As in most western countries, a handshake is the norm when meeting someone, and the French like to use formal tiles ie Monsieur (Mr), Madame (Mrs) and Mademoiselle (Ms).

Working hours

The average working day in France is 9am to 6pm, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Work in a restaurant or hotel will require evening shifts, and many companies offer a shorter day in exchange for working over lunch. Lunch can be as long as two hours.

Public holidays


Living and Culture

Culture shock

The hardest adjustment for expats is the clash between romanticised expectations of France and the more mundane realities you can encounter. The reticent expat will find it difficult to adapt to French manners. Disagreement is expected, and even encouraged at times, with speakers barking out terse rejoinders. Despite this, no one would find it more surprising than the French to find that they had been accused of rudeness. In fact, French culture has evolved a complex set of conversational rules. It is not by chance that etiquette is a word of French origin.

The roadways in France can be a hazard and, while illegal, many French residents will simply park where they can, often driving cars up onto pavements.

Restaurants produce high quality cuisine and bistros can provide acceptable meals at low cost. Anyone who comes from a fast-food culture will suffer a lack of variety. Only McDonald's has made significant headway into the French market.

Films are often dubbed into French. Most of the significant Hollywood actors have voice doubles who play their part in all their films. Again, without French, an expat can be left in a popular culture desert as even television will dub over most imported shows. The key ingredient to overcoming the experience of culture shock in France is simply to learn the language.

Cost of living

Paris and Lyon are both expensive to live in, with Paris taking the top spot as the most expensive in France.

Utilities bills are comparable to those in the rest of Europe, but because of the monopoly held by the national telecoms provider, calls and broadband costs in France remain high. Electricity and gas are fairly cheap but air conditioning can be very expensive, especially in the south where even the most fastidious household accountants will be tempted by the heat.

There is a 20 percent sales tax in France, but property taxes are lower than in the UK. This means that a sale of property in the UK can provide funds both for a new home in France as well as cash with which to renovate that property.

Making friends in France

A foreigner in France will always be an outsider. However, the French consider friendships sacred and learning French customs and the language is essential to breaching any boundaries.

Local customs

French culture is of particular importance to the local people and they flaunt this proudly.

As in many other countries sports are an important aspect of the local culture. The national sports in France are football, rugby and cycling, and traditional games such as pétanque (similar to bowls) are popular in village squares.

Living and integration

Paris is the most popular city for expats in France. There are communities in which you can find a home away from home. There are also many facilities to make expat life easier, such as English expat magazines and English speaking institutions. While buying property in France can be an attractive option, doing it alone requires a willingness to integrate into French society.

Education and schools in Paris

Paris has some of the best schools and educational facilities in the world. Expats placing their children in Paris' schools will find a high-quality, demanding level of education. Schooling in France is generally cheap or free, as even private schools and universities are often subsidised. However, non-residents will have to pay fees as the schools are paid for from taxes.

Schooling in France officially starts at age six, but many parents sent their children to school much earlier. The collèges cater for 11-15 year olds, while the lycées are for the 15-18 year olds. The baccalauréat, or le bac is the finishing diploma for French schooling and performance in this exam is what gives a student access to higher education.

There is a different schooling culture in France with academic excellence being highly stressed. Teachers consider school their domain and largely expect parents to stay away. A parent would do well to discuss these differences with their child before they enter into the schooling system.

Grandes écoles and universities in Paris

The French system divides after-school education into the grandes écoles and universities with the former being the more prestigious. The Ecole Polytechnique in the Latin Quarter and the Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) of Paris are rated at the 10th and 5th best in the world respectively. Unlike most other countries the universities in France are specialised with a student attending a university based largely upon their subject choice. For instance, the École Polytechnique is an engineering school while the HEC Paris is a business school. The University of Paris is one of the world leaders in the Humanities.

Public institutions, such as the Polytechnique have fees that are set, and subsidies from the government so costs are kept low. €200 per year would cover university for residents and citizens. For a private institution like HEC Paris, €16 000 per year is more likely. The school year starts in September and ends in July.

Private schools in Paris

Many private schools provide education in French and in English. There are two types of private schools in France, those who do and those who do not have contracts with the government. Often Roman Catholic government contracted schools can cost as little as €300 per year, while the independent ones will cost more than €2,000.


Guide to education: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_education_in_France
Ecole Polytechnique: www.polytechnique.fr
American Private School: www.asparis.org
Expat Forum: www.justlanded.com/english/France
English schooling: www.eabjm.org
University of Paris: http://www.english.paris-sorbonne.fr/?lang=en

Useful information

Time: Local time in France is GMT + 1 hour (GMT + 2 hours from the end of March to the end of October).

Currency: The euro (EUR, €) is the official currency of France. It is divided into 100 cents. You can check the latest exchange rates here.

Electricity: 220 volts, 50Hz. Standard plugs used in France are European two-pins.

Language: The official language is French, but English is spoken and understood.

Safety Information: France is generally a very safe country although expats are advised to take precautions against petty theft and to ensure their personal safety. There are thieves and pickpockets on the metro and around airports, and car theft is also common. The crime rate in France is low. The only places that may be dangerous are the poorer areas of Paris and areas with large amounts of tourists where pick-pocketing is a common crime.

Communications: The international access code for France is +33, and the Paris area code is (0)1. International calls are made by dialling the network code (eg 00 for France Telecom) and then the relevant country code (eg 44 for the United Kingdom). Phone cards can be used on most public phones and purchased at local newsagents, probably the cheapest way for expats to call home. French mobile phone operators use GSM networks and most have roaming agreements with international mobile companies. There are internet cafés in cities and towns throughout France.

Emergencies: 112 is the emergency number used in France.

Climate: France is a large country and the climate varies regionally. The south of France has a warm Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. Strong winds, known as 'le Mistral', blow through the Cote d'Azur, Provence and the Rhone valley during winter and spring. Northern France, including Paris, has a temperate climate with warm summers, cold winters and rainfall throughout the year. On the west coast, from the Loire valley to the Pyrenees, the weather is milder but summers can be very hot.

Embassy contact details

French Embassies

  • French Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 944 6000.
  • French Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7073 1000.
  • French Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 1795.
  • French Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6216 0100.
  • French Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 425 1600.
  • French Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 277 5000.
  • French Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 384 2555.  

Foreign Embassies in France

  • US Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4312 2222.
  • British Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4451 3100.
  • Canadian Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4443 2900.
  • Australian Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4059 3300.
  • South African Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 5359 2323.
  • Irish Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4417 6700.
  • New Zealand Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4501 4343.

Useful links

Banking, Money and Taxes in France:

Working in France:

  • Agency for professionals Employment in France: www.apec.fr

Jobs portals:

Visa and Work Permits for France:

Shipping and Removals to France:

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