Organise a visa
Luckily, Australian citizens don’t need an entry visa, also known as a Schengen visa to travel to France, though you will be subject to usual immigration rules when you arrive. At the time of writing, you can’t enter France on a short-stay visa and then begin to work.
We won’t lie, the visa process for France isn’t as straightforward as other countries and is known to change at short notice. Throw in the fact that France are about to head to the voting booths for a new President, and well, current legislation isn’t guaranteed to last. At the moment, there are various types of visas depending on your skills and the job you’re going to be doing.
Grab yourself a (strong) coffee, and visit the embassy website: www.au.ambafrance.org/-Visas-new- for the new, dedicated visa site that gives the latest information regarding the visa types, fees and forms.
For most people though, arriving as a salaried employee, there are a few things you will need to do beforehand, so it’s really important to have a chat with your new employer to check what you’ll need to submit and what they’ll do on your behalf. You’ll need to register with the OFII – the Office of Immigration and Integration initially, with the form Demande d’attestation OFII, which basically registers your intent to move to France.
Document wise, you’re going to need a standard police check, copies of your marriage certificate, proof of residency, and a copy of your airplane ticket and itinerary. You’ll also need to have an approved copy of your new work contract. All employers must forward contracts to the authorities for approval. Once this has been done, they usually send a copy straight over to the Australian consulate, which should help to speed up the process.
TIP: Make sure you’re paperwork ready – have all your documents certified and translated in to French to make applications and red tape easier to get through.
Have a valid passport
It goes without saying really, but just because you’re only a hop, skip, and a jump from Oz, it doesn’t mean you can turn up without valid documents. If you’re worried your passport is due to run out, don’t leave it until the last minute, head over to the Australian Government Passport Authority for all the details you’ll need about renewing – or applying for – a passport.
TIP: Have at least six months’ validity on your passport before you travel. You don’t want to have to leave quickly – or arrange for an emergency replacement.
There’s a good distance between France and Oz, so we’d always recommend you’re sure you’re going to be living there long-term before putting your kitty or canine through a gruelling flight.
Regulations are fairly straight-forward from Australia. Pets need to be microchipped, be vaccinated against rabies and have documentation to prove it. Dogs must also have been treated for worms – lovely – in the 4 days prior to travel.
It’s worth noting that France are part of the EU Pet Passport scheme. While this sounds seriously cute, it means that in order to bring your pet without quarantine, they’ll need to be shipped over in an approved crate and by an approved air or sea carrier, using an approved route. You also need to arrive within five days of each other, so make sure you’ve got all your documentation and vaccinations booked in advance.
TIP: Contact King & Wilson who can arrange all the pet paperwork and transportation for you.
France is part of the EU, and so uses the Euro. The exchange rate does fluctuate of course, so keep check via a reliable currency converter www.hifx.com.au to get a feel for the actual cost of things, particularly early on while you are finding your feet. Once you start to earn local currency, the conversion back to AUD won’t be as relevant.
TIP: Download an exchange rate mobile app for the early days of your arrival so you know exactly how much things really cost.
The banking industry in France is forward-thinking, with lots of institutions offering online banking, so it might be worth starting the process early and opening a bank account before you arrive. This should help stop any delays with renting or buying, and if you’re really money savvy, you could start to transfer over some funds to give yourself a bit of a cushion when you first arrive.
The things to look out for when you’re selecting a bank, obvious as it sounds, is that it meets your needs. Some are online only, so you won’t have the option to go to a branch if you need to. The big players can be found nationwide, and you’ll want to compare their rates of interest for savings accounts, if they offer international transfers, should you need them, and if they also have lending facilities such as credit cards or mortgages. The main national banks are:
BNP Paribas www.group.bnpparibas/en/
Credit Agricole www.credit-agricole.fr/english
Societé Général www.societegenerale.com/en/home
You’ll be able to open accounts with them online, but once you arrive in France, you’ll be required to visit a local branch with hard copies of your documents – such as your visa, address and employment contract. It’s common for banks to ask for an initial deposit, which can be in the hundreds in some cases, so be prepared to dip in to your savings.
