We’ve now lived here in France for 6 weeks or so. 

We’ve loved every minute of it.

From discovering the sights and sounds of Nérac and its bustling Saturday market, stumbling across La Romieu, the stunning commune literally 10 mins down the road in Gers to browsing the brocante village within the very picturesque Lectoure. It would seem that all we have to do here is drive 10 to 20 minutes to find yet another stunning place to wander around and meet new people.

The people we’ve met here have been so very welcoming and helpful.

In our village of Francescas, there was the Fête de la Fraise where the whole village gathered, ate, drank and socialised for the best part of the Sunday. We met many new friends and discovered a few local delicacies too.

This blog is intended to pass on a few wee handy hints regarding the basics of relocation from our experience, we hope it comes in handy.

Setting up broadband, bank accounts, water & power.

We had read about the dreaded French bureaucracy, the delays, the hassle and the terrible attitude of administration staff here… As i’ve said numerous times before, we have yet to experience this negative rabble of troublemakers, where are they all hiding? Paris?

We did, however, find ourselves in the ‘catch-22’ merry-go-round for a few weeks. Let me explain…

No bank account = no utilities registration
No utilities bill sent to your new address = No Bank account
No Bank Account = No broadband/mobile contracts

This proved annoying for around a day or so as we quickly realised that although these are the rules, the French tend to be a bit more generous with their approach to rules (well, at least down here in the Lot-et-Garonne).

On realising that there was an english speaking number to call at EDF for the electricity (thanks to our pal Olivier making a few calls), they explained that we could, in fact, set up our bills to be paid via our account back in Scotland and that we can change the payment method and account as soon as our bank accounts were set up.

Here’s that number, ‘hope it comes in handy : EDF, English speaking number : 0033 969 366 383
(Not even our immobilier could find this or the correct number for EDF so be pushy and call it!)

EDF encourage you to sign up online and manage your account, ideally paperless too, on their website. As soon as I had new bank account details, I logged in and changed the payment settings within minutes. The system is amazing here. The exact same story above applies for Veolia, the water people.

After a fair bit of research and discussion with other Brits down here, mainly in the local cafe whilst abusing their broadband for a few weeks, I discovered that nobody has a good thing to say about any of the banks. Just the same the whole world over at the moment.

I’d spent some time on the forums back in Scotland this past 6 months or so and was also cross-referencing the App and online facilities of all the French banks to see what may suit us.

The winner, by a far stretch, was La Banque Postale. It has a great mobile app where transfers between your accounts (at the bank) can be made very easily and their online site is great too. The appointment for us to set up 2 personal accounts and a joint account for bills and savings was very simple. Lots of paperwork though, but very straight forward.

La Banque Postale is a public bank and has a huge network of high street outlets and a vast reach across the whole country.  It doesn’t feel like a state-run bank either. We intend to apply for a mortgage in the near future so building a relationship with a bank that is robust and that will be around for a while is important to us.

One wee bit of advice I’d like to offer though: be prepared. Have a copy of your past three payslips and your bank statements to prove it. They don’t have ‘credit’ checks as is the norm in the UK. Their system is based on the truth, yes, the actual truth that is evident on your statements! Not a ‘computer say’s no’ algorithm set by the very banks that messed it all up this past decade.

In this info-pack, have your passport photo-coped and ready to handover too. Anything that may help the process run smoothly.

Its really quite refreshing to have a human to speak to about finances. At first I was a little annoyed at absolutely everything needing a call or a meeting but in hindsight, this approach is great for community spirit, getting to know the way the systems work here as well as meeting people.

We signed up for our broadband via the shop in Nerac, SFR were the service that best suited us here at the edge of a village. Back in East Lothian, our broadband sat at 2mb for 8 years (progress eh! that’s what a BT monopoly will do to a community).

We were delighted that when we plugged in our ‘Le Box’ after only 6 of the estimated 10 days turnaround, our broadband (ADSL in the countryside) was at least 5 times as fast as we’re used to and we could stream movies, have perfect Skype meetings as well as conduct our online work smoothly utilising services like Dropbox.

Back to the people issue, the chap in the independent phone shop in Nérac, helped us get the contacts for the 2 mobiles, the land line and the broadband set up by paying the first bill with HIS debit card… SFR needed payment by a French card. We simply gave him the cash and he changed the account to our card numbers once our bank cards came through. Another little act of kindness to keep things moving that I very much doubt I’d have experienced in Scotland.

One last tip regarding money transfers. After months and MONTHS of research into this, there is only one truly sensible way to transfer money from the UK to France, Transferwise.com. This service is really inexpensive, beats the banks on fees and more importantly, it is quick and reliable.

I’ll close this blog off for now and hope that there are a few handy tips in there for anyone making a move like we just undertook.

The main thing for myself and Julia has been that the people here are VERY helpful and have welcomed us with open arms. Any fear we may have had about integrating and meeting people has gone and we are so chuffed at having made a fair few friends and acquaintances already. It takes us an extra 45 minutes to get through the market on a Saturday due to stopping to chat to everyone we now know.

Next up, buying a car in France, meeting the new accountant, setting up as businesses and being self employed in France.

Thanks for reading.