Moving to Paris: 6 Things You Should Know Before Your Move to Paris

November 07, 2011

For the most part, my move to Paris four years ago went quite smoothly.  There are, however, those few lingering “if only”s that I am sharing in hopes of saving you some trouble!

1. You are nobody without a puce.  Unfortunately, if you do not have a French ATM card, or at least an ATM or credit card with a puce (microchip), you will face a number of obstacles.  Even for those just traveling to Paris, if you can get your hands on a card with a puce, it will make life much easier.  For those moving to France, my advice is to set up a bank account on Day 1.  That means contacting your future bank before you move, finding out what the requirements are to open an account (some banks require a letter from your employer showing you will be earning a salary) and setting up an appointment to meet with your bank representative on Day 1.  It will be very difficult if not impossible to rent an apartment, activate accounts for electricity, cell phones and other utilities, and make certain online or automated purchases without a French bank account and oftentimes, a card with a puce.

2. French Driver’s License: The French code requires anyone who has lived in France for more than 1 year to obtain a French driver’s license.  Generally, this is not an issue for other EU citizens, as you can come and go as you please and no one is checking how long you have been in France (the traffic police’s database does not yet seem to be coordinated with the tax authorities’ database).  France allows license holders from 15 U.S. states as well as some Canadian provinces and some countries to trade in your driver’s license for a French one within your first year in France.  If you do not have a license from one of these jurisdictions, you will have to re-do drivers’ ed.  Yes, that means re-taking the written and driving exams (and paying a fair sum of money for that privilege).  I am not encouraging anyone to falsify residence in a jurisdiction with such reciprocity, but let’s just say if you were to obtain a license from one of those places, you would save yourself a lot of hassle.  A warning: I have heard horror stories of authorities asking for proof of long-term residence in the jurisdiction of your license.  One friend in his mid-30s was asked for his high school diploma to show residence in Florida.  But hopefully these experiences are few and far between.  For more details on the license requirements and procedures, click here.

3. Consider Buying Furniture Before You Move: Most people get rid of things before a move, but that may not be the best approach if moving to France, especially from the U.S.  The economics depends in large part on your cost of moving, but as my company was paying for my move, I found it to be much cheaper to buy furniture in the U.S. than to purchase it once I arrived.  I was able to have items delivered directly to my moving company in the U.S. so storage before the move was not an issue.  As an added benefit, my furniture was delivered the day after I received the keys to my apartment.  Unless you plan to go 100% IKEA, you will seldom see furniture stores in France with items in stock; the standard wait for furniture delivery in France is 6 – 8 weeks.  Who wants to go 6 – 8 weeks without a bed?  Of course, picking out furniture for an apartment you have not yet seen requires some strategizing.  I decided to go with one color scheme for the entire apartment, so I had some flexibility in terms of what to put where.  Some items I shipped over did not end up fitting into my new apartment.  But I estimated that even if half the items had no place in my new home, I would still be saving money.  One little caveat: Parisian elevators and stairways are small.  Be careful of shipping over huge U.S.-sized pieces of furniture.  When in doubt, buy a split box spring!  (I’ve already made that mistake twice in my life.)

4. The Apartment Search: I would not necessarily encourage you to look for an apartment before you arrive.  But if you plan to work with a broker, it would be best to contact the broker and make an appointment for your preferred search dates well in advance.  Keep in mind also that most brokers will be on vacation in August, so do not expect to arrive in early August and find an apartment to move into right away.  When looking at apartments, there are a few things to keep in mind that you might not expect if you are accustomed to U.S. apartment hunts:

  • The owner will likely ask you for a guarantor.  If you do not have someone who can serve as your guarantor in France, talk with your broker as there are non-profit organizations that may be able to help.  Another option is to ask if your employer could serve as your guarantor.
  • French apartments oftentimes do not come with kitchen appliances.  The announcement will usually state if the kitchen comes equipped (cuisine amenagée) or not.  Some kitchens do not even have counters or anything more than a water pipe sticking out of the wall.  If you are staying short-term, be sure the apartment comes with the necessary appliances.  However, if you are staying more long-term, do not cross your otherwise dream apartment off the list only because the kitchen needs some work.  You can purchase fridges, ovens, etc. from stores such as Darty for a reasonable price if you are not looking for top-of-the-line products.  Another money-saver I opted for was to purchase a microwave/convection oven in one instead of a full oven and separate microwave.
  • Check if the apartment has double-paned glass.  Without it (sometimes even with it), the noise from the Paris streets can be overwhelming.

5. Should I Rent or Buy?  The answer if of course going to depend on your personal situation and how long you plan to spend in Paris.  It is beyond the scope of this post (and of my expertise) to explain the intricacies of the French real estate market.  But you should inform yourself of the details and your options.  In France, you pay a notary fee and generally higher fees when you buy than you would, for example, in the U.S.  However, you may be able to put less money down (sometimes €0) and secure a lower interest loan than in other countries (in certain circumstances, the state even subsidizes zero-interest loans).  So the bottom line is: do not assume that if you are better off renting in the U.S. or elsewhere you are necessarily better off renting in France, or that if you are better off buying in the U.S. or elsewhere you are necessarily better off buying in France as well.  Do some math.  Think it through before you jump in!

6. Electronics and Electrical Appliances:  Keep in mind that voltage in Europe is 220v while it is only 110 in the U.S.  If you are moving from the U.S. and you do not want to have to start over with your electronics collection, be sure to invest in a good converter before you come.  I am not talking about the $20 converters at Duane Reade or CVS.  A good converter weighs about 20 pounds and costs upwards of $100, but the investment will be worth it, especially if you have a collection of kitchen appliances (mixers, blenders, bread machine, toaster, etc.) as I did that you do not want to throw into storage.  Keep in mind that some items do not require converters (most laptops, cell phones, camera batteries) and some items (refrigerator, TV) will not work in Europe even with a converter, unless you buy a model that is specifically designed for multiple regions.  You may also want to invest in a pile of adapters.  Adapters can be quite expensive if you purchase them individually or at an airport or travel shop, but are quite cheap if you order them in bulk online.  For example, is currently offering 6 U.S. to Europe adapters for $3.48.

For additional tips on moving to France, see my post on Moving to Paris, including a detailed (and even color-coded) moving checklist.

Do you have any moving tips to share?

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