Oh, and if you’re looking to open a joint bank account, make sure there’s an ou in it – for example Mr Smith et Mrs Smith – this means that both parties will be required to sign cheques etc, but if you have an ou instead of the et, then only one person is required to sign.
Shall we start with some good news? France has a taxation treaty with Australia, meaning you’re not likely to be shelling out taxes in both countries. Hurrah! Well, when it comes to tax, any little helps.
A number of taxes will be deducted automatically from your payslip, such as social security contributions. However, in terms of income tax, you’ll need to complete an annual tax return as this doesn’t come directly out of your salary. While it’s true that the more you earn, the more tax you’ll pay, France have a slightly different system, in that your tax is calculated as a household. In the simplest terms, you add up the income brought in, and you divide it by the number of people in the household – which includes children. The authorities then do some maths calculations to work out your tax, which is pretty clever. This also means you’ll find better taxes as a married couple – even though you’re raising a family together, two unmarried parents won’t get the same tax breaks as those who are married.
This is all due to change, though, as taxation through the PAYE (pay as you earn) system id due to be introduced in to France in 2018, meaning that a lot of the legwork – or a huge annual bill – will be a thing of the past.
VAT, or value added tax, is a sales tax charged on many goods and services and comes in at 20%.
Finally, you’ll also need to pay an annual taxe d’habitation, or occupiers tax, on January 1st. As the name suggests, it doesn’t matter whether you own the property, or you’re moving out on January 2nd, whoever is occupying the apartment or house on that date must pay the annual tax. You can pay in instalments across the year, and you’ll get discounts for children or elderly relatives living in the house. Your local council office will have all the details of the standard tariff, as it’s usually set by the local community.
TIP: Make sure you set aside some money each month to help cover your first tax return, as you don’t want to get a nasty – or expensive – shock when the bill comes through.
There are a number of insurances in France, and some are legal obligations. Shop around for the most comprehensive policies, but also ask your HR department if they have a preferred partner where you might get a discount.
Legally, you must have home insurance, before you move in, and it’s to cover all damage risks. Not all policies will include theft or weather damage, so do read the small print. You want to look out for assurance multirisques habitation.
The other legal insurance you must have is civil liability, and this extends to making sure the kids are insured while in school. Often you’ll find these can be included in your home policy, if it’s really comprehensive, but again, always check before signing up for anything.
Accidents – and sickness – can happen, and thankfully the French healthcare system is top notch. As part of the deductions from your salary, you’ll be paying towards state healthcare. You’ll find that your contributions cover most of the medical bills, but you can always ‘top-up’ with private medical cover. The idea in France is, the worse your condition, the less you pay. This means that for chronic conditions such as cancer and even diabetes, the state will cover the cost of treatment and medication.
You’ll need to sign up at your local health office, or caisse primaire d’assurance maladie. You’ll receive your policy based on your current working and family situation. You’ll also receive a carte vitale which holds your basic information and might be requested by a GP or a pharmacist.
If you want to top up your cover, this is common and can be done with private healthcare. As always, speak to your HR department to see if there is a company they have a discounted agreement with. It’s worth noting that waiting times are low, and access to healthcare is easy under the social security scheme, and although paid healthcare gives you private hospital rooms, there isn’t a massive difference between the two options. Many people decide to supplement their healthcare simply to cover all the costs with l'assurance complémentaire santé, as currently only 70-80% of medical fees are covered by the state.
Some appointments will demand an upfront cost that you’ll need to have reimbursed later. This is being phased out during 2017, so soon all medical appointments will be ‘free’ upfront.
TIP: You need to be living in France for three months, working or not, before you can access the assurance maladie, so it might be worth putting some money aside in case you need to make an early visit to the doctor.
Paris or bust?
