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12 Expats Talks About What It's Like Moving to France

Joshua Wood, LPC

Summary: Expats in France discuss the challenges and adventures of moving to France. From the high cost of living in France to what to bring when you move (and what to leave behind).


Expats in France talk about what is was like moving to France - the culture shock they experienced, what they wish they had brought with them, documents needed for their visas and residency and more.

Culture Shock in France

A retiree in France advised one newcomer, "Read all you can on the French way of life, culture shock is a big thing to get over. I went from England to California without any idea what a difference there would be. It was a real shock. We moved to France and I read everything available and settled right in. We have been here ten years and I can't think of living anywhere else. Every country has awful bureaucracy, especially if you do not understand the language or the reasons and culture behind it."

"Not very, having traveled to France many times and knowing the culture pretty well," said one expat who moved to Nice, France.

"The culture shock was about what I had expected, but my in laws who we are living with temporarily are horrible people. I'm sure they are not what French People are like, because everyone I meet is very nice," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to France.

"On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no shock and 10 being extreme shock, I experienced somewhere around a 4," commented one expat who made the move to France.

Advice for Newcomers to France

"Nice is a small city with typical small city advantages and disadvantages. It can be quite provincial in its outlook and also quite dirty with grafitti and dog litter all over the place. Petty crime is also an issue here. Do not move to Nice expecting cutting-edge culture, world-class restaurants and entertainment. This small city caters mainly to tourists and most restaurants have a standard, jaded menu. Summer time can be horrendous here in terms of the crowds, traffic and the wait at restaurants. However, If you like buying fresh fish, fruits, flowers and vegetables from bustling markets, this might be a place for you. And if you enjoy winter sports such as skiing (1 hour north of Nice)and lying on the beaches (very few sandy beaches though)in the summer, this might be the place for you," said one expat who moved to Nice, France.

"The usual advise of: Rent for six months or a year. For me this is an ideal location, good climate, fruit and gardens do well. Interesting history, from Neandrathal, Celts Romans, Goths, English knights all involved to a greater or lesser degree. This is south center France about equi-distant from Atlantic to Med,Spain to Germany which means it's not close to anything. But there is pleanty of water sports and winter sports close by. Property prices are good and taxes and services not bad," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to France.

"If you've never lived in France, get ready for the red tape for everything. Grenoble has great public transport and is a very liveable city," commented one expat who made the move to France.

"I would be brutally honest and say it's not a place for a young person and is more suited to someone with a family...but if you're a student or stagiere, then you're sorted," remarked another expat in Strasbourg, France.

"Be aware of the housing costs - extremely high by French standards, and most companies base their salaries and relocation offers on the standard French cost of living index. That might be fine in rural France, but housing and food costs here are astronomical by comparison with everywhere except Paris and Lyon. Be sure of what you're accepting before you accept it! The city is great if you like cities! The surrounding areas are beautiful and inspiring, and much less polluted. If you have children, I would avoid the city as it's unpleasantly hot and polluted in the summer. Don't go too high up the mountains into the middle of nowhere, though, or you will feel pretty isolated when the snows come. There's a reason why the towns of Meylan, Biviers, St Ismier etc are the most expensive - they're pretty, less polluted, good schools, and still completely accessible when the bad weather takes hold. 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," said another expat in France.

"If he has a family it is a good place to live. If he or she is single, I can't advise them since I don't know the single scene here. There is a big university here so they may be able to connect with the students there but I don't know anything about the clubs or other diversions for single people," remarked another expat who made the move to France.

What to Bring When Moving to France (and what to leave behind)

When we asked expats living in France what they wish they had brought when moving to France and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:

"I wish I had brought ALL of my sewing things, ALL of our books, and my basket collection. I wish I had left some of our furniture behind because the houses here are much smaller than in the states. I wish I had left a lot of our clothes at home because the closets are much smaller here, and people wear the same clothes more often here. I also wish I had left some of my jewelry at home. I just don't wear it here," said one expat who moved to Montpellier, France.

