In this article, I'm sharing with you five missions to accomplish once you've moved to France. Make sure you save this article if you are in the process of moving to France, or if you’re currently applying for a long-stay visa and want to visualise what you’ll have to do once here. If you’ve recently moved to France, have a quick check to ensure that you are on track.
Mission #1 - Look for a long-term rental
Your first mission is to look for a long-term rental. You've probably rented an Airbnb or a gite for your visa application and now that you're in France, it’s time to look for something more permanent. Chances are that if you have an Airbnb, the owner wants to keep short-term rentals.
My favourite app to look for a house or a flat is Jinka. This app scours through all major websites and estate agencies in France. You can set alerts to be informed as soon as something with your criteria is published, plus it warns you about potential scams. I love this feature, because as a newcomer to France, you may not know the price rental market yet, making it hard to spot a scam. Jinka looks at the average prices for rentals and highlights when something is too good to be true.
Le Bon Coin is probably French people’s most favourite website to buy and sell anything - house, car, clothes, furniture. Very similar to Gumtree or eBay. This is the central hub for buying or selling anything and is used by individuals and professionals.
My big warning with Le Bon Coin is to be aware of potential scams for house or flat rentals. Check the rental market price (by looking at plenty of offers). If you spot that the pictures look more like an AirBnB, that the price is too low, or that you are being asked for a guarantee before signing a contract (with Western Union or asking for a cash mandate) - Stay clear! Remember that French people don’t do home staging... If there are fresh flowers, fresh towels on the bed or bathroom, it’s likely to be a copy and paste of an AirBnB, and it’s a scam.
If your French isn’t up to it yet, it’s always easier to start with a real estate agency: agence immobiliere or look for agencies specialised for expats.
For students from My French Business, I share my tips on how to prepare your dossier, as well as my House Search Sheet.
Mission #2 - Get a French utility bill.
My second mission for you once you move to France is to get a French utility bill. I can hear you already “Well, that sounds a bit silly, Valerie, I’ll just get a mobile phone - job done”. Nope!
First of all, why do I recommend getting a utility bill in your name at this stage? When you’ll want to open a bank account, rent or buy a place, set up a business, or anything official, you’ll be asked again and again for a utility bill in your name to prove your address. And believe me, this is when you officially become a resident in France!
This utility bill has to be with an officially recognized body, i.e. electricity, gas, water, or landline. For instance, EDF for electricity, Gaz de France or Orange for a landline. This is not your insurance bill or your mobile phone bill. Whenever you use this bill to open a bank account or create a business, the bill will have to be less than three months old. This is why I like EDF, as their online account is super easy to use and you can download an “attestation titulaire de contrat” within minutes.
My last advice, if you are a couple, is to add both your names on a current joint account “compte courant”, as each of you may require proof of address (hello freelancers!). Go for “Mr et Mme” or “Mesdames x and z” or “Messieurs x and y”.
Just know that for suppliers of landline or internet access called “une box” (yes in English) such as Orange, Free or Bouygues Telecom, also have cheaper versions such as Sosh, Red or Prixtel. Check the network coverage in your area, as you could still have some surprises for internet speed.
Believe me, you want to complete this mission. This is boring, but this is the first time you’ll be looking forward to receiving a bill in post-on mail.
Mission# 3 - Validate your visa or carte de sejour with OFII
Your third mission when you land in France is to validate your visa or carte de sejour with OFII - Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration. When you arrive in France, you are just so busy with your new life, going through the missions I've just mentioned, that you might forget to record the validate your visa on carte de sejour.
You need to validate your visa or carte de sejour with OFII within 90 days of your arrival in France. You can validate your visa by going online to OFII’s website (Je valide mon VLS-TS) and then you will be invited for an appointment. It may take several weeks before you get this appointment.
Also know that the location of your first appointment with OFII is where you will have to go when renewing your visa or carte de sejour with the local prefecture. If you know that you're just staying in your Airbnb for a few weeks, before moving to a different department or region, maybe move and then do the OFII validation, so that it's closer to where you plan to live.
Mission #4 - Open a French bank account
Your fourth mission is to open a personal bank account with a brick-and-mortar bank and it sounds easier than it is! If you are new to France, online banks won't want to hear from you until you have a basic personal bank account with a French brick-and-mortar bank, as it’s a proof of stability for them.
Before we go and look at this, don't imagine yourself going online and setting up an account in five minutes or even just walking in and walking out of the bank within an hour. Nope! Imagine yourself going back in the 80s, when you had to get an appointment with the bank in order to open a bank account.
Yes, even if you don't plan to borrow anything and you want to put money in the bank, you have to see an advisor and ask them if they are willing to open a bank account. I'm exaggerating just slightly here!
Check the nearby banks in your town or village. The most common banks in France with lots of branches are Crédit Agricole, Crédit Mutuel, Caisse d’Epargne, CIC and BNP Paribas. I don’t include La Banque Postale (la Poste) as it’s not very flexible.
Do your research online and book an appointment with the “conseiller en charge des particuliers”. Later on, when you are at the business stage, you will book an appointment with the “conseiller en charge des professionnels”. Don't book your appointment with the wrong person, as they have a limited portfolio and can’t create accounts for the other profile.
When meeting with the conseiller particulier, mention all your projects, so they can see how they might help you - buy a house, business bank account, insurance. Bring your passport, proof of income and your brand new utility bill to prove your address.
Mission #5 - Open a PO box
My fifth mission when arriving in France is to open a PO Box - adresse de domiciliation. This mission is for you ONLY IF you plan to create a business and you know that you are likely to move houses in the next 3 to 6 months.
Moving to a different town, department or region, can have an impact on the body you relate to for your health, social charges and income tax. Moving after a couple of months, when all your business accounts aren’t fully set up (especially the health cover) will be messy. When you hear about someone's horror story, saying that their health cover is still not set up after one year, this is often the reason why. They’ve moved to a different region or department without realising it and their file hasn’t been transferred. As it was half created (with a temporary number), the new body can’t find them and they don’t understand what the issue is.
I recommend working with Se Domicilier as they have locations all across France. You will only need to inform them, each time you move and your business address “adresse commerciale” will remain the same.