Aux Quatre Vents

Living in France

When living in France you will inevitably have to deal with officials. They really like their paperwork. You may have to initial every page of some legal documents. This can be quite tedious if the document is 100 pages long! As France uses Napoleonic law, it is often necessary to handwrite a paragraph, or even the whole document, in French before signing it.

French Residency

To be resident in France one needs to be a French Citizen, an EU Citizen or have a suitable visa or a Titre de Séjour. EU Citizens or people holding a 5 year Titre de Séjour can apply for a permanent Titre de Séjour or French Citizenship after 5 years. Unlike most EU countries, in most areas it is not necessary to register as a resident with the Mairie or police. We actually asked to register as resident at the local Mairie and were told it was not possible.

Owning a property in France and paying the associated taxe foncière and taxe d’habitation is not proof of residency. An application for a Titre de Séjour or French Citizenship requires French tax returns as proof of residency.


Notaires are legal professionals appointed by the government. Their role is to uphold French law. You have to use a Notaire to buy or sell property. Their duty is to ensure the documentation is correct and to collect taxes. Their fees are regulated. Typically a single Notaire handles both the buyer and seller side of a property sale.

If you need legal advice the first place to go is to the Notaire. We arranged appointments with a Notaire to get copies of passports certified as true, get advice on an insurance claim and to get advice on inheritence laws. All of the appointments were free of charge!

It is worth writing a French will. Inheritence laws are complex, particularly if children are involved. The most common form of French will has to be entirely hand written in French! It is best if you take it to a Notaire who will register it for 50€. This means that any Notaire in Frace can action it. Our Notaire was most meticulous. He said that as it is very unlikely he will action the will before retiring, his successor must have all the facts!

Health Care

France has one of the best health care systems in the world.

The system isn’t entirely free, but when completely in the system it is effectively free. Medical services have a rate set by the government. A visit to a doctor typically costs 25€. Some medical professionals charge more. You pay the doctor, pharmacist, dentist etc directly. If you don’t have a Carte Vitale you will be given a receipt in the form of a brown form called feuilles des soins.

Obtaining a Carte Vitale can be a long process which involves providing a lot of documentation. There are a number of organisations who can issue a Carte Vitale. If you register as self employed then you will be assigned an organisation which depends on your line of business. You have to make monthly or quarterly declarations of income on which you pay social charges. Ameli is the primary health insurance fund in France which you can register with. After all of the paperwork is complete, a Carte Vitale will be issued. You need to provide bank account details for refunds.

Once in possession of a Carte Vitale you need to nominate a Médecin Traitant which is your primary doctor. You simply give your Carte Vitale to a doctor who will register themself on the card. You don’t have to see your Médicin Traitant if he or she is part of a practice, but most do. You can also complete and send all of your feuilles des soins to the health fund who will issue refunds. When you pay for medical treatment or prescriptions and have a Carte Vitale, a refund will be paid into your bank account a few days later.

For most treatments, a Carte Vitale doesn’t get you a 100% refund. You typically get a 70% refund. If the treatment costs more than the specified limit, the refund will be less. Dental crowns and hospital stays can incur high unrefundable charges.

Most people have top up medical insurance known as a mutuelle. There are many options for Mutuelles and it is worth shopping around. Mutuelles have different levels depending on how comprehensive you want the cover to be. For example, you will pay a higher premium if you want a private room if you have to go into hospital. A Mutuelle typically costs between 40€ and 100€ per month. It is important to ensure that your Mutuelle insurance company and health fund can interoperate. Once a Mutuelle has been set up you will be sent a card (actually a paper slip) by the insurance company.

General Practitioners do not recover their fees, so you still have to pay them the 25€ fee which is refunded. Other medical services such as laboratories and pharmacies claim their fees directly from the health fund and the mutuelle. You hand them your mutuelle card on the first visit after the start of cover. They will register it and you don’t need to show it again until the policy is renewed. From then on you don’t have to pay them anything.

Optician Stores are primarily for making and selling speactacles and other optical instruments. Some do offer eye tests. There is however a complication. You can only claim back the allowance for spectacles from the Carte Vitale and Mutuelle if you have a prescription. Optician stores can’t issue prescriptions! Non-French prescriptions can’t be used either. You have to get a prescription from an Opthamologist or a Generaliste. Many generalistes will not issue a prescription for spectacles! The lovely Sophie at Espace Vision, Marseillan was incredibly helpful. She gave us a letter addressed to a doctor in Agde asking him to write a prescription and specified the lens corrections. We took the letter to the doctor and the prescription was issued free of charge.


Vehicles registered in France have to have a vehicle registration certificate Certificat d’immatriculation, which is also known as a Carte Grise. Vehicles have to be inspected periodically. This is called a Contrôle Technique. The Carte Grise will specify the date the next Contrôle Technique is due. There is also a sticker on the windscreen to say that the vehicle is covered and giving the date for the next inspection. Most towns in France have a garage which is dedicated to this function. They give a quick turnaround and they will often do the inspection if you just turn up. The inspection takes less than an hour. You may have to make an appointment but it will be in a day or two. Once the inspection is complete, the Carte Grise is updated and a new windscreen sticker is fitted. You may be told to fix issues which the inspection identified. The Contrôe Technique is valid for two years. Larger vehicles have to have a pollution test after one year.

