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How to move to France or Italy

Whether you’re newly landed or are in the planning process, relocating to Europe can present some interesting hurdles. Here’s what you need to know.

How to move to France or Italy

Yearning for a view of a Tuscan hill town, or to live among the winding streets of a Breton fishing village? For so many, moving to Europe is a dream come true. 

However, no matter how thorough your planning is, you are likely to come up against obstacles. 

Together with boutique relocation experts French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB, The Local looks at some of the issues you may not have considered. 

The letter of the law

While settling in France or Italy is easier than in many parts of the world, depending on your circumstances or where you are from, you may need special visas to stay. 

Obtaining these can be tricky, and requires a lot of homework. For example, in France you need to apply for a visa before you leave your country of residence, with multiple stages of validation including visits to your local préfecture (local administration) needed throughout the process. If you wish to settle in Italy, you’ll be making an initial application, then mostly working with the local questura (police) to take fingerprints and other data, before you are granted your Permesso di Soggiorno (residency permit)

If you have purchased a new home abroad, odds are that you’ve already experienced the delightful intricacies of French or Italian law. If not, get ready for an almost endless process of paperwork and waiting periods as local bureaucracy does its thing. 

Even so, your interactions with the law in the course of your new life may extend far beyond dealing with visas or land deeds. 

Did you know, for instance, that there’s an Italian village where it’s illegal to die? Or that you can be heavily fined for skylarking around your home naked in France? 

Sure, these may be extreme instances of weird and obscure laws, but they do reflect a wider fact – life is regulated and legislated differently in Europe, on a local level, and a minor slip-up can have surprising ramifications. 

Family and inheritance laws also differ considerably between France and Italy and the rest of the world. You can’t simply trust that a will may be interpreted the way you intend it, or that inheritance will work the same way in your new home. 

It’s important, therefore, to be able to rely on experts in the field who can advise on things like property law and setting up a will, should you ever need them. 

Let French Connections HBC make your move très simple!

The lay of the land 

Something else that’s important to understand is that both France and Italy are, essentially, collections of small, incredibly diverse principalities. 

This manifests in many different ways. For example, distance and location can often render the local French or Italian indecipherable to those from the outside – not only in terms of accent, but grammar and truly tricky idioms. 

These differences extend beyond language, to how businesses operate, and when you can access certain services. 

Tradesmen may operate differently to how you would expect, with surprising requirements or payment terms. Break a window at the wrong time and you may find yourself without anyone to come out for a week – or with a bill you don’t quite know how to pay! 

You may find that certain documentation you need is delayed by local festivals or irregular opening hours that haven’t been communicated anywhere that you’re likely to find it. 

Without deep local knowledge or someone on ‘the inside’, it can be exceptionally difficult to get things done promptly without significant delays. 

What can make it so much easier is to have someone who knows how to navigate the appointment merry-go-round, and get you face to face with officials. 

Find out how Italian Connections HBC can deliver la dolce vita!

High-rise life, Tuscan-style: San Gimignano is one of the many Tuscan hilltop towns attracting visitors each year. Photo: Getty Images

The long and winding road 

Getting around can also present some unique challenges you may not have expected. 

Recent law changes in Italy, for example, mean that you’ll need to register your car as soon as you have your residency settled – or your wheels may be impounded! This process isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems and has proved a headache for many unsuspecting new arrivals. 

While you are permitted to drive on your existing licence for a period in France, for instance, you’ll need to swap it for a French licence within a year. This can be tricky, especially if the last time you had any sort of conversation in French was high school. 

Buying a new car in France or Italy can also be more complex than ‘back home’, with changing legislation and differences in EU regulations meaning that what you want may be difficult to find. 

If all that sounds like a headache, many people opt to pay for specialist help. Having someone in your corner who can not only speak the local language but smooth the way through the obstacles of car purchasing and registration can be well worth it. 

Boutique, bespoke assistance

Having people to assist you with the intricacies of local life is a godsend when you’re abroad, but good help can be hard to find. 

Friends can often be eager to assist, but complex and frequent requests may place a strain on the friendship – and who wants that? 

You might turn to a professional service. Unfortunately, not all services are equal, and some simply don’t deliver what is promised. So be sure to seek out companies with good reputations and a dedicated level of assistance.

Such companies include French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB. Their team of dedicated, on-call experts have been helping people from the wider world settle and enjoy life in France for the last few years, and are now helping others move to Italy. They are accomplished at cutting through local red tape and smoothing the way for the life you’ve been seeking!

Many of the services they offer include the big hassles like securing visas to settle and changing your driving licence, to everyday chores like making medical appointments or seeking a quote from a tradesmen, even helping you in your search for your dream home – this is when local expertise and language skills really come into play, especially when you are first getting settled.

Moving to France or Italy? Call on the team that cuts the busy work – giving you more time to enjoy your new life!

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FRENCH BUREAUCRACY

Everything you need to know about your vital French ‘dossier’

It's a crucial part of life and an incomplete one can bring about a whole world of pain - here's what you need to know about your French dossier.

Everything you need to know about your vital French 'dossier'

The French word un dossier simply means a file – either in the physical sense of a plastic or cardboard item that holds documents together or the sense of a collection of documents. You might also hear civil servants use dossier to refer to the responsibilities they hold, as in English we might say their ‘brief’. 

