8-Step Guide | Moving to France from the USA

June 22, 2022 | Home & Relocation, Life, Life France

It was Thomas Jefferson who said: “Every man has two countries, his own and France.”

The saying has held true for many of the most celebrated American artists.

The list of US citizens who moved to France from the USA includes Nina Simone, George Gershwin, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Aaron Copland and Ezra Pound.

The history of Americans moving to France from the USA dates back to at least 1803, when up to 50,000 free blacks moved to Paris from Louisiana after Napoleon sold the territory to the United States.

In 1814, protestant worshippers set up the first American church outsides of the US – the American Church in Paris. This was soon followed in the 1830s by the American Cathedral in Paris.

The American School in Paris – founded in 1946 after the end of World War II – is also the oldest American school in Europe.

Today, France and the United States maintain strong diplomatic and cultural relationships. The Embassy of the United States in Paris estimates some 100,000 American citizens live, work and enjoy the unique joie de vivre that France has to offer – making it one of the top 10 destination for American expatriates around the world.

(Just don’t expect to find a 10-pound turkey on Thanksgiving – most Americans in France make do with duck!)

moving to france from the USA

Thomas Jefferson served as the third president of the United States – he was also a Minister to France, was in Paris during the Storming of the Bastille and consulted the Marquis de Lafayette when writing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which became the basis of the French Republic.

Moving to France from the USA – 8-Step Guide

If you’re reading this 8-step guide on moving to France from the USA, you’re likely in one of two camps.

You’re either curious about moving to France from America – or you’ve made up your mind and want to know how to move to France as an American.

We’ve created the following 8 steps as questions readers from both of these camps must answer if they dream of living in France long-term. If you need more information, open our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to France page in a new tab and read it afterwards.

So, let’s learn how to live in France as an American!

Step 1 – Can I get a Carte de Séjour?

Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat.

Any US citizen with an American passport may stay up to 90 days (within a 180-day period) in France without applying for any kind of visa.

But if you’re planning to live in France as an American for more than 90 days, then you’re going to need a residency permit – the Carte de Séjour.  And to get a Carte de Séjour you’re going to need a long-stay visa – the visa long séjour (VLS).

There are different types of VLS:

  • Salarié: For those in employment.
  • Visiteur: For those in retirement or planning on a long-term holiday.
  • Étudiant: For students.
  • Vie privée et familiale: For those joining a relative or family.

You can apply for your VLS from within the United States. The official France-Visas gives you all the documents you need, tells you more about the visas available and tells you where your nearest VFS Global Centre is (all in English).

There are centres in: Washington DC, Boston, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Fransisco.

You can visit the official France-Visas website later – we’re just warning you here. If your VLS is approved, you’ll receive it with the words ‘carte de séjour à soliciter’ which indicates you still need to obtain your Carte de Séjour from one of the 101 Préfectures in France.

The Carte de Séjour is renewable every year for three years. You’re then able to apply for a permanent Carte de Resident, which is valid for up to 10 years.

There’s more detailed information about driving licenses (your US driving licence is only valid for one year – except if you come from specific states like Colorado) in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to France.

Bear in mind that anyone moving to France from the USA as an employee will need their contract approved by the French Labor Ministry and the French Office of Immigration and Integration.

In many cases, it can be tough if you’re considering how to move to France from the USA without a job – see Step 3.

Step 2 – Can I afford to live in France?

The cost of living in France is 22.58% lower than in the United States.

The above figure was taken from comparison site Numbeo, which suggest that grocery prices are 7% lower in France than in the US  and rent prices are 79% lower in France than in the US.

But a countrywide comparison is unlikely to be a perfect fit.

Nice on the French Riviera has the highest cost of living index in France (76) whereas Paris has the highest cost of living + rent index (60).

Meanwhile Toulouse in the south – France’s international centre of aeronautics and aerospace – has the highest local purchasing power index in France (92).

