July 12, 2012

Honest Advice About Moving to France


I don't want to be the one to crush people's dreams. Really, I don't.

But when I get emails from people asking, "Do I really need a visa to stay in France? Why can't I just buy a one way plane ticket and move there?" or "I don't speak a word of French, how hard will it be for me to find a job?", I just have to say...really?

In this day and age, I have a hard time believing that people can still be that naive. And in order to answer those kinds of questions, I choose to be brutally honest.
Which often doesn't go down very well.

French Flag

Of course it's my own fault.
I'm the one who asked the should you move to France question, and I wrote the Moving to France Tutorial and shared my trials and tribulations of attaining French citizenship. So I'm the one who opened the door.

Also, I love helping people who have done their homework.
Moving to a foreign country takes a lot of courage, but it also takes a lot of research, and unless you hire someone to do some of the legwork for you, there aren't many shortcuts.

Then I thought it would be interesting to poll other expats to see what kind of honest advice they would give to people who were thinking about moving to France. I posed the question on Twitter and received a tremendous number of responses!

Café de la Place

tell them to keep in mind that living in France feels nothing like vacationing in France & be mindful of cultural differences.

Totally agree. I have met people who have moved somewhere on the back of a holiday, sometimes it works but ...

Buy your own scanner and photocopier.

i would say it depends if you have a job, if you've been to France before & know it can be crudy, u must speak the language &
...your kids must have manners, if you want to have kids u should know that maternity leave is short & babies spend long hours in
...government daycare. basically u should know that la grande nation is not ecl. champagne, fromage & baguette. p.s. I'm french

Mostly + but I come from there. Coming to US from Belgium was challenging. Something we should all experience if opp arises.

How about - "Bring exact change?"

Have a reason to come (i.e. a contract, a job, a mission), and a plan, when a disappointment happens this is your lifeline.

Learn as much French as you can before you go & make sure you have a solid plan to support yourself financially!

  Positive about living here, cautious about recommending it - depends on the people asking, but, usually, if they ask I say yes

Positive in general. Otherwise I wouldn't recommend.

positive for the unattached and young. wary for the rest.
...I think it's important to know that it's not "all or nothing". I used to feel that way about moving back...... and it's ever so freeing when you realise that nothing is set in stone. Except death maybe.

Bar a Vins

do your research, talk to as many people as possible and come armed with patience.

Try not to dampen their enthusiasm while making sure they understand it won't be easy. The move doesn't have to be permanent.

Always cautious. If people are moving with work, as I did, it's a lot easier but it's still a big upheaval.
...And, of course, the older you are, the harder it is, I think.

I am always positive about it. Tho like said, always a cautionary word to go with.
...people tend to ask if I ever think about moving back, was it hard...but never what they should do.
...I am, however, always encouraging to people who express the desire to move here and/or buy property.

don't move – just travel like you're a local. Much less stressful!
...+ highly recommend Jean Tacquet's newsletters – he's a professional who understands the various statuses:

Baskets of Strawberries

I'm honest: there are pros & cons, doesn't help to romanticize the drawbacks, but if you really want to be here it's worth it.

it depends on who's asking. I'm generally positive, but aware there are ups (new culture, food, etc) & downs (bureaucracy).

u have to strike the balance between the two; forewarned is forearmed.

always cautious! It's never as easy as they think it will be. And expensive too.

Great question! Mostly positive, a wee cautious bc everyone's experiences differ. I think it's definitely worth doing though!

That would depend on the conditions they are moving with (in) and their reasons to do so.

Positive but I also recommend that people do as much research as possible - people can over romanticize moving to new country

moving just for fun or for business? Two different things - but I have a few comments :)...
...small caveat-coming to work in a business, different from setting up a business.
...For all, begin with reading Le Petit Prince!


Honest. It's the only kind. And always tempered by the fact that my experience might not be theirs.

Patience is a virtue. Also, check picky eating habits at the door. They aren't welcome here!

I have to confess to being reluctant to give advice. Everyone's experiences are SO personal, each situation is SO different...
...plus I technically moved over 10 years ago now so my experience is not exactly up to date. I just stick to cultural advice...
...more than concrete things that can be found with a bit of research

Important..they must have a good knowledge of french..before starting any businesses..contact louloufrance for advice  (what!?)

