Preparing for the Move to France


arning you are moving to France for an extended stay can be both an exciting and an anxious time. There are many decisions and preparations you must make for your future move. Here are some suggestions.


If you have been able to travel to France and find living accommodations before you move your household goods, you will have a better idea of what you need and do not need once in France. If you have not been able to visit the country first, you will have to use common sense, and your company's shipping allowance as your guide.

Company shipping allowances differ greatly from country to country and person to person. To obtain accurate information, do talk to the department in your company that is responsible for transferring employees. Normally, you will have two types of freight; air freight and sea freight. Airfreight is usually a small amount of necessary goods to help you live until your sea freight arrives. There is generally a limit to airfreight because of the expense. Do inquire as to its availability and whether the company or you will cover the cost. Airfreight is normally safe from water and pest damage, as well as theft, so consider sending valuable or sentimental items in this manner, that is if you expect to bring such items at all.

The following are tips for those who have never had movers or shippers move them:

You need to be organized when the shippers arrive. They are usually a team of four or five and they work very quickly. You will not have time to sort, organize, or decide if you would like to ship an item by air or sea once the team has arrived.

Organize items to be shipped by air and put them together, preferably in another location so they are not accidentally shipped in the wrong manner. Place items that will accompany you on the plane (suitcases, bags, passports, keys, medications and any important documents) at a neighbor's or friend's house; or at least well out of the way of the shippers!

Clear all garbage and rubbish from the house. You will not be able to do this once the movers arrive. And yes, trash has been packed and shipped or stored!

Consider leaving highly valuable items and irreplaceable items with friends or family. Moving insurance will only cover replacement cost, not sentimental value. Further, they cannot guarantee 100% safety of the items. An inventory of items (in French) and estimate of the present value (not replacement value) must be prepared for customs officials in France. Although the movers will make a list as they box items, their list will be extremely vague and not include an estimated value. Make your list BEFORE the movers arrive; one for the air shipment and one for the sea shipment. The shippers will tell you of any items not allowed, i.e., guns, ammunition, fuel tanks, matches, and so forth.

If you are bringing a pet, the shippers may make their transport arrangements as well. If they provide this service, they will inform you of the requirements for your pet to be allowed into France. Take the time to put the paperwork the shippers will give you in with other important documents you will be bringing to France. You will absolutely need them when your freight arrives.


One of the first questions asked about moving to a foreign country is "What do I need to take?" There are obviously many differing opinions on this. Some choose to take nothing and start anew, others feel it's important to bring as much as possible to maintain the familiar feeling of home. Most people take the basics (household furnishings) plus sports and hobby equipment and a few sentimental items. If you have children, let them pack a few of their treasured items and put one or two in with the airfreight.

Although most common household items are available in France, they can be expensive compared to what you would pay in your home country. If you are visiting France to find living accommodations make time to visit a shopping center and compare brands, price, quality and style. It will make it easier for you to decide what to take.

Remember that you will be in a new environment and a comfortable and familiar home is important to your well being and that of your family. Some helpful tips follow:


If you know the size of your living accommodations you will have a fair idea of what to bring. If not, you will know what you are bringing and will choose an accommodation that will fit your furnishings.

French kitchens, for the most part, are small and do not accommodate large appliances well.

Note for Americans: most laundry areas have only cold water hookups and usually no dryer vent, thus they will not accommodate American washers and dryers.

Apartment living does not usually offer spacious storage areas.

If you bring beds, be sure to bring sheets and bedding, as sheets and bedding sizes differ from country to country.

Electrical Items

For those of you moving from countries using 110/120 Volts, you will need a transformer for any electrical item you choose to bring, however, we recommend using European (220 Volts) electrical appliances whenever possible.


Most telephones and answering machines work in France. However, there are some certification issues of which you need to be aware.


