4: Preparing to Move

Learning that you are moving to France for an extended stay can be both an exciting and an anxious time. There are many decisions and preparations to make for your up-coming move, so, if you are fortunate enough to have this book before your move, here are some suggestions.


If you have traveled to France for the purpose of finding living accommodations, before you move your household goods, you will have a better idea of what you need and do not need to have shipped. If you have not been able to visit the country in advance of your move, you will have to use common sense (and quite often the company shipping allowance) as your guide.

Company shipping allowances differ greatly from country to country and person to person. To get the most accurate information, talk to the company department that is responsible for transferring employees. Normally, from the USA, you will be allowed two types of freight: air freight and sea freight. There is generally a limit to airfreight because of the expense. Thus, such a shipment would usually consist of only a small amount of necessary goods to help you live until your sea shipment arrives. Do inquire as to its availability and whether the company or you will cover the cost. Airfreight is normally safe from water and pest damage as well as theft, so consider sending valuable or sentimental items in this manner.

The following are tips for those who have never used movers/shippers:

• You need to be well organized when the shippers arrive. They are usually a team of three to five and they work very quickly. You will not have time to sort, organize, or decide if you would like to ship an item by air or sea once the team has arrived.

• Organize items to be shipped by air and segregate them, preferably in another room or location, so they are not shipped, accidentally, in the wrong manner.

• Place items that will accompany you on the plane (suitcases, bags, passports, keys, medications and any important documents) with a neighbor or friend; or at least well out of the way of the shippers!

• Clear all garbage and rubbish from the house. You will not be able to do this once the movers arrive. And yes, trash has been packed and shipped or stored!

• Consider leaving valuable items and/or irreplaceable items with friends or family. Moving insurance will only cover replacement cost, not sentimental value. Further, they cannot guarantee 100% safety of the items.

• An inventory of items (if possible in French) and an estimate of their present value (not replacement value) must be prepared for customs officials in France. Although the movers will make a list as they box items, their list will be extremely vague and will not include an estimated value. Make your list BEFORE the movers arrive; one for the air shipment and one for the sea shipment. The shippers will tell you of any items not allowed, i.e., guns, ammunition, fuel tanks, chemicals, matches, and other incendiary items.

• If you are bringing a pet, the shippers may make their transport arrangements as well. They will inform you of any restrictions related to the entry of pets into France. The cost of this service and the air freight shipment is considerable. It is far better, if possible, to take your pet (assuming cats/dogs) with you on your flight over. The excess baggage charge is far less expensive than air freight! (See Chapter 17, Pets, for further information concerning the bringing of pets into France).

• Take the time to put all paperwork received from the shippers in with the other important documents you will be bringing with you. They will be needed when your freight arrives in France.


One of the first questions asked about moving to a foreign country is “What do I need to bring?” There are obviously many differing opinions on this subject. Some choose to take nothing and start anew. Others feel that is is important to bring as much as possible, so as to maintain the familiar feeling of home. Most people take the basics (household furnishings) plus sports and hobby equipment and a few sentimental items. If you have children, let them pack a few of their treasured items and put one or two in with the airfreight shipment.

This also depends on your company’s moving package. As furniture is very expensive to ship, your company might give you an allowance to purchase what you need in your new home.

While common household items are available in France, they can be expensive when compared to the prices you would pay in your home country. If you are visiting France, to find living accommodations, make time to visit a shopping center and compare brands, price, quality and availability. Doing so will make it much easier for you to ultimately decide what to ship over. Remember, you will be in a new environment. A comfortable home with familiar belongings is important to your well being and that of your family. Some helpful tips follow:

Electrical Items
For those of you moving from countries using 110/120V, you will need a transformer for any electrical item you choose to bring. (See Chapter 6, “Utilities”.)

