Moving to France from the UK: A starter guide

Zorica Lončar

Thinking of moving across the Channel to France? You’re in good company, as over 200,000 British expats are estimated to live in France¹.

France has lots to offer newcomers, including some of the best cuisine and wine in the world. It also has beautiful countryside, alpine scenery and the breathtaking French Riviera, along with first-class culture, fashion and entertainment. And if you’re looking to escape cold British winters, the warm Mediterranean climate on its popular south coast is bound to be appealing.

In this guide, we’ll run through all the essentials you need to know about moving to France from the UK. This includes how to get a visa, what the situation is for Brits after Brexit, the cost of living and options for retiring in France.

We’ll even take a quick look at the most cost-effective way to manage your money across borders. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can send money between the UK and France for low fees and the fairest exchange rate around.

But first, let’s focus on some of the basics you need to know ahead of your big move.

Living in France - what you need to know

Let’s start with a few of the basic facts you need to know about France if you’re considering moving there:

  • Currency - Euro (EUR)
  • Main languages - French and English²
  • Population - approx. 65.3 million³
  • Number of British expats - approx. 200,000¹
  • Most popular destinations for expats - Paris, Aquitaine, Brittany, the Dordogne, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Montpellier.

Cost of living in France⁴

moving-to-france-from-uk-cost-of-living

Before moving to a new country, it’s a good idea to check how far your money will go. The cost of living in France is comparable to the UK in lots of areas, although groceries in particular can be more expensive depending where you live.

To give you an idea of average prices in France, here are a few examples:

Cost in FranceCost in UK
Three-course meal for two people£43£50
Loaf of bread£1.24£0.98
Draught beer (0.5l)£5.20£3.67
Monthly public transport pass£44£65
Utilities - monthly£130£155

When it comes to finding somewhere to live in France, you’ll find rent prices between 10% and 25% cheaper than the UK. Although of course, it depends where you live and whether you’re renting in a city centre or not.

If you’re interested in buying rather than renting a home, France can be a little pricier than the UK. You can expect to pay around 7-12% more per square metre for an apartment, depending whether it’s inside or outside a city centre.

Healthcare system⁵

France has an excellent healthcare system, which expats can access by getting a Carte Vitale - a French social security card. You can get this by registering with your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM) once you arrive in France.

As well as registering for healthcare, it’s also recommended to take out some form of top-up health insurance. This can provide coverage for any services or treatments not covered by your Carte Vitale.

Once you’ve lived in France for three months, you can apply to be covered by the French healthcare system (PUMA).

If you receive a UK state pension, you may be entitled to state healthcare in France paid for by the UK. More information on this, and how to apply using the S1 form, is available on the UK Government’s website.

Opening a bank account in France⁶

You can open a bank account in France as a non-citizen, although there are also non-resident accounts available for people who haven’t yet entered the country.

The process to open an account usually involves visiting a branch of your chosen bank to complete an application form and provide the required supporting documents. These can vary from bank to bank, but you’ll generally need:

  • Your passport or other valid ID
  • Proof of your French address
  • Your visa or other immigration documents
  • Proof of job or student status.

An important thing to bear in mind is that many banks won’t have English-speaking staff, so you might want to take a French-speaking friend along to translate. You may also need to have some of your documents translated into French.

Finding a job in France

moving-to-france-from-uk-finding-a-job

If you have the right to work in France and don’t already have a position lined up you’ll need to start job-hunting right away - possibly before you move.

It can be difficult to find work as an expat if you don’t speak French, as you’ll be restricted to only English-speaking roles. Many employers also expect CVs produced in both French and English⁷.

Some of the best opportunities for British expats who don’t speak much French are in the hospitality and tourism sector, especially during summer. But there’s also a high demand for English teachers in France⁷, so newcomers can make a living in a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) role.

If you’re looking for jobs in France, here are a few handy places to start your search:

Renting or buying property in France

Along with getting your visa sorted, finding somewhere to live is going to be at the top of your to-do list for moving to France.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a citizen to buy property in France. So, if you want to buy a home, here’s where to start looking:

Prefer to rent instead? This is a popular option among newcomers, as it gives you a roof over your head almost immediately. Many expats choose to rent temporarily, while they get a feel for the area and scout out properties to buy.

To find houses and apartments to rent in France, start by looking at the sites above. You can also try Century21, Green-Acres and Spotahome.

Moving to France from the UK after Brexit

The rules for UK citizens travelling, living and working in the EU have changed following Brexit. This doesn’t mean that it's impossible to move to France from the UK, but there will definitely be more paperwork involved.

One of the main changes is that British citizens now need a visa to stay in France for more than 3 months. We’ll run through how to apply for your long-stay visa next.

How to get a visa for France

One of the most important things to do before you can move to France is get your visa.

Known as the VLS-TS ‘Long-stay visa equivalent to residence permit’, this gives you the right to remain in France for up to a year. Once you arrive, you’ll have three months to register at the French Immigration and Integration Office. This will give you the same rights as a residence permit⁸.

The VLS-TS is only suitable for workers, students and spouses of French citizens⁹. If this isn’t you, you’ll need to apply for a Type D long-stay visa and get your resident permit separately.

When the initial 12-month term of the visa is up, you can then apply to renew it.

