The process of leaving France to the US requires various preparation steps
- Immigration matters
- Financial preparation
- Job situation
- Shipping personal belongings
- Administrative tasks
As a French citizen and a US green card holder, all the immigration steps had to be taken on the US side.
- Notify your US lawyer of your move. The goal is to ensure that you won’t have any issues coming back in. As mentioned in previous posts, I had obtained a “travel document” before moving to France allowing me to leave the US for up to 2 years. Lawyer recommended to not “push” this deadline to the max. In my case I came back after 1.5 years
- Prepare all potential documents that shows your intent of moving back to the US. In my case, I had an offer letter from a company.
Ensure you have enough money (in France and in the US) to handle the move. Here are the main items to save for :
- Plane tickets.
- Shopping : There will be items/goods that you will not be able to find in the US, or at a higher cost. Before leaving I ensure to budget a “week of shopping spree” to purchase mainly housewares (kitcken items primarily). No need to think about buying food, these won’t go through customs if shipping via container
- Shipping : In my case, the equivalent of 4 M3 , 400KG shipment cost about 2000 euros. I will go in more details on the breakdown later on
- lodging when arriving in the US.
- If you don’t own a car in the US, you probably would want to buy one. In my case, I had kept mine at a friend’s place. Take in consideration the adjustment of the car insurance
- French taxes : “les impots” will contact you around April to file your taxes and require you to pay various taxes (revenus, locaux ). Keep this in mind. You can pay online nowadays, so you can pay from a US bank account, but it is most likely cheaper to pay from a French bank account. I strongly suggest you keep your French bank account (more to come on W9 form)
3 month notice is very common in France. This usually applies if you are a “cadre”. You will want to notify your employer early in advance. My understanding is that if you leave earlier, they might try to recover some money from you. But I am unsure how this works. Some employers might also agree to let you go a few weeks/months in advance since they know that your productivity will be lower. This was not my case, I had to stick for 3 months. You might be able to ask to take all your remaining PTO towards the end of your 3 months, but this is likely to be declined.
From my personal experience (job at Heineken), you would think that 3 months would allow proper knowledge transfer to a new employees. Unfortunately, since it takes 3 months for someone to quit a company, it takes up to 3 months for someone to start in a company. I ended up doing knowledge transfer for just 2 weeks even though I had given my notice 3 months in the past
I was lucky enough to get re-hired in my previous US company. Obtain an offer letter early enough so that you could use this as proof of financial solvability to the custom agent (not really required, but nice to have)
Shipping personal belonging
Finding a good company that will handle your shipment from door to door can be challenging. You will find various companies online that handle this. Throughout my research, I checked reviews on these different companies. You can read horror stories from people writing that some of their items got broken, stolen or delayed by many many months. Unfortunately, I do not have a recommendation about a company. Both companies I use ( to move from US to and France AND France to US ) were pretty bad. ( see my post mentioning AES logistics ).
From my perspective, I started the process with low expectations and knew that “something” would happen (which it did).
To give a ballpark idea my shipment was :
- 4 M3
- Equivalent of a studio (without any furniture)
- door to door service
- Movers pack your belongings in boxes
- 2000 euros (payment is done when movers come to pack your items)
I will give additional information in a following post on this matter.
On the French side you will need to cancel/adjust various information:
- phone/internet/cell company
- the rule in France is that you can get out of your 2 years contract (which is the standard). You will have to pay a penalty fee, that’s basically 25% of whatever money you would have had to pay to complete the 2 years
- Make sure to request your cell phone if you had it for more than 6 months, you should be eligible for this and it could be use in the US with another provider
- Returning your internet box (livebox, bbox, freebox) is usually done in 3 different ways
- go to the store and return it when you cancel your contract
- ship it ( you should receive a packing slip when you cancel the contract)
- Go to a “point Relay” which are stores that are not a phone provider but are used as relay for those type of services
- Electricity/Gas : your landlord, in theory should assist with this (basically take over the contract)
- home/renter insurance
- Cable (CanalSat), they make it hard to cancel their contract if you have not reached the 1 year date. They don’t seem to do contract by the month, but by the year
- Assurance maladie : No need to do anything, when you quit from your company, they will know that you are not contributing anymore. After a year being out, you will not be covered anymore (to be confirmed though)
- Let them know your new address in the US when they have it.
- Because of some international tax law they will make you fill a W9 form.
- There is nothing that states that you cannot keep your bank account if you moved out of France. The only fee they charge usually is for a debit/credit card.