If you know the size of your living accommodations, you will have a fair idea of what to bring. If not, you will know what you are bringing and will choose an accommodation that will fit your furnishings. French kitchens, for the most part, are small and do not accommodate large appliances. They may not be fitted as expected by Americans and British. Americans please note: most laundry areas have only cold water hookups and usually no dryer vent, thus will not accommodate American washers and dryers. (And, again, be aware that French electrical current is 220V.) If you bring beds, be sure to bring sheets and bedding, as the size of these items often differ from country to country. Apartment living does not usually offer any storage areas of significant size.

Most telephones and answering machines work in France. However, there are some certification issues of which you should be aware. (See Chapter 7, “Telephone Service”.)

France uses SECAM, a television system that probably differs from your home country. If you are interested in watching English-speaking television, the best alternative is to buy a dual-system French television (SECAM and PAL) plus a satellite dish so you can watch English channels. You can also purchase multi-system televisions and VCR’s, which will accomodate USA videos. (See Chapter 6, Utilities.)

Holiday Decorations
Christmas decorations and live trees are available at Christmas. Decorations and cards are both limited in selection and expensive. Bring a tree stand, as they are rare. Other decorations for holidays such as Easter, Valentines Day and Halloween are available, but expensive. The nearest thing to a Thanksgiving theme is pumpkins and autumn items available in florist and sweet shops, (and increasingly in supermarkets).

The winter in Toulouse does get cold, but it rarely snows. It is hot and often humid in the summer. There is quite a bit of rain throughout the year. Bring clothing that suits these weather condition, as well as sports clothing and equipment, as the sizes and type of equipment you are accustomed to may not be available. Shoe sizes for women go up to size 10 here, larger sizes can be found in specialized and expensive stores.

Cooking Items
Most people bring ‘their kitchen’ as they are accustomed to cooking with particular items, in a particular way. Most kitchen utensils and cookware are available in France, especially the famous Creuset cookware. However, you do need to bring cookbooks, and measuring items (especially for those who do not want to use the metric measuring system) and any food items you especially prefer. In time, you will discover that most of your cooking needs can be met. Please note that any “two system” measuring utensils you might buy in France will invariably be french/UK and not French/US. (See Chapter 19, “Food and Dining”.)

Books and magazines, written in English, are available throughout France in bookstores and/or libraries. American and English newspapers are also available. Toulouse has English bookshops and British libraries, as well. Of course, books in English can be ordered over the Internet at either www.amazon.com or www. amazon.co.fr. (Review Chapters 23, “Leisure” and 27, “Reference Books”.)

Miscellaneous Items
Consider bringing specialty items for children such as educational toys, games, videos, as well as hobby and sports equipment. Remember that favorite toys and games may be here, but they will be in French. (Good French language learning tools!) Recreational items are especially nice to have in the beginning months, while the family is still adjusting. For those who sew, fabric shops are numerous, but quick and easy patterns are scarce and expensive in general. All other supplies are plentiful, but expensive. Cross-stitch is becoming a favorite French hobby and there are two very well supplied shops in the Toulouse area.


The rigors of paperwork are no one’s favorite pastime; satisfying your paperwork obligations in France will require your utmost patience. Most companies transferring employees to France will take care of most of your paperwork needs. Check with them first. Be prepared to work with the officials a number of times, and do not expect to get things done the first time you go to the offices. You would be wise to take a French-speaking person with you, as you may find that the officials are not known for their patience with foreigners who do not speak the language. Check the hours of operation as they may vary and do expect to stand in line for extended periods of time. We are being very honest and straightforward about this situation. We have found it to be a tedious process, and are trying to prepare you as much as possible. Give yourself at least 1-2 hours, although you may finish in as little as fifteen minutes depending on how busy they are, and the time of day. NOTE: The reception desk inside the service des étrangers will provide a list of all documentation required, if you ask. This may save you standing in line only to discover that you are missing a document.

