Nine things people often overlook when they move to France

From different plug sockets to the differences in healthcare, we look at some of the typical points people forget

It is easy to overlook things when making the move abroad

Moving to France can be a mammoth operation. With so many things to think about you are bound to overlook one or two key points. But what are the most common? We asked people who have made the move what they wish they had remembered before arriving in France. 


While most people embarking on the move to France are aware there will be paperwork involved, the sheer amount often comes as a surprise. 

“I wasn’t prepared for how much admin there would be on all different fronts,” says a Connexion colleague. 

From visas and healthcare to social security and registering your car, many aspects of everyday life will involve some sort of paperwork or registration in France. 

Experts say people tend to underestimate how long French bureaucracy will take, and many suggest people start planning well before they actually move. 

“All French processes take time, energy, lots of paperwork but more importantly patience,” says Tracy Leonetti, of LBS in France, which helps expats with the relocation process. 

“As an example, people tend to completely underestimate how much time it takes to access the French healthcare system and obtain a carte Vitale,” she adds.


Some prospective movers, such as those from the UK, are used to being taxed at source and not having to submit an annual tax return. In France, however, everyone must fill out an annual tax declaration, even those who are retired and live off their pensions. 

Read more: Tax-at-source France: How it works and why you still self-declare

The important thing to remember here is the onus is on you to declare your taxes – and you cannot choose to declare your income only in your country of origin. If you move to France, you will have to make a declaration. 

The annual French tax return is completed from April to June after the year in which the income is received. 

Read more: Key errors foreigners may make with French tax declarations

Learning French 

Many people move to France under the assumption that they can learn the language once they are on the ground. Soaking it up will be easy once you are surrounded by French people… won’t it?

It is not always that easy. Knowing at least the basics before you arrive can really help once you start lessons, as well as with navigating daily life – from ordering in the boulangerie to talking to the pharmacist. 

“I’d say the British way is most definitely to dive in and hope for the best, but possibly we all underestimate the actual amount of time it takes to learn a new language,” says LC Whitmore, who teaches French to second-home owners and students intending to emigrate to France. 

Read more: How long should it take to learn French for everyday use?

Difference between spoken French and classroom French

Even the most diligent language learners, who start lessons before arriving in France, underestimate the difference between the more formal “classroom French” and the everyday French used by most people they will meet. 

“French people speak largely using colloquialisms and slang, often regional, not really covered perhaps by apps which in my professional experience are, on their own, insufficient for those wanting to emigrate,” says Ms Whitmore. 

Read more: How many of these 10 slang French phrases do you know?

This is why making an effort to integrate from the moment you arrive in France is a good idea. 

Not having the courage to have a go at speaking, as well as the fear of making mistakes, “can cause difficulties with understanding essential transactions (such as) paperwork and medical issues,” Ms Whitmore says. 


Some people may find they are so organised when it comes to the big things – new house secured, paperwork underway – that they have completely forgotten some of the most basic practicalities. 

“We had to buy adaptors for all our electricals, because the plugs were different,” says Scheenagh Harrington, from the UK, who moved to France in 2009 for her husband’s job, with, she admits, “absolutely zero research”. 

Read more: Seven tips to help you integrate in France

August is for holidays 

Anyone hoping to move to France over the summer and start getting their house in order or trying to tackle various kinds of admin should be aware that the French take their holidays very seriously. 

It is not uncommon for businesses to take the entire month of August off, so trying to get any work done could be difficult. 

Read more: Explainer: who are France’s ‘juilletistes’ and ‘aoûtiens’?

Having a car 

Unless you are moving to a big city, having a car in France will make life much easier. Public transport can be patchy in smaller towns and villages, and many necessities are located outside the centre of town. 

“Everything useful (work, supermarkets etc) are on the outskirts, so having a car if you're not in a big city can be really useful,” says Ms Harrington. 

“I remember waiting for what seemed like hours in the boiling hot sunshine (for a bus)... we bought a car the week after.” 


Taking little ones along for the adventure? Make sure you do not overlook their childcare or education. 

Rather than assume you will be able to put your child in the local creche or primary school, make sure you do your research before setting off. 

Looking up the facts ahead of time will alert you to any major differences with the education system in your home country. For example, school is compulsory in France from a younger age than in some other countries. Maternelle, the primary school section for three to six year-olds, became compulsory for three year olds in 2019. Before that it had been voluntary.

Read more: A guide to starting at school in France

“We hadn’t given a moment’s thought to how we’d get (our daughter) into school,” says Ms Harrington. “Luckily the company we worked for took care of that. If people do move here with a specific company, I'd urge them to ensure they offer hand-holding services!”


The French healthcare system is different to that in the UK and US, and it is worth knowing what you are dealing with before you land. 

See our ‘Healthcare in France’ helpguide 

For example, patients pay €26.50 for a GP visit and 70% of the total is then reimbursed by Social Security. The patient, or top up insurance if they have it, pays the remaining amount. 

Read more: Patients to pay more for doctor visits in France from May 15