French food, wine, literature, fashion and language. It’s hard to identify another culture (besides that of England) that has had as much influence on the world in the past few hundred years. Relocating to France, far from being a tough decision, will become the experience of a lifetime.
A Bit of Background
The French Republic (its official name) is the largest country in the European Union, and its nearly 67 million citizens make it the 19th most populous country on the planet. The Kingdom of France from about 840 until 1791 (the French Revolution started in 1789, but the country toyed briefly with an existence as a constitutional monarchy), at which time the monarchy was abolished and the country became a republic. At its peak, France was one of the largest colonial empires in the world (second only to Britain), spreading its culture and language to much of the globe. The country is a unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic, with an elected president (currently Francois Hollande) and an appointed Prime Minister (currently Manuel Valls). The capital city of Paris is widely considered one of the most beautiful and romantic places imaginable.
Visas and Immigration
France is part of the Schengen Area, a collection of 26 European countries that have entered into an agreement to do away with borders and passport control. A visa to one member gives you unrestricted access to them all. A tourist visa (also called a short-stay or Schengen visa) is required for most other citizens, and you can easily apply at the nearest embassy or consulate. It is valid for up to 90 days.
If you plan to live in France for longer than 90 days, you’ll have to get a long-stay visa (visa de long sejour). This allows you to live in the country, but a separate work permit is required if you want to work there. Be aware that you also need to register with the French Office of Immigration and Integration in order to get your residence card.
Finding work, in theory, might prove very difficult. In fact, most people say it is virtually impossible (if you’re a non-EU citizen) unless you work for an international company with offices or branches in France already. If you do (or if you luck out and find something else), your French employer should obtain the necessary work permit on your behalf. So, the entire process then looks like this:
1. Find a job
2. Obtain a work permit (although some sources claim that 1. and 2. are actually switched)
3. Apply for a long-stay visa
4. Go to France
5. Register for your residence card.
As a resident working in France, you will have to pay income tax on your earnings. The amount varies depending on how much you earn during the tax year.
Tourism and the hospitality industries (France ranks as one of, if not the most popular tourist destinations in the world) are great places to start your job search. Beyond that, France has thriving telecommunication, aerospace and defence, civil engineering, ship building, and pharmaceutical industries as well.
Finding suitable housing in France can prove lengthy and tedious, but you should ultimately end up with something you love. If you’re looking at the big cities like Paris, you’ll be going for an apartment. Both furnished and unfurnished rentals are available, with a typical tenancy agreement of three years (but you can easily leave early providing you give ample notice). You can check online portals (like Century 21, SeLoger, and Logic-Immo), classified ads (like ParuVendu or petites-annonces), local real estate agents in your destination of choice, and even signs posted outside of the properties themselves. If you’re looking to purchase a house (most likely available in the smaller towns and countryside), these same websites provide a buy section as well. If money is no obstacle, you could very well find yourself living in a picturesque cottage in the French hills, within walking distance of a century’s old vineyard.
The education system in France is composed of primary, secondary, and higher education institutions, with compulsory education until the age of 16 for French citizens. The Ministry of National Education is responsible for both the primary and secondary tiers, and a recent evaluation ranked the French education system as 25th best in the world. If you’re looking for an international curriculum and English instruction, there is plenty of choice. Some of the more well-known include the British School of Paris, Bordeaux International School, and the American School of Paris.
As is the case with any large country, the prevailing climatic conditions in France can vary depending on your location. The south is primarily a Mediterranean climate (relatively mild winters and very warm summers), with alpine conditions (freezing winters and plenty of snowfall and cover) near the Alps, an oceanic climate in the west, and continental conditions (cool winters, warm summers, and precipitation throughout the year) in the central areas. Basically, you can expect to see it all. Paris, as one example, averages about 25’C during the summer, and somewhere between 1-5’C in the winter.
France’s location in western Europe has it in close proximity to a number of popular tourist destinations if you want to explore the rest of Europe. A (relatively) short drive or train ride has you in the border countries of England, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. The country has a long history of organised sports (and has hosted four Olympics since 1900), with the most popular including football, rugby, tennis, and basketball. You’re sure to find ample opportunity to either watch or participate in those. French cuisine and wine are both influential and top quality, so you won’t go hungry or thirsty while staying there. Check out the numerous restaurants and cafes found on virtually any street. French cinema, likewise, has always held the spotlight, and the Cannes Film Festival attracts top talent each year. Be sure and visit Paris (if you’re living somewhere else) to see the Louvre Art Museum, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and a bevy of other sites located in the city. Take in the show at the Moulin Rouge. Tour vineyards in the French countryside. Visit castles and mansions throughout the country. Take a French cooking class. You’ll run out of days before you run out of places to see or restaurants to try in France. Take advantage of it.
France is one of those “envy of all your friends and family” locations. It has everything you’ll likely want or need within its borders, and it’s close enough to some other fascinating places to make frequent travel very possible.
Photo by Moyan Brenn
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