A France-US move can be challenging—and not just because of all the logistics involved with getting your personal belongings across international borders.

When you transition from France to the US (or vice versa!), you’ll find yourself completely immersed in a different culture. Even though you will see some similarities, the differences can be significant—and a sudden change like this can feel jarring.

To help prepare you for your move, we compiled a list of the 10 unexpected differences you’ll encounter when moving between France and the US. After reading this list, you’ll have a better sense of what to expect after your relocation. This can ease some of the potential culture shock, and help you make a smoother transition to your new home.

#1: The French Focus on Their Food

In the United States, eating on the go is pretty common. It’s normal to grab a coffee and a pastry from a café and snack on it while you walk to work, eat while you drive, or take lunch at your desk.

In France, this is much less common. People are more inclined to sit for their meals, including breakfast. Additionally, most workers in France don’t eat at their desks, but see lunch as an opportunity to socialize with their coworkers and relax.

#2: When It Comes to Communication, Americans Expect It in Speed and Volume

When we execute an international move, we rely on our trusted partners around the world to assist. For example, our partner in France may do the packing and loading at the old home in Paris or the unloading and unpacking at the new home in Marseille. (We return the favor and assist on the US side of their moves!)

As e communicate with these global partners, we’ve noticed differences in communication styles across cultures. Some of the moving companies we’ve worked with in France (not all of them!) take a little longer to respond to our communications. That doesn’t necessarily mean the move isn’t proceeding as planned, but it can sometimes mean that it can take a little longer to confirm the current status.

We say this not as a criticism, but as a cultural note: Communications with businesses in France may just feel a little different than in the US. So if you don’t get an immediate response from a business based in France, don’t worry. It likely doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that the expectations around communication are different in France than they are in the US.

And if you’re coming from France, you might find the volume of communication from US businesses (and residents) little overwhelming. (What can we say? We like to stay informed!)

Of course, as with all cultural notes, your mileage may vary. However, the more you can recognize potential differences like these, the more you can prepare for them—and take them in stride.

#3: The Role of Bread May Surprise You

When you’re eating dinner out in the US, it’s quite common for a basket of bread to arrive at the table before the meal. This bread is often accompanied by butter or, in some restaurants, olive oil for dipping.

In France, bread traditionally plays a very different role. It often accompanies a meal, and it’s rarely enjoyed with butter. (Except maybe sometimes at breakfast!) Instead, you’re meant to use the bread as part of the meal, and it can come in handy for sopping up those delicious French sauces.

You might also see your dining companions place it not on a plate, but right on the table. It’s not a faux pas but rather a completely common practice. If bread plates are placed on the table, though, you can use those.

Whether you’re moving to France or to the US, we encourage you to give your new country’s bread customs a try. You might enjoy it more than you think!

#4: If You’re Moving to Paris, Your Items Will Arrive in a Smaller Truck or Van

During international moves, many people expect that the container they packed at their old home will show up intact at their new one.

If you’re moving to Paris, this won’t be the case. Paris, like many other metropolitan areas, is a densely populated city that can’t accommodate a parked container in most areas.

Here’s what will happen instead for your Paris move:

  • Once it arrives to France, your container will go to a nearby warehouse.
  • At the warehouse, your belongings will be carefully unloaded.
  • Then, they’ll be repacked into a smaller van or truck for delivery.
  • This van or truck may need to make a few runs to your house to deliver all of your belongings, but rest assured that everything will be carefully tracked so all your items get delivered properly.

By the way, this can also be the case in a few large US cities, like New York. Ask your moving company for more details so you know exactly what to expect on Moving Day—and whether your items will be moved via smaller vans/trucks. Moving day is stressful enough without any unexpected surprises!

#5: US Driver’s License Rules Vary by State

If you want to fully explore your new home, you’ll likely need a car—and a driver’s license. Requirements for France and the US are a bit different, so make sure you review them before you leave so you can gather any documentation you need.

Additionally, the rules for US driver’s licenses are regulated by each individual state. Yes, that essentially means 50 different sets of regulations, although there is some overlap. To get full clarity on your situation, visit the website for the motor vehicle bureau for the state you’ll live in.

Below, we included an overview of the rules in France and the US to get you started.

If You’re Moving to France from the US:

Driver’s licenses from certain states (see the list below) can be exchanged for a French driver’s license. You’ll need to make the exchange within a year of the date of validity of your first carte de séjour (residence permit), but this can be a relatively painless method for getting a US driver’s license.

The states with the reciprocal exchange agreement with France are:

  • Arkansas (limited to Class B)
  • Colorado (limited to Class B)
  • Connecticut (limited to Classes A and B)
  • Delaware (limited to Class B)
  • Florida (limited to Classes A and B)
  • Illinois
  • Iowa (limited to Class B)
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • Ohio (limited to Class B)
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania (limited to Classes A and B)
  • South Carolina
  • Texas (limited to Class B)
  • Virginia (limited to Class B)
  • West Virginia

If you hold a license from another state, you may need to take the written and driving portions of the French driver’s license exam.

