Moving to France Will Be the Best Move You’ve Ever Made

Moving to France
©iStock/Noppasin Wongchum

France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, an ideal place to move to as an American expat, and one of Europe’s highest quality retirement havens.

One of the country’s most attractive features is its top-notch healthcare system, which is accessible to all expats after three months of living in the country—with no age limits or pre-existing condition exclusions.

Along with low-cost and quality healthcare, France has a laidback, easygoing lifestyle that is envied the world over. From the beaches of the French Riviera to the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux, life is about slowing down and savoring every minute of the day. Those days being filled with long, gourmet lunches on a bistro terrace in Lyon or Toulouse, or picnics among the vines in sun-filled Provence.

Many people think that France is a land of luxury which can only suit the largest of budgets, however, we’ve found that’s far from the case. While a chic apartment near the Eiffel Tower, or a splashy villa on the Côte d’ Azur will certainly set you back a pretty penny, most of the country is incredibly affordable—with the main savings coming from housing prices which are, on average, 34% less than in the U.S.

The following steps outline the process for moving to France and jumpstarting your access to la belle vie (the good life).

How to Apply for a Visa

Expats and retirees seeking to make France their home will first need to obtain a long-stay visa that is valid for 12 months of residency in France. The process starts in your country of residence. For example, North Americans will apply from either the U.S. or Canada. The first step is filling out an online visa application on the French government website:

The website is in English, and guides you easily through each step, with an option to save and review your entries along the way. Once you have submitted your application online, you will make an appointment for an in-person meeting at one of several visa processing centers in the U.S. or Canada.

Visa processing is no longer handled at the French consulate, although they will make the final decision on your visa application. The in-person appointment will take place at VFS, the third-party processing center that will forward your documents to the consulate.

The VFS centers are in major cities around the U.S. like Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. A full listing of the centers can be found on the VFS website, where you can also make your appointment:

Although there is a lot of information to collect, the French visa is not difficult to obtain, and expats and retirees should apply for this visa. There is a freelance visa if you intend to offer a service in France, but you can also work remotely on the long-stay visa as long as you work for a company outside of France.

The long-stay visa doesn’t allow you to seek employment in France, nor does it allow you to set up your own business.

Before you start the application process, you’ll need to gather the following information:

(Visa applications cannot be submitted more than three months prior to the start of your trip.)

-2 passport-sized photos.

-A valid passport (valid for at least three months from the date of return with two blank pages).

-Proof of health insurance (around $30,000 coverage for France and the entire Schengen zone).

-A cover letter stating your purpose in seeking the visa (example: “I’d like to retire in France and take advantage of all the country has to offer.”) Provide your itinerary and state where you will stay.

-Proof of accommodation (Three months minimum: hotel, Airbnb, rental).

-Statement saying you will not seek employment.

-Proof of financial means, equivalent to the French minimum wage (Three months of bank statements):

- Under 65—$696 a month per person or $1,036 a month as a couple

- Over 65—$1,073 a month per person or $1,666 per month as a couple

You do not currently need proof of vaccinations to apply for a French visa.

Documents will be submitted at the VFS appointment.

The long-stay visa costs $101. The VFS processing center charges a fee of $32.

You will drop your passport off at the VFS center and it will be mailed back to you at your U.S. address with the visa inside. Near the 12-month mark of living in France, you will renew your visa at a local government office. Your residency status renews for a total of five years, and then you can apply for a 10-year residency or French citizenship.

Finding Accommodation in France

A scouting trip is a great idea to map out where you’d like to settle in France. It is also recommended you rent when you first arrive, although those who know the country well might wish to purchase in their desired area.

For short term rentals, Airbnb is an excellent resource, as is At Home in France

If you’d like to rent long-term, you can go directly to a rental agency. Most agents in larger cities, or popular areas like the south of France, will either speak English or have some notions of English. You can also try websites like Le Bon Coin, which is equivalent to Craigslist in the U.S. Here you can rent directly from the owner and cut out any agency fees. Le Bon Coin usually has the best price listings, but if you’re looking for a site in English, Morning Croissant has attractive listings.

In order to purchase an apartment or home, you can try to find properties on your own through real estate sites like Le Bon Coin and French Property

As with renting an apartment, real estate agents are available to help with the process. The most well-known American real estate agent in France is Adrian Leeds. She provides a lot of valuable home-buying and renting advice on her website:

Moving Your Household Items to France

If you are relocating to France on a permanent basis and you have been living outside the European Union for the last 12 months, you may import a number of personal items and household goods free of duty and tax. Personal items include clothes, jewelry, hunting and fishing equipment, and similar effects. Household goods include furniture, carpets, dishes, linen, books, pictures, and other household furnishings. This is providing you meet the following conditions:

  • The articles have been available for your use for at least six months before the date of your change of residence.

  • Each article is itemized in a comprehensive list (in duplicate, signed and dated) of the goods you are importing into France (with the identification of their value).

  • You can prove to the satisfaction of customs that you have been living outside the European Union for at least one year prior to your moving to France. An attestation from a French consulate general (the certificat de changement de résidence) will suffice.

  • You can prove to customs that you are settling in France on a permanent basis, e.g., by producing a French resident card (carte de séjour) or a letter from your French employer.