You can apply for your visa at the French Consulate in London website, making sure you have the following ready:

  • Valid passport
  • ID photograph
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Proof of residency in France, such as a property title or rental agreement
  • Proof of funds to support yourself during your stay, such as bank statements.

You’ll then need to pay the relevant visa fee and wait for your application to be processed.

Once you’ve lived in France for five years, you’ll be eligible to apply for permanent residency⁵.

Retiring in France

Dreaming of sipping fine wine in the French countryside for your retirement? Here are a couple of the most important things you need to know to make it happen:

Retirement visas

The French visa for retirees is the Type D long-stay visa mentioned above, which you can apply for at the French Consulate in London website. This visa lasts up to a year and can be renewed. You’ll also need to apply for a residency permit.

And once you’ve renewed your visa for 5 years in a row, you can apply for permanent residency in France. Provided you meet all the conditions and your application is successful, you’ll then be granted many of the same rights as a French citizen.

Pensions

You can claim your UK state pension in France, by applying at the International Pensions Centre.

The UK and France have a double taxation agreement in place⁵, so you won’t be taxed on UK pension income twice. But once you move to France, the French authorities are likely to assess your liability for income tax.

You can also transfer your personal pensions over to France from the UK. To do this without incurring a major tax bill, choose a French pension scheme that is on the HMRC list of qualifying recognised overseas pension schemes (QROPS).

How to move your belongings from the UK to France¹⁰

Since the UK is not a part of the EU anymore, the procedure of moving your things is slightly different than before. It can be a bit complicated, but this should help you handle it without issues.

The first thing to know is that you’ll be exempt from paying taxes on the goods you’re moving to your new residence. The condition is that you’ve owned them for at least 6 months and that you bring them within 12 months of relocating. So, planning everything ahead is essential here, although you don’t have to bring all your belongings in only one trip. Of course, there are things that you must pay taxes on, such as alcohol or tobacco.

Next, make sure you have a certificat de non-cession - a signed statement that confirms that everything you’re moving has been yours for at least 6 months. If you’re moving standard household items, customs officials most likely won’t insist on you providing a receipt for them. However, if you have something fairly expensive, it’s good to have some proof of ownership on hand.

You’ll need to present proof that you have a French address to stay at. This can be proven by providing a simple utility bill or a copy of the property deeds/notaire certificate of ownership. Also, you’ll need evidence that you’ve lived in the UK for at least 12 months prior to moving to France. A tax bill might come in handy here.

Finally, bring two copies of an inventory of the goods you’re moving. It should include the value of the things and ideally a list of items by boxes, based on category. For example, bedding, garden equipment, towels, electronics etc. Also, you’re not allowed to sell any of these things within your first 12 months in France.

Keep in mind that some items can’t be transported, such as plants and flowers. This can be solved by paying experts to write a report, but this is usually too expensive for a regular house plant.¹¹

Moving to France from the UK - a checklist

Feeling overwhelmed by the long list of things to do before your move to France? Here’s a handy at-a-glance checklist covering the main tasks to focus on:

  • Apply for your visa.
  • Find somewhere to live - this may involve multiple trips out to France to scout out locations and properties to buy/rent.
  • Get quotes for shipping your furniture and belongings over to France.
  • Tell HMRC that you’re leaving the UK - if you’re a retiree, start a claim to have your UK state pension paid to you in France, and look into transferring personal pensions.
  • Start researching French banks to find out the requirements for opening a current account.
  • Look into registering for healthcare in your local area and applying for your French social security card.
  • Research the procedure for registering as a resident at the French Immigration and Integration Office once you arrive.
  • Start searching for a job - remember that you may need to do this and secure a job offer in order to get your visa.

Save on your relocation costs to France with Wise

Have rental deposits or visa application fees to send over to France before your move? Hold fire before you use your bank.

Using a Wise multi-currency account to cover international relocation costs could be cheaper than using your bank. With Wise, you can send money between the UK and France for tiny fees and mid-market exchange rate.

You can also use Wise to receive income from the UK (such as pension payments) in GBP. This could help you to avoid the currency conversion fees charged by banks, not to mention the terrible exchange rates. Once the payment lands in yoru Wise account, you can convert it to EUR for lower fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate.

And while you wait for your French bank account to be opened, you can use your international Wise debit card to spend like a local from the moment you arrive. This clever contactless card automatically converts to EUR at the fairest rate whenever you spend, so you don’t need to change money or carry cash around. All you’ll need is the one debit card for low-cost spending in 170+ countries.


After reading this guide, you should have all the essential info you need to start planning your move to France. We’ve covered visas, post-Brexit changes, cost of living and much more.

So, you should be all set to get the paperwork out the way and enjoy your new life in fabulous France - good luck!

Pricing/fees: Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information


Sources used for this article:

  1. International Investment - top destinations for UK expats
  2. Language Knowledge - most popular languages in France
  3. Worldometers - France population (2021)
  4. Numbeo - cost of living in France compared to the UK
  5. Gov.uk - living in France
  6. Expatica - opening a bank account in France
  7. Prospects.ac.uk - work in France
  8. Immigration.interieur.gouv.fr - living in France
  9. Service-public.fr - long-stay visa

Sources checked on 7th May-2021.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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