How to move to France or Italy
Whether you’re newly landed or are in the planning process, relocating to Europe can present some interesting hurdles. Here’s what you need to know.
Yearning for a view of a Tuscan hill town, or to live among the winding streets of a Breton fishing village? For so many, moving to Europe is a dream come true.
However, no matter how thorough your planning is, you are likely to come up against obstacles.
The letter of the law
While settling in France or Italy is easier than in many parts of the world, depending on your circumstances or where you are from, you may need special visas to stay.
Obtaining these can be tricky, and requires a lot of homework. For example, in France you need to apply for a visa before you leave your country of residence, with multiple stages of validation including visits to your local préfecture (local administration) needed throughout the process. If you wish to settle in Italy, you'll be making an initial application, then mostly working with the local questura (police) to take fingerprints and other data, before you are granted your Permesso di Soggiorno (residency permit).
If you have purchased a new home abroad, odds are that you've already experienced the delightful intricacies of French or Italian law. If not, get ready for an almost endless process of paperwork and waiting periods as local bureaucracy does its thing.
Even so, your interactions with the law in the course of your new life may extend far beyond dealing with visas or land deeds.
Did you know, for instance, that there's an Italian village where it's illegal to die? Or that you can be heavily fined for skylarking around your home naked in France?
Sure, these may be extreme instances of weird and obscure laws, but they do reflect a wider fact – life is regulated and legislated differently in Europe, on a local level, and a minor slip-up can have surprising ramifications.
Family and inheritance laws also differ considerably between France and Italy and the rest of the world. You can't simply trust that a will may be interpreted the way you intend it, or that inheritance will work the same way in your new home.
It's important, therefore, to be able to rely on experts in the field who can advise on things like property law and setting up a will, should you ever need them.
The lay of the land
Something else that's important to understand is that both France and Italy are, essentially, collections of small, incredibly diverse principalities.
This manifests in many different ways. For example, distance and location can often render the local French or Italian indecipherable to those from the outside – not only in terms of accent, but grammar and truly tricky idioms.
These differences extend beyond language, to how businesses operate, and when you can access certain services.
Tradesmen may operate differently to how you would expect, with surprising requirements or payment terms. Break a window at the wrong time and you may find yourself without anyone to come out for a week – or with a bill you don't quite know how to pay!
You may find that certain documentation you need is delayed by local festivals or irregular opening hours that haven't been communicated anywhere that you're likely to find it.
Without deep local knowledge or someone on 'the inside', it can be exceptionally difficult to get things done promptly without significant delays.
What can make it so much easier is to have someone who knows how to navigate the appointment merry-go-round, and get you face to face with officials.
The long and winding road
Getting around can also present some unique challenges you may not have expected.
Recent law changes in Italy, for example, mean that you'll need to register your car as soon as you have your residency settled – or your wheels may be impounded! This process isn't quite as straightforward as it seems and has proved a headache for many unsuspecting new arrivals.
While you are permitted to drive on your existing licence for a period in France, for instance, you’ll need to swap it for a French licence within a year. This can be tricky, especially if the last time you had any sort of conversation in French was high school.
Buying a new car in France or Italy can also be more complex than 'back home', with changing legislation and differences in EU regulations meaning that what you want may be difficult to find.
If all that sounds like a headache, many people opt to pay for specialist help. Having someone in your corner who can not only speak the local language but smooth the way through the obstacles of car purchasing and registration can be well worth it.
Boutique, bespoke assistance
Having people to assist you with the intricacies of local life is a godsend when you're abroad, but good help can be hard to find.
Friends can often be eager to assist, but complex and frequent requests may place a strain on the friendship – and who wants that?
You might turn to a professional service. Unfortunately, not all services are equal, and some simply don't deliver what is promised. So be sure to seek out companies with good reputations and a dedicated level of assistance.
Such companies include French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB. Their team of dedicated, on-call experts have been helping people from the wider world settle and enjoy life in France for the last few years, and are now helping others move to Italy. They are accomplished at cutting through local red tape and smoothing the way for the life you've been seeking!
Many of the services they offer include the big hassles like securing visas to settle and changing your driving licence, to everyday chores like making medical appointments or seeking a quote from a tradesmen, even helping you in your search for your dream home – this is when local expertise and language skills really come into play, especially when you are first getting settled.
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