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10 Tips for Living in France

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats offer tips on health insurance, renting in Paris, culture shock, meeting people and more.

Expat France - 10 Tips for Living in France

1. Visas in France

Expats moving to France for their company must go through a very specific process as they seek proper authorization to move there. This process necessitates action on your part (and/or by your company) both before you move abroad and once you get there. Before you go, your employer must get authorization from France's Ministry of Labor. Once approval of the "contract" has been provided, a long-term visa (visa de long séjour) can be requested at a consulate in the U.S. When you arrive, you must apply for a visa called a "Carte de Séjour" at a local Préfecture of Police. (In essence, the Visa De Long Séjour you receive from the French embassy or consulate enables you to apply for the Carte de Séjour in France.) For information on Work Permits in France, read our article: Work Permit France.

One expat on the France Forum talked about living here without a job, "As long as you are financially independent and get a carte de sejour every year, you can live here indefinitely with no French job. If you are the worker of the family and wish to get benefits from the CAF, you can, but you have to go through what's called a 'regroupement familiale' which is basically a process proving you're here on your own means and not sucking off the French system (but once approved, you can suck away, lol!). If you get your regroupement, the 'nonworking' spouse (the one NOT under a US work contract) DOES then have the right to work. Once you get your 10-year residence card (after your 5th annual carte de sejour) you then have the right to work, regardless of your US contract."

2. Health Insurance vs. The National Health Care System

Before you can get your long-term visa you must provide proof that you have health insurance. Even expats coming to France on a Schengen visa are still required to provide a letter from their health insurance company that documents at least $40,000.00 worth of coverage. If you work in France for a period of 70 days and work for a specified number of hours (60 hours last time we checked), then you will be eligible for coverage by the national health care system. France requires that all workers pay into the national health care system. Children and spouses of the insured are also covered. Under the national health care system, "healthy" individuals that incur medical expenses are reimbursed for a percentage of the cost. Because of this, many people purchase private insurance to cover those costs. If you are interested in private health insurance, you may get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA. For more information about health insurance, read our article: Health Insurance in France.

3. Best Places to Retire in France

One person preparing to move to Brittany said, "I have been researching the Brittany region for over a year with a view to retiring there in the next year or two. What I have found convinces me this is a great area for retirees, especially active ones. Much of the area is rural with the countryside dotted with small villages and hamlets. Transport seems to be quite good with access to the TGV from major points. What I've read is that it is 2 hours to Paris. The nice thing about Brittany is that there is a huge British expat community, so English speakers are plentiful for those who are a bit tentative in the language department. Brittany is known for its seafood and is the place crepes hail from. Housing is fairly inexpensive for the most part; I have seen ads for 2 bed houses for rent for 500 euros. Brittany has lakes to fish, trails to hike and bike, beaches to sit on and history to learn about. Most villages have a doctor, and hospitals are easily accessible, however Rennes is the largest city with good medical care. Bonus is that ferries regularly cross the Channel to England and there are ones that go to Ireland as well as Jersey."

Another person with a home in Languedoc said, "As an American who has owned a second home in France and will be retiring there in about a year, let me put in my vote for the Languedoc. The climate approximates North Carolina's Golden Triangle - moderate winters with no more than a dusting of snow once or twice that never lasts, the summers can be a bit hot, but the Med with its beautiful beaches is within reach. In the winter, the Pyrenees have wonderful ski runs. And the Haut Languedoc National Forest is a treasure for trail hikers. Yes, lakes and rivers and such can all be found in abundance. Housing is a bit more expensive than Brittany but that's because of the climate. As is the case in most of France, there are plenty of English speakers, mostly Brits, and the doctors and such often have spent some time training in the States or England. There are international airports in several small cities and Barcelona is not too far away for all international connections. I love the region and blog about it often."

4. Renting a Flat in Paris

If you're moving to Paris for the long-term, but haven't lived there and don't have a good sense of which neighborhood would best suit you and your family, we recommend getting a short-term furnished rental. This will give you time to settle in, explore Paris' neighborhoods and find the best long-term rental or propert to buy. Author of Moon Living Abroad in France Aurelia d'Andrea shared advice about renting in France in the article, Renting in Paris. Aurelia advises, "Your options for short-term rentals are vast and varied. You can go through a big agency that will likely charge you a big fee or a mom-and-pop business offering the same service but charging less, or you can bypass surcharges altogether by working directly with a landlord, who might himself be a subtenant to another landlord. There is a bit of risk involved in the latter option on both the landlord and tenant's sides; you are being entrusted to someone else's property, and you're handing over your hard-earned cash to someone you hope is on the up and up. Odds are they will be, but always trust your instincts -- if something doesn't feel right, don't feel obligated to follow through."

