When relocating from the United States to France, you have to decide between shipping household goods to France or starting anew. This article talks about what to bring, how to ship furniture to France and what to leave behind.
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Shipping household goods to France: is it worth the cost?
Anyone may be tempted to answer yes to the following question:
Should you bring all your belongings with you?
Sure, why not? You probably own things that you do not want to part with, right?
It may have taken you years to fill your home with pieces of furniture you really like. Most of us are pretty attached to our possessions even though we do not want to be overly materialistic. The emotional side of your decision is an important aspect that you should not sweep under the rug.
In a nutshell, your have 2 options when relocating to France:
There is no easy answer since everyone’s situation is unique. Let’s consider the pros and cons for each possibility.
Hiring international movers
An international moving company transports household goods to France via ocean freight. This is the only option if you want to ship furniture to France.
Benefits of using an international moving company
Moving to a country far away is like a tsunami in your life and at first, you may feel a little lost. When feeling disoriented, being surrounded with household goods from your past life can be comforting. For a smoother transition, consider bringing familiar belongings with you.
If your household goods are very valuable and hard to replace, shipping furniture to France can sometimes make more sense financially.
When relocating for work, if your company covers the costs of your international move, shipping your household goods seems like a no-brainer.
Disadvantages of using an international moving company
The 2 main disadvantages of using an international moving company are:
Shipping furniture to France via sea freight is expensive and slow. To give you a rough estimate, shipping a 20ft container costs around 10-12k. Some readers have reportedly waited longer than 6 months for their belongings to reach France from the West coast.
How does international shipping work?
Your belongings can either be transported in 20ft or 40ft shipping containers or in wooden shipping crates called lift vans. Lift vans are more budget friendly but they are smaller. Five lift vans will fit in a 20ft container. This means that some pieces of furniture cannot fit inside lift vans.
When using a shipping container, you have a choice of using a whole container or using some cubic footage inside a shared container.
Here are a few things to consider before picking your moving company:
- Who is packing/unpacking?
- Who is loading/unloading?
- What is the cost of storage in France? (if storage is necessary)
- Are your household goods insured in case something happens? Ask if the insurance policy covers loss only or damage as well.
- Consider what type of service you want to use: port-to-port, port-to-door, door-to-port or door-to-door.
Get a few quotes from different international movers before making a decision. Plan ahead as the whole process can easily take several months.
Recommended international movers
Here are a few international moving companies that have been recommended by Americans moving to France.
When transferring primary residence to France, your personal belongings can be exempt from custom duties. You have to provide French customs with a detailed estimated inventory and fill out a declaration of duty-free entry into France form. Read more on custom duties in Transferring your primary residence to France from French customs.
If you move to a secondary residence in France, household goods are not VAT-exempt.
Sell everything and start fresh
The alternative to using an international moving company is to sell most of your household goods. The idea is to start your new life with a clean slate.
Fortunately, you can bring to France more than the luggage you can take with you on the plane. A good middle groung option is to send some of your personal items.
Benefits of not shipping household goods to France
The very first advantage of selling everything is that you do not have to pay high fees for shipping household goods. The second advantage is that you do not have to deal with your shipment being delayed or keep everything in storage until you find a permanent place in France.
Buying everything in France means a better integration into the French way of life. You can indeed decide to buy antiques you would have never considered in the United States. Or you can go the opposite way and acquire modern furniture.
One thing is for sure, leaving your stuff behind gives you an opportunity to make new choices and try new experiences. Get things that fit your new life!
Last but not least, do not underestimate the exciting feeling of starting new and somehow getting rid of the past.
Disadvantages of not shipping household goods to France
Selling everything before moving means that you have to buy everything back in France. This takes time and money.
If you get a furnished place for your first few months in France, you do not need to do it all at once. You get some extra time before you have to start furnishing your new place.
Send extra luggage
If you decide to bypass sea-shipping your belongings, you can still ship some of your personal items with Send my bag (get a 5% discount on your first order when you order from ma French Life).
Send my Bag is a very convenient and economic way to send up to 30kgs luggage to France. They collect your luggage from your home and they accept bulky items like skis, bikes or golf clubs for example.
Send books to France
If you want to ship books to France, USPS has a service called M-bag Service that can be a good option. This service exclusively ships sacks of printed matter (books, magazines…).
What is worth bringing to France?
Everyone has their own opinion about what is worth bringing and what is not. Here is a list of items I believe are worth bringing:
- kitchen utensils, pots and pans that you like, measuring cups, recipes (digitalized)
- computer, laptop, camera, kindle. Ensure that your electronics are dual voltage.
