March 19, 2010

Moving to France - A Tutorial - Part One

Despite a fair number of websites and message boards out there in Internet Land, I receive several emails every month from Americans who are interested in moving permanently to France and don't know how or where to begin.
After spending hours composing individual, dissertation-sized emails explaining the process, I've decided to simply write a series of posts about what it takes to actually get here.

Voilà: A Short Tutorial on Moving to France.

The process of moving to France as a legal resident is not easy, nor should you expect it to be. There are several stages required and many of them can be fraught with headaches and delays.
Patience Is Key.

I believe that it is France's intention (maybe in a somewhat demented way?) to require its future residents to jump through countless hoops and prove resiliency and determination for the opportunity to live within her beautiful borders. I've heard it is just as difficult to get residency in other countries, but since I have no experience in this matter I can't comment.

Or maybe I should say that the process wasn't easy for us.* Months of searching for information followed by NO answers, followed by confusing and often incorrect answers, delays, difficult fonctionnaires, etc.

I hope that this Short Tutorial will offer some help.

Please remember though that I am not, repeat NOT, the last word on this subject, nor do I have control over French Consulates or French bureaucracy in general. If you have trouble with any of the steps (or people) involved in the process, all I can tell you is to keep trying and not get too discouraged.

The first step: Answer the following question.
Why do I want to live in France?

I recommend that you don't just pack up and move for la vie en rose, the markets, the bread, wine and cheese, (well, maybe for the cheese) and expect every day to be filled with idyllic three hour lunches, strolls along the Seine or pastis soaked games of pétanque in the shade of the plane trees.
Because the day will come when you'll find yourself wasting several hours at Bricomarché fighting for your right to return a toilet seat that doesn't fit your toilet and trying to convince the manager that no, you didn't bring the toilet with you from England because you're not English, so that is not the reason the French seat doesn't fit your French toilet, and no, you don't want to come back in 10 days for another toilet seat because you live 30 minutes away and you just want a refund. Now. Today. An hour later you will finally get your money back because they just want the crazy anglaise/américaine out of their store.**
Or you'll discover that the piles of paperwork you provided three months ago for your Carte de Séjour renewal has been misplaced and you'll be called into an office only to be told that it is your fault that your Carte has expired because you didn't reapply for it on time. Exhausting arguments in French will ensue.

Believe me, I'm not trying to burst your bubble. You will have time for those delightful, leisurely lunches and hours will be spent enjoying a game of pétanque, strolling along riverbanks and soaking up some sun at the local café. However, there will be moments when you'll wonder why things always have to be so damn difficult.
That's why the wine is so important - you'll need it to keep calm.

So before the tutorial continues, I want you to answer that all important question. Why do I want to live in France?

Part Two to follow...

*If you had a better experience, then bravo and félicitations. And we wish we had been you!
**This exact situation probably won't happen to you, but you should expect similar kinds of hiccups. Pin It


Katie Zeller said...

Hm.... Similar hiccups? Do you mean like our first Titre de Sejour being ISSUED with an EXPIRED date?

Jennifer said...

Yes, I would call that a hiccup! You have had some big ones over the years.

French Cooking for Dummies said...

Ah ah ah! Nice post, I can't wait to read part 2!
A few friends of mine have been recently asked by the administration to prove they were French... How? They never knew (French ID didn't seem to be enough of a proof)!
Patience is a virtue when dealing with our administration ;)

Alison said...

Can't wait for the rest of the installments! Your experience was certainly different from my "I married a Frenchman, dammit" waiting game.

Jennifer said...

French Cooking
They had to prove they were French? Wow! (at least I can do that now as well!)
Patience is very important.

There are so many times I wish one of us had been French so we would have known what we were doing, what they were saying, how the system works, etc. It would have been so much easier!

"Prof. Kitty" said...

Thank you thank you! I wonder about this often--it is one of my great daydreams in life: "And then... we'll move to France!" Thanks for taking the time to share. I'm loving the realistic detail already.

misterrios said...

Great Post! I had similar hiccups when moving to Germany, but the paperwork was never lost. They would always tell me exactly where my file was, and then say it would take exactly two months to be reviewed. Patience is definitely key when moving to a foreign country!

spacedlaw said...

That sounds like a fairly accurate tale. Why did you want to move to France?

