Moving to France Do's & Don'ts

None of us want to get 'caught out' by con men. So take five minutes to read this and benefit from other's experience. I've thought of a few mistakes to avoid making but I'm sure there are lots more....

1. Beware the new EBF (expat best friend) who wants to know all your details...these will be shared around the expat gossip groups for miles around....

2. Beware the door to door salesman, charities, religious folk and chimney sweeps. You wouldn't answer the door to them back where you came from so don't do it in France. One SFN member weakened and invited the man selling naff plastic kitchen ware (in aid of a charity, bien sur to come in. The salesman started coming back twice, then three times a year until he was told no more. Enough was enough. When the member asked her French neighbour about this, she said, "Non!..I only give to the pompiers and the post lady at Christmas, otherwise no-one else gets money at my door"

3. And we can’t forget the dodgy chimney sweeps aka Laurel and Hardy who announced on the mairie's tannoy that they were in the village doing their annual rounds. They then proceeded to knock on doors and explain to the newly landed expat that it was obligatoire to have an insurance certificate. They then tried to clean out a wood burning stove via the surrounding chimney stack rather than the stove’s flue pipe...a complete farce. By this time, the member just wanted them out of her house so she paid them their 50 euros and then called out a decent ramoneur recommended by a friend.

4. Use recommendations from people who have actually had work done, not just from a friend of a friend. Lots of people will try to get work for their friends...especially in the expat community. Make sure you know what you are getting into. Do they have a French SIRET number? Check If its a UK company then is it registered with Companies House? A quick check will tell you if you need to be worried.

Any legitimate, honest and above board company or individual will happily share their registered company details. It is unfortunately common practice in both the UK and France for people to bring down a company and then start a new one when their tax bill is due (sometimes in the name of their spouse or another family member). If you are at all concerned, check how many companies the person has been a director or secretary of - Companies House will tell you as will

There is also a new service being introduced which will bring together a European Business Register. This will help simplify checks on companies who have control structures across different countries, for example, a company operating in France but declaring itself as a wholly owned subsidiary of a UK or Spanish company.

One member used a French architect operating in France who was registered in Spain. When there were problems with the building work they found themselves not covered by the French Assurance DECENNALE. It wasn't even cheaper for them...(the tax benefit was for the architect); as they hadn’t checked the set up of the company before entering into a contract with them, it ended up costing them nearly 10,000 euros!

So that leads me to the next point:

5. Don't expect that all French companies are going to be better/safer/more reliable than expat run companies, we've known plenty of French TRADES people go under leaving clients in a mess, we've known big electrical retailers not honour their 5 year gold guarantee because the 'franchise' closed down.

For buildings work - PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE make sure you have a copy of the ASSURANCE DECENNALE before you start the works. Keep a copy yourself and even call the insurance company to check it's validity. There is no point allowing yourself to believe 'All French work is protected for 10 years' if you don't have the right paperwork. Be prepared!

6. People move to France/Spain/Italy or wherever else for many reasons. Some want to make a new start for themselves and their family, change direction or take on a new job. Others unfortunately just want to find a new market to con people out of their hard earned cash. Make sure this doesn't happen to you. Check out the company properly and do your research - if it sounds too good to be true...then it probably is!!

These are my top tips but I’m sure there are more. What are yours?

I think most important is the need to communicate in the language of the host country. (Sure, I don't speak French when someone is standing at the gate trying to sell a useless service or product, but this is very seldom anyway; most are afraid of the dogs and cameras) Its all about knowing the language; its not necessary to be perfect but showing the willingness I am willing to listen to others conditions. Then its deal or no-deal like it is in any other country.

Good advice Suzanne. It’s really horses for courses. A major job (and it is up to each individual to define what that is) should only be undertaken with all the safeguards. Smaller jobs or work that one feels confident to supervise one’s self can be much cheaper using direct labour.

I totally agree regarding the Pompiers and Facteur.

We had a quote for tree surgery on 5 x 200 year old cedars for 13,000 euros and 20 days work (he could start straight away and infact put all his kit on whilst I was mulling it over!!), compared to 2000 euros for 5 days work and a planned start date. I was made to feel very uncomfortable with the heavy tactics, he launched into the hard-done by approach with everyone coming over and setting up as an auto-entrepreneur, correct insurance etc blah, blah, blah... He didn't get the job!

My advice is;

  1. Be careful; of advice! Some carefully thought out advice can be worth gold dust or well, a sand pit depending who is giving it out and from what source of information. Be careful of knee-jerk response from ‘friends’ or bloggers as the ‘take em to court’ is really dangerous and it affects your livelihood, state of mind and is really annoying. Ask a friend for a second opinion on what they think, does it seem logical? Is it costly? Too easy?
  2. Be wary; don’t trust ‘it worked for me’ or ‘in my experience’; I believe there is a natural order of things and providing you stick to that order, you ‘should’ get somewhere where you need to be to sort out any problems you may be facing.
  3. Be discrete; don’t plaster them on the internet
  4. Be thoughtful; reflect as to what is said, what you say to others and so on.

I haven't slagged anyone off. I've spoken from experience, and quite honestly, I tire of people taking offence where none is meant. if you wish to do so... so be it, but know that I stick to the game of hiring those who can do the job rather than those who call to my door saying they speak my language.

Maybe but it doesn't warrant you slagging off every expat artisan in France. Be realistic there are good and bad everywhere. Do your homework, ask for references & estimates and judge each tradesperson accordingly. Don't come out with the drivel that all expats are cowboys or rip-off merchants cos' it just ain't true.

All very well, but my local mechanic here does the job just fine.
There are, however, tons of people who have been ripped off within "the expat community", and how these people trusted a person to do work for them, only to be duped. These stories are everywhere... even within this website.
Just like the "microsoft scam"... I even wonder how these people end up finding out about the victims being expats. I've never once had a foreign tradesman knock on my door, suggest repairs, nor had "microsoft" call me up in English.

