Moving House in France

We all know that moving house is right up there with divorce and bereavement as a stress-inducing event.

Moving within a foreign country can be even more problematic, with different administrative formulas to be completed and the prospect of dealing with everything in a foreign language; daunting to say the least!

Having been a French resident for some years now, I had often wondered why the French rarely move (some families never leave their birthplace).

But having now moved four times within France I'm convinced that the sheer volume of paperwork puts them off.

The following words of wisdom may, and I repeat only may, be of use to those of you who are contemplating such a move.

One of the first things to consider for those of you with children is schools. Unless you are moving very close by, a change of school will be on the cards.

The first thing to do is ask the existing head for a certificate de radiation which states that your child is no longer attending that school.

Timing is crucial

This cannot be issued before your child leaves the school and you can't enrol them at a new one without it, so timing is crucial.

So is organisation; don't do as I did in our latest move and leave a whole pile of vital documents in a filing cabinet at your old home.

This resulted in a hasty trip to the doctor who provided an attestation, stating that my children had been suitably vaccinated and were fit to enter society.

It also meant an emergency fax from the insurers to state that the children were covered for any damage they might cause whilst on school premises. All this just to get them out from under my feet for a few hours...

Your insurers will need to be notified of your change of address so that they can re-issue your car insurance certificate. We have an all-in-one insurance deal but if your cover for car, house et al is separate you will have to notify them all.

The car insurance notification has to be done within a month of moving. We know this now - having been stopped by the gendarmes because of it while en route to the tip with a trailer load of rubbish.

Boys in blue

They actually queried whether we had driven from Brittany to Lot-et-Garonne in order to use the local dechetterie. This would have been a round trip of 650 miles!

But it never pays to argue with the boys in blue, especially in Franglais, so I looked suitably abject and assured them that the paperwork was in hand.

If you have changed département, you will need to re-register your car. Then buy new number plates.

Oh, and don't forget to tell your insurers that the registration has now changed so that they can send you another insurance certificate.

Now it is time to notify all the other bodies of your new whereabouts.

In theory there are various government websites where you can tell the taxman, the health service, unemployment offices, the child benefit agency and so forth, in one fell swoop.

In reality, despite numerous attempts, I have never managed to change all our details online and usually resort to the good old-fashioned letter, so beloved by the French.

'Moving is only for the very determined or criminally insane'

Of course, to be online you need internet access and you may well be lacking this for at least a few days after your move.

Being old hands at the moving lark, we had taken the precaution of booking a new line about three weeks before D Day.

Even so, we still spent 48 hours without a phone line as it took this long to convince France Telecom that the property existed!

Even if you have a connection and manage to send an email, do not assume it will be read, let alone dealt with.

I called my insurers to query something and was told: "Oh, no wonder if you sent an email. The emails go to the boss and he doesn't deal with administrative matters, so that's why we didn't get it."

The reluctance to embrace email may explain the roaring trade being done by La Poste in "My New Home" packs, which redirect your mail and supply a set of standard letters to post to all the relevant bodies.

By now, you will have realised that moving is only for the very determined or criminally insane. Having done it four times now, we clearly fall into the latter camp.

I won't even begin to discuss the exorbitant cost of French removal firms and how you can do it yourself for a fraction of the cost.

Mind you, had we had a removal firm, I would never have forgotten about the filing cabinet...

Words - Catharine Higginson, first published Telegraph 2007

The normal redirection service works pretty well. There are certain things that are specifically not redirected (though helpfully I don't know what they are), but usually that shouldn't be a problem.

absolutely Finn, hadn't thought of it like that! Our postlady is lovely I certainly wouldn't want her getting in trouble. Thanks for the links by the way - useful to know.

Hi James

Thank you so much for reprinting this post - we are moving in the period between Christmas and the New Year - this is our third move in as many years.

on the one hand I was going to make the same point as Ian Smith. In fact, the paperwork needed to reregister our car in France was horrendous and the only saving grace was that I now have the new system number plate which I do not have to change.

on the other hand, the service offered by Orange has improved. We were without internet access and telephone for four weeks after our first move within France. According to Orange, we can expect to be connected on the day of our move.

Perhaps I should let you know how they perform



thanks for the heads up of what we can expect Catharine, thankfully we'll be moving in the same village so no switch of schools or car. I like the idea of the post office box, though I wonder if I keep giving la factrice a big tip each Christmas she might just do the redirection for us free of charge?!? Worth a try!

If your car is registered in the old system, i.e. with the two character department number at the end of the plate forming part of the registration number, then you will need to re-register and change plates. If, however, the car is already registered in the new system (AA-XXX-AA) where the number is for the life of the car then you only need to update the carte grise. New plates are not required unless you have a burning desire to change the decorative department indication on the edge of the plate.

Thanks for this post! We just did it, after 4.5 years in the Loiret we moved to Calvados! It was easier for us because we don't have kid's but being non-French citizens meant spending Thanksgiving at the prefecture... a character building experience, but we won! We got it all right on the first go and that was something to be thankful for! We even took care of the immatriculation certificates in the same day and they arrived Saturday... two days after being at the prefecture! We forgot about getting new insurance cards, so thanks for your post. We got super lucky with the phone and internet. Both were working the day we arrived. We expected the worst since it took 3 months of crazy making phone calls the first time around. There needs to be a checklist somewhere... I bet you have one after moving 4 times!

I'm going out in a box - and then someone else can sort out all the paperwork!