Moving to France from America: Your Arrival To-Do List


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Moving to France from America: Your Arrival To-Do List

If you’re moving to France from America, there are several tasks you will need to carry out in the days and weeks after arrival. From validating your long-stay visa and purchasing a French cell phone, to filing your U.S. taxes and applying for a residence permit—these are the top tasks to add to your to-do list.

Arriving in France from America

The French Consulate in the U.S. should have already granted your long-stay visa for your move to France, but upon your arrival at French customs, make sure you get your passport stamped! (If you enter France via another EU country, go to a police station in France for a ‘declaration d’entrée.’) You need this because when you validate your visa, you’ll be required to provide evidence of the date on which you entered France.

NOTE: Holders of a long-stay visa marked “CESEDA R.311-3” are required to contact the OFII immediately on arrival in France.

If you are not already a homeowner in France, you will need to arrange temporary accommodation in France as a prerequisite for applying for your long-stay visa. You might also want to organize a rental car, especially if you’re staying in a rural area.

Hold onto French paperwork

From the moment you arrive in France, make a habit of collecting your utility bills, bank statements, and rent receipts. You are going to need proof that you live in France when you open bank accounts, obtain loans and so forth; and when you apply for your Carte Vitale (health insurance card) you’ll need proof you’ve been living permanently in France for at least the last 3 months.

You should have opened an account at a France bank while still in the states; get a new checkbook with the address of your temporary home, as you may find it difficult to use checks that have a U.S. address on them.

Set Up Your French Cell Phone

French mobile networks are all GSM (Global System for Mobile communications), which means some phones from North America won’t work at all in France.

If you have an iPhone you’re in luck: iPhones from Sprint and Verizon have GSM capability, so they will work in Europe and internationally. You should get a French SIM card for your phone now, and remember to notify all businesses, especially those who send confirmation codes via text. Then notify all your contacts of the new number. (If your phone does not have GSM, you’ll just need to buy a new one.)

For your GSM-capable phone, get any one of the renewable, pre-paid SIM card plans for now; renew it until you move to your permanent home, then select a package deal that includes cable (or satellite), internet, and cell phone.

Buying a French SIM card for your U.S. phone

There are various SIM card sizes for iPhone—micro-SIM for the older models, nano-SIM for iPhone 5 and up. For other cell phones:

Go to a local electronics store (or a hypermarché like Carrefour, Cora, Monoprix, or Intermarché) with your current cell phone(s) and choose one of the providers. Take the card home and follow the instructions.

Cancel Your U.S. Cell Phone Service

If you did not cancel your U.S. cell phone service before flying, do it now; and at some point, you’ll want to review your credit card or bank account to ensure they’re not still charging you. Also, if you use a VOIP app like WhatsApp, Skype, or Viber, you will need to change it to the new phone number.

Delete Useless Apps

There will be lots of apps on your cell phone that are strictly US – e.g. Craigslist, Thumbtack, Verizon, Drizly, AAA, Angie’s List, Home Advisor, your local news and weather apps – you might as well delete them to free up memory.

When you terminate and dispose of your American Express and Discover cards, delete those apps too. Next, add apps pertaining to your new locale: weather, news, traffic, etc. France is often subject to strikes, so load Cestlagreve. Consider adding apps from Air France, Lufthansa, SNCF, DB Navigator, Le Monde, Carrefour, Aldi, Radio France, iRadio France, and Citymapper. You might also want to load a currency exchange monitor.

Important phone numbers

You should program these in your cell phones: Ambulance: 15; Police: 17; Fire: 18; General Emergency (EU-wide): 112.

Moving to France from America: Organising Your Finances

Deactivate U.S. Cards

When you use a U.S. credit card in Europe, there’s a currency conversion fee charged by the card network (e.g. Visa, Mastercard, etc); that’s about 1 percent. Then there’s an extra fee added by the card issuer (your bank), typically 1 to 2 percent. You should already have at least one credit or debit card from your France bank, so deactivate any U.S. credit cards you have so you’re not incurring periodic charges and exchange rate fees!