Ok Doreen, so your OH is an ace mecanic. He can listen to an engine and make an instant diagnosis which makes him a clever clogs in my book. He understands the car engine inside out but is he superhuman and able to understand the female mind ?

Thanks Doreen and Peter, You're righ, being a mechanic is a bit of a vocation.. loving to solve puzzles and understanding of how something works, i've found there are Fitters, who do exactly that, mechanices, who can strip and rebuild, and technicians,whom understand the whats and whys of how it works.. and they can do as your husband did.. listen and understand what could be going wrong.. and there are many of us in the latter field.. but we all love being big kids and getting into the mucky bits.. most French are well skilled at their profession, and i wouldn't take any credit away from them.. but there is a liking to renew everything.. instead of repair.. i think there's a fear of it going wrong after repair and blame coming back to them.. so they like to go over the top with repairs and change everything.. "just in case".. and to contradict my previous statements.. i do know of some local garages with a proud reputation for quality and fair play, and any work i can not handle, i always suggest these to my friends.. the grapevine works both ways... treat people as you would like to be treated.. you will find a good reputation and trust?

Hi Bob, welcome to the 'politically correct, holier than thou" club

You echo the sentiments of the thousands of honest & competant expat tradespeople throught France, well said.

Zoe.. i'm in agreement with Peter.. don't make such a broad statement of not using expat tradesmen, specially "friends of friends".. recommendation is one of the best advertising around.. we didn't all learn our trades on the ferry over..and as for "learn the lingo, or get ripped off".. Ha.. i'm not an idiot, nor short on learning.. but after 8 years here, my French language skills are severely lacking.. despite many attempts to pick it up... but that doesn't make me any less of a skilled expat.. nor does it preclude me from learning many new things in my time here and using my knowledge to the benefit of myself and friends.. i'm one of the fortunate ones whom have made a good life here thanks to my expat friends trusting me and my abilities.. My trade is motor repairs.. the stories i hear of local garagites mis-diagnosing, over charging and over specifying for repairs is a constant problem.. so; not all establishments of tradesmen play the game fairly.. your expat, with good english and friends recommendations may not be such a bad thing?

Fair enough to all the politically correct holier than thou folks, but look at it this way.... read through old content on this very site, as well as all expat sites, and you will see people whining about how they used a "man with a van", landscapers, or indeed, the good ole chimney sweep, and have either been overcharged, left in the lurch, or otherwise ripped off. People looking to find the culprits, people asking if anyone knows if they have a legal leg to stand on, and so forth.
For this reason, I employ people because of their suitability, not because "they're also a expat". Mind you, I've also turned down French workmen, simply because "but come on, we have a beer together now and then, you know me" is not a good enough reading of whether or not somebody knows their stuff.
I tend to be wary of people who hang out in exclusively expat company, and get ALL their work from friends of friends.
Plenty of local artisans here, I'm not going to go against my ethic of buying and eating local, just to get some guy called Jim drive 500 kilometres to rip up my paving, and tell me it's a bigger job than he realised he could take on, then leave me in the lurch, with 1000 quid less in my bank account. ( Actually happened to an expat in the area.)

Yes, I have had bad experiences with Brit/Dutch and French and more artisans alike? But, I have also had great experienced/creative/work carried out by all... plus other nationalities. I do understand Zoe though, it can be very frustrating when facing incompetent, mostly expensive work along side all the other hassles of being in a new country.........

I can also add that I’ve seen a fair number of local trades and businesses up sticks, close down and move on leaving behind unhappy customers. I’ve also heard of a couple of expats but again if you have all the paperwork and you’ve done enough checks then hopefully that will limit the chance of you being the next victim. I hope people find the links helpful

I would just like to say that I am using both French and ‘UK expat’ registered, qualified and insured trades people on my project. It makes no difference their nationality as long as they are qualified, registered and insured. SFN has lots of members fitting these three criteria and I think it is inappropriate to say people should avoid all expat trades people. I certainly will not. The best person for the job who has the right paperwork, skill and attitude oh and price if course is what counts in my opinion.

Zoe, you wrote...

"My tip is to steer clear of "the expat community" as tradesmen. I never quite understood why people want exclusively expats to do work in their homes, when the majority of these cowboys operate without permits, and have no idea of norms here."

This is an insult to the many thousands of expat tradesmen who work honestly & diligently in France without any problem. I have used both french & expat tradesmen & tradeswomen since the 70s and I can say i've only had problems with one expat plumber as opposed to loads of 'cowboy' or inept local artisans & companies.

Any responsable client will check out the credentials ie SIRET numbers etc etc of ANY artisan or company as well as asking for checkable references etc.

Do not make sweeping statements about expat tradespeople (or anyone else) without checking the facts and being realistic.I'm sure many of the SFN members like myself will cite many successful dealings with expats as well as discovering the cowboys both local & exxpat along the way.

Do not close any of your UK bank account(s) otherwise it is the most awful job trying to open a new one. Also ensure that they have a regular monthly turnover of funds going in and out otherwise the account will be classed as dormant.

My tip is to steer clear of "the expat community" as tradesmen. I never quite understood why people want exclusively expats to do work in their homes, when the majority of these cowboys operate without permits, and have no idea of norms here.
I'd prefer a local French carpenter, roofer,painter or ski instructor anyday.
Learn the language, or get ripped off. The choice is yours.

My tip would be to always go to the correct authority eg Marie, Trésor etc or the government websites if you want clarity on any rules/regulations about living in France. Your neighbours, whilst well meaning, will probably give you the version that suits them. This way you are properly informed and then decide on how you act going forward.