A Move to France; some of the difficulties.

I have been asked to write a short article about the difficulties we faced when we moved to France, so I thought it would do for today’s blog. Here it is.

We faced inordinate difficulties when we moved to France, the worst being the bureaucracy. I set up my own little estate agency because my teaching qualifications just seemed to confuse the local Headmaster and he wasn’t interested. It was too far to drive anywhere else, I had three small children, my husband spoke no French whatsoever, and we needed money fast. At that time the British were still snapping up properties even in the centre of France, where we lived.

The British do not realize how lucky they are. If you wake up tomorrow morning, in Britain, and decide you want to be, say, a hairdresser – hey presto, you can be a hairdresser. You may do the job well, or you may do the job badly, but you can do the job. The French have no such freedom. Being an estate agent without the appropriate qualifications carried a prison sentence – yes, a prison sentence! But neither the notaires with whom I worked, our accountant, the bank manager, the insurance man, our solicitor, or the chamber of commerce (with whom I registered) troubled to mention this. I suppose they thought it was obvious. Or perhaps they didn’t know themselves. I went through a total nightmare of hovering on the wrong side of the law and of trying not only to obtain the appropriate “carte professionelle” but trying to even find out what it was anyway! The up side was that the British snapped up the properties I showed them, and we made good money.

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I cannot even begin to describe the difficulties, and my advice to anybody setting up their own business in France would be to keep the business address, tax, accounts etc. based in the UK. This side-steps an enormous amount of bureaucracy, rules, regulations, fines – nightmares. I ended up in court several times simply because I was working. I had an accountant, I paid tax, I declared openly anything and everything – yet I was positively punished for it.

Part of the trouble was that, for the French (perhaps the Continental ?) mentality, you will be given a proper answer provided you have asked the appropriate question. When my solicitor phoned the Chamber of Commerce to ask why I had not been informed of the onerous sides of real estate, the woman replied “She didn’t ask …?!” This does seem to be a standard attitude. They do not volunteer information. You have to ask first, then they will tell you.

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One day I was at the Prefecture de Police in La Rochelle, and a female policewoman was taking down my details. She copied out of my passport and in her best handwriting she wrote down, with agonizing deliberation, my name, my maiden name, my mother’s maiden name (why ? Lord, I don’t know), my address, my address in the UK, my date of birth and finally my place of birth: Alice, Cape Province, South Africa, she wrote. Then, looking at what she’d written, for good measure she added Angleterre.

Ho hum.

But I don’t want to ridicule the French. I could go on and on ad infinitum about how I hated them and how many traumas their system put me through …. But the truth of the matter is that now I am very happy in France. Neither of us works anymore, so the bureaucracy is now somebody else’s problem. I love the good medical system (though we have always been treated extremely well in the UK I will add), the cleanliness of everything (I spend a lot of time in third world countries, so I appreciate it), the efficiency, the sunshine. The selection in the shops is fantastic, the French have at last started to learn a bit about customer service, the relaxed atmosphere, the good roads, the language, the history …

It has to be noted, however, that the things I love best are my fellow expat friends and the expatriate group I belong to ……

Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites.  Her sketches are on her web site http://turquoisemoon.co.uk .  Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.

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Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  Her books are available as e-books on this site:-

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Posted on 14/06/2012 by Catherine
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  • Melanie

    I agree with many of your comments, especially about having to ask the right question first. I would point out that not being ‘in the French system’ does not usually entitle you to French health cover though. Your marital/ family status determines how a proprty deal should be structured here in France and that is why professionals should have a carte professionelle.. to be able to give full and important legal advice to their clients. This is less important in the UK because our inheritance laws are much less strict.  I think the UK should introduce more professional requirements for certain professions though.. do I want a hairdresser who is rubbish at their job for example? Actually I think that is one profession here where you can set up without the qualification because many of the hairdressers here are rubbish!

    • Thanks for the feedback. I do agree with you, but the cause of my misery at that time was not the fact that a Carte Professionelle was needed but that not only was it extremely difficult to get, it was nigh-on impossible to find our how and where to get it.

    • Catherine Broughton

      The sad fact of the matter is that just because an estate agent has a Carte Professionelle, it does not mean that they will do a good job.  Not at all.   Because a hairdresser has a little paper certificate it does not make her a good hairdresser either.  We have watched many French people work on the black uniquely because they hadn’t got the appropriate piece of paper. (Read my book “A Call from France”)   But on the whole I agree with you that a minimum of some kind of certificate is preferable.
      My point in my article, however, was not that the Carte Professionelle was needed but the fact that I had to go through hell and nightmare to even find out how to obtain the Carte, let alone actually obtain it !  
      Catherine Broughton

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