Who wouldn’t want to wake up to a view of the Eiffel Tower? Let’s face it, most people would – if they could afford it. Paris is expensive. And we do mean expensive. Of course, it is a capital city, but when you compare it to Madrid, Berlin or even London, the prices still tower above. Many of the classic 18th and 19th century building that sum up Parisienne living often aren’t fully kitted out with modern amenities, for example, not all have lifts. This is worth keeping in mind when you’ve got furniture – or your weekly shopping – to get up six flights of stairs.
As Paris is divided into arrondissements, or districts, each with its own unique flavour and community spirit, there is definitely something to suit all tastes – and budgets. The arrondissements spiral outwards, from 1e at the centre, and as you’d expect, the lower the number, the higher the price. Also playing a role in dividing the city is the River Seine, with the left bank (rive gauche) on the south side of the river seen as the more artistic and bohemian – if you’ve seen Moulin Rouge, you’ll know what we mean. While the right bank (rive droit) is viewed as more sophisticated.
If culture and vibrant nightlife are your top priorities when it comes to finding somewhere to live in Paris, you might want to think about the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, which make up the Marais neighbourhood. You’ve got Notre-Dame practically on your doorstep and there is a fantastic café culture there. The 16th and 17th arrondissements are popular with expats and families, thanks to plenty of green spaces and a wealth of international schools in the area. And if you’re after that Eiffel Tower view, then it’s the 7th arrondissement you want to be in. Expect to pay upwards of €2,000 for it though.
There are plenty of popular options just outside Paris, too. Thanks to the excellent, and extensive, public transport links, it’s feasible to work in Paris, but live in one of the outlying areas. Saint Cloud is on the western edge of Paris, and is popular with expat families, as accommodation tends to be houses, and they often come with gardens. Croissy-sur-Seine is another good option for expat families, and both areas are home to international schools.
TIP: If you haven’t already got a job lined up in Paris, explore some of France’s other big cities to see what’s on offer.
To rent or buy:
As with most European countries, renting is a popular option. Plus, it’s ideal initially if you’d rather ‘test the waters’ before fully committing to the seemingly never-ending red tape of buying French property.
If you’ve been to Europe before, you’ll know that inner cities are busy places, and mostly the housing is in the form of apartments. Houses and cottages tend to be in more rural locations, and if you’re looking for a chateaux, expect to pay handsomely for it.
It’s worth securing some accommodation before you arrive, even if it’s a serviced apartment or a short-term holiday let. Not only will having a base offer some peace of mind, it will give you some time to find a place you really want to call home. It can be difficult to secure a long-term lease before you arrive, as landlords will often want to meet their tenants in person. Plus, you’ll usually be asked for proof of income – sometimes up to three months’ payslips to prove you can afford the rent.
Your rental amount will largely depend on where in the city you live. Paris is particularly notorious for this, but it applies in other big cities, too. You’ll find a lot of expats will live further out the city, not just for cheaper rent, but more space and sometimes little luxuries like double glazing. For an unfurnished apartment, you’ll may no more than one full month’s rent as a deposit. Be aware, though, that if you go down the furnished route, there is no legal maximum on what landlords can charge as a deposit.
TIP: ‘Unfurnished’ in France usually also means no white goods, so make sure you have an inventory of what’s included from the landlord or agent.
It’s normal practice for tenants to be responsible for connecting the utilities to your home. However, in some communal blocks or newer apartments they may be done for you, though this isn’t guaranteed.
Thankfully, because the government have at least partially privatised utilities, there isn’t a wealth of choice for you to have to compare. You have Gaz de France (GDF) and Electricité de France (EDF). You’ll need to set up an account with them when you move in – make sure you also have a copy of the final statement from the previous tenant, as you don’t want to be stuck paying their bill. You’ll usually received a bill bi-monthly, and your usage is usually estimated. Once a year you’ll have someone read your meters to confirm the usage, and will reimburse any over-charging. If you’re in a more rural location, your heating system may be chauffage au fioul which is a form of oil and will need to be set up by a private delivery, though many of the supermarkets can do this.
Your water will be supplied by a private company who have a contract with your local community. A quick visit to your local council office will tell you who this is so you can set up an account with them.