Documents needed for official purposes often have to be translated into French, even if the document is as simple as a birth certificate. Translation of a one-page document, even if it is only a few lines long, can be relatively expensive. Translations must be done by official traducteurs assermentés (translators/translation agencies. Check your yellow pages under traduction.

Non-EEC/European Union members are required to have a long-stay visa in their passport, upon arrival in France, if they plan to remain for more than three months. This visa can be obtained from the French consulate having the appropriate jurisdiction in your home country. It is not possible to apply for this visa within France. French authorities will require you to return to your home country to apply. The majority of companies having employees working overseas will arrange the visas for their employees and their families, before their departure.

Cartes de séjour (Long-term Residency Permit)
Anyone staying in France for a period exceeding 3 months requires a residency permit or a carte de séjour. Foreigners engaged in a wage-earning activity must ask for a carte de séjour as soon as they begin working, or no later than three months of their arrival. All non-wage-earning foreigners must ask for a carte de séjour within three months of their arrival. The carte de séjour can be processed at your local Mairie, or if you liveby the Préfecture in Toulouse center:

Préfecture de la Haute Garonne
Service des Etrangers (Foreigners’ Office)
1 rue Sainte Anne, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 34 45 34 64

The Préfecture will create a separate folder for each adult, and copies of all documents may be required for each folder. Check with your local Mairie to obtain a list of the current requirements, as each town differs slightly and the requirements change:

• The first two pages of a valid passport or a copy of an identity card. Please note that if you lose your USA passport while in France, or if it is no longer valid, you can apply for a new one by mail through the USA Consulate in Toulouse, Marseille or the Embassy in Paris.
• For the working spouse; a declaration of employment including the expected duration of employment, known as a contrat de travail signed and dated by the employer. A copy for the non-working spouse is required.
• A medical certificate for each family member issued by a doctor registered with the French administration. Americans usually acquire this certificate prior to their arrival in France, as there are registered French physicians who practice in the United States. This procedure may differ if you do not have a company making arrangements for your visa application. This is not required for EEC/European Union nationals.
• Four to seven passport-size photos, black and white or color. Photo machines can be found at train stations and in most shopping centers throughout the Toulouse area.
• A self-addressed stamped envelope
• Proof of insurance
• A copy of your marriage license
• Proof of residence (electric and/or telephone bill)

For students: a pre-registration form or letter of admission into a school and proof of a French bank account where funds from the home country will be deposited. The student must request that the school or university make an appointment at the Préfecture for them. Otherwise their application for a carte de séjour will not be processed.

For an AU PAIR: a contract approved by the French Ministry of Labor. Once the application has been made, one page of the form will be given to you as a receipt. This represents a temporary residency authorization or Autorisation Provisoire de Séjour (APS). This document is valid for a period of three months and is renewable only once. During that time you will be notified by mail when your carte de séjour is ready.

Cost and Validity of the Carte de séjour:
The residency card is issued at no charge.
For non-EEC/European Union members, the residency card will state for how long it is valid.
For residents of the EEC/European Union, the card is valid for 5 years and renewable for a period of ten years.

The carte de séjour is your official ID. Carry it with you at all times. For some, this document will be affixed to the inside of your passport, and thus your passport must be with you at all times as well. The loss of theft of this card/passport must be reported to the nearest police commissariat as soon as possible. The loss of your passport must be reported to the American Embassy. It is recommended that you make photocopies of all such important documents. This will make their replacement an easier process. In case of theft or loss, the police will immediately issue a déclaration de perte ou de vol which must be presented when applying for a replacement card.

To renew your carte de séjour, bring your expired one as proof of identification. If you should move, whether down the street or from one community to another, you must notify la Mairie of your new address.

Residency Card Requirements for Children
Children under the age of 16 are not required to have a residency card, but must apply within one month of their 16th birthday. Parent may apply for residency cards for their children, under 16 years of age, if the children will be traveling alone or outside France in the company of persons other than their family.