You may have some services still set up to auto-pay with U.S. credit cards, like iTunes, Pandora or your news feeds. Now is the time to review and change (or terminate) those.

Accountants for France Living

U.S. citizens and green card holders are required to file a tax return with the IRS even when living abroad; taxes on your income, royalties, and IRA distributions will be the same as though you were living in the U.S., taxed as ordinary income (except for Roth IRAs). Thus you need an accountant in the U.S. to file taxes there every year. Your prior accountants in the US should be able to help you find someone.

You’ll file taxes in France too, so you’ll need a French accountant; they will use the tax preparation from your U.S. accountant and ensure you don’t get taxed twice.

Review Financial Statements

Get online and review your bank accounts and credit card statements and ensure you are not being charged for services in the U.S., in case, for example, Orkin or PetSmart or AAA is still billing you, or you forgot to cancel something. Also (if applicable), ensure your Social Security checks are not still being deducted for Medicare, which you should have terminated before coming to France.

Put this on your calendar to do again every month for at least a year, as some of your bills might have been quarterly or even annually in the U.S.

Visas and Residency for Americans in France

Your Préfecture

For issues regarding your visa, residency, identity cards, driving license, passport, vehicle registration, and others, you’ll need to know where your local préfecture is.

You can also ask your local Allô service public, formerly known as CIRA (Centre interministériel de renseignements administratifs).

Apply for a Residence Permit

If your long-stay visa bears the words “carte de séjour à solliciter” or “carte de séjour à solliciter à l’arrivée en France” you must apply for a residence permit at the préfecture of your place of residence (temporary accommodation), without first contacting the OFII, within 2 months of your arrival in France.

Validate Your VLS-TS Visa

If you have been issued a VLS-TS you are not required to apply for a France residence permit, but you do have to validate your visa in the first 3 months.

In the past, it had been necessary to request an appointment with the OFII. Starting in 2019, this OFII procedure was replaced by a “Visa Validation” website, done online after arrival in France; it is no longer necessary to make an appointment with the OFII. Go to the VLS/TS validation portal; you can also buy the tax stamps (timbres fiscaux) online there.

This step is essential and must be completed in the allotted time if you wish to remain in France. You will need:

  • an email address.
  • information on your visa.
  • date of entry into France.
  • credit or debit card to pay online the fee, or an electronic stamp corresponding to your situation, which you can obtain at a tobacco shop after checking the amount of the tax.
  • proof of your address, e.g. apartment rental agreement or utility bill.
  • a recent bank statement.

The Visa Validation site will register your information and send you a certificate to the address that you specified, confirming your submission. Depending on the reason for your stay, you may be asked to complete additional formalities, pass a medical examination, and/or sign a Republican integration contract (this request could come months later).

Register with the US embassy France

You should register with your local U.S. embassy in France or consulate at this point. U.S. embassies and consulates assist nearly 200,000 Americans each year who are victims of crime, accident, or illness, or whose family and friends need to contact them in an emergency. When an emergency happens, or if natural disasters, terrorism, or civil unrest strikes during your foreign travel, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can be your source of assistance and information. Registration is voluntary and costs nothing.

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Michael E. Burk is the author of Retire in France by the Numbers: A Detailed Guide and Checklist.

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  • Anthony Santana
    2021-06-09 08:01:29
    Anthony Santana
    Q1: You say...The French Consulate in the U.S. should have already granted your long-stay visa for your move to France. Then...If you are not already a homeowner in France, you will need to arrange temporary accommodation in France as a prerequisite for applying for your long-stay visa. -- So which is it, do I get the Long-term visa BEFORE I go to France, or AFTER I get temporary accommodation after arriving in France??? Confusing. Q2: I read if I get a job in France as a US citizen, I don't need a visa, just a residence and work permit upon arrival. So in that case the long term visa you mention does not apply? Your article doesn't talk to that. Appreciate any clarification. Merci!