5. Dealing with French Bureaucracy

"Dealing with bureaucracy met my expectations and did take a long time for anything to be done, 9 weeks to connect phone and internet, but you just have to take it in your stride and try again next week/month," explained one expat. Another expat said, "The French take a while to get used to, and the bureaucracy can be overwhelming at first. Once you've got everything sorted, though, their systems are very efficient and the health care is excellent." Another expat said, "Becoming fluent in French and being patient with the inordinate amount of time bureaucratic things take to be accomplished. Dealing with the utility companies, internet, etc. is very frustrating, as it takes months to get some things taken care of that would take hours or days in the US." One expat suggested, "French administration is notorious and lives up to its name. However, we have always found official staff in face-to-face situations to be extremely helpful."

6. Learning French

"Learn their language! Even excruciatingly bad attempts will be well received especially if your listeners realise you are more than happy to be corrected and learn. We make a point of speaking French (even though it is not very good at present) and that effort is well received. We also attend weekly French classes and have been welcomed by our neighbours, including being invited to a family wedding in June," said one expat retiree living in La Redorte.

7. Meeting People in France

"I once asked a guy about making a local dish. He told me his mother made the best. The next thing I know we're on his little moto going to her house -- where she gives me a cooking lesson, feeds me, and we spend the night learning why the local wine is better. People here are really nice, outgoing, sharing. If you break through the first barriers, you've made it. Another time I asked someone where they got a really nice shirt, the next day I got an all morning shopping tour," commented one expat living in Pezenas.

An expat in Grenoble suggested, "For English speakers of any nationality, try Open House which offers activities of many sorts (from the cerebral to the just plain silly!) It aims to cater for all. The majority of members are American so activities are perhaps a little biased that way, but the aim is to welcome everyone. For French speakers, or those aspiring to speak French, don't forget AVF (Accueil Villes Francaises). This is actually an organisation for French people moving to a new town (the name means New Town Welcome), but they are very welcoming to all newcomers.

"That's not an easy trick in this part of France. There is a bridge club that purport to be bi-lingual but I don't play. I have mostly become aquainted with neighbors. There are town events dinners,concerts etc. which I would recommend taking part in. Everyone is tolerent of my broken French and the few English speakers make themselves known," suggested an expat living in Beaulieu sur Dordogne.

"Lived in Nice for 24 years. The English Library, the English language cinemas, the Commonwealth Club, the International Club, the American Association, The British Association & over a 100 museums within 30 miles, and many more attractions ensure that if you speak English, you have a fantastic choice of culture and entertainment," advised an expat living in Nice.

8. Having a Baby in France

"In France, it was difficult to find a place to give birth. Paris is over-run with children so you must reserve a hospital or clinic for your due date the second you find out your pregnant or you risk giving birth on your own. Nevertheless, good experience overall. France: Step 1: Choose clinic/hospital you want to give birth in. Step 2: If you OB/GYN doesn't deliver there, get a recommendation for one who does. Step 3: Don't give birth in August (I did which made it nearly impossible to find a doctor who wasn't on vacation; I had to switch 3 times during my pregnancy!)" said one expat mom in Paris.

"I was lucky to get into a private hospital which fills up very quickly. In Paris you have to call right away to get a spot. The care was wonderful and the birth was mostly done by a midwife. In Ob/gyn had to come in at one point to turn the baby's head, but she left after that and let the midwife take care of the rest. I stayed in the hospital 5 days and got lots of help with the breastfeeding. Apparently that is not the case in most French hospitals. I did have an epidural which I wanted and it was dosed perfectly so that I could push," said another expat mom who had a baby in Paris.

9. Culture Shock in France

When asked what he appreciated most about the culture in France, one expat answered, "Pace of life in the village, availability of high quality fresh food and wine, friendliness of the people and willingness to work with my language shortcomings, lack of rampant materialism compared to the US, secular nature of the society, ongoing traditions. I am in a winemaking village in the Languedoc."

Another expat living in Pezenas said, "Life is good here! My blood pressure went down! Now I love long meals with friends, stores closed on sundays, all the free concerts on Sundays."

10. Cost of Living in France

"It depends on where you decide to live and how big your family is. Prices are much lower in the countryside than in the cities. My monthly nut averages about Euro 2400. That is for everything... auto insurance, speeding tickets and all. I live in a 3 br house with a couple of hectare of woods, a few km outside a small town in Tarn et Garonne and I am celibataire (single). I love the peace and quiet of the campagne. I have fresh local food, time to think, read and create. For someone wanting the action of a city, the cost of housing will escalate," said one expat in Tarn et Garonne.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

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Comments about this Article

Jul 22, 2013 05:12

I just wanted to comment about dealing with bureaucracy and "customer service" in France. I think it helps enormously to know that there is a different understanding of these in France than in the US. In France, whether dealing with the government or private enterprises, you will have to go in armed with convincing arguments backed up with physical proof of your claim. The people you deal with will not offer any information that might help make your life easier, although an easier way may very well exist. It's your responsibility to find these things out by asking the right questions and calling all the right people. It's not enough to be patient. You have to present your case and advocate for yourself. As long as you have a strong case and physical proof, and you've presented your argument in a pleasant way, then you will get the service you deserve.

First Published: Mar 24, 2013

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