Home Expats A Guide To Moving And Living Abroad As An Expat In France

Moving And Living Abroad As An Expat In France

France is a popular destination for expats from all over the world. As the largest country in Western Europe, France offers an abundance of opportunities to suit all kinds of people – whether you’re looking for a culture-rich experience in Paris, laid-back living in France’s sprawling wine country, sunny weather and beautiful beaches on the coast, or an adventurous outdoors lifestyle up in the mountains. 

Updated: 01/10/2021
Read time: 13 minutes
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Moving to France Expat Guide

France has a population of approximately 67 million, with the Île-de-France Greater Paris region accounting for over 18% of France’s total population. Of that population, there are estimated to be over 6 million foreign residents living in France, many of whom come from elsewhere within the EU. 

Of course, Paris is France’s largest and most populous city, offering an abundance of landmarks to be ticked off your bucket list, picturesque cafes to sit in and watch the world go by, and enough Michelin starred restaurants (94, to be exact!) to become a fine dining expert – to name a few wonderful things about this city.

Wherever you move to in France, many expats tend to be drawn to the rich culture and laid-back lifestyle, with a lower cost of living, great education and healthcare. In this guide, we’ll cover everything there is to know about moving to France as an expat.

Types of Visas When Moving to France

If you are planning to move to France to work and are not from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, you will first need to be granted permission to work in France before a visa or residence permit can be issued. You will need to have arranged a job before applying as only your prospective employer can organise this for you.

You will need a long stay visa – which also acts as a resident permit – to work in France. Your employer will need to send a work contract to the French Ministry of Labour and apply for a visa for any family you are bringing with you. 

The different types of visas are outlined below:

Visa NameWho is the Visa ForApplication TimePotential CostFurther Information
Schengen VisaExpats staying up to three months15 days€80This type of visa is single-entry for only the Schengen area and is for tourism, business trips, personal visits and short study purposes.
Long-stay visa – visa de long séjourAnyone staying in France between three months and one year5-20 working days€99If you are planning on staying in France longer than one year, you must apply for a residence permit.
Residence permit- carte de séjourExpats with employment in FranceN/AN/AThis type of visa is applied for by your employer on your behalf.

Long-stay visa

A long-stay visa, or Carte de Séjour, is for stays in France anywhere between three months and one year, although in some cases your visa may be valid for three or four years. Anyone visiting France with a long-stay visa marked with the words ‘carte de séjour à solliciter’ will need to apply for a residence permit within the first three months of your arrival.

Residence Permit

A carte de resident (residence permit) is for:

  • Spouses of French citizens
  • Expats retiring in France
  • Parents of a French-born child
  • Anyone who has already renewed their ‘carte de séjour’ for more than three years in a row

The carte de resident enables permit holders to stay in France for 10 years and is renewable.

The official visa website for France can be helpful if you are not sure what type of visa you need.

France Visas for UK Expats

While still part of the EU, UK residents did not need to apply for a visa or residence permit to live in France. Since Brexit and the UK officially leaving the European Union earlier this year, things have changed.

All UK nationals resident in France need to apply for a new residency permit, which includes anyone with a European carte de séjour (even if marked permanent), applying for a second nationality, or who is married/in a civil partnership with a French or other EU national.

Please refer to the gov.uk website for full information on living in France for UK citizens.

France Way of Life

As with any country, France offers a number of pros and cons for expats.

Moving to a new country is always going to be a culture shock. You might already speak the local language, which will certainly help ease you into your new surroundings, or you might be a complete novice. 

It’s important to remember that, at first, being an expat can be hard. Of course, you’ll be having a great time exploring new cities, trying new foods, and indulging in new experiences – but being an expat in a new country can also be lonely and overwhelming. Preparing yourself with an insight into the general way of life in France, cost of living, and what to expect will give you a great headstart into your new lifestyle.

Pros
Excellent work-life balance (35-hour working week)
Multiple climates to suit all tastes
Excellent national healthcare system
Good transport links
High-quality education system
Cons
Higher cost of rent, especially in Paris
Difficult job prospects for non-French speakers
High cost of living for bills and essentials (fuel, food, clothing etc)

French lifestyle

The laid-back French lifestyle is one of the biggest draws for many expats all over the world. 

France is known for having an excellent work-life balance. The working week is capped at 35 hours, and overtime is paid double. If you’re moving to France for work, therefore, you can expect long leisurely lunch breaks strolling through Parisian parks, and making the most of your evenings browsing the markets and enjoying the ability to really take time to enjoy your new life.

The French lifestyle doesn’t centre around work or money necessarily – it’s more focused on enjoying the best moments of life. From cultural experiences, art, and fashion, to amazing food and world-class wine all in great company. Moving to France from a culture that prioritizes work may be a big shock at first, but you’ll soon come to love the emphasis on enjoying life’s pleasures in your new French home.

