While relocating to France may be the opportunity of a lifetime, living in the land of cheese and wine comes with drawbacks as well as benefits.
Accommodation in France
The biggest decision expats moving to France will need to make is whether to live in the countryside or in the city. The countryside offers large areas of land, community living and more spacious houses. City living means that public transportation is always close at hand, as well as schools, shopping, hospitals and more.
+ PRO: Plenty of choice
Expats should find plenty of accommodation options no matter where in France they are. Most real estate agencies have property listings displayed in their windows and on their websites. Some real estate agents might not be fluent in English, but they will do their best to communicate and find suitable lodging options.
Alternatively, a simple internet search can provide listings of available apartments, houses or room-share options. Many French websites offer a translated English version. Some bed-and-breakfasts and holiday rentals also offer long-term stays, which are helpful while looking for permanent residence.
- CON: Older housing
Most apartments and houses in France are very old. While charming, they can lack proper insulation, have small rooms and contain only one bathroom. It’s not uncommon to find apartments or houses without light fixtures or kitchen appliances. Although some places will offer furnished kitchens and up-to-date features, these are more expensive and harder to find.
- CON: Housing tax
All tenants living in a property must pay an annual French residence tax (taxe d’habitation), the amount of which depends on the area.
Lifestyle in France
+ PRO: Slower pace of life
The French generally enjoy one- to two-hour lunches every day, as well as ample coffee breaks. Most stores close during lunch, between 6pm and 7pm in the evening, and all day on Sunday. While this can be frustrating for expats used to living a fast-paced life, it doesn’t take long to adjust to the slower rhythm. Great importance is placed on family, and new arrivals will soon enjoy spending Sundays with loved ones at home.
- CON: Bureaucracy
Relocating to France involves various responsibilities, like opening a bank account, changing a driver’s license or dealing with visa paperwork.
These and several other tasks come with many requirements and forms. There will often be long lines at government offices and expats will have no choice but to wait and hope to be seen. The frustration of dealing with French bureaucracy is infamous and, unfortunately, an inevitable part of life in France.
+ PRO: Vacation
France is known for being a country with one of the highest numbers of paid vacation days in the world. Schools enjoy a week-long holiday every six or seven weeks, which allows families to enjoy a break together. Expats should keep in mind that most of the country take their vacation during the same period in mid-July, and planning ahead is a necessity.
+ PRO: Accessible and convenient urban transportation
Most cities offer a comprehensive bus, metro or tram system at very reasonable prices. France also has a number of regional airports and train stations to help expats travel within Europe.
Expats relocating to rural France should note that they will likely need a car. A bus may go to a neighbouring city once or twice a day, but, for the most part, a vehicle will be required for getting around the French countryside.
+ PRO: Fresh food and great wine
Every big city, small town or country village will have a regular fresh goods market. Most neighbourhoods have a local boulangerie which sells fresh bread as well as a butcher, cheese store or small grocery. France is known for its strict food regulations, which translates into an extensive range of fresh and tasty nutritional options.
Furthermore, good wine is also an integral part of French life. Both lunch and dinner normally include a glass of wine or a bottle shared among friends. Local wineries and grocery stores offer a variety of excellent wines at a range of prices.
Cost of living in France
- CON: Cost of essentials
Many staples in France, such as fuel, food and clothes, are very expensive. Value-added tax is applied to most goods and services. This tax can add considerable cost to a large purchase, like a car. Rent and home prices can also be quite high, depending on the area. Paris and the south of France are notorious for high rent.
- CON: Cost of transportation
While there are many options for getting around France, they are not all cheap. The TGV, or high-speed train, going in and out of Paris is quite pricey. Toll roads throughout France are also expensive, with some roads and bridges costing more than 30 EUR for a single trip.
Kids in France
+ PRO: School schedule
Most schools in France start between 8.30am and 9am, end between 4.30pm and 5pm, and offer 90-minute to two-hour lunches.
- CON: Cost and availability of childcare
There are many options for caring for young children in France. However, these can be costly and competitive. The most common form of care is a nursery, which usually offers full-time and part-time care. However, nurseries across France normally have considerably long waiting lists and most people suggest registering soon after falling pregnant. Alternatively, expats may want to consider an assistant maternelle, a state-licensed caregiver that accepts up to four children in her home. These tend to be expensive, though, and costs can change at any time.