As a very rough average, as a single person you’ll need $1640 a month (including rent) to survive in France.

Here’s a brief overview of taxes in France:

  • You will pay income tax in France if you reside there more than 183 days in a calendar year, if your main source of income is in France, and if you own substantial assets in France.
  • Income tax starts at 11% when you earn over $10,654 a year, rising to 30% when you earn $27,162, then 41% when you earn over $77,609 and finally 45% when you earn over $167,000.
  • If you work with a France-based company, you’ll pay social security contributions equivalent of 8% of annual income.

Bear in mind you will need to file US tax returns as an expat – regardless of whether you have residency in France. The US Government will deduct $107,600 from the taxable base of income you earn in France.

You will also need to set up a French bank account if you’re planning on paying rent, receiving paychecks, paying taxes or buying a property in France – find out more in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to France. 

Step 3: Can I work in France?

Obtaining a working visa can be the best route to moving to France from the USA – if you’re not a student, retired, can prove enough funds to survive in France without work or have French family.

If you work for an American company with a subsidiary office in France, they can likely sort out the vast majority of your bureaucratic and logistical hurdles to moving to France from the USA.

If you’re self-employed or run your own business, you should be able to get a work visa with sufficient documentation.

No job and no money? You’ll struggle to live in France as an American.

But it’s better you know now reading the rest of this guide dreaming of all the cabernet sauvignon you’re going to glug in a Parisian bistro.

From our network of expats at MumAbroad, these are the three best options to consider if you’re out of work and cash:

  • Apply for acceptance at a French university, which will allow you to live in France as an American and work part-time.
  • Start your own business, and apply for an entrepreneur visa.
  • Marry or enter into a civil union with a French citizen.

Step 4: Can I get healthcare in France?

The French healthcare system is fantastic – the World Health Organisation ranked it number 1 out of 191 member states.

The French government refunds patients 70% of most healthcare costs – and 100% for costly procedures or long-term ailments.

So what’s the catch?

If you’re not registered with France’s public health insurance programme (and don’t have the Carte Vitale health card) you will pay all costs up front.

If you’re working with a business in France, your social security contributions will grant you access to public healthcare. If you’re self-employed, you can pay into the social security system.

If you’re not paying social security in any EU country (and you’re not studying or receiving a pension) you can apply to a government scheme called PUMa and pay a monthly contribution to register for state health insurance.

It’s another reason why moving to France without a job or money is a bad idea: you’ll need to take out private healthcare or pay 100% of any medical costs up front.

Step 5: Where am I going to live in France?

It’s a question we hear a lot: where should I live in France as an American?

French property market data shows that foreign buyers make up over 15% of all transactions in the following regions:

  • Brittany & Normandy in the northeast (Rennes, Huelgoat, Domfront, Flers)
  • Around the Dordogne and Loire rivers in the west (Charente, Dordogne, Haute-Vienne, Limoges)
  • Occitanie region in the south (Carcassonne, Toulouse, Montpellier)
  • The French Riviera in the southeast (Nice, Cannes, Saint-Tropez)
  • The Alpine regions in the east (Lyon, Annecy, Chambery, Courchevel)

It might surprise you these are all rural areas – not Paris. But a large number of these foreign buyers are British or from the EU, are overwhelmingly retired, and enjoy living in the stunning French countryside.

Data from the French national statistics agency INSEE gives a clearer idea where the 31,000 employed Americans in France live:

  • 15,500 live in the Ile-de-France region surrounding Paris
  • 9,500 live in Paris itself
  • 3,580 live in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in the east
  • 2,529 live in the French Riviera and wider south-eastern Provence region
  • 2,404 live in the Occitanie region in the south, where Toulouse is the capital

If you’re planning to send your belongings to freight, bear in mind you’ll need to pay 20% VAT plus duties on many items you’ve owned beyond six months. (Freight can also cost thousands of dollars before accounting for these extra costs.)