Food

France is known for its love affair with fine dining and excellent wine, so it’s no surprise that sampling the many wonders of French cuisine is synonymous with the expatriate experience.

Dining in France is a leisurely experience not to be rushed. Don’t be surprised if a lunch out with colleagues turns into an hour plus event, with dinner parties and meals out with friends involving several courses over the course of the evening. 

Weather

As Europe’s third largest country, the climate in France is fairly diverse depending on where you go and can be split into four distinct areas:

  • Western France, home to Brittany, Normandy, and Loire Valley) has a flat, low-lying topography and benefits from a mild Oceanic climate with a moderate rainfall spread over many days throughout the year. 
  • The South-East of France has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and sunshine year round. 
  • Central and Eastern France has a continental climate, which means cold winters and hot summers. 
  • Finally, the mountain areas in France have snow between three and six months per year (and world-class skiing resorts!) with more precipitation than the surrounding areas.

Travel

As a newly-arrived expat in France, it’s likely that you’ll be relying on public transport as a means of getting around your new home. Whether you simply need an efficient way of navigating your new city, or are looking for cheap and convenient transportation across the whole of France, the good news is that the country is well-equipped to help you get from A to B. The main modes of public transportation include:

Bus

In France, you’ll discover a well-connected bus system operating on both local and regional levels. You can buy your bus ticket in advance at a machine at the bus stop, or from your driver on-board. Just remember to validate your ticket when you board the bus to avoid getting caught out with a hefty fine!

Metro

A number of France’s larger cities benefit from excellent Metro networks, including Rennes, Toulouse, Lyon, Marseille, Lille, and of course, Paris. The Metro is often the quickest way to navigate these cities, although be sure to check how late the trains are running if you are planning on staying out at night – you may need to get a bus back instead.

As you might imagine, Paris has the largest Metro network in the country, with over 300 stations covering the vast majority of neighbourhoods around the city. The Paris Metro is widely regarded as one of the world’s best metro systems, but it’s a good idea to try to avoid peak times if you want to avoid the crowds!

Train

Train travel in France can be a wonderful way to enjoy the beautiful countryside passing you by when travelling lengthier distances between cities. Most cities have connections to the high-speed TGV – Train à Grande Vitesse – network, while there are also slower regional trains. 

Overall, train travel in France is relatively inexpensive and easy to navigate when travelling through the country. Not to mention, a great way to take in the sites!

Crime

France has a low crime rate, and it’s important to remember that the majority of crime takes place in the country’s capital. This guide provides a useful insight into recent crime statistics in France.

Careers/job opportunities for expats

France may not be the easiest country in which to find work as an expat, especially if you do not speak the local language (French). Learning basic French, at minimum, should be your top priority for securing employment in the country – if you can learn the language to a high enough level that you don’t have a heavy accent when networking, this can put you in good stead when making career contacts.

If you’re moving to France and still getting to grips with the language, there are many opportunities for remote work, such as setting up freelance services to international clients. Other expats find work in hotels, bars, waitressing etc, especially in tourist destinations.

Cost of Living in France

Cost of Living in France is Higher than Neighbouring Countries

The cost of living in France is higher than in most neighbouring countries in Western Europe, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Paris brings up the overall cost of living significantly. If you choose to settle elsewhere in the country, especially in the more rural areas of France, you’ll find a much lower cost of living.

Paris is ranked as the 27th most expensive city in the world, although when you compare it to other European cities such as Zurich, Geneva, and Moscow, Paris is a bargain in comparison. With that said, Paris will undoubtedly have a much higher cost of living compared to the rest of the country, with rent, food, clothing, and utilities costing much more.

With that in mind, we’ve split this section into the cost of living for Paris, and the cost of living for France more generally. 

Cost of living in Paris:

  • Single person monthly living costs (minus rent): €976.27
  • Monthly rent for an apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre: €1,219.35 
  • Monthly utilities: €163.14
  • Three-course meal out for two: €60
  • 1-litre Gasoline: €1.47 
  • Local One-Way Transport Ticket: €1.60
  • Monthly metro pass: ~€63.30

Cost of living in France:

If moving to France for a lower cost of living is a priority for you, you may want to consider cities outside of Paris or a more rural location. According to Numbeo, the cost of living in France is 12.13% higher than the UK, but rent is, on average, 15% lower. 

The site lists the following as general costs to expect in France:

  • Monthly rent for an apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre: €672.93
  • Monthly utilities: €145.79
  • Three-course meal out for two: €50
  • 1-litre Gasoline: €1.51
  • Local One-Way Transport Ticket: €1.90
  • Monthly metro pass: €51.90

French Healthcare for Expats

All residents of France are legally required to have health insurance, which can be through the public healthcare system (Protection Maladie Universelle – PUMA) or via private healthcare. 

