Sunday, 31 January 2010

Getting married in France

Today I visited the wedding fair (salon du marriage) in Dinan in Brittany with my 2 friends.

During the past 6 years I have been helping several English couples with their paperwork when they got married in France but this time it is a pleasure to help an English friend. Going round the fair make you realize how many things you need to think of! Invitations, outfits, rings, venue, food, cakes, photographer, entertainment, etc. This is stressful enough so if you also have to worry about the red tape, you will be stressed out by the time you get to the D day!

Here is some information about getting married in France if you are already a resident of France. If you need any assistance with the procedure and the paperwork, I will be delighted to help you.

In France, the civil ceremony is presided over by a mayor’s duty (maire) or one of his/her deputies (adjoint). French law only recognises civil marriage. If you decide to have a religious ceremony (it is optional), it will have to be held after the civil ceremony either on the same day or later on.

So first you will need to visit the mairie to arrange a date. Whilst there you can also pre-book the village hall (salle des fêtes). Make sure it is not already booked by a local association, The Telethon, or any other event.

Once pre-booked, here is the list of the paperwork the bride and groom will have to supply:

- A copy of the birth certificate (Extrait d’Acte de Naissance Intégral), dated no more than three months before the day of the wedding. If you were born in the UK you will need to get the full version of your birth certificate. You can get one from the Registrar in the town where your birth was registered. You will need to have it translated by a “traducteur assermenté”.

- A valid passport or carte de séjour.

- 2 justificatifs de domicile: Proof of address supplied by the resident of the commune (EDF, phone or water bill).

- Liste des témoins (list of witnesses). The bride and the groom should choose witnesses, at least one each, but no more than two. Details (full names, dates of birth, profession and domicile) of each witness, and a clear photocopy of the passport will be needed.

- If the groom or the bride are divorced or widow(er), they will need to supply a divorce judgment for or a death certificate.

The red tape being sorted, you can now start planning the rest of the party!

Photo : wedding dress from Thierry Marin - See his web site here.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Court case in France

Today was a good day. I received a confirmation from the huissier (bailiff) that the ongoing court case I have been involved with for the past 2 years as an interpreter was won!

My English client Mr. X had to take his French client to court as he was not willing to pay his bill. As the amount due was not that great we decided not to employ an advocate and take the case further without any legal help.
The French client had no legs to stand on as the devis (estimate) was signed by him and the work had been completed so it was easy for the judge to decide who was in the wrong. It took a long time and 2 visits to the tribunal but the money is now on its way!

For information, a devis is a fixed-price quote. It is a legally binding contract so by signing a devis in France you agree to pay the artisan/builder when the work is completed. If you don’t want to pay, you will have a visit from a huissier and if the matter gets complicated you will be visiting the local Tribunal!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Renovating a house in France – pick the right area according to your project!

When buying a property in France with the intention to renovate it is important to check the PLU (Plan Local d'Urbanisme). Visit the local Mairie to check it out. In some areas the development permitted might be restricted so you might not be able to go ahead with your project.

I recently visited the planning office (DDE) in Dinan (Brittany) with a client who was hoping to convert the outbuilding into a gîte to earn some extra cash. As the property was about 40 m away from a farm, he was disappointed to be told he could not go ahead with his project. The change of use (Changement de destination) was refused. The outbuilding although rather large (10 x 5 m) had to stay in its present condition. As he could not renovate this property he decided to put it back on the market and buy another. This was time consuming and cost him a lot of money as he had to pay the French estate agent’s and the notaire’s fees twice.

The same would apply if a house is within 500 meters of a listed site, building or historic monument. Indeed renovation projects are very restricted. Once you apply for planning, the application gets sent off to the Architectes des Bâtiments de France who are very strict about the architecture and the materials used. Even if you know the local Maire very well, he or she cannot overrule any refusal or condition stipulated by the Architectes des Bâtiments.

My advice about planning:

Don’t assume your application will pass because your neighbour had the same job done (for example: building a conservatory) as he might be in a different ‘zone’ as you.

Don’t start any renovation which needs a planning consent before you get the official go-ahead from the mairie. If you get caught doing some work without permit you may get highly fined and will have to put the building back in its original state.

If you have an unusual project in mind, ensure the French property in not near a historic centre, in a conservation area, or a national park!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Why you should employ a translator / interpreter when buying a house in France

Buying a house in France can be daunting if you don’t speak the language. Even if you have a basic knowledge of French, it can be a stressful experience. You need to understand what you are signing and agreeing to. Your agent might be bilingual but it is best to employ an independent person to assist you with the transaction. The “Compromis de vente”, “Acte de vente”, “Servitudes”, “droit d’échelle”, and all the “Diagnostics techniques”, etc are all part of the procedure. If those words are Chinese to you, seek assistance as it can cost you money later!

I recently helped an English couple who has a lovely holiday cottage near Dinan. They received an official letter from their neighbour. With their basic French and the use of a French/English dictionary they understood some key words and decided to contact me for some help with the language. Their French neighbour was threatening to take them to court. They could not understand why he had been asking for a key of their back gate for the past 12 months. As they could not understand they ignored it until they got this alarming letter. By looking at their deed I straight away noticed there was a right-of-way (servitude) on their land.
They were horrified to find out about this “servitude” 2 years after their purchase. Their estate agent was English and never told them about it. As he could speak some French he acted as an interpreter at the notaire’s office but obviously some important information were not translated.
As stated in the deeds, the French neighbour can, if he wants to, go through their land to get to his back garden.
All what he wanted was to take his land mower through their land rather than going through his own house which is not practical as you can imagine. As the right-of-way (servitude) was obstructed by a gate, by law they had to give the neighbour a key. To sort out the dispute with the neighbour I organised an unofficial meeting with the French neighbour and the English couple. We all sat down round a table, with a cup of coffee and some tasty home-made cake. The English couple gave their neighbour a key of their back gate and apologized for the misunderstanding. A few months on they get on very well and even invite each other for some apéritifs (drinks) on a regular basis.
This could have saved them an unnecessary dispute with their French neighbour and stress. After all they only came to France to relax and enjoy some nice red wine!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Don’t forget your EHIC when house hunting in France!

Today I had to deal with a client who came to France house hunting and who unfortunately slipped on the ice and broke his leg. He was taken to St Malo hospital for treatment and on his departure was facing a €32 000 bill! He could not leave the hospital until he had either showed the receptionist his European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) that he left at home in England or paid the very high bill! To sort it out and to be released from hospital without paying he had to contact the NHS and get some paperwork urgently faxed to the hospital. It was rather worrying as he hadn’t got this type of money in his bank account. Who has?!

So my advice is “don’t forget your EHIC if you are coming to France”! You can apply online for a European Health Insurance Card. Visit this site: here.

You will need to provide details of your full name, date of birth and National Insurance or NHS number (CHI in Scotland or Health and Care Number in Northern Ireland).

You can also call the NHS Business Services Authority on 0845 606 2030.

Prior to January 1st 2006, it was called a E111.

It has the same purpose:

It can be used to cover any necessary medical treatment due to either an accident or illness within the European Economic Area (EEA). The EHIC entitles the holder to state-provided medical treatment within the country they are visiting and the service provided will be the same as received by a person covered by the country’s ‘insured’ medical scheme.

Apply for one today if you are thinking about going abroad! It can take up to 21 days to be processed!