TIP: Make sure you visit your local council office, or mairie, as they will be able to tell you who supplies your water, when your rubbish is collected, and will help sign you up with a doctor.
Internet connection in France is still heavily linked to landlines, which in some areas of France, can be sketchy. You’ll need to first set up a line with France Télécom before selecting your broadband provider.
All of the mobile providers will also offer broadband, and so it can work out cheaper to get both from the same provider.
TIP: Broadband connection, even in big cities can often take a couple of weeks rather than days, so make sure you know where the nearest free WiFi spot is in the interim.
Mobiles in France operate on the GSM network, like Australia, so in theory, if your mobile isn’t locked to a particular provider, you should be able to take it with you and just pop in a new sim. You might want to start with a contract sans engagement, which is the equivalent of pay and go, mainly because mobile contracts often have both a connection fee frais d’activation and a disconnection fee, frais de résiliation, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve gone for the right package and provider. The biggest companies are:
Bouyges Télécom www.bouyguestelecom.fr
Free Mobile www.mobile.free.fr
There are five TV channels in France, and as they operate solely in French, you might want to consider getting access to satellite or digital TV. The network TNT offers free channels, but they can only be accessed in certain regions and you’ll need a decoder to access them. The TNT website, http://www.tvnt.net/ will tell you if you have access where you’re living.Canal Satellite, www.mycanal.fr is possibly the biggest player, though now more and more mobile providers are offering TV boxes with international channels.
There is also an annual redevance audiovisuelle, is a tax on any TV in your house, even if you’re not connected to any TV service and only use it for watching DVDs. It’s currently €137 and needs to be declared on your tax return.
Cities such as Paris are made for walking, but you might find it difficult to stroll through leafy boulevards when you’ve got kids dragging their heels to school when you need to meet an important client for a breakfast meeting. Public transport is cheap and efficient, with bus and taxi-only lanes having been introduced in recent years. Although busses are frequent and numerous, cities such as Paris have a fantastic metro and rail network.
The Paris Metro has nearly 300 stations across 14 lines, meaning you’re never more than a stone’s throw from the nearest station. A 10-trip carnet will save you money – and time – rather than buying individual tickets. However, if you’re relying on the metro for work and pleasure, it’s worth investing in a Pass Navigo. This monthly pass currently costs €73 and covers all five zones, including the airport – and Disneyland Paris. Weekly passes come in at €22.
In addition to the metro, there a five lines of the RER underground network which extend further – and faster. There are fewer stations, but they mainly serve the outlying suburbs, and often commuters will utilise both. France also have the high-speed national and inter-city TVR trains
TIP: Remember to validate your RER rail ticket on the platform before you board – and after you exit the train - fines are not cheap and guards patrol regularly.
Getting a driving licence
Luckily, as France is part of the EU, there is an agreement in place with Australian licence-holders. You can drive on your existing licence for the first 12 months, but then you must convert it to a French licence. You’ll need to make sure your licence is clean – no suspensions or endorsements – and you’ll also need to have it translated in to French. This can be done at the embassy, or you can apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is much easier. It costs $39 and you can get it from any state motoring club. If you’re unsure of who or where yours might be, this government website has the list:
When you arrive in France, once you’ve got your residency, we’d suggest applying for your French licence as soon as possible. Although you’ve got 12 months to do this, you you don’t do this in the timeframe, you’ll end up having to resit you test – both theory and practical. You’ll also need a certificate of your insurance and a certificate of car registration, known as la carte grise. You’ll be issued with a certificat d’assurance which must be placed on the inside of your windscreen. In addition, you should always have your une attestation d'assurance with you – this basically proves you are insured.
TIP: Make sure you have your driver’s licence translated in to French, or obtain an IDP before you arrive, to make sure your Australian licence is valid for your first year in France.
For children, school legally starts from 5 years old, though younger children are encouraged to go to kindergarten to help them prepare. If you want your child to go to a local primary school, then you’ll need to register in your district for available places. You’ll be asked to then meet the head-teacher of the school to finalise the registration.