France uses SECAM, a television system that probably differs from your home country. If you are interested in watching English-speaking television, the best alternative is to buy a satellite decoder for UK television (See my page on English TV for the best (only?) source of these decoders). See also, my separate page on What to Bring and What not to Bring for a discussion on videos.

Holiday Decorations

Christmas decorations and live trees are available at Christmas. Decorations and cards are both limited and expensive. Bring a tree stand, as they are rare. Other decorations for holidays such as Easter, Valentines Day and Halloween are becoming more available. However, Thanksgiving decorations are extremely difficult to find and often not available.


Bring clothing that suits the weather conditions. Also, bring any sports clothing and equipment you may need, as sizes and type of equipment you are accustomed to may not be available. Shoe sizes for women only go up to size 10 here; larger are impossible to find.

Cooking Items

Most people bring 'their kitchen' as they are used to cooking with particular items in a particular way. Most kitchen utensils and cookware are available in France, especially the famous Creuset cookware. However, you do need to bring cookbooks, spices, measuring items (especially for those who do not use the metric measuring system) and any food items you especially prefer. In time, you will discover that most of your cooking needs can be met. See my page on Cooking in France.


Books and magazines written in English are available in France through bookstores or libraries. American and English newspapers are also available. See links page for a link to the American Library in Montpellier.

Miscellaneous Items

Consider bringing specialty items for children such as educational toys, games, videos, hobbies and sports equipment. Remember that favorite toys and games may be here, but they will be in French. However, instructions can be ordered in English by calling or writing the manufacturer. Recreational items are especially nice to have in the beginning months, while the family is still adjusting. For those women who sew, fabric shops are numerous, but patterns are expensive indeed. Also, some of the quick and easy patterns are not carried See my Shop America page for some good sources). All other supplies are plentiful, but expensive. Cross-stitch is becoming a favorite French hobby and there are very well supplied shops. Ask the women's groups for information and assistance.


The rigor of paperwork is not anyone's favorite pastime and satisfying your paperwork obligations in France may require your utmost patience.

Be prepared to work with the officials a number of times, and do not expect to get things done the first time you go to their offices.

You would be wise to take a French-speaking person with you, as the officials are not known for their patience with foreigners who do not speak the language. Check the hours of operation as they may vary and do expect to stand in line for an extended period of time.

We are being very honest and straightforward about this situation, as we have found it to be a tedious process. We are trying to prepare you as much as possible. Give yourself at least 1-2 hours, even though you may finish in as little as 15 minutes (depending on how busy they are and the time of day). NOTE: The reception desk inside the service DES ÉTRANGERS will provide a list of all documentation required, if you ask. This may save you standing in line and then discovering that you are missing a document.

Documents needed for official purposes often have to be translated into French, even if the document is as simple as a birth certificate. Translations must be done by official translators (TRADUCTEURS ASSERMENTÉS) found in translation agencies. Check your yellow pages for TRADUCTION. Translation of a one-page document, even if it is only a few lines long, costs about 18 €uros.


Non-EEC/European Union members are required to have a long-stay visa in their passport, upon arrival in France, if they plan to remain for more than three months. This visa can be obtained from the French consulate having the appropriate jurisdiction in your home country.

It is not possible to apply for this visa within France. French authorities will require you to return to your home country to apply. The majority of companies having employees working overseas will arrange the visas for their employees and their families, before their departure. Of course, if you are like us and moving without a company, you are on your own. :-)


Anyone staying in France for a period exceeding 3 months requires a residency permit or a CARTE DE SÉJOUR.

Foreigners engaged in a wage-earning activity must ask for a CARTE DE SÉJOUR as soon as they begin working, or no later than three months of their arrival.

All non-wage-earning foreigners must ask for a CARTE DE SÉJOUR within three months of their arrival. The CARTE DE SÉJOUR can be processed at your local PRÉFECTURE.

The PRÉFECTURE will create a separate folder for each adult and the following documents may be required for each folder.