Jennifer said...

Prof Kitty
You're welcome!
My point is that it takes some planning. But it was the best decision we ever made.

Our paperwork has been lost more than once and a couple of times they changed what paperwork we needed after we had already submitted everything!

It was a dream of mine to live in France so about 10 years ago we bought our very inexpensive (at the time) little house and eventually made the move. Simple as that. :)

Andi said...

I discovered your blog from A Taste of Garlic and I am in love! All the cheese posts reminded about how may I love and miss now that I am living back in the U.S. This is going to be a great series - and yes PATIENCE is key!!!

Fifi Flowers said...

Oooh I look froward to this series! I have told my hubby that we should live in Paris for six months to a year once our children are planted in college... and his company is everywhere... so it could easily happen... NOW I must hear what you have to say... I have a few years to go before this can happen.
Bon week-end!

Patty said...

I've always wanted to move to Europe, not necessarily France but your tutorial is very helpful, thanks for posting!

The Chef In My Head said...

Oh do go on! I'm looking forward to your up coming posts. I'm all about patience...If I could have it right now!! My dream needs a good dose of reality. ~LeslieMichele

Amanda said...

Even though I married an American, I still hired a lawyer ($$$$) so I didn't have to go through all the trouble of navigating US immigration paperwork... It probably works the same way in France.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for commenting! I discovered your site several months ago but don't think I've said hello yet.
Isn't French cheese wonderful?

Living only 6 months a year in France is perfect because then you don't need to deal with the headache of getting visas. (look for more about that in the next installment)

Hope it will be of some use if you do end up moving to Europe.

It's good to be realistic when dreaming about living in France, but don't let the logistics kill your dream! If I had done that we might never have made it here. :)

I've heard horror stories from people trying to deal with American bureaucracy as well. It is difficult everywhere, I think.

Annie said...

Bonjour !
Je ne sais pas si vous connaissez Anne Sinclair ? Célèbre ancienne journaliste française, mariée à Dominique Strauss Khan, le boss du FMI, elle habite donc à Washington et écrit un blog intéressant : voici un lien sur "prouver sa nationalité française" :çais-une-chance-ou-une-punition.html

astheroshe said...

I want to live there and love your tips..or just want to live there during summers? or a few months..any tips on renting/ owning property?

Michel said...

We have not made the move to France yet but did buy a house in Provence two years ago. The process was remarkably easy, even getting a French mortgage. The most unusual aspect was having to send multiple copies of utility bills to prove we really live where we said we do in California. I thought this process would be more like I have heard about trying to move to France.

The Beaver said...


Anne Sinclair has talked about it since January 2010 when she was faced with the situation of proving her Frenchness . She bumped it in March after the govt decided to make the rules easier:çais-une-chance-ou-une-punition.html

Ken Broadhurst said...

Americans must apply for a visa if they are planning to stay in France for more than 3 months. So the 6 month solution isn't so easy. If you live in France for 6 months or more out of any calendar year, France becomes your tax residence for that year and you have to declare your worldwide income in France and pay up.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for the link. That was both fascinating and frightening to read.

Answering your question about renting or buying is difficult because there are so many factors to consider: city? country? how much you have to spend? how many people would be staying there? etc.

we know Americans who have also easily obtained mortgages as long as they had a large enough chunk of cash to put down on the house. After that it is just a lot of paperwork.
After being here 7 years I have to say that the process of moving to France (paperwork, etc.) was easier than staying in France with the endless Carte de Séjour renewals, proving residency for various reasons, etc.

Thank you for the link. I've been enjoying reading her blog.

We were under the impression that one could arrive in France on a 90 day tourist visa, leave for a day to a country that doesn't adhere to the Schengen Agreement and have your passport stamped, then return to France for another 90 days without any problems.
However, I just looked at the French Embassy website and they state that you must apply for a Long Stay Visa if you are in France for more than 90 days in a 6 month period.
"A short stay is a stay in the Schengen area under 90 days or multiple stays totalling less than 90 days in a period of six months."

Anonymous said...

Loulou, bless your heart, you've taken on an endless subject. Yes, difficulties, mess-ups and hassles should be expected.

I did this pretty much by myself, even though I had a job in Paris. The company wasn't much help. I guess it was a good way to better my French.