Go quickly!!!

Integrate with the locals and speak French (so many people don't!) x

I'd say one of the biggest problems people face is being realistic about work i.e, lack of it, especially in rural areas...
...I'd advise people to think through exactly what they're going to do before moving to France & thoroughly research it

Cassis Beach

Learn the language & don't rush to make friends! let it just happen in it's own time, then they will be real friends for ever

Learn French verbs. Drop any notions of superiority. Become au fait with Fr Hist and culture. Lose the Marmite & cricket.

I was contacted once by a girl that was clearly running away from stuff. My advice was: if you're running away from something
...it will catch up with you!
...I think it's a "grass is greener" thing, only the grass is the same and no one understands you

...in all seriousness, researching online is a must!

To be realistic about their dealing-with-French-bureaucracy capabilities.
...And you should either plan to stay healthy or learn enough French to understand the docs. Stressful otherwise, sometimes...

to be very patient and to be as fluent in French as possible.

everything takes longer & needs more paperwork than you expect.
...stop asking "why" and just accept that this crazy way is the way it is. your sanity will thank you.

It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who gives honest advice!

Thanks to everyone who helped with this post.

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Belle de Ville said...

This is a fantastic post.
I think that if you have an outside income, moving to France is a wonderful thing to do.
But, I need to mention that with the economy so bad, my friends who are French are looking for other places to move to.

Emm said...

Lovely pictures and very sensible commentary. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Great post! It's interesting to see so many expats replying to your question.

labergerebasque said...

It’s like anything: Depends on how bad you want it.
It is not easy, but worth it.

Marianne said...

In all honesty FRANCE looks good! It has that unique romantic appeal and the food is fabulous. The cobblestone villages and gorgeous farmhouses, the countryside and the lavender fields... I am French and have lived in Australia for the last 27 years. I miss the 'baguette, the fromages and the patisserie'….BUT not the actual lifestyle, nor the narrow minded mentality. I love visiting France and then come back HOME!
This being said I believe that one needs to follow his dreams and live the experience. If you are an astute learner of languages, 3 months in a country is all that is needed to be able to converse. As for a job doors may open if you are artistic, creative and have something to offer that the country finds irresistible.
If that is something you really want to do 'take a step of faith…'


A very good post!

I believe life to be a never ending adventure and our move to France was/is part of that adventure.

So far so good. Warts and all.

Oui in France said...

Great post, I didn't see the tweets about it, so I'm chiming in now. I think moving to France can be whatever you make of it. It's a matter of perspective. If you strip away the culture and language, it's a place like everywhere else with problems of its own. If you're realistic about what to expect and can roll with whatever comes your way, you'll be better off.

karin@yumandmore said...

Great post Loulou and great idea! honesty is always the best policy!

Phyllis Flick said...

I may be the exception to the rule, but 11 years ago I sold or gave away most of my possessions and moved to Paris without much of a plan. I was 30, had always wanted to live in France and figured it was a now or never situation. I didn’t know a soul but had enough money saved so that I could live modestly for several months. I enrolled in French classes and my only plan was to stay as long as I could. I figured, at worst, I would just move back home at the end of the school year.

Most people I spoke with said it would be impossible to find a job and stay. Happily I didn’t listen to them and am still here eleven years later with no plans of heading back. That said, I wouldn’t want anyone to think it’s been easy.

Many people tell me how lucky I am and how they wish they could just pack up and move to Paris. “You can”, I tell them, “but you would probably have to make a lot of sacrifices and give up a lot of the comforts you have back home”.

My first apartment was a maid’s room not much bigger than my closet back home. During the first two years, I pieced together several jobs trying to make ends meet and not all of them were very glamourous. As with anything, if you are willing to do just about anything to make it work, as I was, then I think it’s possible.

Unknown said...

WOW! You got a TON of feedback!! Thank you for including mine! This is sure to become a resource for all.

Unknown said...

This is a really great read. Faced with this task ahead of us in the coming years I would much rather people were honest about the difficulties ahead, rather than simply glossing over it!
Great advice from everyone!

The Beaver said...

Hi Loulou

Interesting thread.
I wonder if you've seen the latest one on that subject:

Someone posted it on LinkedIn -French Connections.