Household goods and personal effects imported free of duty and tax as part of your moving to France may not be sold or otherwise disposed of for a period of one year after they have been cleared through customs—unless duties and taxes are paid at the applicable rate. These must be paid before the sale is completed.

Guns cannot be taken into France without substantial paperwork. People in France have no right to bear arms, and ownership of any firearm is strictly controlled.

Think twice about bringing furniture, unless the piece is something you can’t live without. Antique furniture is especially inexpensive in France. You can usually find whatever you need at the many brocantes (second hand shops), at a far lower cost than paying for shipping.

Moving Your Pets to France

If you plan to move with your dog, cat, or bird, there are a few simple guidelines that you will need to follow.

Your pet must be at least 12 weeks old and must be identified by a microchip or a tattoo. In the case of a tattoo, it must have been applied before July 2011.

The animal must also have a valid rabies vaccination. You must wait 21 days between the last shot and the day of your departure if this is the first rabies vaccination for your animal.

Your veterinarian must sign off on a health certificate, which is endorsed by the USDA. The certificate is valid for 10 days. If your pet meets all these requirements, there is no quarantine period in France.

Banking and Finance in France

Americans can do their banking with a French account, although the first step in the door can be a bit of a challenge. Like many other countries, France has an agreement with the U.S. that banks will communicate to the U.S. government when they take on an American taxpayer as a client. This responsibility to report is known as FATCA (The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), and can make French banks hesitant about accepting new American clients—owing to the additional paperwork involved.

To get around this hesitancy, you can offer to purchase one of their services. French banks want to build a relationship with you, not just hold your money. They think of a new client as a long-term investment.

Several services, like insurance or bank card plans, can be obtained for a low monthly fee. For example, we know an American retiree who recently moved to the south of France and purchased renter’s insurance for $18 a month, and that was good enough to help her open an account.

For moving money from dollars to euros, many expats are using the money transfer service known as Wise (, formally Transferwise. You can open an account with Wise in the U.S., get a bank card sent to your home, and use this bank card in France, in euros, to do your initial transactions without any extra fees.

French banks used by American expats include LCL, Caisse d'Epargne, and Crédit Agricole, to name a few.

A quick note on French taxes. Due to a tax treaty with the U.S., U.S. citizens cannot be double-taxed on passive income—i.e. Social security and retirement benefits are exempt from French taxes.

Checklist for your Move to France

Here is a list of the initial steps to take when planning your move to France:

  • Research/scouting trip to potential relocation areas in France.

  • Start to gather the necessary documentation to apply for the long-stay visa (see list above). Applications cannot be submitted more than three months before the date of departure.

  • Secure, at a minimum, three months of accommodation (short or long-term rental) in France.

  • Apply for the long-stay visa, and wait two to four weeks for the visa to be mailed to your U.S. residence (inside your passport).

  • Learn some basic French, or continue your French studies.

  • Decide what to do with your belonging—ship, store, or sell.

  • Get ready to start living la belle vie

If you are contemplating a move to France, the trickiest thing will be deciding which region of France has the qualities you’re looking for. For some, it’s the wild, rocky shores of Celtic Brittany, steeped in old customs and traditions. Others cannot resist the allure of sun-drenched Provence, a beautiful region of hill towns and lavender fields, fringed by a turquoise sea and the shady palm trees of the Côte d’Azur. Then there’s the Dordogne département in Aquitaine, a lush land of castles and quaint little villages that still seem to be sleeping their way through the Middle Ages. If you’re mad for markets, you’ll be in paradise here. The Dordogne has dozens, and it’s renowned for its gastronomic specialties, such as foie gras, truffles, and other wild mushrooms.

The Logistics of Moving to France

Moving to France may seem like a daunting task, but logistically speaking, this move can be simpler than you think. English is widely spoken, especially in Paris. Most real estate agencies will have at least one English speaker available to assist you. What’s more, there are relocation agencies and individuals that specialize in assisting Anglophone clients move to France. The country also has a large American and British expat population, making social connections quite easy. Paris and other large French cities have major international airports with direct flights to numerous U.S. and UK cities, making visiting friends and family once you move here a breeze.

Moving to France for the Climate

France offers numerous climates all within a few hours’ train ride. A move to France means you have the mountains, beaches, and countryside at your disposal. In the summer months, when you need to escape the Paris heat, Brittany, with a Pacific Northwest-like climate, is the perfect retreat. In the winter, take one of your five (paid) weeks’ vacation time and head to the Alps for a family ski trip. As you can see, moving to France has numerous benefits.

Move to France for a Better Work-Life Balance

The French enjoy five weeks of paid vacation per year, they work fewer hours weekly, and have the best healthcare system in the world according to the World Health Organization. You too can leave the rat race behind and move to France. This move may even help you live longer: the French, on average, live longer, healthier lives than Americans. Some believe it’s due to their lowered stress levels.

Making the Move to France

France is a modern first-class country with all the amenities and infrastructure you could ask for. With high-speed trains connecting you to all parts of Europe, WiFi at most neighborhood cafés, and enough culture to satisfy any appetite, moving to France can be a seamless transition. And International Living is here to help. We can provide you with all the information and resources necessary to make a successful move.