Family Register (Fiche Familiale d’Etat Civil)
This paper is needed for many official transactions involving children, such as school registration. In order for foreign documents to be accepted, most of the time you are required to have an apostille affixed to the document. The apostille is a separate document which states the authenticity of the original raised-seal document. The apostille can be obtained by sending a request to the US Secretary of State where the document originated. The Fiche Familiale d’Etat Civil can also be requested, for a fee of 50 francs, from the USA Consulate in Toulouse and the Embassy in Paris, thus making the apostille unnecessary.

Take the following information to your local Mairie when applying for your Fiche Familiale d’Etat Civil:
• Child or children’s passport
• Child or children’s medical records
• Birth certificate(s) with raised seal and official translation into French with an apostille.
• Parents’ marriage certificate with raised seal and official translation into French with an apostille.
• Death certificate (if either the mother or the father of the child is deceased, and the child is here with the living parent) with an official translation into French with an apostille.
• Proof of residency such as an electric or telephone bill.

Vocabulary – Documentation

Carte de séjour …………………………………………………………..Residency card
Carte/Contrat de travail ……………………………………………….Working papers/contract
Recto-verso ………………………………………………………………Both sides of the document
Epouse ……………………………………………………………………..Spouse (Female)
Epoux ……………………………………………………………………….Spouse (Male)
Enfant………………………………………………………………………. Child
Renouvellement ………………………………………………………….Renewal
Justificatif d’assurance/ Couverture sociale ………………….Proof of insurance
Bulletin de salaire ………………………………………………………Pay sheet
Quittance de loyer…………………………………………………….. Rent receipt
Quittance EDF…………………………………………………………… Electricity bill receipt
Quittance de téléphone ……………………………………………….Telephone bill receipt
Relevé d’Identité Bancaire (RIB) …………………………………..White information slip in your checkbook with account #
Photos d’identité …………………………………………………………Identity photos
Enveloppe timbrée à votre adresse ………………………………Self-addressed, stamped envelope


It is said that the return home from a foreign country is the hardest transition of all. Some may laugh, as they can’t imagine why moving home would be so difficult when you know the language and all the “rules” of living. However, most data shows that this transition causes the most difficulty, but does not provide the answer as to why.

It may partly be a case of assuming too much knowledge and understanding of your home country, forgetting that you have been away for an extended period of time. Life does go on, everywhere, and you have not been “there” to experience the changes. Thus, you are unaware of exactly what is happening and what is not. Essentially, you are out of touch, even if you have visited home every six months or so. Some problems associated with returning home that you might not think of as being problems:

• Being out of touch with current news and local activities.

• You are a different person from the one who left one, two, three or more years ago. Your friends may or may not feel comfortable with you now. Your tales of living in a foreign country may bore some friends, and irritate others, as they may interpret your “story telling” as bragging. You will be seen, perhaps, as being very lucky to have lived abroad and any complaining about your particular circumstances, present or past, will probably be taken lightly. Remember, most people think of living abroad as they would a holiday (having had no experience of it themselves) and this mean hotels and conveniences. Keeping complaints to a minimum, until you have re-established a relationship with someone, helps.

• You and your family have changed in many ways and the very fact you have been able to live abroad, and adjust to it, for an extended period of time, is intimidating to many. Being patient and understanding, as well as showing interest in other pepole’s lives, as you would like for them to be in yours, will help you integrate into your “new/old” home community much more quickly.

• You may even experience a type of “reverse” home homesickness for the lifestyle you had in France. The pace of life at home may be faster than France and cause you stress. The weather may be very different and not to your liking. Work schedules may vary and friends will have changed or are no longer in the area. Your clothing will be different and you may feel left out when everyone else laughs at a current joke to which you cannot relate. And so on and on. In other words, you will suddenly miss what was familiar to you – the life and friends you have left behind. It is important to remember that this is normal, and it too will pass as you again adjust to your environment, so be patient.

