Moving to Paris: The Checklist: Getting ready to move abroad

So, the news is out: Tom and I are moving to Paris at the end of April! We really can't wait, and it's going to be such an exciting adventure. I'll write more about the fun aspects of moving abroad later, but I thought it might be interesting to give you a behind-the-curtain view of exactly what an international move entails. Luckily we're living in 2017, so modern technology has made many things on our 'to-do' list a lot easier. Including being able to share said list on both our phones simultaneously by the magic of iCloud!

This list keeps growing and changing, but here are the two biggest challenges we've had so far:

Find somewhere to live

  • Pretty essential! It turns out, however, that to rent an apartment in Paris you need a French bank account. But hey, guess what? To get a French bank account you need a French address. What is this madness?! Luckily, after what felt like a lifetime of trawling apartment rental sites and coming up with nothing, we found Spotahome. Spotahome is made with people like us in mind - folks who are moving to a new country, and therefore would find it a) hard to visit in person, and b) hard to meet regular rental requirements (like the whole French bank account thing). We've found a great not-so-little place in the heart of Paris, and our landlady seems really nice. Of course we haven't moved in yet, so I'm reserving judgement until we're in and have successfully made our first cup of tea without getting electrocuted, but all seems well so far.
  • One of the other problems with renting in Paris is that it's EXPENSIVE! Landlords want to know that you can comfortably afford your accommodation before they'll agree to rent to you (fair enough), so they deem that your income must be 3x your rent (not so fair). When we first arrive in Paris we'll be living on one income, which is fine for us because we're fairly frugal, and we'd rather have a great apartment in a great location than, say, designer clothes or fancy meals out. There's no way for our landlord to know that we're capable of living well within our means though, so they require a guarantor to say that they'll pick up the slack if we turn out to be financial delinquents. It feels SO WEIRD as a financially independent, married, pair of 27-year-olds to have your dad (or in Mr Frocks' case, your father-in-law) signing a guarantor agreement for you. Luckily for us, our landlady was happy to take a foreign guarantor - often a French guarantor is required, in which case we would have been stuck. Also luckily for us, my dad was happy to sign the agreement to help us out (because, of course, he knows that he won't *actually* need to bail us out down the line).
  • Most apartments in Paris require 2 months' rent as a deposit. TWO MONTHS' RENT! That's insane. Like, off the wall, nonsense. And of course you don't get any of it back until you've left your apartment and they've deemed it 'in good condition', by which time you're already in your next place, for which you've also had to pay two months' rent deposit. So that's four months' worth of rent in limbo. It's a good job we're savers. There's no consideration of cash flow in Paris.

Getting a French bank account

  • When we're in Paris we'll be paid in Euros, and we don't want to incur huge charges for using our UK cards abroad. On the flip side, French bank accounts charge for EVERYTHING. The pleasure of letting them hold onto your money? €65 a year please. A debit card so you can access your own money? €35 a year. PER CARD. So between the two of us, that's €135 a year before we've even withdrawn any cash. The ability to get money out of a cash machine that doesn't belong to your bank? Up to €2 per transaction. I mean, maybe we're spoiled in the UK by being able to use Link machines to withdraw money from nearly any bank, but some French banks even charge you if you use one of their machines that isn't at the branch with which you initially registered. WHAT?! What if we move to a different part of town? Maybe the fee offsets the cost of the Metro journey to reach your original branch. Who knows. As you can tell, I'm pretty incensed by the idea that while they're off gallivanting and lending my money to other people (and making money off that), they're charging me for the privilege. Maybe it's time to get a shoe box under the bed.
  • So, we thought that maybe an alternative to going to Paris and opening an account with a French bank there would be to open an account with an international bank, like HSBC, and then move that across. We tried to apply online, but the system told us we needed to go into a branch to set up an account like this. Serendipitously, we have a branch of HSBC about a 4 minute walk from our house, so we popped in one day and managed to get a walk-in appointment. We explained that we were moving to Paris and that we wanted an international account that we could use there. The woman we spoke to told us that we wouldn't be able to get a mortgage abroad because she couldn't transfer our credit history. That pretty much set the tone for the appointment, with a crazy communication breakdown, and her telling us that we couldn't do things that we hadn't asked for in the first place. We thought opening an account in English, in our own town, would be easier than trying to do it in our broken French in Paris, but no dice!
  • After the HSBC disaster, and deciding that the shoe box under the bed probably isn't the most sensible idea (not least because I've now broadcasted it to my 14 readers), we realised we'd have to bite the bullet and do it in person, in France. So how do you go about opening a bank account in Paris? We haven't tried it yet, but by all accounts (wheeeeey, banking pun right there) it is difficult. One blog even gives it a difficulty rating of 'hard'. Fortunately by the time we get there we'll have the whole 'French address' thing sorted. Friends who have previously moved there have mentioned that your experience can really depend on who you happen to speak to at the bank, and that different members of staff seem to require different documentation. If we get into difficulty, or a crazy amount of documentation is required, I guess we'll just go back the next day and hope that the next person we meet is more willing to take our money. Je ne sais pas!


Okay, so as it turns out, I feel much more strongly about both these two issues than I realised! I thought I'd just do a little bullet point list with a bit of embellishment on each item, but here we are, 1000 words later. Whoops! I think it's important to share the not-so-glamourous side of an international move, though, in the hopes that people experiencing similar problems will feel some sort of solidarity, and hopefully learn from our haphazard trial and error.

Up next: the long list of 'little to-dos' in Part II, Part III and Part IV.