- Post office. Forward your mail, up to a year to your US address. This costs about 100 euros and can be done online on the “la poste” website
Find a place
I was lucky enough to have a place available to rent and live in when I arrived in France, I did not need to go through a bunch of administrative tasks ot provide specific documents. However, it seems like renter usually require various guarantees to let you move in. Proof of employment, bank account balance information …
- Proof of employment – If you still work for a US company and if you are planning on renting in Paris, you can probably provide a proof of employment in English, property managers usually know enough English to accept these
- Bank account information – You will probably want to open a French bank account. The issue is that in order to open an account (BNP or Societe generale are the ones I dealt with ) you will need a French address, which of course could cause an issue if you are trying to rent a place. I am unsure of what the process would be here. If you are able to setup wire transfers from your US bank to the property owner/manager, you should be fine though
Boxes should be delivered to your door just need to make sure that everything you sent arrived.
Unfortunately for my case, the boxes got opened during transit and things got stolen. The company which handled my shipment from the French port to my place had identified this before delivering to my place. A few electronic items got stolen. In theory you would think that the insurance would kick in without issue, unfortunately it took me multiple phone calls and months to get some sort of compensation. For a laptop and small additional items, I got reimbursed 200 euros which is far less than what was the value. Needless to say that I was disappointed with the moving company I used.
Immigraton – carte de sejour
As a French citizen, migrating back was not an issue. However my wife had to go through the whole process of “carte de Sejour”
We got married in France, pretty much right after we moved in. This allowed us to submit a request for “titre de sejour” for her. This needs to be submitted at a French consulate abroad. The wait was about 3 weeks for her to be able to get inside the country with a “temporary titre de sejour”. Throughout the first 6 months in France, she had to go through the OFII process ensuring that she can be properly “integrated” in France. French classes at local school were provided to her. After a year the “temporary titre de sejour” has to be renewed with a “titre de sejour”. This is a matter of taking an appointment at the prefecture ( Paris 1er prefecture requires 2 months wait to get an appointment, so schedule your appointment early enough ). The appointment consists on providing multiple documents proving that we live together. Even though it does not seem I needed to be present for this appointment it is probably a good idea.
A few tips :
- If you are living in Paris, beginner level French classes are at the “alliance francaise” this is a pretty decent school with a few locations across Paris. You will be eligible to A1 and A2 classes. These level basically allow you to “get around” in the country with basic French. If you are leaving in the suburb of Paris, you will get free classes in the “department” you are living in; the quality of their classes is not really good from what I have been told. Some of my wife’s classmate would rather pay the classes in Paris/Alliance Francaise instead of taking the free classes in the suburb.
- Even though this is not written anywhere, you would need to bring a proof of employment at the prefecture when you apply for your carte de sejour (if the immigrant has a job, that would be hers, if she does not have a job, it would be the petitioner). The first time we did the carte de sejour renewal we did not have to bring this document, the second time we did.
As mentioned earlier, our civil wedding occurred a couple weeks after we moved in to France. We got married at the town of Villeneuve le roi. It was very easy to obtain a time slot especially since this was during the middle of the week during winter. There is a minimum wait of 12 days between the time you submit your request to get married and the day to be married. Translated birth certificates need to be provided. The “mairie” can provide you a list of official translators.
The wedding itself requires an official translator to be present so that whatever is read during the ceremony is translated by him so that it could be fully understood by everyone. You can obtain the list of official translators from the Mairie. My wife being a Japanese citizen but speak English fluently, we chose a English translator (which is much easier to find than a Japanese one)
I was able to find a job fairly quickly when moving to France. By getting a job in a French company, you get automatically registered in the French tax systems. There are 3 main tasks to pay, “impots sur les revenus”, “impots fonciers” (if you own real estate), “taxes d’habitation”. The first year, when you receive your tax filing documents, your salary will be probably pre-filled, but if you have other incomes in France, they might not necessarily know. In the US it is usual to get help from a tax preparer; when in France, I actually was able to use the “service des impots” on the phone. They are actually pretty useful, but you might need to be able to speak French to get help. Me and my wife filed jointly.
In the event that you want to work for a US company while working in the US ( which is what I did the first 3 months I moved to France ), the process is really simple: you pay taxes to the US government for the income you earned in the US. I had to call an international tax lawyer to get the details, and I suggest you do the same if you are planning on doing something like that. Here is the contact for the lawyer I used (and was really happy with the advices he gave me) : Albert S Golbert – 213-891-9641 firstname.lastname@example.org. Things might change when your salary reaches a certain level though, this would also need to be asked.
When getting hired in a French company you automatically benefit from the French health care system (I am unsure for someone who is not French though). My wife is also automatically covered. Most company provide a “mutuelle” which is a complementary private insurance that usually covers the remaining of the health care cost (to some extend).