Check with your local PRÉFECTURE to obtain a list of the current requirements, as each town differs slightly and the requirements change:

The first two pages of a valid passport or a copy of an identity card. Please note that if you lose your U.S. passport while in France, or if it is no longer valid, you can apply for a new one by mail through the U.S. Consulate in Toulouse, Marseille or the Embassy in Paris. For the working spouse; a declaration of employment (including the expected duration of employment) known as a CONTRAT DE TRAVAIL signed and dated by the employer. A copy for the non-working spouse is required. A medical certificate for each family member issued by a doctor registered with the French administration. This procedure may differ if you do not have a company making arrangements for your visa application. This is not required for EEC/European Union nationals.

Passport size photos, 4 to 7 black and white. Photo machines can be found at train stations and in many shopping centers. A self-addressed stamped envelope

Proof of insurance

A copy of your marriage license Proof of residence (electric and/or telephone bill) For students:

a pre-registration form or letter of admission into a school and proof of a French bank account where funds from the home country will be deposited. A letter from someone stating that they will insure a monthly allowance for the student, as students may not work their first year in France. The student must request that their school or university make an appointment at the PRÉFECTURE for them. Otherwise their application for a CARTE DE SÉJOUR will not be processed.

For an AU PAIR, you will need a contract approved by the French Ministry of Labor. Once the application is made, a one-page form will be given to you as a receipt. This represents a temporary residency authorization or AUTORISATION PROVISOIRE DE SÉJOUR (APS). This document is valid for a period of three months and is renewable only once. During that time you will be notified by mail when your CARTE DE SÉJOUR is ready. The residency card will state for how long it is valid.

For residents of the EEC/European Union, the residency card is issued at no charge within six months of the date of application. This card is valid for 5 years and renewable for a period of ten years.

To renew your CARTE DE SÉJOUR, bring your expired one as proof of identification. In case of theft or loss, the police will immediately issue a DÉCLARATION DE PERTE OU DE VOL, which must be presented when applying for is your official ID. Carry it with you at all times. Loss or theft of the card must be reported to the nearest police COMMISSARIAT as soon as possible. Having photocopies made of important documents such as the CARTE DE SEJOUR makes replacement an easier process. Also, if you move, you must notify LA MAIRIE of your new address.


Children under the age of 16 are not required to have a residency card. They have one month after their 16th birthday to apply for one. However, those children traveling alone outside France, or in the company of persons other than their immediate family, must have a residence card.


This paper is needed for many official transactions involving children, such as school registration, depending on the school. In order for foreign documents to be accepted, you are usually required to have an APOSTILLE affixed to the document. The APOSTILLE is a separate document which states the authenticity of the original raised-seal document. The APOSTILLE can be obtained by sending a request to the US Secretary of State where the document originated. The FICHE FAMILIALE D'ETAT CIVIL can also be requested from the U.S. Consulate in Marseille and the Embassy in Paris, thus making the APOSTILLE unnecessary.

Take the following information to your local MAIRIE or town hall to apply for your FICHE FAMILIALE D'ETAT CIVIL:

Child or children's passport

Child or children's medical records

Birth certificate(s) with raised seal and official translation into French with an APOSTILLE.

Parents' marriage certificate with raised seal and official translation into French with an APOSTILLE. Death certificate if a parent(s) of the child or children is deceased, with an official translation into French with an APOSTILLE. Proof of residency such as an electric or telephone bill.


CARTE DE SÉJOUR residency card

CARTE DE TRAVAIL working papers/contract

RECTO-VERSO both sides of the document

EPOUSE spouse (female)

EPOUX spouse (male)

ENFANT child





QUITTANCE EDF electricity bill receipt

QUITTANCE TELEFONE telephone bill receipt

RELEVÉ D'IDENTITÉ BANCAIRE (RIB) white information slip in your checkbook with account #

PHOTOS D'IDENTITÉ identity photos

ENVELOPPE TIMBRÉE A VOTRE ADRESSE self-addressed, stamped envelope

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