The majority of France’s population relies on the French public healthcare system for medical facilities, and it’s widely considered to be one of the best in the world. Expats who have lived in France for at least three months with the intention of staying in the country for at least another three months can access the health system by enrolling with l’Assurance maladie

The public healthcare system covers 70% of medical services, while the remaining 30% is paid for out of pocket, which is why some French citizens and expats alike opt for private health insurance. 

As an expat, provided you are working and paying social security, you’ll be able to benefit from France’s healthcare system. In the meantime, it may be prudent to cover yourself with private health insurance, which should cost around €40.

Schooling in France

You may find that your children integrate perfectly well into a French state school, many of which offer a high-quality level of education. However, many expats choose to put their children into an international school in order to continue a bilingual education.

You’ll find many international schools in France teaching a UK or US curriculum, with internationally accepted accreditation such as the international baccalaureate offered. Tuition prices for international schools in France can vary greatly, so your best option is to enquire directly with the school you are looking at.

Banking in France

France has a few big name banks, but the banking system is more regionalized than you might find in other parts of Europe such as the UK. There are approximately 400 banks in France, which can be split into the Bank of France, investment banks, banks that offer medium-to-long-term loans, and deposit banks.

Nowadays, the French banking system has seen a big shift towards mobile banking, with the ability to pay bills, transfer money, and pay for everyday goods possible with just a smartphone. Expats can also make use of this, relying on e-Wallets for everyday purchases rather than needing a local debit card.

Many expats choose to set up a bank account with one of France’s main banks, such as: 

– BNP Paribas

– Crédit Agricole

– Societe Generale

Alternatively, you could look into an international bank account with HSBC, Barclays, CitiBank, or JP Morgan, all of whom have a large presence in France and will have English-speaking staff.

To open a bank account in France, you’ll need to provide proof of identity (such as a passport or driving licence), your address, and your residence status. You may also be asked to provide a credit reference from your bank in your home country or a credit card provider, which can lead to a delay in your account being approved.

Sending money from France

If you are working in France, you may be interested in the best way to send money from your French bank account back to your home country. Alternatively, you might need to transfer money from your home country to your new bank account in France.

Either way, France is well-equipped for sending and receiving international transfers. The most cost-effective way of sending money abroad is to use a money transfer provider. Popular companies that operate in France include:

  • WorldRemit
  • XE Money Transfer
  • Azimo
  • CurrencyFair

Check out our real-time comparison of the best way to send money to France for more information.

Popular Areas to Live in France

France is a large and diverse country, offering everything from bustling city life to rural countryside quiet. Choosing where to settle down in the country can be difficult if you’re not already bound by work commitments. Some of the most popular areas to live in France include:

Paris

Paris, known as the City of Lights, is famous for its wide boulevards, abundance of landmarks, delicious food, and endless cafes perfect for people watching. The country capital is an extremely popular destination with tourists but is an equally popular choice for expats moving to France because of the excellent career opportunities (particularly if you are fluent in French!), work-life balance, high-quality education for children, and countless opportunities for adventure and culture-rich experiences.

While Paris may cost a small fortune in housing, this is largely offset by the relatively low cost of living elsewhere. For example, a Metro card will set you back around €65 for the month, while the equivalent in London is closer to £250!

Visiting Paris is one thing, but living in Paris is a whole other experience. However, you’ll soon find that there are vibrant expat communities and friendly like-minded locals in your area to enrich your time in Paris – you may just need to come armed with a healthy dose of patience and positivity for those first few months!

Toulouse

Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, so there’s plenty going on for expats to enjoy. The city benefits from a warm Mediterranean climate with mild winters and is home to some of the best international and state schools in France, so is a popular choice for expats with young families. 

The town itself is known as the pink city due to the pink-hued brickwork and beautiful architecture, making it a beautiful place to live.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux is as popular with young expats as it is with those retiring to France, offering a wealth of opportunities and experiences to suit all needs. The beautiful port town is surrounded by some of France’s best wine country, with local markets full of fresh produce a daily occurrence. 

Expats looking for city-life with a laid-back atmosphere will love Bordeaux. The city is well-situated for exploring more of France, with Paris just a 3-hour train journey away and miles of stunning beaches just an hour’s journey away.

Other areas popular with expats include:

  • Lyon (for food and drink!)
  • Nice (for the stunning French riviera)
  • Brittany (for affordable living options)
  • Montpellier (great for young families)
  • Provence (for sunny beaches)

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Yasmin Purnell

Yasmin is the content writer for MoneyTransfers.com. With an English degree from the University of Nottingham and over 5 years’ experience freelancing in the personal finance niche, Yasmin joined the team with a mission to make international money transfers accessible and easy to understand for all. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Yasmin on her yoga mat or planning her next escape to the mountains.

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