In order to get my wife covered, things took a little longer since she did not have a social security number. After filling the appropriate papers, she gets assigned a number and provided a card. She eventually got a job a few months after moving in, this is when things got a little messy, she was assigned another social security number, which of course causes confusion. I am unsure if this is a glitch in the system or something we did wrong during the process. No matter what she has always been covered.
Even though the French unemployment rate is quite high, jobs in my industry (IT) are still fairly easy to find. I had the luxury to take a good month to search and obtain multiple offers. If you do have the opportunity to have some time to search, I strongly recommend you weigh your choices. Make sure to research “what you are worth” on the market, the fact that I was fluent in English opens up quite a bit of doors. To give a rough idea, Salaries for a job in the San Francisco Bay Area pretty much relate to jobs in Paris. I did not do any “research” on the topic but felt like this is what it was.
Most of the move is like any other intra country moves, I will describes the ones that might differ.
Set things up with moving company.
At least 1 month in advance, contact the company to plan the move. The company I used was “AIS Logistics”. You should obtain quotes from other companies as well. throughout my travels, here are the companies I contacted :
- AES Logistics
- Norcal Movers
- Clarke and Rose
- But also the mainstream ones : DHL, TNT(max 500kg)
They will need various forms prefilled and a rough idea of the volume.
There are 2 methods (that I know of) to ship items via these companies. Container or Pallets. Since I did not have enough to fill a whole container, I chose to send my goods on a pallet. Note : Pallets have different sizes in the US and France, the footprint is about 3feet X 4feet in the US. The French ones are smaller.
Make sure to ask
- If the moving company will provide the pallet or not (I forgot to ask, fortunately the truck driver had a couple extra ones).
- You will also need to ask if they will provide a liftgate to load the pallets in the truck.
- If they will come and pack your items for you, if they will have you do it and just pick up boxes OR if they will just expect everything ready to ship on the pallets
From the French custom side, you should not get any “TVA” added on your item as long as you have been owning items for more than 6 months and that you have a “certificate de changement de residence”. This probably does not matter for small items, but anything that might be electronic could be an issue, just make sure to receipts of purchase for expensive items (these were never asked to me though).
Certificat de changement de residence
Prior to the move, you would need to obtain a “certificate de changement de residence” from the French consulate. This basically allows you to not have to pay taxes when bringing your belongings. This applies if you are a French citizen who had register to the French consulate in the US.
Day of the move
- Needless to say that you would need to make an inventory of what is in each boxes; this inventory would need to be provided to the shipping company for insurance purposes.
- You will also need to secure the boxes to the pallets. you can use “pallet wrap tape”. The overall shape of the pallets with the boxes does not have to be totally rectangular.
- Each boxes will have to be labeled with a booking number.
- Boxes would need to be stacked up properly so that they don’t crush each other.
- The pallets will be put in a “shared” container, where other customers’ pallets will reside.
- You do not need to necessarily weight each boxes before shipping but this could be useful to get the overall weight as well as comparing at the arrival destination if anything got lost.
- type of boxes I used were : 18x18x24in and 16x12x12
Company will send a truck. A bill of lading will have been provided to you, you will need to have it ready. You will be asked to provide a parking spot for the truck not too far from where the pallets are. The mover I use did not come pick up the boxes to my apartment, I had to bring everything down close to the truck.
These costs will vary dramatically based on some choices. I will just give a rough idea based on my experience.
items I decided to move :
- Any “sentimental” and personal items
- All electronic equipment. Computers, TV, projector
Items I did not move :
I sold one of my car and left my other car at a friend’s place in his driveway in the US
I just had everything given away or trashed
The total of what I moved represented
- 2 palettes
- weight : total of about 550kg
- Volume 3.3 m3
The initial payment to the US moving was $7000
At the arrival of the goods in France, the French “moving” company contacted me and had me pay additional fees : 700euros
These represented various fees such as:
- handling fees
- Shipping to home address
Additional noticeable misc fees to take in consideration :
- Boxes ( could be purchased at Home Depot ), use the “strong ones”
- pallets ( I was lucky, the driver who that came to pick up the boxes had a couple empty pallets in his truck he could give me )
Now, if I had to do this again (which I did to go back to the US), I would have hired a moving company that pack/load/ship goods without me having to handle much of the logistics.
Before initiating the process, I had to take multiple aspects in consideration :
- Am I prepared to change my lifestyle ( financially and socially)
- How do I see my life in the mid term and long term
- What type of job can I find in France
- How is my career going to be affected
- Do I want to move all my belongings or part of it
- What to do about various savings in the US (401K, Roth etc…)
- Who can help me through the process
- If married or engaged, would my wife be willing and able to move as well
- How much money can I spend to execute this move
For my part, the decision was already taken; so, even though I took all these elements in consideration, I knew I would need to move to France.