Many Americans living in France recommend you ditch anything with a plug. French mains electricity supplies 230 volts compared with the standard 120 volts in the US.

Another tip: if you’re not working for a French company and can’t prove you earn three times more than your rent, your landlord will likely require you get a guarantor to be able to rent a property in France.

Find out more about buying a house in France and renting in France in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to France. 

moving to france from the usa

A map showing where 31,000 Americans live in France – source.

Step 6: Where do I send my children to school in France?

If you’re bring your children along to France, you’ll be considering what school to send them to.

Public schools in France are free – but your child will be studying in French and be unlikely to have any quality English-language tuition.

You can read here a list of our top-rated bilingual, expat friendly and international schools in France (covering Paris, Lyon, Nice and Toulouse)

You can also find more about the French school system here.

Step 7: Will I integrate well in France?

France has an international reputation for not speaking English.

And it’s fair enough – French is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world, with more speakers worldwide than Arabic. France will often dub foreign films into French. There’s even an official body who seeks out French alternatives for English works, like logiciel instead of software and courriel instead of e-mail.

The 2012 Eurobarometer Report found that 39% of the French population have some proficiency in English – these will likely be in the bigger cities of Paris, Lyon and Toulouse.

France also has a reputation for being unfriendly. Cannes in the French Riviera rated the second-most unfriendly city in the world after Johannesburg in South Africa in a recent study. Marseille came in fifth place.

The reputation is unfair. As one of the top 10 destination for American expats around the world, tens of thousands of them are integrated well into French culture.

Learning French will likely be a prerequisite to proper integration.

Advice from our MumAbroad community suggests a healthy balance of having a local American friend base as you build stronger ties – in French – will locals.

Step 8: Should I live in French permanently?

There are many things to love about living in France as an American.

Here are some fascinating facts about France:

  • Winemaking and perfumes feature in the top 10 French export products, alongside cars, machinery, aircraft and medical apparatus
  • The Renault Clio is the best selling car in Europe
  • France is not the biggest producer of wine (that’s Italy) but accounts for 30% of international sales – the lion’s share
  • There are more than 40,000 chateaux (or stately homes) in France
  • French fashion houses make up five of the world’s top 10 most valuable brands – Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Dior are the top three.
  • France is the largest country in the European Union, with 17% of its landmass covered in forests
  • France has more Nobel Prize literature winners than any other country in the world
  • At 4,807m, Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps
  • The Louvre Museum in Paris is the most-visited museum in the world, and home to the Mona Lisa

If you’ve answered all the previous 7 questions in this 8-step guide to moving to France from the USA, this last question might come easier.

You’ll have a sufficient work situation to spend three years before you can get a permanent residency permit which lets you reside in France for 10 years.

If you’re still curious about how to move to France from the USA, don’t forget to read our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to France.

moving to France from the USA

There are more than 40,00 Chateaux in France – this one is the Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire valley.

FAQ – Moving to France from the USA

Can I move to France from the USA?

Yes, you can legally move to France from the USA. You can stay up to 90 days in a 180-day period without applying for any kind of visa. If you want to stay for longer, then you’ll need to get one of the available long-stay visas.

How to move to France without a job?

If you are not retired, and have no French immediate family, you will struggle to move to France without a job. To get a long-stay tourist visa, you will to prove you have sufficient funds to support your stay in France. Otherwise you will need to apply to study at a French university.

Where do most American expats live in France?

The majority of Americans living in France live in Paris. The next biggest enclave is in the Ile-de-France surrounding Paris, then the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region followed by the French Riviera in the southeast.

Can I move to France from the USA with a cat or dog?

Yes, you can bring your cat or dog into France. You’ll need a USDA accredited veterinarian to complete official health certificates before travelling to France – otherwise your pet could be held in quarantine in France.

The following dog breeds are banned form entering France: Staffordshire Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa Inu, Boerbull Mastiff.

Find out more in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to France.

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