Children will progress to secondary school at age 11, without having to sit any exams. Public secondary school is broken in to two parts, the first being up to age 15, and the second part is more exam focused with students studying for the baccalaureate. There are three strands to the baccalaureate, which focus on humanities, sciences and socio-economic subjects. Which route your child goes down will not only depend on their grades, but also on the university course they want to go down. The bac is it’s known is a combination of subjects passed, rather than individual exam results.
If you want your children to attend a local school, France offers the opportunity for your children to have intensive French lessons and to be integrated in to normal classes under the Teaching Unit for New Foreign-Language Pupils known as the UPE2A. This is important, especially the closer it comes to baccalaureate exams, when students will often have extra classes – including at the weekend – and will be expected to achieve at least a 50% pass in all their subjects.
For this reason, some expats choose to send their children to an international school. The benefits to this include continuing their education in a familiar language, with a familiar curriculum. You’ll also find international schools provide more extra-curricular activities, which might be beneficial if you need to work longer hours and don’t want the kids home alone. The downside being that your children might not integrate with French children in the local area and find learning French more difficult.
TIP: International schools are often oversubscribed. If you know the area you’re moving to, start looking at schools and ask about waiting – or reserve – lists for when you arrive.
If your kids aren’t at school age yet, there are a few options for them. Thankfully, although most of these are fee paying options, they’re based on the family income. Day care centres sometimes accept babies under six months, so if you have a really young baby this might be an option for you. They’re more focused on socialising with other children and getting used to adults, in short, helping young toddlers prepare for nursery. Nurseries can take children for full or half days and focuses a mix of education and fun up to the age of three.
Both these types of childcare, and in fact, anyone employed to look after you children at home will have legally had to undertake strict training and pass a set of qualifications to ensure they are health and safety trained, but are also suitable to be looking after your child.
You’re not going to be able to work at all without having your paperwork in order. Whether you’re hoping to land a job before you arrive or are wanting to scope out the market when you’re here, use this time to polish your CV. Highlight any skills or positions that are in short supply in France. As it’s part of the EU, the priority is to give employment to EU – specifically French – citizens. This means you’ve really got to be able to offer something special to be offered a job.
In addition, upcoming elections mean that the rules regarding employment of foreign nationals could well change in upcoming weeks, making it more difficult for a lot of people to find work. One of the best things you can do to boost your chances of betting hired, is to take French classes. If you’re not already a French speaker, not only will you find it more difficult to acclimatise – the French are notoriously proud of their language – but you may be overlooked for jobs your perfect for.
If you’re recruited from Australia, you may find you’ll be offered a generous relocation package, but these are not as commonplace as they used to be. Plus, if you’re already in France, there’s not the same incentive from potential employers to try and lure you across the globe.
Most expats arrive with a job, if only because it’s the easiest way to get other essentials like a house, utilities, and in some cases, a bank account.
TIP: Ensure your CV boasts about the skills and experience you have that nobody else does to overcome the fierce EU employment rules.
Book your flight
The earlier you can book your international flight the better price-wise. If you can travel outside the school holiday peak season, you’ll save money too. This usually means travelling around February to March, May to June, late July to mid-September, or mid-October to mid-December. The sooner that you can lock down your moving date the better so you can plan ahead and save. Check out this Australian Government education resource for school holiday dates.
Cull the clutter
Packing up your life and starting a new one is a good chance to cleanse. Don’t stick everything you own into boxes and transport the lot to your new home. Take the time to cull! There are a few good reasons for this.
You may have been hanging on to old heirlooms from a previous life that don’t need to make the journey across the world. If the planned move is unlikely to be forever, then consider storing a few old boxes with a friend or relative or utilising King & Wilson’s long term storage services. You can revisit your old university text books again one day when you resettle back home. Or if the move to France might be indefinite, ask yourself whether you need eight boxes of old cassette tapes from the early 90s before you realised that CDs weren’t a passing fad… and while you’re there, how about that CD collection?