Many vehicles have had sun screens fiited to the side windows and to the top of the windscreen. Sun screens have been made illegal on the front side window and can be at most 10cm wide on the windscreen. You will be required to remove them.

Garbage Collection and Recycling

Houses and apartment blocks have separate bins for recycling and general rubbish. There are different collection days for these. There maybe more than one collection per week. You can no longer put glass in recycling bins. If you do they will not take it. Glass now needs to be taken to glass collection bins. There are also collection bins for recycling unwanted clothing.

To dispose of larger items such as furniture and garden refuse, you have to take it to the local Décheterie. This is free unless you are in a business which generates a lot of waste such as a builder or gardener. In this case the vehicle is weighed on arrival and departure and you are charged by the kilogram. At the Décheterie there are containers for different types of waste such as masonary, metal, garden refuse, wood, cardboard and burnable material. If in doubt ask a member of staff who will tell you which container to put the waste in. The Décheterie will also have bins for glass and clothing. It is a one stop shop.

Water and Plumbing

Many French properties have water meters. It is important to find out where this is located. The meter may be under a manhole cover somewhere near the entrance to the property. You may receive random text messages alerting you of a potentially expensive water leak. Most of these messages are fake, but it is worth monitoring the water meter just in case.

In the UK water pipes come in two standard sizes, 15mm and 22mm. This is not the case in France. Water pipes come in a range of sizes, each a multiple of 2mm starting from 8mm. There is some logic to this. As each pipe is 1mm thick, an 8mm pipe fits snugly into a 10cmm pipe for ease of changing pipe sizes.

Most French properties only have one valve in the entire water system. This is the main valve and it is vitally important to know where it is. Ours is next to the water meter. In other properties it can be in a very obscure place. French plumbers will not fit valves in the water system unless specifically asked to do so. The reason being that valves add to materials costs. This means that any plumbing work requires switching off the main water supply and probably having to drain the hot water tank. We replaced our kitchen and had our hot water tank replaced. This was a perfect opportunity to have valves installed at key locations.


Older French properties can have rather bizarre, and dangerous, electric wiring. Don’t be surprised if electric cables go at odd angles across walls. We had cables cutting across the corners of rooms! We only had seven power sockets. Getting a house rewired can be a priority. Be sure to get a number of quotes. A local artisan quoted 18,000€! He must be using solid gold wires. We actually got the work done for less than 4,000€. We now have over 50 power sockets.

The circuit breaker box can also provide surprises. Circuit breakers are often put into two or three groups, each controlled by a residual current device (RCD). There is often no logic as to how the breaker groups are organised. We had an incident where rain water got into a junction box for the front gates. It tripped the RCD for the entire groups which included the kitchen and freezers! This requires investigative work to find which circuit tripped. Turn off all of the breakers in the group then reset the RCD. Then switch the breakers on one at a time until it trips. Now that you know the faulty one, switch that one off and the rest on. Reset the RCD and you should have power. Then find why the circuit tripped. It is probably due to rainwater after a storm.

French properties have a limit as to how much electric current you can draw. If you exceed the limit the master circuit breaker will trip cutting off electricity to the entire property. We found this out late one New Year’s Eve when we turned on a third electric heater and were plunged into darkness. The next day I had to find the master breaker. It is often in a box on the street. It may be quite a long way from your property. You will need a key or a pair of pliers to open the box. If you think you will exceed the power limits, call the energy company, they have English speaking helplines. There are different levels of power limit, just ask to have it increased. Higher limits have slightly higher tariffs, but it is worth paying it.

Master circuit breakers are being replaced with Linky boxes which continuously monitor power consumption. One advantage is if you have a problem you can call the power company and they can tell you if your Linky box is connected. If there is a problem which is outside of your property they will send out an engineer free of charge. If the Linky trips you have to reset it. You have to hold down the plus button on the Linky for 10 seconds. Then go back to the house and switch off the main breaker for 10 seconds. Switching it back on should restore power.

It is important to know how the electrics work as illustrated by this true story. A friend has a house near us. His daughter and some friends came to stay in the house. Late one evening they overloaded the electric current limit and had no power. We went around, but I couldn’t find the problem. We took food from their freezers to ours so that it didn’t defrost. The next day our friend got back and we worked on the problem. The power company confirmed that the Linky was functioning. We couldn’t find the main breaker in the house. We eventually found it hidden behind some insulation. We attempted to reset the Linky. This required mobile phones as the box was a fair distance from the house. Nothing worked. There was another power box next to the linky box which was locked with a rusty old padlock. The power company said that they never lock the boxes and it must have been the previous owner. We opened it to find a master circuit breaker in the off position. We reset it and were greeted by a round of applause as power had been restored.