Ready, Set, Go

Written by admin on October 9, 2009 – 3:53 pm -

You’ve made the decision to move to France for most of the year. Or, you’ve decided to invest in a pied à terre, even though the dollar doesn’t have the buying power it once did and your heart is set on Paris, rather than la France profonde, where living is easy and a lot cheaper. That is, if you’re willing to live in the country or in the land of second homes where selling prices have softened by an estimated 20 percent.

You don’t want to wait for the dollar to improve because you probably won’t live that long. Currently, there are more properties on the market, but don’t expect them to sell at fire sale prices. Rather than real estate being snapped up as if there’s no tomorrow, even first-rate spaces tend to sit a bit longer than in former years, when lots of people appeared to have money to burn.

If you’re going to make this a quasi-permanent move, meaning France is going to be your primary residence, you need to deal with the law, which means lots of paper plus racking up some expenses. Snagging a carte de séjour isn’t easy and must be done in French consulate in the U.S. Don’t think you can do it—easily, if at all—while you’re living in France, because according to the written rules, you can’t.

If you’re a US citizen and want to spend most of your time in France, you’ll be required to supply more paperwork than you realized you had; make certain your birth certificate is issued (and officially translated) within three months of your application date. Ditto for your marriage license, your divorce decree, any legal settlement papers and everything but the kitchen sink.

EU citizens, who want to move to France, have it a whole lot easier. They’re only required to fill out forms so the French and their own country’s government know where they’re domiciled. They’re entitled to health care benefits since they’ve already paid into a system that has reciprocity with France.

Just because you qualify for a carte de séjour doesn’t mean you have the right to tap into the country’s medical insurance plan—because you don’t. People applying for residence papers are required to have medical insurance that covers them in France. Don’t think you can move to France without enough documented income that you won’t need to work. Come to think of it, the U.S. government doesn’t open its gates to anyone who comes knocking. No government in any developed country is saying, “Come one, come all” unless that person happens to be providing employment for its residents.

With France’s high unemployment rate, don’t assume you’ll land a job unless you have a (nearly) unique specialty. The main exception might be you’re being sponsored by a business (and the chances of finding one is becoming less each year) that’s willing to jump through bureaucratic hoops for you.

If you happen to the executive who can save the business, you might have a chance. But don’t hold your breath since unless your company happens to be a mega-multi-national where you’re known to be an expert with a long and successful track record for parachuting in and performing P&L miracles, human resources hate to make the expenditure for relocating families. Gone are the days when golden expat packages were the norm, and a local “expert” working for a relocation company was standing by to facilitate you and your family’s move.

It’s simply too expensive, many spouses refuse to give up careers to “trail” their partner and children’s schools (American, International, etc.) cost a not-so-small fortune.

Expect it to take anywhere from four months to a year before you receive permission from the government to legally move to France. Once you arrive on French soil, there will be additional paperwork and before you know it, you’ll be standing in line at the Préfecture to renew your resident’s card. A year goes quickly when you’re having fun.

Actually the first year will fly by as you get acclimated to your new home. If you’re going to do one thing other than getting settled and identifying your grocer, baker, café, dry-cleaner, hardware store and getting the public transportation edged into your memory so you’re not a constant slave to a metro and/or bus map, take French classes.

Even though more people than you can imagine speak excellent English, you’ll be missing out on many of the nuances of French life if you don’t make the effort. Sure, there’re people who have lived in France for decades and have managed not to learn any of the country’s language. But, you don’t want to be among them.

Next week … how to meet people and create a life you wouldn’t have if you’d stayed in the U.S. It’s actually easier than you imagine. Even though the Parisians (and the French) aren’t known for being warm and cuddly, Paris, in many ways, is a village.


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