For more on minimalist packing check out this interesting perspective from Forbes.com.
Tip: Cull unnecessary belongings and possessions before packing boxes.
10 Weeks Before Moving Day
Give yourself plenty of time to plan the logistics of packing. A good international removalist, like King & Wilson will be your best friend in this regard – they won’t want you leaving this to the last minute either. A few things to think about 2-3 months out from the big day:
- Put together a folder or box for all documents and receipts relevant to the move.
- Start a conversation with an international shipping company such as King & Wilson to get an estimate.
- Create a floor plan for your new home to get a sense of how many of your large sized furniture or appliances you may need to get rid of.
- Your belongings will be arriving by sea; however, it only takes a couple of weeks for your boxed-up life to arrive in France. You may therefore only need to pack some additional clothing, linen, towels and key crockery and key kitchen utensils in your flight luggage. You may also consider pre-arranging excess baggage as it is much cheaper to book in advance than turning up on departure day with more than your baggage allowance. King & Wilson offers a smaller air shipment service to cover off this need as well.
- If you haven’t done so already, and you’re able to, get yourself a French bank account, and if possible start to pay a little in to it so you have a cushion when you arrive.
Tip: Start a conversation with international movers now rather than later
6 Weeks Before Moving Day
Now you are edging closer to the big move, you want to start ticking off what will and won’t make it on the journey. For example:
- Take an inventory list of all items around your home that will need to come with you.
- Start selling off large or redundant items via Gumtree or ebay that you don’t want to take with you.
- Hold a garage sale or take advantage of any local market stalls or jumble sales
- If you are not wanting to ship your car across, then start the process of selling your vehicle on Carsales or a similar online classifieds service
- Begin getting any paperwork you need for bringing your pet, make any necessary vet appointments and have any vaccinations your animal needs.
- Start to compile your paperwork: things like CV copies, letters of recommendation, health certificates, medication lists. Basically, anything you might need to register for a service, or secure a house/job.
4 Weeks Before Moving Day
With less than a month to the move, you need to start getting your hands dirty and actually packing a few things away, particularly items you are not using day to day:
- Collect moving boxes and packing supplies. Or if you move your home with King & Wilson, simply use the international shipping cartons provided.
- Start by packing things you don't use much currently like extra dining or kitchen utensils and seasonal clothing. Visit this resource from Energy Australia on the right way to pack when moving house or this interesting blog post on the subject by Frugal Mama.
- Donate the things you don't need (or that you haven’t been able to sell off).
- Think about consuming your pantry stocks and frozen goods as well as home cleaning products, shampoos and soaps.
Tip: Start by packing the things you do not use day to day
1-2 Weeks Before Moving Day
Eek! You are merely days away from the move now and need to be thinking about leaving behind a clean, empty home for a new inhabitant. You also need to think about tying up loose ends at home, the flight and what you need for your first days in France:
- Confirm all your travel arrangements.
- Finish packing your essentials.
- Clean and defrost your refrigerator 24 hours before you move, turn off all the pipes and make sure you didn't leave any appliances on.
- Cancel the newspaper subscription, contact Australia Post to redirect your mail to your new address in France, disconnect your utilities like the electricity, gas and internet.
- If you know your new address in France, you may wish to pre-arrange your utilities connection. A specialist international moving company like King & Wilson can arrange this for you.
- Say your goodbyes, provide your new contact details and travel itinerary to your family and friends.
Tip: Don’t forget to redirect the mail to your French address.
On Moving Day
You’ve made it to the big day. The job now is mainly to get out of the way of the professionals and focus on your breathing:
- Let the professionals do their thing. A good removalist will take care of packing your belongings carefully and thoroughly.
- A good international shipping mover will also cover off all the necessary shipping documentation to facilitate prompt customs clearance and quarantine inspection once your belongings arrive in Germany.
Get to the airport, put on those noise cancelling headphones and relax for 3 hours or so in anticipation of your new adventure!