But by far the most important use of dossier, particularly to foreigners in France, is its use to indicate the collection of documents that you must put together in order to complete vital administrative tasks, from registering in the health system to finding somewhere to live.

When you begin a new administrative process, you will need to put together a collection of documents in order to make your application. Exactly what you need varies depending on the process, but almost all dossiers will include;

  • Proof of ID – passport, birth certificate or residency card. If a birth certificate is required check carefully exactly what type of certificate is being asked for (and don’t freak out if they’re asking for a birth certificate no more than three months old, it doesn’t mean you have to be born again).

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

  • Proof of address – utility bills are usually the best, if you’re on paperless billing you can log into your online account with your power supplier and download an Attetstation de contrat which has your name and address on it and also acts as proof of address
  • Proof of financial means – depending on the process you might have to show proof of your income/financial means. This can include things like your last three months payslips or your most recent tax return. If you’re house-hunting you might be asked for your last three quittances de loyer – these are rent receipts and prove that you have been paying your rent on time. Landlords are legally obliged to provide these if you ask, but if you can’t find them or it’s a problem you can also ask your landlord to provide an attestatation de bon paiment – a certificate stating that you pay what you owe on time.

Paper v online

The traditional dossier is a bulging file full of papers, but increasingly administrative processes are moving online, so you may be able to simply upload the required documents instead of printing them all out. 

If you have to send physical copies of documents by mail, make sure you send them by lettre recommandée (registered mail), not only does it keep your precious documents safe, but some offices will only accept documents that arrive this way. 

If you’re able to send your dossier online, pay careful attention to the format specified for documents – usually documents like rental contracts or work contracts will be in Pdf format while for documents like a passport or residency card a jpeg (such as a photo taken on your phone) will suffice. If you’re sending photos of ID cards, residency cards or similar make sure you upload photos of both sides of the card.

If you need scanned documents there is no need to buy an expensive scanner – there are now numerous free phone apps that will do the job and allow you to photograph the documents with your phone’s camera and convert them to Pdf files.

Some French government sites are a little clunky and won’t accept large files – if you get an error message telling you that the file you are uploading is too big, you can resize it using a free online photo resizing tool. 

Payment

If the process requires payment (eg changing address on certain types of residency card or applying for citizenship) you may be asked for a timbre fiscale – find out how they work here

House-hunting

If you are looking for a property to rent you will need to compile a dossier and if you’re in one of the big cities – especially Paris – landlords or agencies usually won’t even grant you a viewing without seeing your dossier first, so it’s always best to compile this before you start scanning property adverts.

The government has put together a tool called Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Find a full explanation of how it works here.

Attestations

For foreigners, especially new arrivals, it’s often a problem getting together all the documents required. It’s worth knowing that if you don’t have everything you need, you can sometimes substitute documents for an attestation sur l’honneur, which is a sworn statement. 

How to write a French attestation sur l’honneur

This is a legally valid document, with penalties for submitting a false one, and needs to be in French and written in a certain format – the French government website provides a template for the attestation.

Vocab

Déposer un dossier – submit your file

Pièce d’identitie – proof of ID eg passport, residency card

Acte de naissance – birth certificate. 

Copie intégral – a copy of the document such as a photocopy or scan

Extrait – a new version of the document, reissued by the issuing authority

Sans/ avec filiation – for birth certificates it might be specified that you need one avec filiation, which means it includes your parents’ details. Some countries issue as standard short-form birth certificates that don’t include this, so you will need to request a longer version of the certificate

Justificatif de domicile – proof of address eg recent utility bills. If you don’t have any bills in your name you can ask the person who either owns the property or pays the rent to write an attestation de domicile stating that you live there

Justificatif de situation professionnelle – proof of your work status eg a work contract – either a CDI (permenant contract) or CDD (short-term contract)

Justificatif de ressources – proof of financial means, such as your last three months payslips (employers are legally obliged to provide these), other proof of income or proof of pension payments or evidence of savings.

Avis d’imposition – tax return. Some processes ask for this separately, for others it can be used as proof of resources – this is not a copy of the declaration that you make, but the receipt you get back from the tax office laying out your income and any payments that are required. If you declare your taxes online in France, you can download a copy of this document from the tax website. 

Quittance de loyer – rent receipts

Attestation de bon paiment – a document from your landlord stating that you pay your rent on time

Un garant – for some processes, particularly house-hunting, you might need a financial guarantor. This can be tricky for foreigners since it has to be someone you know reasonably well, but that person must also be living (and sometimes working) in France, and they will also need to provide all the above documents. If you’re struggling to find an acceptable guarantor, there are online services that will provide a guarantor (for a fee).

En cours de traitement – this means that your dossier has been received and is in the process of being evaluated. Depending on the process this stage can take anywhere between hours, months or even years (in the case of citizenship applications).

RDV – the shortened version of rendez-vous, this is an appointment. Certain processes require you to first submit your dossier and then attend an in-person appointment.

Votre dossier est incomplet – bad news, you are missing one or more crucial documents and your application will not proceed any further until you have remedied this.

Votre dossier est validé – your dossier has been approved. Time to pop the Champagne!

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