- kitchen linen, bath towels
And of course, you should bring items with high sentimental value.
What should you not bring to France?
Based on my experience, here is a list of items not worth bringing to France:
Do not ship an American Car
Bringing your car involves a lot of paperwork, shipping delays and very high costs. On top of that, most American cars require modifications to be in line with European standards.
Because fuel is a lot more expensive in France than in the United States, you need to consider a more fuel efficient car. Most streets and parking spots are narrower than in the United States and that is why a smaller car makes more sense.
Now, if leaving your car behind is out of the question, read Exporting United States Vehicles or Engines on the EPA website to get started. To be allowed to drive your car in France, you will need to get it registered. Check the official instructions (in French) to get your immatriculation (registration).
Don’t ship furniture
French living spaces are usually smaller and American furniture may not fit. Even if your place is big enough, it can still be challenging to get big pieces of furniture into your apartment because of narrow stairways. My advice is to use the money you saved on shipping to get pieces of furniture more in style with your new place.
If you own Ikea quality furniture, don’t think twice as it is not worth the price of shipping. You can shop at your local French Ikea and get a trip down memory lane at the same time (I personnally feel like I’m back in Burbank California when I go to Ikea in Grenoble).
If you still decide to bring your California king bed, bring extra sets of sheets, as beds have different dimensions in France.
If you are into used furniture, you can check out Le bon coin to furnish your place in France. Another great way to find used furniture is to go to vide-greniers or brocantes, which are a mix between garage sales and flea markets.
Don’t ship kitchen appliances
This is probably a tough one, however bringing your food processor is not worth the trouble.
If you still chose to bring your food processor, purchase a heavy duty transformer to be able to use it in France.
Should you bring bed linens to France?
There are at least 13 different mattress sizes in France. French use the width dimensions in centimeters as the size name. “Un lit en 140″ means a bed that is 140cm (55”) wide.
An adult bed’s length can be either 190cm (75″) or 200cm (80″).
Even though mattress sizes are slightly different, some of your bed sheets should fit.
Here’s a list of corresponding sizes between American bed dimensions and French bed dimensions. Use this list to decide whether or not you should bring your American bed sheets to France.
|Cal King (72″x84″)||180x200cm (too long, not a snug fit)|
|Olympic queen (66″x80″)||160x200cm|
|Full XL (54″x80″)||140x200cm|
|Twin XL (38″x80″)||90x200cm|
|Small single (30″x75″)||70x190cm or 80x190cm (snugger fit)|
If you decide to buy mattresses in France, Emma is an on-line only mattress store which automatically gives you a 100-night trial. Emma mattresses are renown and prized in Europe. I purchased an Emma mattress last Spring and I’m very happy with it. Give it a try!
Don’t bring bring electric appliances that are not dual-voltage
Only bring dual-voltage electric appliances. The following electric appliances are usually not dual voltage: hair dryer, vacuum, electric tools, kitchen appliances. I explain how to check if an electric appliance is dual-voltage further down.
Electric devices in France
Americans use 110 voltage whereas French use 220 voltage. Dual-voltage devices are designed to accept both 110v and 220v. You can safely take dual voltage electric devices with you to France.
How do you know if a device is dual-voltage?
Most cell phone chargers, computers and cameras are dual voltage. Look for a sticker on or near the power cord that reads “110-240 VAC, 50-60 Hz”. If you cannot find a sticker, check out the manufacturer’s website.
Stay on the safe side
Trying to plug in a 110 volt device with a plug adapter in France can blow your device and eventually start a fire.
How to use dual-voltage devices in France?
This is what electric outlets and plugs look like in France.
Before leaving the United States, purchase a couple of round-prong plug adapters. Bring a U.S. power strip as well so you only need to buy one or two adapters. Plug your American devices into the power strip and use one single adapter for the power strip.
Voltage converter transformer
For non-dual voltage electric devices that you absolutely cannot part with, the solution is to purchase a voltage converter transformer.
Word of caution
Transformers address the problem of voltage differences (110v vs. 220v) but not frequency. The United States run on 60Hz frequency whereas Europe runs on 50Hz. Therefore, even if you use a transformer, anything with a motor will be running at the wrong speed, which may damage your appliance over time.
To determine what model of voltage converter transformer you need, check the wattage of your device. Look for a W on the power label and purchase a voltage converter that is at least 50% higher than the device’s wattage you want to operate. For instance, use a 1,000 Watt transformer for appliances that use up to 600 Watts.
I hope this article helped you make up your mind about shipping household goods to France. Get ready for your relocation and check out my Moving to France from the US checklist.