The one thing that gets me " going coucou" sometimes is the language issue - I have encountered people who believe that there is no need to learn the language and that they should be addressed in English even in la France profonde :-)

Katie Zeller said...

That was fun! I have to agree with whoever - the biggest thing to master is acceptance that this is France and they do things the French way - regardless of how badly you want them to do it your way. Patience is a must!

Rachel said...

Thanks for quoting me. :) I think a lot of this advice applies to becoming an expat in most of the non-English speaking world. France certainly captures the imagination but if you're not prepared to learn another language and actually integrate, then maybe just stick to going on holiday there.

Leah in Melbourne said...

I'm really surprised at the negativity. Where are people's senses of adventure? Why the clinging to security? There's no such thing :)

I lived in France for five years in 2001. I didn't speak French, I just rocked up. I got digs, a job, made friends, had a ball.

Perhaps it's the Australian mindset that is so vastly different from the American one but, really, most of what I read on this post was commonsense for ANY situation. I think Katia said it best - don't give advice: everyone's situation is so personal.

Life isn't easy. Big deal. Life is also for living and making mistakes. So you move to France with no language, job etc. So what? If you want to make it work, you will.

Stop playing it safe, people!

Jennifer said...

Belle de Ville
Very good point. I know the economy is difficult, but that doesn't apply only to France.
I've been able to find work here without any problems...in fact I've turned down several positions over the last 2 years.

Thanks for stopping by to comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Jennifer said...

It was nice to hear from others and I loved being able to share the responses!

la bergere
Very well stated. Merci!

Jennifer said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I couldn't agree more about the step of faith.

We don't regret our decision for a minute, warts and all. :)

Jennifer said...

Oui in France
Being realistic will make it or break it, in many respects. Thanks for sharing your advice!

Yes, honesty is my policy. :)

Jennifer said...

I love hearing about your experience and am happy to hear from someone who trusted themselves enough to just go for it!
Also, your point that you will "have to make a lot of sacrifices and give up a lot of the comforts you have back home” is spot on. I think my mom was horrified when she came to visit and saw how small our house was, that we had no dishwasher, no clothes dryer, etc. Things that she thought one couldn't live without. :)

Thank you for adding to the conversation and I hope it helps anyone considering a move.

Jennifer said...

Vive Trianon
I think it takes tenacity to live as a foreigner in France and while I don't want to scare anyone, I do want people to know that even though it is a wonderful place to live, it can be a frustrating place to live.
But it is definitely worth it!

Interesting article....and even more interesting are the people you've encountered in rural France. That is ridiculous!

Jennifer said...

I am a huge advocate of patience. Moving here definitely taught me that!

Very true...
thanks for sharing your advice!

hay2straw said...

Soak it in, there is so much to learn, so much to do. If every morning you wake up as a child looking forward to a new exciting day.

Jennifer said...

I'm not sure if it's meant to be negative, but rather practical advice.
I admire you making the leap and moving to France, but would love to hear more about your situation...did you have a work visa? How did you find a job? Did you move for yourself or for work or for love?

I believe in following dreams (wouldn't be here myself if I hadn't had one!), but don't like to tell people that they can just land at CDG and expect to find a fabulous apartment in Paris and get a job without papers, language skills, etc.
So can you please tell us more about your experience? It sounds like you have some good stories.

Bubbles said...

I love this post. I knew almost two years ago that I wanted to move to France, so I started to take French lessons, and have been trying to set up a private business that can be 'housed' in the US while I live in Paris, even if for only a few months a year. Your blunt honesty is not only appreciated, but totally refreshing. Thanks, thanks and more thanks!

Bubbles said...

I love this post. I knew almost two years ago that I wanted to move to France, so I started to take French lessons, and have been trying to set up a private business that can be 'housed' in the US while I live in Paris, even if for only a few months a year. Your blunt honesty is not only appreciated, but totally refreshing. Thanks, thanks and more thanks!

Emm said...

Thanks to Beaver for that interesting link. A good opportunity to practice reading in French, methinks.

wonky73 said...

Sometime in 2009 or 2010 after a trip to France I got the idea it might be fun to live in France. So I did some research on what it takes for an American to move and work in France. The difficulty blew me away. You have to have a job before you can get a visa to work and then the place hiring you has to justify why they aren't hiring a French person. And that still doesn't give you the right to be a resident. You have to do tons of more work for that to happen. It's months and months of effort. You have to really be dedicated to the task.
I haven't given up on the idea. I have some contacts in France about jobs in my field.

