Relocating to any new country, even one that you may have visited many times just across the channel, carries with it a potential for stress. In addition to reducing the possible culture-shock of 'parachuting' into any new environment, there are a substantial number of arrangements that will need to be made to ensure your safe and trouble-free arrival. Good planning is the key to reducing stress in both areas.
Section one contains some practical considerations to help you plan well so that you don't escalate stress with a big last-minute rush. In section two we've listed some emotional and psychological considerations to help you prepare yourself to fit into your new life with the minimum of distress and the maximum of enjoyment.
1. Some practical things you might need to think about!
As soon as possible ...
- Start taking French lessons! Try to get all the family involved.
- Hand in your notice at work and make sure you receive a P45.
- Get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to be eligible for free emergency health treatment. This covers you for a limited period only (long enough for you to register yourself within the French health system).
You can get yours online at www.ehic.org.uk or by calling 0845 606 2030. Top Tip: It's FREE! Beware online scams and 'official looking' web sites that offer to process your card for a fee.
For information on reciprocal healthcare contact the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Two months before you move
- Get estimates from removal companies. Top tip: Make free quote requests on transport sites such as Any Van and Shiply. Transport providers will then bid for your business, allowing you to select the lowest prices from the companies with the best reviews.
- Organise separate transport and/or insurance for any particularly valuable or delicate belongings.
One month before
- Book your ferry tickets for the car(s) and family.
- Contact the council to bring council tax payments up to date and to inform them of changes to your address for the electoral register (as a British citizen, you're still entitled to vote in general elections).
- Give notice to your landlord (if renting) and retrieve your deposit.
- Notify people and organisation of your new address in France: bank, passport office, DVLA for driving licences and car registration details, pension company, insurance brokers, credit card companies, etc.
Two weeks before
- Cancel accounts with gas, electric, water, phone, contents insurance, TV licence, doctors and dentist. Request any refunds and arrange for bills to be sent to your new address in France.
- Arrange for mail to be redirected to your new French address.
Looking for a French property...?
If you don't already have a home to move to:
- Narrow down your search to a region, area or town in France.
- Read as many books and magazines as you can.
- If you've decided where you want to live in France, start getting property details from estate agents.
- Consider renting a property in your chosen area to get to know it better or to spend longer looking for properties.
- Arrange to go on a viewing trip to France (either alone or with an estate agent) and view as many properties as possible while there.
- If you find a house you like, arrange a second viewing at a different time of day because this will help you to see if the neighbourhood is any quieter, busier, noisier or scruffier.
- Don't isolate yourself. Peace and tranquillity are important but having to drive several kilometres to get to your neighbours is a disadvantage. If you are keen to integrate, and if you need to network because you are making a living in France, aim to be on the edge of a large village or small town for maximum enjoyment.
Top tip: just because you can afford to buy land, doesn't mean you should. Think of how much work you want to do at home!
If you have animals ...
Three months before you move
- Get up-to-date vaccinations for rabies, a clear blood test and PETS1 and PETS5 certificates.
Two months before
- Organise transport, preferably with a specialist animal transporter.
One month before
- Microchip your pets with your new details in France. If they're already micro-chipped, ask your vet to update your address and contact details.
If you have a car you want to bring to France ...
Two months before you move
- Contact the DVLA to update the address on your driving licence and car registration form.
- If taking your British-registered car with you, get a certificate of permanent export (V561) from the DVLA.
One month before
- Contact your car insurance company to make sure the policy covers the car being driven in France. Update your policy as necessary.
- Consider getting separate car insurance and breakdown cover through a French company - our recommendation is french-insurance.com.
2. The emotional side of relocating to France
Relocating to a new country can be an emotional roller-coaster!
It begins with all the excitement of the impending move! There is all the excitement of planning the trip, finding and negotiating with the removal company, sourcing a new French property or making arrangements to stay full-time in one that has been a holiday home until now.
And then there are the 'good-byes' you need to say. And not just to friends, work colleagues, peer groups and a UK-based social network, but to a way of life you are familiar with. We often counter any sense of disquiet about this by playing on the positives of the relocation opportunity, and this is a helpful exercise. However, ignoring - or refusing to acknowledge - that we may miss anything about our old life means that we move on in a state of denial, which can be damaging in the longer term. We should understand and accept that the 'new' life won't be an exact replica of the 'old', and be prepared to find new compensations and pleasures to replace those we are leaving behind.
And it is important to have a balanced view about the new life we are moving to. Yes, it may be a great opportunity, a fantastic adventure, an enticing new start, but it's also 'life' - and will therefore be full of the usual ups and downs.
And the 'downs' will have to be navigated initially without the normal support structures (perhaps close friends dropping around for coffee and a chat) that you may be used to relying upon. Dealing with things in isolation can be tough, but it's doubly so if you've failed to prepare yourself for that initial isolation and emotional independence, and therefore experience a wave of sadness at what you're suddenly missing.
So, take time now to think about what you are saying good-bye to. Make the time to say good-bye to friends and family, and plan for how you will all stay connected once you are abroad. Then you can start to look forward to the new social networks you will create!
It's also important to consider the emotional and psychological impacts of other changes which, although apparently trivial in themselves when one is on a two-week vacation in France, can turn into peeves or frustrations over a longer period. For example:
The regular availability of certain produce and items is less certain in France than in the UK, and some things will certainly be absent altogether. For example, there's no access to M&S except on-line, so if you're a regular customer for food or underwear then other arrangements will need to be made. Also, don't discount the potential disruption caused by shops closing between 12 and 2. Starting off a shopping trip at 11.30 will likely result in stress and disappointment!
And if a Bank Holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday, then lots of offices will be closed also on the Friday or the Monday - which in French is called 'making the bridge'.
And don't even think about trying to achieve ANYTHING in August! The whole of France seems to accept that August is a time when vacations will disrupt all normal routines.
And it's not unusual for banks to be closed on Mondays, so check before you make the drive to town ...
Of course, some of the changes are wonderfully positive, even though they're demanding too, such as when your friendly neighbour suddenly announces that you now know each other well enough that you can now address him with the more informal 'tu'. And your heart sinks, despite the compliment, because you now have to re-conjugate all the verbs you use with him from the formal 'vous' to the friendly 'tu'... Welcome to France!
A little forethought and planning go a long way towards preparing us mentally and emotionally for the journey we're making. France is a beautiful country which offers a fantastic life to those who are prepared to embrace its differences. So, be kind to yourself, plan well in advance, prepare yourself emotionally and you'll turn your dream into a happy reality.