The 10 most common mistakes when you first arrive in France

“You have just moved to France and you’re delighted: Ah Paris! The wonderful cuisine and so on… But very soon you notice a number of differences from your native country. Here is how to avoid 10 practical and cultural mistakes on your arrival in France.

Une femme situé devant le panneau d'affichage d'un aéroport

Mistake No. 1: it’s easy to open a bank account!

To open a bank account, you need proof of your identity and proof of your address (electricity bill, rent receipt), but to rent a property, you need … you guessed it! … details of your bank account! To escape this vicious circle, France Global Relocation can advise you on banks that make it easier to open an account.

Good to know: “official” payments such as rent are often made by cheque or bank transfer, practically never in cash. Bank cards are first and foremost a debit card and not a US style credit card. Lastly, some shops require a minimum purchase of €15 if you wish to pay by bank card; check this beforehand


Mistake No. 2: I live and work in France, the tax authorities know this.

Well, no they don’t, it’s not automatic! You are required to make yourself known to the tax authorities to obtain your tax identification number (NIF). Contact yourtax centre as soon as possible to obtain your NIF and adjust your tax rate to your personal situation.


Mistake No. 3: I will be automatically given a Social Security number.

Once again, no… You must file anapplication to be eligible for such rights at the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM – Health Insurance Fund) in the area in which you live. Once you have this, you will also be entitled to Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMa – Universal Health Protection) and to the famous Carte Vitale (healthcare card) to cover your healthcare costs.


Mistake No. 4: to drive in France, I only need my national driving licence.

If you are an EU national, your driving licence is valid in France. Otherwise, you will need a certified translation or an international driving licence. But, regardless of your country of origin, you will very probably be asked to exchange it for a French driving licence after one year. The procedure is free of charge and can be done online.

Femme heureuse conduisant une voiture bmw

Tip: right of way, use of lights and indicators, driving on the right for our friends from the UK … your usual behaviour may be turned on its head. We would advise you to take a few driving lessons and bone up on the French highway code if you intend to brave the French traffic!

Mistake No. 5: 50 kilometres per hour means the same as 50 miles per hour!

You suspect that there may be a difference but the gendarmes will be quick to set you straight if you forget… Goodbye to the good old gallon, the foot and the mile. Hello to the litre, the metre and the kilometre! To prevent users of the imperial system from making quite understandable mistakes, download a unit converter on to your smartphone.


Mistake No. 6: I can ask my colleague how much he earns.

Shock! Horror! This question is taboo for 8 out of 10 French people. This is the legacy of centuries of Catholic upbringing advocating poverty and discretion among common folk supposed to prevent theft. Though times may have changed, this question, which you may think harmless, is still very private or even a matter of morality in France, and it emphasises any disparities… that some people prefer to hide.


Mistake No. 7: Lunchtime is a 20-minute break to grab a quick sandwich from the local snack bar.

Sacrilege!!! Although the time allowed for the midday break is getting shorter, the French still “switch off” for at least an hour to enjoy a relaxing lunch sitting at a table. Lunch is a special time to be shared with friends and colleagues. Few French people return to the office clutching their coffee in a cardboard cup… Try a café gourmand and you’ll understand why!


Mistake No. 8: I should greet my boss with a kiss.

The health crisis has simplified this question. However, a simple handshake is always preferable in a professional context. Keep kisses for family and friends. But no American style hugging! This is too intimate. We may seem standoffish at the start of a relationship… But if we like you then it’s for life!


Mistake No. 9: I can buy butter on a Sunday at 11 o’clock at night.

With rare exceptions, this is impossible. The same holds for Sundays and the middle of the night. Why? Because the night shift starts at 9 p.m. which changes employment conditions. And Sundays are a tradition – only a few shops are legally entitled to open. Julia Child’s recipe for beurre blanc will have to wait until Monday morning!


Mistake No. 10: But no-one speaks English in this country!

Of course we speak English! Young people and the majority of people in the professional world speak it, they’ll be able to help you out if needed. As for the websites of government offices, they often have an English version to make your life easier.”