Mary said...

Wonderful post, and eye opening for someone like myself who tends to see many things through rose colored glasses. The cold hard truth is always best.. said in the nicest way, of course. :)

Jojo said...

I loved @bellitum's advice... Just learn your verbs.

Jennifer said...

And I never want to stop learning.

You're more thank welcome! Good luck to you and enjoy Paris, even if it is for a few months every year.

Jennifer said...

I second that!

I'm glad to hear that you haven't given up, though it does take a lot of work! :)

Jennifer said...

Glad you enjoyed the post!

I'm still learning mine!

Ann Mah said...

Wow, I've loved reading this astute and sometimes hilarious advice. Thanks for writing this post (and including my tip) -- I'm always fascinated to learn about other experiences of moving to France.

Jennifer said...

I find it fascinating too. Everyone has such varied experiences and I think it's good for people considering a move to read that it isn't always a bed of roses. Or rosé! :)

La Torontoise said...

Loulou, I think I have missed this post (what a pity!) as that week of July was my busiest; just before leaving to France for next 2months.

Now, my two cents’ worth: -)

Before going any further, just to make clear one critical assumption: -)
I assume you arrive in France without holding a job offer and you are fully on your won (without any corporate support). And I assume, you are not on vacation, but want to set up a life.
This being said, my tip would be, make sure you have a solid ‘emergency fund’ and access to cash (e.g. credit cards are fully paid out before your leave; assets and/or investments are setup in a way that allows them to get liquid pretty quickly, in case you may need cash). If you have any dependents (for example old parents, and you face the prospect of being their care-giver should something happens to them), it’s reasonable to mentally (if not in real life) ‘design’ a network of back-up contacts and back-up funds that you can relatively easily activate while in France (which will save you money and reduce the scope of any fire-fighting).
The idea is not ‘to play it safe’, but to ensure you have a piece of mind and have enough time to focus on what counts most, namely your life in France.
Also, as a newbie chances are you will have an extended period of time where you will be on the paying end for big-dollar items, e.g. renting/buying a property, renting/buying a car, and anthig that goes with it. Because time may be of essence to you, it might happen that it’s easier to pay cash, than to apply for loans with a French bank (which is a viable option only if you have some income generated somewhere in the world).
If you are a tech-savvy, as part of your preparation you could try to setup an online business that you can test while in the States (or your home country) and use it later on to fund your life in France. In the era of total outsourcing, the options are endless. If you look for inspiring ideas on this, you could check the books of Tim Ferris, the Four Hours Work Week, and the one of Chris G., the 100 Dollar Start-Up.



Also, Tim Ferris’ blog on experiments in lifestyle design offers informative contents:

If you are a knowledge worker and ‘face time’ does not matter to your employer, you can think of possibly talking to your manager to consider tele-working for at least a few months, if not for 6-8 months. Or maybe, an unpaid leave of absence could keep the door open for you and give you a piece of mind, while you concentrate on establishing a life in France.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the input, La Torontoise!

French Alps American said...

I moved to France in 2008 to marry my husband, a Frenchman. I had a thriving business in L.A., which unfortunately ended 2 years after landing in France, and I've been living on savings and credit cards since. There are no jobs in our town and it wouldn't matter if there were since I'm over 50 yrs and getting hired at that age is virtually impossible in France (unless maybe if you teach English). Fluency in French is essential and moving here when you're young is much easier than when you're 50. Above all else, bring an income with you. Or at least a great business plan that you've already researched and done market analysis on and a big bag of money to get it started. Prepare for unbelievable amounts of bureaucracy. I know this sounds negative but people need to be realistic about what they will find when they land. I have qualified, experienced French friends who can't find work here, especially if they are over 40. If you live in the countryside and can purchase your car and house outright like LouLou, then you have a chance of making it financially with a pension or a part-time job. I also moved to Italy when I was 48 (sold everything, quit my job and got on the plane to Florence with 2 suitcases and 2 cats)so I know the challenges of moving to that country as well. I was unsuccessful in finding work in Italy except for some temp jobs in Rome through contacts I had, and eventually moved back to the US when the money dried up. I don't lack courage but I am very realistic about the fact that one must make a living. Please think about this kind of move carefully. Once you make it however, enjoy it to the utmost, live like a local, and savor all that is your new country like a fine wine. And be sure to travel! Cynthia

Jennifer said...