Anonymous said...

Your blog ..... it's amazing and soooo inspiring. Nice to find you!

A small footprint from Agneta & Sweden

Ps. I have an ongoing jewelry contest on my blog. Welcome! Ds

Alisa said...

Fabulous post! I've always wanted to visit France

Jennifer said...

Dealing with visas, cartes de séjour, etc. is a good way to learn French...kind of a "do or die" situation. :)
Yes, I think I've opened up a can of worms here. There is a lot of information to cover!

Thank you for commenting! I've had a look at the jewelry and it is lovely.

If you love food, then you must come to France for a visit!

Kitchen Witch said...

Oh, you can't fool me! All it takes is looks and a whole lot of money! (perhaps a secretary to do the leg work=, wouldn't hurt either) Cheers Lou Lou, love you lots!

Buying Cookbooks in/from New Orleans said...

Oh, you can't fool me! All it takes is looks and a whole lot of money! (perhaps a secretary to do the leg work=, wouldn't hurt either) Cheers Lou Lou, love you lots!

Jennifer said...

Debbie and Philipe
You know I am quite the charmer! :)

Cheryl said...

It is always interesting to me that folks rarely recognize the difference between visiting and living in another country.

Thanks for your very informative, on-the-ground blogs. As an American who lived for many years in Europe, you provide an open window on France in particular--reminders of the annoyances, the frustrations along with the profound pleasures of life there.

Again, merci

Jennifer said...

Thank you for your very kind comment! I too am always amazed that people don't think that taking a vacation somewhere is the same as living somewhere.
And any place, no matter how beautiful it is, how wonderful the food is, has its headaches.

Helene said...

I completely relate to your post but from another perspective, a French moving to the US. I particularly like the three doctors visits, HIV test and lifting of my gown to verify that I had not lied when I checked "female" on my forms.
Good thing I was doing it for love :)

Jennifer said...

That is hilarious! And awful. lol
Love definitely made it worth it, I'm sure.

Lille said...

Thanks for the info on making the move. It is all that I have been suspecting knowing a bit of the French culture and my husband's experience becoming a resident alien here in the USA. Just do the Gallic shrug and say...Ca arrive.

Lille at

Jennifer said...

You have the right attitude! :)

Dvora said...

I love that you've written about this. I'm an American living in Spain on the Costa Daurada (Catalunya) but planning to move to France when I sell my villa here. I'm a permanent EU resident with what the EU says are certain rights, but the French seem not to see it that way. So I read about it wherever I can to get as much information as possible.

Jennifer said...

Good luck with your move! France is such an amazing place to live.

babs said...

I love that story about the toilet seat! Very funny the way you put it, I can picture the scene perfectly ... When it comes to returning items, whatever they are, whatever the store, you have to be prepared. And bring tons of patience and energy ... !
I like your blog, it is nice.
Anne , French girl, living in France ;o)

Jennifer said...

Returning items is the worst!
Glad you liked the story and thanks for stopping by to comment.

Unknown said...

Hi Loulou,
I'm a registered nutritionist from Malaysia. Is the process of becoming a legal permanent resident in France get much easier if I married a French man? What is the process in this case?
Welcome to like my blog or Facebook page to get my healthy tips and recipe. I traveled lots to France to learn French cooking. Really love France too. So glad to see your post. Give me rough picture of living in France. You're such an angel..Thank you so much!

Oh ya, my blog is :

My Facebook is :

Jennifer said...

I wish I could give you some advice about that, but since I don't have any experience with it, I'm afraid I just don't know! I would look at your local French Consulate website where it should state the different kind of visas that are available.
Good luck and take care!

Unknown said...

Yep. Wrong address on the OFII forms....

Then they tried to deny my carte sejour when all my documents had the correct address. Clearly this was my fault somehow. But a few minutes of hysterical crying later and I walked out with the carte.

And they told me that my degree in theatre wouldn't be useful. Ha!

Amy Mccarthy said...

Great article! Every day I meet people who don`t know why they are living in France. The most important thing to feel accepted in one country is to adapt. You can`t adapt without knowing what are you doing there. Thank you for sharing. Greetings!

Jeremy said...

Nice introduction, and really looking forward to Part 2.
But, is there a Part 2 already ? (Since 2010) ?