When planning your big move, there are four basic options. You could sell everything and fly to France with the cash; you could hire a self-drive truck and get friends and family to help; you could hire a van and a man; or you could get a large international removals company to do everything including packing.
Certain items are not worth taking: door knobs have narrower shafts in France; anything that plugs straight into an electric socket won’t work (mozzie killers, kiddie night-lights, transformers etc); and PAL televisions will usually only work in monochrome (some cable systems work in colour). The French television system is SECAM so check that your equipment works on both systems. If it doesn’t, sell it and buy new once you arrive in France. (Unless you want to keep an old PAL TV just for old PAL videos played on your old PAL video machine – not a bad idea if you have small kids who are addicted to their favourite tapes.) White goods don’t tend to travel well either – washing machines can sulk and leak, fridges are certain to have doors opening in the wrong direction, cookers always seem to be the wrong size for the gap in the new kitchen - sell them and get new stuff delivered direct to your new house in France.
Standard insurance is included if you use a removals firm but make it clear if your belongings include priceless antiques, Ming vases, and three fragile harpsichords that once belonged to Mozart. If you're hiring a self-drive van, ask the hire firm what insurance you need, and obviously check your car insurance to see what it covers... especially if you’re packing the Ming vases into your Fiat Panda.
Grand pianos are notoriously difficult items to move because not only are they cumbersome, and heavy but they are also fragile, often needing specialist lifters and attention. Even an ordinary upright needs careful handling. So make sure to mention the existence of your Steinway straight away.
Colin Chapman from Britannia Movers International says that outside July and August, pot plants have a good chance of surviving the move, but my own personal experience is that very large pot plants are unlikely to make it. A better bet is to give them away and just take cuttings with you. (Wrapped in damp cotton wool and packed into an old ice cream tub, root cuttings will be fine for up to a week. Use hormone powder to get them rooted fast.)
Cats, dogs and ferrets can leave the UK and enter France with just a tattoo or a microchip plus a rabies jab 30 days before travel. Your vet will give you the necessary (very simple) documentation. Getting them back into the UK currently requires 7 months of preparation and includes a microchip, rabies vaccination, a blood test and treatment against infestations 24-48 hours before crossing the channel. (See DEFRA site for full details.)
Pets cannot travel with the removal van, they have to travel with their owners; horses need specialist transport; and with the Avian Flu threat still hanging over the world, restrictions on transporting birds could change at any moment, so check with DEFRA if you planning on emigrating with feathered friends.
Meg Corrick and her husband Stephen run a small removals business (Gentleman with a Van). Meg says that the biggest mistake people make is under-estimating the amount of stuff they want to move ‘or adding stuff to the inventory without telling us. We always manage to find a solution, but that’s the most common problem!’
Colin Chapman agrees. ‘Estimating the volume is always tricky. That and access at the other end, what with narrow tracks, overhanging trees and low bridges...’
‘And some people have an unrealistic idea of timescale,’ says Megan Corrick. ‘They book a removals firm the minute they’ve made an offer on a house. Of course it’s a good idea to book a van as far ahead as possible, but it might be a mistake to move into a house you haven’t actually bought yet!’
She also warns people about bathroom cabinets. ‘Over the counter remedies are fine, but prescription drugs should travel in the car with their prescriptions. Old prescription drugs should be thrown away.’
It's clear that an international move is relatively simple on paper. It's also obvious that Spud's Law being what it is... if anything can go wrong it will. So perhaps the best advice is don’t panic. Things will get lost, left behind, broken, or chipped. You may end up lost and attempting to read a map in the rain. But in the end, it will be fine. Moving to France is an adventure - enjoy it!
There are no longer any formalities involved in moving your general household goods from the UK to France. But for items such as licensed shotguns, you’ll need an export licence. Ring the National Advice Service on 0845 010 9000.
For queries about taking animals abroad ring the Pet Travel Scheme Helpline on 0870 241 1710 or check their website www.defra.gov.uk
This dossier article is intended as a general guide only. For specific information relative to your own situation, please use the contact details in the fact file. The information given here was correct at the time of publication.
This article was last updated 15 November 2007.