Three mistakes I made when moving abroad… and what I learnt

You may call me naïve (and you’re probably right), but when I moved to France from the UK last year, I assumed that everything would be fairly simple. I mean, it’s all Europe, right? Well it turns out, there are a lot of small differences which can have a huge impact, and result in a lot of wasted time and effort. Today I want to talk about three mistakes I made, and what I learnt from each of them.


  1. Don’t believe everything you hear

Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to find that in the UK, if you call a helpline, you can trust the answers you’re given, at least most of the time. Here in France, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve got incorrect information from various different government departments (and oh my gosh there are a lot of departments). When I first moved here, I was told that I would need a social security number to open a business. Six months (!!) later, social security number in hand, I go to register my business and find out that actually, I could have managed without a social security number, which would have made my life much easier.

What I’ve learnt – always ask for the text (whether it’s a law, a guide or whatever) that backs up what the person is saying (this was a great tip I learnt at an SFT training session). If in doubt, do more research and verify everything before taking any action!

Sometimes you can't help but feel a bit lost..

Sometimes you can’t help but feel a bit lost…

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

When I started freelancing in the UK, I did everything completely independently. Website, marketing, invoicing, first tax return – I researched everything I needed to know online and then got on with it. At first, that’s what I tried to do here too. But I quickly learnt that sometimes working it out on your own isn’t the best option, for several reasons. Firstly, sole traders here in France have to deal with much more in terms of administrative and accounting tasks, and there are laws about legal notices for websites and various other things I never gave a second thought to back on the other side of the Channel. Secondly, information on the internet can be confusing as different rules apply to different cases. Thirdly, it’s much easier here to talk to someone – you can actually go to an office and speak with a real person!

A little help can go a long way.

A little help can go a long way.

3. Write it down

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m a lister. I have a master to-do list and various other lists, all written down and kept safe. But for some reason, my lists didn’t seem to help much in my first few months here. I found myself constantly trying to remember things I hadn’t written down. Eventually, while reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done I realised that I also needed to note the actions I was taking for each issue, making my lists into more useful timelines of action I have taken and the next steps to move forward. I can refer to these notes and immediately know if I’m waiting for an answer on something, tried to call but couldn’t get through etc. I also make sure to keep these notes in French –  having all the right terminology next time I need to call is really helpful! At the moment I use OneNote to keep these notes together, but I’ve tried EverNote and like that too!


So there you go – three ways to learn from my mistakes when I moved abroad – I think they could apply in a lot of other situations too, any time that you are undergoing a big change or starting out on a new project! What tips would you add?


1 Comment

  1. You are right, things in the UK are much easier. For me, moving was a positive experience, going from a very bureaucratic Romania (where everything needs to be stamped, sealed and signed by ten different departments; not to mention looong queues to sort everything out) to a place where everything can be done online and without much hassle. I did everything myself – registering as self-employed, doing my tax returns etc. Now I use an accountant for the Ltd business, so I can focus on other stuff. But I understand how difficult it must have been for you.

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