Moving to France
by Michael Crawford-Hick
I was looking out of the window and across the Solent and all I saw was rain, and black and gray clouds. I had seen that every day in March. So I turned to the computer, thinking “what is the weather doing around the world?”
After several minutes of searching, I kept coming back to Nice, France. WHY? It was the blue sky and the temperature; it was around 10-12 degrees hotter than the UK.
I decided I needed a break from the rain so I decided to look for hotels and flights to Nice. So I went to the local library and I sat there for a few minutes.
“Shall I or shan’t I book this holiday”? I asked myself.
It took about 5 minutes for me to decide.
“If the bookings go through then I will go”.
The bookings went through without a hitch, and at 12.30 pm I walked out of the library with printed confirmations of flights, hotel and coach to London in hand, and then it dawned on me; I have around 48 hours to organize my life and get to the airport – ARGGG.
So how do you sort your life out in less than 48 hours? Having these printed confirmations in hand I was not going to just let them expire, so this makes you very focused indeed.
I was renting a place, so just gave that up, and sorted out what I wanted to store, leave behind and take with me to France. Luckily I had a friend who could take the items I wanted to keep and I could use his loft for storage at no cost. If you are focused then things can happen quite quickly. This adventure was actually arranged in around 30 hrs. My friends thought (and probably still do think), I was crazy.
I caught the coach at 6pm. I had no plan except to have a 2 week holiday. But my idea in my head was if at the end of 2 weeks I liked Nice I would try to find work in France. That was my only plan. Not the best one to potentially relocate to a new country, but being an EU citizen I thought finding work was going to be easy – mmm.
The plane was due to leave Gatwick at 6.30 am and it was one of the best mornings to leave the UK, as it was cold and wet – a horrid morning. I arrived on time in Nice and cleared passport control. It was around 23 degrees, blue skies and very sunny at 8.30am and I was down to my shirt sleeves and sweating waiting for the bus. I could not believe it! On the bus, as we drove along the Promenade des Anglais I looked out at the sea, and the sea was exactly the same colour as I had seen on the web cam just a few weeks ago, and so was the temperature.
I found my hotel and headed out for breakfast of almond croissant and a coffee by the beach. As I sat on a bench overlooking the Mediterranean blue sea, I could not believe I was really here.
Deciding to Stay
The next 2 weeks were spent exploring the place, Monaco, Cap d’Ail, Beaulieu, Antibes, Cannes, Grasse and of course Nice. The two weeks went by very fast and before I knew it, it was day 14. I had to make the decision; am I moving to France or going back to the UK?It was a beautiful day and blue skies and hot. Out of the last 14 days there had only been 4 rainy days and those were only 1/2 days in reality, so I had had 10 wonderful days of hot sunshine in March and that was more than I had had all year in the UK, so the decision was made for me. I was moving to France!
Finding Work in France
So now I had to find work in France. I chatted to Robert at the hotel who was helpful in telling me where the local job office was and a list of job agencies. I went to the job office but they would not speak to me as I could not speak any French. In the UK I felt sure I would have had help with the language barrier, but in France I had to try to look at the jobs on the computer not knowing what categories I should be searching. There could have been jobs available, but as the staff were not helpful, in fact they were being rude because I did not know the language, I couldn’t find any.
I then went to a few job agencies and despite them liking my CV, they could not help me out, as they did not want to deal with me, as I could not speak the language. By now the French were making me feel that I was never going to find work in France. I even passed my CV to various hotels for basic posts like kitchen help, but nothing came of this.
Then I found out about web sites for jobs and work in France one of which was called Angloinfo.com. It was for the English speaking community in the south of France, which is large as it includes many expats from many countries. There were a number of job listings where people were looking for handypeople, casual workers, and trades people. I called and emailed a few people and started to get casual work.
However, Angloinfo are not allowed to advertise “black market” jobs, i.e. jobs being paid in cash only. But who would employ an official person to move a few tons of books from a lorry to a storage place? It would cost them too much and that’s if anyone was willing to do this small 1/2 day job. So these adverts appear briefly on the site and then get taken down when the site administrator reviews them. So I had to always be looking on this site to get the job details before the adverts were removed. It was the only way for me to find work in France and to stay in Nice for the short term.
I started to pick up small electrical jobs and my name became known in the area. This suited me as this was my field. Around 10 months later a new government scheme for small businesses called “Auto Entrepreneur” came into existence which was created to encourage people just like me to register my business very easily. This scheme was set up to reduce the mountains of paperwork and cost of starting a business in France.