"Our TV was accidentally shipped. It doesn't work here as a TV but we use it offline to play the VCR and DVD movies. We brought everything else so don't miss anything," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to France.

"Three things I wish I had brought: I basically brought a little of everything. I wish I'd brought a portable DVD player, and blank CDs and DVDs (they're much more expensive here!)," commented one expat who made the move to France.

"No regrets about this - we moved with personal possessions, but larger items we bought in France," remarked another expat in Eymet, France.

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Finding a Job in France

If you're searching for a job in France, expats talk about popular industries and how expats find employment.

"Most foreigners have the job lined up before they arrive. The good economic situation draws people here but unfortately, French work visas are hard to get. Many jobs that require English, also ask for German. English teachers are always in demand but the pay isn't always adequate for the cost of living. Even if a visa isn't necessary, the infamous red tape can keep a someone who wasn't educated in France from landing a position in his chosen field, even when they are unquestionably well-qualified," said one expat who moved to Strasbourg, France.

"The main industries in the Nice area are technology and tourism. You can look for jobs on Monster.co.fr or www.pacajob.com and several other career websites," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to France.

"As stated farming is the primary activity but these are small farms and the farmers frequently have regular day jobs in order to survive. There is a 'Bonne Maman' company nearby at Biars but I would think employment opportunities would not be readily available. I and most of my friends here are retired. Younger expats usually do a variety of things such as property management and construction. This is probably not a place to seek one's fortune," commented one expat who made the move to France.

"Due to the nature of my work, it seems mainly as though the Court of Human Rights, Council of Europe and European Parliament are the main career paths. It's difficult to find work if you don't have the French/German language skills, but there is (limited) work around," remarked another expat in Strasbourg, France.

"It's hard to be unemployed here, such is the availability of work. Main industries are semiconductor research and fabrication, nuclear research, hydroelectric power, IT, bulldozer production etc. There are many industrial parks with myriad smaller companies supporting these and other industries. Career opportunities always seem good," said another expat in France.

"We are in what is called the Cosmetic Valley where many French and foreign cosmetic companies are located. This is also a big center for distribution companies where because we are close to A-10 that goes from Paris to the SW of France and A-6 that goes from Paris to the SE of France. However, there is a wide variety of companies that are located here and the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in France," remarked another expat who made the move to France.

Visa & Immigration

"The Consulate in NYC encouraged me to apply for a titre de sejour. I muddled through the process on my own and made some time-consuming but not fatal mistakes. Re health insurance, I found out (just in time) that without proof of health insurance, I couldn't qualify for residence and without proof of residence.... nope, no FRENCH NATIONAL health insurance possible! So I had to find private, AFFORDABLE insurance. I surfed and surfed and finally landed on the right ad. I had to hustle because my birthday was coming up fast and that was the deadline -- once the day past, I would not be eligible for the private insurance I'd found. The sequel? Yes, I'm insured and I am an official, card-carrying French resident. PS, I live in Paris on my social security and modest investments. Is it a piece of cake? Well, I do need to watch my expenses -- but this is where I want to live! Bon courage...," remarked one expat who retired in Paris.

"You need a permanent resident visa which you must obtain 6 weeks before you enter the EU, a carte de sejour, which takes a while to get once you are here. Lines are long, often slow. Most bureaucrats are polite and do wish to help. The gendarmie here has often given me good advice on avoiding unecessary lines and delays," said one expat who moved to Pezenas, France.

"As amember of the EU there were no restrictions on moving here but we had to ensure we brought all our documentations with us, (authorised copies of birth, marriage, divorce, christneing certificates etc.) and anything else that could be needed," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to France.

Expat Health Insurance in France

Expats living in France interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

Cost of Living in France

"Affordable. It's a small town, which means housing and food costs are low, but there's lots of cultural value to be had, which makes the living experience even more valuable," said one expat who moved to Epinal, France.

Read Next

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An expat in Epinal, France gets candid about the culture shock she experience when moving to France. She advises newcomers to get out and meet people. She started an English-speaking group in her small town and met lots of locals that way.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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First Published: Jan 15, 2018

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