Montmarte in Paris
Montmarte in Paris
Montmarte in Paris

Living in France Guide

Living in France Guide

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on Sep 21, 2020

Summary: Expats, global nomads and retirees living in France talk about meeting other expats, befriending locals, the local culture, diversity in France, international schools, crime and more.

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People living in France share their experiences making friends, adjusting to the culture, what expat life is like in France, healthcare in France and more.

Deciding Where to Live in France

When we asked expats living in France to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:

"I had an inside contact, so it was somewhat easy. If you aren't so lucky, I recommend a couple of websites: www.seloger.net and www.seloger.com and www.logic-immo.com. Local classified sections can be helpful, too. Var Matin and Nice Matin newspapers, etc," said one expat living in Saint Raphael, France.

"Our first place was determined because it was close to my work in Geneva, Switzerland but on the French side of the border. Colleagues at work told us it was less expensive to live in France. When I retired we moved to the Orleans area to be close to Paris without living in Paris (too much traffic, noise, polution typical of any big city in the world). We found this house to rent on a French real estate website which was large (for France), in a quiet neighborhood and close to shopping and other services. The added benefit is that our neighbors are all very, very nice and welcoming," mentioned another expat in France.

"My husband asked his new collegues about the neighborhoods. One of his collegues (from HR) helped us find our home, we did a lot ourselves and my father, who lives here already, helped us too," commented one expat who made the move to France.

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Need health insurance in France? William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Meeting People in France

Expats living in France talked about meeting people in France and local clubs and organizations:

"I have been nicely surprised on how big the community of expats is in France. We are lucky to have: meetup.com/cities/fr/lyon/ - smaller groups of expats who organizes meetings close to their interests onlylyon.com - very useful for info and events happening in Lyon internations.org/start, which actively organizes events for expats," said one expat living in Lyon, France.

"- join the English Club, or if there is none, create one (the city hall will advertise it and provide a room to meet). I joined one and it's been great; half the people are native English speakers--so you feel at home--half are French--so you branch out and make friends with French people. Many French people are eager to join to practice and improve their English. The club organises activities, visits to restaurants, castles, etc. People in it are well travelled and cosmoplitan, many have lived in foreign countries before," mentioned another expat in France.

"There is a club for English speaking women which welcomes all nationalities of woman who speak English or want to improve their English. It's called the International Women's Club. They organize coffees, book reviews, activities for children and outings for the women members like visits to other cities," commented one expat who made the move to France.

"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," remarked another expat living in Grenoble, France.

"Even after being here for 21 months, I am still finding it hard to meet people. The students only seem to mix with students and people seem very clicky and not willing to let you into their established 'group'. Have joined a gym and am a member of the English Speaking Community, but they hold events during work hours, which is a bit of a dead end for me," added another expat in France.

"In Grenoble, Open House is nothing short of fantastic. They are English-speakers of all nationalities and French joining together for varied activities. All ages and interests are served. From hiking to book clubs to baby and toddler groups, there is something for everyone. They maintain lists of recommendations and services with English speaking providers. Find more info at http://www.geocities.com/open_house_grenoble/," remarked another expat who made the move to France.

Expat Life in France

What is it like living in France? Here is what people had to say:

"Work, socializing, sports, festivals & community celebrations in centre-ville. Lots of opportunities to be active with a climbing gym, sports halls, dance classes, martial arts clubs, etc," said one expat living in Epinal, France.

"J'adore Lyon! It's an amazing place! Not only because of the history and landscape, but I especially love it because of the people. They are very authentic French! They love their city, they love their food, they enjoy life and they appreciate good quality of life. What I noticed is that they are very family oriented, they spend time together and do many activities, they care about the city and they appreciate it. They are very welcoming and helpful....and they will help you learn French as English is not popular here as in Paris ;-)," mentioned another expat in France.

"Work generally, with lots of activities organised by the company you work for. There is plenty to do restaurants, bars cinema in the city," commented one expat who made the move to France.

"Since we are retired, our lives do not revolve around a job or company. We socialize with our neighbors and have developed some very close friends among them. Of course, it helps if you speak French. We socialize with families with children although we don't have children ourselves. There isn't any problem with that," remarked another expat living in Orleans, France.