For more information, visit the Embassy of France’s website.

#6: New Homes in France Are Almost Half the Size of US Homes

Although homes in France aren’t as small as in the UK, they’re still significantly smaller than the ones you’ll find in the US.

According to data from the BBC, the average floor space of a newly-built home in France is almost half of what it is in the US:


Source: BBC

You’ll find especially compact dwellings in Paris, where the stairwells and elevators can be particularly tiny. In fact, it’s not uncommon for movers to use an external lift (also known as a furniture elevator) to hoist household belongings up alongside a building, and then pass them inside via a balcony or large window.

If you’re moving from the US to France, this is particularly important to know. Although large, sectional couches and other oversized furniture have become fairly common, make sure they’ll fit into your new home in France before you go to the trouble of moving them across the ocean.

And while we’re on the topic of what furniture to bring and what furniture to leave behind, let’s cover a few more differences you’ll find between France and the US.

#7: Your Sheets May Not Fit

You might argue that Americans super-size everything: Our meals, our roads, our cars—and even our beds. The data definitely supports that final assertion! The most popular bed size in the US is the queen, which measures 60 x 80 inches, followed by the king-size bed and the full-size bed. (Dimensions below!)

Most Popular Bed Sizes in the US


Besides the fact that Americans favor large beds, you’ll also want to note that bed sizes (and names!) differ slightly between the US and France:

US Mattress Sizes

Name Measurements (Imperial) Measurements (Metric)
King 76 x 80 in. 193.0 x 203.2 cm.
Queen 60 x 80 in. 152.4 x 203.2 cm.
Full 54 x 74 in. 137.2 x 188.0 cm.

French/European Mattress Sizes

Name Measurements (Imperial) Measurements (Metric)
Super King 70.9 x 78.7 in. 180 x 200 cm.
King 63.0 x 78.7 in. 160 x 200 cm.
French Bed
55.1 x 78.7 in. 140 x 200 cm.
Single 35.4 x 78.7 in. 90 x 200 cm.

So what does this all add up to? If you buy a new bed in your new home country, you may also have to buy new sheets.

Additionally, if you’re picking and choosing furniture to bring versus furniture to put in storage, we recommend taking your bed with you. First and foremost, you’ll feel 100% certain that all your favorite linens will fit.

You’ll also benefit from the familiarity of being able to sleep in the bed you’re accustomed to. As we mentioned, big moves can result in culture shock, and a few recognizable items will make a huge difference—as will a good night’s sleep!

#8: Built-In Closets Aren’t Common in France

In the US, built-in closets dominate, and wardrobes are uncommon. In France, the opposite is true. Most people store their clothes in free-standing wardrobes (armoires) and dressers (commodes).

This becomes particularly important for those moving to the US from France. Wardrobes are often quite heavy, and they can require specialized disassembly/assembly services, all of which can add to the cost of your move. If you’re looking for ways to downsize your move, leave your wardrobes behind.

#9: Paid Vacation Can Vary Wildly Between France and the US

US workers might be shocked to hear that French employees are entitled to 30 days of annual leave per year.

After all, there are no national laws that guarantee paid leave to US employees. While there are some state laws on the topic, it’s often left up to employees to negotiate leave with their employers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American worker in the private industry has 11 vacation days and 7 sick days after a year of service. After five years, the number of sick days stays the same, while the vacation days go up to 15. (Paltry by comparison to what French workers can expect!)

Depending on which way you’re moving, this news may either come as a pleasant surprise or a bit of a shock.


#10: Be Prepared to Tip in the US

Although there are a few instances when it’s nice to leave a bit of a tip in France, tipping isn’t a big part of French culture. However, it’s definitely a way of life in the US.

As a general rule, in the US, a tip of 15-20% is expected (and appreciated!) to recognize good service. Tipped workers include servers at sit-down restaurants, bartenders, hairdressers, taxi/Uber/Lyft drivers, massage therapists, and other workers in the service industry. These workers rely on tips as part of their salary, so the money you leave is an essential part of their take-home pay.

A couple other instances when you might consider tipping in the US:

  • If you’re ordering coffee at a local shop ($1 or $2, depending on the complexity of your order)
  • If someone carries your bags at a hotel ($1-2 per bag)
  • When you stay at a hotel, you might leave a few dollars for the cleaning staff ($1-2 per day)

While this can take a bit of getting used to if you’re coming from France, the US workers who receive your tips will definitely be grateful to you for learning the local custom.


Creating a Smooth Transition to Your New Home

International moves involve a lot of logistics—and some personal adjustments. When you immerse yourself in a new culture, there are bound to be some hiccups, a few misunderstandings, and maybe even some feelings of homesickness. However, by doing some research around your new home, you’ll be able to establish some realistic expectations create a smoother transition to your new home.

Need some help moving between France and the US? Our international experts have done tens of thousands of moves, and we’d love to make yours a simple and easy one. Just reach out to get started with a complimentary quote.

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