I registered online, filling in a total of 4 pages, and even with my limited French I completed this within 20 minutes. A few minutes later I received a confirmation email and I was registered in the French taxation and health systems. I could now advertise legally on the Angloinfo web site, as I had a Siret number, and I could now go after bigger jobs as I could legally work in France.
Opening a bank account was easy once I had the incorporation paperwork, which was delivered in around a week by post. I had tried previously to get a bank account but due to the money laundering rules, they have a long list of the paperwork needed before you can open an account. I needed a contract of employment, tenancy agreement, electricity/gas bills as well as my passport. So before becoming a legal business, life in France was hard for me. I had to work outside the system to get enough cash to pay for a place to stay. I stayed in hotels or hostels where you needed to pay daily or weekly for the first few months. The hotel staff were often helpful in finding me work as they had lots of contacts. I even got an evening job with one of them, for 2- 4 hrs per week, which helped with the bills of everyday living.
Building My Business Up
I started to become known for my electrical work. The main reason is that I turned up on time, did good work and charged a reasonable price.
For one simple rewiring job I quoted 1250 Euros and 2.5 -3 days but a French electrician quoted 3500 Euros and 3 weeks.
I went to quote for another job on a Tuesday at 10.00 am. I turned up at 10.00am Tuesday on the dot. The customer opened the door, looked surprised, and as I introduced myself, she said that I had the job. I had not even quoted her yet! It appeared that two French electricians had still to turn up from last week. They had not even called to arrange new appointments.
As I was going round for these small jobs, I kept hearing how bad the French electricians were. This is why I was successful; I turned up on time, did a good job, and charged a reasonable fee for the work done – simple.
Moving On and Reflections
In October 2010 the work enquiries became few and far between. I asked a friend in a similar business and it was the same for him. We assumed the recession had hit home, and there would be less work in France for people like us for a while. I had a pot of money coming to me in December 2010. So once I knew the amount I had to decide again; do I stay or do I go travelling? I have always had itchy feet syndrome and normally stay in a place for 18-24 months and then move on. So once the money arrived in my account I let it settle for a couple of days, then I started to look for flights for this holiday that was supposed to be 5 months and is currently in Month 18.
So how long did I stay and work in France? Almost 3 years.
Would I do it again? I did enjoy my time in France, and I would probably do it all over again, but I would advise anyone thinking of doing the same, to have a better understanding of the language before they go, to have a job lined up, or an income stream in place, and to have a backup plan if all goes wrong or they decide they do not like it once they get there. I got through the 1st year in France with a few hiccups along the way, mainly due to money, but it all sorted itself out in the end.
Tips for relocating to France
Learn the language at least to a basic level to get by in day to day life; your French will improve on a day to day basis living your life
Try and get in with the locals as soon as you can – not easy
Get in touch with expats for socializing etc
Get legally registered as a business or get a proper job as soon as you can
Get to love the paperwork- the French do mountains of it even for the simplest task
One word of warning; If you annoy a French person whom you need e.g. Government, utility, real estate, bank etc, expect your file to be processed very slowly, delayed or even lost! And you will have to submit it all over again.
For opening a bank account (or any other official requirement), they will give you a list of required documents. Get everything you can on that list, plus any other proof, ID, support documents you can think of and take them with you when you return. The process at the bank will not stop until you provide the list they have given you, but more often than not, they will continue to add items to the list on each visit. Try to find a ‘friendly’ office that deals with expats, e.g. some banks have international branches where they all have to speak English.
Bounce a cheque at your peril. Do not bounce a cheque, as cheques are considered cash and are guaranteed. If you do not have enough money in the account or an overdraft facility and your cheque is marked return to sender – ALL your accounts are frozen with immediate effect and you cannot do anything until you sort out that payment. This can cause a lot of hassle as all other payments to and from the account are restricted, so bills may go unpaid for a while.
Be prepared for extra payments on things that you rent e.g. houses, flat etc as the pricing schedules are not as transparent as in the UK.
Keep enough in reserve for emergency tickets home and travel expenses. Do not go to France without a plan or back up plan if things go wrong or you are just missing the “English way of life”.
Do lots of research on the way of life where you are going. Yes it’s nice and warm and pleasant in winter in the South of France, but there are a lot of pitfalls too.
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