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Moving to France from the U.S.: Everything You Need to Know

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Maybe you fell in love with Paris on your last vacation. Maybe you’re getting serious with your French partner. Or maybe you’re just ready to make a lifestyle change.

Whatever your reason, you want to know how to move from the U.S. to France. And while this can feel exciting, crazy and impossible all at the same time, don’t worry. If you prepare correctly, you’ll be on a plane to the land of fresh bread and cheap wine in no time.

Here’s our Moving to France checklist if you’re moving to France as an American.

Can I immigrate to France?

Yes, but not so fast. Unless you have another European Union passport lying around, you’ll need a visa when moving to France from the U.S. This will allow you to stay in the country for more than 90 days.

First, find your nearest French Consulate. You can look up the list on the French Embassy’s website.

You must sort out your visa status before immigrating. You cannot just go to France within the 90-day tourist limit and apply for a visa there. You must apply for one in the U.S. Otherwise, France will kick you out of the country.

Types of visas

The type of visa you apply for depends on your circumstances. Browse the list below to decide which best fits your immigration situation.

Work visa

If you’re lucky enough to score a job in France or secure a transfer from your current job, this is the visa you’ll need. Your work contract will need to be approved by the French Labour Ministry, as well as the French Office of Immigration and Integration (otherwise known as OFII).

You’ll need to fill in an application form for the visa, as well as a French residence form. If you’re bringing family members on this visa, ask your employer to set them up with a file at the same time as you.

The application will cost around US$100 and will take roughly three weeks to process.

Spousal visa

When you apply for this visa, you must register at OFII within three months of arriving in France. The application is free and can take around three weeks to process.

Aside from submitting the application form, you’ll also need to submit:

  • Your marriage certificate (also translated into French)
  • Proof of your spouse’s French nationality
  • A French residence form

This visa will act as your French residence card until you apply for an official carte de séjour (if you plan on staying in France for more than a year).

Student visa

This visa application typically costs around US$50. However, to obtain it you’ll need:

  • An official acceptance letter printed on university letterhead, outlining your full name, the details of your program and the start and end dates of study
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Proof of sufficient funds to support yourself
  • Proof of accommodation
  • Proof of a return ticket home

Au pair visa

An au pair is a live-in nanny for French families. It is an easy way to experience life in a different country, learn the language and live with the locals, in exchange for a few household chores (such as cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the family’s young children).

Applying for an au pair visa is essentially the same as applying for a general long-stay visa, except you’ll also need:

  • An au pair contract approved by the French Ministry of Labour
  • An invitation to stay from your host family
  • Proof of knowledge of basic French

Visitor visa

You can apply for this visa if you are going to be living in France but do not have a French spouse, a job or plans to study.

Aside from the application form, you’ll need:

  • A letter explaining what you intend to do in France
  • A letter confirming you will not work
  • Proof that you can support yourself, whether through savings, a pension, etc. 
  • Proof of medical insurance
  • Proof of accommodation

The application takes around a month to process and is approximately US$100.

Do not forget to notify the U.S. that you are moving.This will help you avoid double-taxation when it comes to tax time.

Preparing your dossier

France is known for their mountains of paperwork required for anything from visa applications to health cards to social security numbers.

Before you move to France from the USA, compile as many of the following documents as possible:

  • Passport, and passport-sized photos of yourself
  • Birth certificate avec filiation (with your parents’ names)
  • Marriage certificate, if applicable
  • Medical documents (vaccinations, any private healthcare)
  • Driver’s licence
  • Bank account information and other financial documents
  • Educational qualifications
  • Tax documentation/returns from the last two years

Do you want to stay in France for longer than a year?

You will have to apply for an official residency permit, or a carte de séjour. You can do this at your local prefecture. You can apply at least two months before your visa runs out.

If you stay in France for five continuous years, you can apply for permanent residence without any conditions.

Moving and paying value-added tax (VAT)

You’ll need to get a Certificate de Changement de Résidence (Change of Residence certificate) from your local French consulate to confirm your move to France.

If you are bringing items owned for less than six months, you will be charged a 20% VAT plus duties. You will need to provide receipts outlining the price of the items as well as the date and place of purchase.

A detailed list of your inventory is necessary. It needs to outline the approximate value of all items in Euros and translated into French. If you have several shipments arriving at different times, every item from each shipment must be included on your initial inventory list. Do not create multiple lists.

If you do not have receipts for your items, you must still list the items in your inventory and need to provide additional paperwork.

If you have inherited items, you will need documents that explain who you received the items from, your relationship with them and when they died. You have a year after the date of death to move these items to France without paying VAT or duties.

If you are moving to France after getting married, ship your wedding presents over as soon as possible. You do not have to pay duty if you send these items within a month of your wedding day. You will also need to provide your marriage certificate and proof of French residency/visa.

Everything you ship to France must arrive within the first year of your move. 

Healthcare in France

If you are committed to living in France and wish to be part of their healthcare system, you must first register yourself in the French social security system in order to receive its health benefits. This involves paying into the system (called cortisations).

You will have to go to your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM) and apply for a health card (carte vitale). CPAM will tell you what documents they’ll need from you in order to apply in order to get your own carte vitale.

You can access the healthcare system by being employed in France or through Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMa), the French universal health coverage system. If you don’t qualify for either of these, you can apply for PUMa by declaring you are sans activité professionnelle (aka without a professional activity in France).

Once you receive your carte vitale, you will then be reimbursed for any healthcare costs. However, the healthcare system will not cover everything (only about 70%).

You can purchase additional medical insurance to cover the remaining costs, or buy a mutuelle, a French top-up insurance.

Setting up a bank account

It is advisable to set up a French or international bank account in the U.S. before you make the move to France. If you wish to open a French bank account, it will take 3-6 weeks to do so.

Banks may initially be wary of opening an account for you due to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and its high cost of compliance for French banks. However, if you prove you have a residence card or visa, you can claim opening a bank account as a right.

You will need a bank account (French or otherwise) to be able to sign up for French mobile or internet services, and to be able to rent a property.

Paying taxes in France

You must pay French taxes once you become a French resident (living and working in France for more than 182 days). You will have to register yourself at your local tax office (hotel des impôts) or town hall (mairie). You can pick up your tax form at these places, or find it online here.

French tax season runs between April and May each year. You must file before May 31 or be fined 10% of your tax bill. Even if you think you’re not making enough to meet the lowest tax bracket, you still need to file a tax return to confirm this. If you hold investments or financial accounts in the United States (or anywhere else in the world), you must declare them on your French tax returns.

You can find out more detailed American-French tax information here.