"Depends on the person! Many people are here as expats working for semiconductor-based companies (there is a large fab at Crolles which is supported by many ancillary companies). There is also a nuclear research establishment, plus computing and other industries. The university is enormous, with something like 50000 students, so there is a good social scene for younger people too. At weekends in particular, the whole area becomes a mecca for snowsport fanatics and lovers of other outdoor activities. If you like the big outdoors, this is the big outdoors! Families are well catered for at the ski resorts, and there are plenty of pools and other activities for those with young kids. A warning though - for stay-at-home parents of young children, be aware that - like everywhere in France - activities tend to open much later than we would expect in the UK, for example, so don't imagine you can go to a library or swimming pool just when it suits you! From an education perspective, there is already an "International School" of sorts from age 6 to 18, but this follows the French curriculum with some emphasis on international matters. Reports vary on how good they are. There are also plans for a "real international school" (with fees to match) following the British education system. This is due to open Sept 2005. French schools are good in this area, so if you want your child to integrate quickly, this is probably the quickest way although obviously their lessons will be entirely in French and will follow the French curriculum exclusively," added another expat in France.

"Work and family...though they seem to be fitness mad too - you can't walk down a main street without seeing a jogger," remarked another expat who made the move to France.

What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture

We asked expats in France what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:

"In France, there really is time to stop and smell the roses, and when one does things here, one does them fully, instead of splitting attention in 5 directions at once. Mealtime is meant for good food and fellowship. Weekends are meant for enjoyment (not bringing work home). In general, the culture is more slow and appreciative of simple pleasures," said one expat living in Epinal, France.

"The Food, the stores, the way France respects it's citizens, healthcare, financial help with housing if you are low income," mentioned another expat in France.

"More relaxed way of life, much better food and weather, load more cultural things to enjoy than there are in a UK city of similar size, Just prefer French and French people to the UK and British people," commented one expat who made the move to France.

"Quality of life, taking time to enjoy simple things like a cup of coffee at a cafe, lunch, etc," remarked another expat living in Nice, France.

"I like they are helpful when you are lost on the streets. I also like they have helped my 87 year old grandfather when he goes shopping. I also appreciate that all members of the family are invited to dinner," added another expat in France.

"Being a small village, everyone, yes everyone acknowledges us when out walking in the village whether we know them or not. There is an old-world, gentle courtesy which is wonderful to experience again," remarked another expat who made the move to France.

The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in France

Then, we asked expats in France what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:

"The humor is darker (people don't find it rude to joke at the expense of others) and people are much more direct, which can come across as brashness or rudeness. Also, mealtimes are very rigid, so my stomach had a hard time adjusting to the hunger between meals," said one expat living in Epinal, France.

"Just getting used to the French who are always afraid and scared. This is due to their training to be docile to authority. France is run like a civilian military, so you have to do things accordingly, but all is administered by uncaring state agents. I," mentioned another expat in France.

"It is learning the language so that we can converse more easily with people we meet. This is something we are making some progress with, but accept it will take a while," commented one expat who made the move to France.

"The bureaucracy is pretty irritating. Probably the worst is the tendency of the French to keep to themselves and their network of friends. Makes it exceedingly difficult to rebuild my social network. The language is causing me a lot of trouble," remarked another expat living in Paris, France.

"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," added another expat in France.

Crime in France

"Not more then other comparably sized cities in Europe. I find that if I stay out of the troubled areas and habits the crime does not affect me on a personal level. Know what parts of the cities to avoid," said one expat living in Marseille, France.

"No, fortunately there is not. However, when the fair or circus is in town/the villages round and about then it is wise to be more careful when in the garden and to make sure all windows and doors are locked," mentioned another expat in France.

"Crime?? None that I'm aware of. If you drop a 20 euros bill on the sidewalk, somneone will stop you to tell you. Outside of Paris and the tourist areas people are very honest," commented one expat who made the move to France.

Diversity in France

We asked expats about diversity in France and whether locals are accepting of differences. They said:

"As a small town with few expats & international visitors, there is not an overtly diverse culture, but there are various religious institutions, celebrations of other culture (like "American Night" in the summer), and an organization called "EST Solidarite" dedicated to solidarity with foreigners," said one expat living in Epinal, France.

"There is no problems with this here. There are many churches different religious groups you can attend. I didn't feel any pressure but only welcomed in new communities," mentioned another expat in France.

