8 Things You Need to Know Before Moving from the U.S. to France

moving to Paris

Given last night’s devastating Trump election, a lot of people have been asking how they can get the heck out of this country. I’m not saying that’s the solution: The U.S. needs people standing up for the rights of minorities and women now more than ever. But if you were already planning (or thinking of) moving to Paris, what I learned on our move this summer to France can help:

  1. Expect it’s going to cost more than you think. Between shipping and moving fees, visa application, potentially paying double rent (see below), and buying new stuff to settle into your new home, moving is pricey. Like, thousands of dollars kind of pricey. It will always cost more than you expect. So if you can, put aside as much money as possible for the move, and then bite the bullet when unexpected expenses come up. You’ve got so much going on that it’s usually worth it to pay for convenience.
  2. Try to schedule your move around the end of your lease. At least if you live in New York City — but really, any place that is nutso with their lease contracts. We thought we could sublet, but our landlord found out and threatened to sue, then refused every other replacement tenant we offered (which is illegal, but we were so far away and didn’t feel like going to court to fight it). We ended up paying for FIVE MONTHS of NYC rent when no one was living in our apartment. Obviously, when you move isn’t always negotiable. But had we known things would end up this way, we may have tried to work our timing out differently.
  3. Pay for freight shipping. It’s expensive — $3K for a small crate. Bu we thought we could ship everything in individual boxes via USPS or UPS, since we estimated boxes t $200 a pop–and we had 10 or so. Bad idea. The price skyrockets up to $500+ per box for those that weigh more than the 40-lb. limit. Just try estimating 40 lbs. — we failed on every box. Then try lugging 10 x 40+lb. boxes to the post office. The reality is, you have WAY more stuff than you think, even if you’re not shipping your furniture. We ended up booking a freight company the DAY OF our flight to Paris. We had already packed all of our boxes ourselves, though they would have done it for free for us. It was a mad rush. We should have just coughed up the money for freight to begin with.
  4. Apply for your visa WAY in advance. We learned this the hard way, as we went through all the steps to get my initial visa paperwork (IE livret de famille) but then couldn’t schedule an appointment at the French consulate in New York before our scheduled departure. I had to book my return flight to the U.S. within three months of our departure right there at the airport, since the airline wouldn’t let me have a one-way ticket without a visa.
  5. Book a short-term apartment rental for the first couple of months. We went through an agency that charged more money than we would have had to pay if we signed a year contract right off the bat. But we valued our three months as they allowed us some time to chill before we immediately went on the apartment hunt –then spend a full month hunting, finding our place weeks in advance of the move-in date.
  6. Don’t be afraid to do your American thing. For me, that meant working out in the park, looking like a nut job. I’ve been harassed by men who think it’s cute to ask to use my equipment. To this day, some French people (usually toddlers and old people) stop and stand next to me and stare. I just smile and keep doing my thing, because there aren’t gyms in Paris (or at least any remotely close to where we live) and fitness has been saving my sanity. So screw it. So whatever embarrassing American habit you have, just do it.
  7. Consider keeping your residence to yourself when applying for freelance work. I learned this one the hard way when I started trying to apply for freelance work in the U.S. Technically, I’m still a U.S. resident, until I’ve resided in France for six months out of the year. And even then, I could return. The reality is, some companies freak out about paying freelancers abroad. In my case, I had a sweet freelance remote offer from a big U.S. company — 20 hours a week, good pay. But when the manager talked to her legal department, they flipped about me living outside of the U.S. — and rescinded the offer. There wouldn’t really have been any harm if I had accepted the offer and worked like normal — then let them know the following year when my tax/residency situation did actually change.
  8. Learn to be kind to yourself. This is one I’m still working on. But if you’re following a spouse and hoping to get freelance work or a job in Paris, it will take time. If you’re already settled into your career, like I was, it’s like any other move: It’s rough. But add to it your lack of a French degree, connections and possibly even lackluster French skills, and job hunting gets that much harder. So be grateful for any work or hobbies you do have, and give yourself time. Trust that things will work out if you’re dedicated and motivated. There have been days, especially these last few weeks, as the dust has settled three months in and the reality of our move has sunk in, that I have cried. Like all day. But I try to tell myself that I have plenty to offer, and lots of other expats have made it happen. You will too. A few websites that can help: Glassdoor.fr; Indeed.fr; and, of course, LinkedIn.com.

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