Take the time to learn about your new environment at home, even if it is your hometown, just as you would if you were in a foreign community. You will learn that many things have changed while you were away. Taking notice, and responding appropriately, will be rewarding to all concerned. Give yourself six months to a year to settle, say the experts.



DO some research before returning home to prepare yourself for the community in which you will be living. Contact housing agents, schools for children, community organizations. If you are returning to the same city you left, this task will probably be much easier as you may know much of this information already. If you are moving to a new community, try to get as much advance information as possible, as it will help you prepare mentally.

ADJUST your expectations to fit reality. This sounds silly, but many people exaggerate the positive side of home and find it very disappointing when they return. Comparing your life in France and your life in your home country, is also something you should try to avoid. They are two very different experiences.

FIND new friends in the community who, like you, have lived abroad. They will readily understand your adjustment phase and may be able to offer valuable help and support.

LISTEN and learn from your family and friends who have not been living abroad with you. They will be a valuable resource for current issues and activities in the community, new situations you may not know about other friends or information concerning work opportunities and organizations you may want to join. However, be aware that these people will have also changed in your absence. So prepare yourself to get to know them … as they are now!

PRACTICAL INFORMATION concerning your departure from France essentially involves the reversal of the paperwork process, both at home and in France, that you performed when you moved to France.

• Proof of residence form from the city (La Mairie), proving your residency in France, is required for your move back to your home country.
• Accommodation leases normally require a 3-month notice to cancel, unless your company is transferring you, in which case it is one month plus a letter stating you are being transferred. Arrange a date with the leasing agent to inspect the dwelling for damages and to set the conditions of the security deposit refund. Some agents (but certainly not all) will refund your deposit on the day of the inspection, less any amount necessary to cover damages for which you may be responsible. Legally, however, they can hold this deposit for up to two months. See Chapter 5, Housing.
• Telephone service can be disconnected by calling the local France Telecom office. They will ask for a forwarding address, to which they will send your final billing. (See Chapter 7, “Telephone”.)
• EDF/GDF (electricity and gas) will need to be notified, in advance, to arrange a date for the last meter reading. The final billing will be sent to your forwarding address. (See Chapter 6, “Utilities”.)
• Final bills (of various types) most likely will be paid after your departure. Some people leave a minimal amount of money in their French bank account to pay closing bills, with any balance in the account being transfered to their home bank account. See Chapter 11.
• French taxes must be paid up to the date of your departure from France. Take your tax billing to the Trésor Public with a certified bank check for the amount. Personal bank checks will not be accepted. Americans note: your tax returns over the next two years will carry the foreign tax credit sections.
• The Post Office should be notified of your moving date and given a change of address. You will be charged a fee for this service.

Items that have been part of your French household for over one year are allowed into the USA duty free. The UK has no restrictions on the importation of general household items. They are, however, restrictions concerning pets and plants. See Chapter 17, Pets.

Prepare an inventory of everything you will be shipping home: in French for French customs (your shipper may provide this service) and in English for British and American customs. For insurance purposes, include the value for each item, listed in Euros as well as your home currency.

Wine that is to be shipped must be the last item in the container and easily accessible, if you are shipping it to the USA You will need a one-time import license for the State to which the wine is being shipped. There are limitations on how much wine can be brought back to the UK. Check with custom officials for details.

Any packers/movers/shippers that arrive at your home without packing material and claim they will pack your belongings at their warehouse should not be allowed entry into your home.

Selling items prior to your deparutre can be easily accomplished through local expatriate organizations such as the Newsletter of the AIT International Club (AIT) and the Toulouse Women’s International Group (TWIG) (formerly known as the English Speaking Ladies Group (ESLG)). Each organization has an extensive communications network for selling items such as appliances, cars, transformers and other household goods.

There are also companies like Troc 2000 who will come and take anything you want to sell. They will make you a price, pay you, and remove the items.