"Not very diverse, accepting of differences yes. The people in the English club are very diverse," commented one expat who made the move to France.

"Diverse ethnic mix - I am white british and my wife is indian and we have experienced no issues at all. They seem very accepting and polite," remarked another expat living in Toulouse, France.

"Religion is never a topic of discussion so I don't know what religious beliefs our friends have. I see many Muslims here and there are many Catholic and Protestant churches and I'm sure there are Jewish temples as well. No one seems to express any opinion on one group of the other so there seems to be a lot of religious tolerance," added another expat in France.

"The town is a huge mish-mash of people. As with all French towns, there is an ethnic quarter where the less fortunate (financially) often end up living. However, I've never seen or heard of any religious tension per se. During the Iraq war, there was talk of American houses being daubed with paint, but these tended to be the ones with the stars and stripes painted on their garage doors, so maybe they asked for it. Grenoble is basically an affluent city, with pretty much everyone accepted. Like the man said - trouble is like a snake. If you don't go looking for it, it won't come looking for you," remarked another expat who made the move to France.

International Schools in France

"If you child does not care if he/she will have friends then this is the school for you. Make sure you put on your make up and heels before leaving you house to meet any parents. Big let down at this school. I am glad we are leaving," said one expat whose children attend Internatioinal school of Paris in Paris.

"I would ask to meet the teachers. The team is strickingly dedicated and passionate. When we first visited, one of the primary teachers (who is a male for once) showed us the experiments they had been doing that afternoon; the children (6 or 7 year-olds) has been designing their own electric circuits ! The teacher was very keen to tell us all about it, and one child explained in a lot detail how he had built his circuit board (my husband and I were rather impressed)," added another expat with kids at Forest International School in The western suburb in a town called Mareil Marly.

"This school is not the 'traditional' French model (and that, many say, is why they like it!). Be prepared for lots of homework and your child being closely followed by regular teachers' meetings etc. We are very happy with the school; our children are amongst those like themselves and are very motivated to learn and do well," commented one expat when asked about Ermitage International School of France in Maisons-Laffitte.

"If school you do not require or want your child to be in a rigorous academic environment then you will be happy. If you do not plan on transitioning back to the US or an Asian country, then it might be OK. Like I said earlier, I have found the academics behind what we left in the states. They are unwilling to work with you even though they say they will. There has been no communication with the teacher on what is taught in the classroom, little homework, few tests and only one report card 7 months into the year. Also, the kids learn very little French. I have found that they do a great sales job on the school, but do not live up to it. My child is in the lower school. I am not the only one who is unhappy and I also have friends with children in the Upper and middle schools who comment about the same things. So, I would either go in with low expectations for academics and be happy that your child will have other English speaking friends and also a more American like school with sports, prom, graduation or look elsewhere," remarked another expat living in St Cloud with children attending The American School of Paris.

"If you want an intimate, enriching environment for your children, with small classes and high teacher engagement, this is a good school. If you are looking for an elite school which puts its reputation first, you would be disappointed here," said another expat in France with children at Ecole Bilingue Eridan.

"Don't. Children only attend 6 hours a weeks classes taught by English / American teachers, the other 80% they are back in the state French system (same building block) with absent & mostly unmotivated teachers. Days are long, lots of homework, little useful stuff learnt (that's the French for you). Facilities extremely poor (CRT computer monitors 1980's era). The reality is that most expats leave their assignment early to leave France because of the school and a lack of a better alternative," remarked another parent with kids at Section Anglophone Fontainebleau in Fontainebleau.

Health Insurance in France

"Very affordable, even before I was on the healthcare system I paid less than 100 euros for full x-rays and a cast for a broken wrist. With healthcare, it's simply covered thanks to higher taxes," commented one expat living in Epinal, France.

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," commented one expat living in Epinal, France.

Residency & Visa Requirements

"Carte de sejour/titre de sejour: residence card. This can be obtained through enrollment in a French university, sponsorship by an employer, marriage to a French citizen, or a few other ways. Details here https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/getting-a-visa/," commented one expat living in Epinal, France.

Why Foreigners Move to France

When we asked expats in France why expats move there, they replied:

"Mostly for work or school. Epinal is home to the only public timber engineering school in France, and also houses some international companies such as Michelin," commented one expat living in Epinal, France.

Expat Health Insurance in France

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

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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