I think research is imperative, though it doesn't necessarily mean that you won't encounter a few stumbling blocks along the way! Also, a positive attitude to challenges is a must!
Thanks for your story and advice.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I am a French man of 48 years old. I have lived in the USA for the past 33 years. It is only now that I am THINKING about moving to France but my human fears are what's keeping me from doing it. I have lots of WHAT IFS. I don't really work right now but have money saved up. I don't need to learn French, I speak it fluently. I have dual citizenship and 2 passports so that won't be a problem. I understand the French govt. will help me with what used to be called an RMI for about 500 euros a month and they will also help with housing at about 300 euros a month because once I move there (IF I do!) this help will become available to me. I have researched it and contacted various government entities and there is even a website that lets you enter info about you and it tells you how much you can expect the French govt to help you. Also I would get 100 percent healthcare from the very beginning because I am diabetic and that is considered a 100 percent sickness. I TRIED to move back in 2002 and live with family (I would NOT live with family now and would do it on my own) but it was extremely hard to find work or to even look for work. However, I was able to get a checking account (which would be really hard this time), a carte vitale, some govt money and free public transport in the space of a month. My sister helped me out but now I would do it on my own. Here is my question: what could I do for money? Here are my ideas: tutoring american/english expats who need to learn French, tutoring French with English conversation, doing some translation, teaching of some kind (although that would be hard to find). What does everyone think?

Darren said...

I'm 37 and started learning French (via Fluenz) on 1/1/2012. I recently returned from a trip to Paris and loved it as much as I thought I would, but I recognize there's a difference between living in vs. visiting France. I've drafted up a two-year personal road map, with the ultimate goal being to land a temporary transfer to Microsoft's Issy-les-Moulineaux location. I've been working at MS for much of the last six years, so I figure my best chance as an American is to hope they have a need (or willingness) to send me to Issy for 6 months or so. I figure there's no better way for me to deep-dive into the language and culture than to immerse myself completely and force the issue.

The obvious first step is to become dramatically more fluent in French, to the extent that I can while in the States. Beyond that, I'm not sure what I can do to improve my odds. I'm not under any illusions that it'll be easy, or even that I'll be welcomed with open arms in an EU economy that's hurting as it is.

So, I welcome any tough love and/or advice. Is this a pipe dream? Am I better off just maxing out the 3-month tourist visa and calling it mission accomplished?

Phil in France said...

Re buying property: are you kidding me? Unless you're looking at some reasonably-priced estates way out in the middle of nowhere, DO NOT BUY in Paris or anywhere near Paris. There's the largest housing bubble in 50 years right now: http://www.tuxboard.com/photos/2010/10/Evolution-des-prix-du-logement-en-France-630x427.jpg (Indice du prix des logements, rapporte au revenu disponible par menage)

In addition to that, don't forget that property taxes in France are ridiculous, ~5k a year for 'vacation' homes, so make sure you figure that into your planning.

Also, La Torontoise, I don't know what banks you're talking to, but in our experience with trying to get loans, the fact that I make (a not inconsiderable amount of) money in a different country has no sway on loan officers. If you don't have a CDI, expect to be asked for 30-40% down, at a minimum.

Jennifer said...

I think depending on where you are, translation services and language services could be a way to earn money. I wish you good luck on your return to France.
Wish I had more advice for you.
Anyone else have advie for Claude?

Jennifer said...

I'm not really sure what to tell you. If you want to play it safe, try to get a job with Microsoft in France. If you want to "take the leap" then save some money, get your visas and go...just know that finding jobs in France unless you speak both French and English very well, are hard to come by.
Good luck! :)

Jennifer said...

I'm not sure what kind of property you own in France, but the taxes on our 90m2 house in the Languedoc are about 800 Euros for the year, not 5,000!
Pretty reasonable, if you ask me.
Also, when we were looking at homes to buy, we knew that as foreigners we would be asked to put at least 30% down to get a mortgage. That isn't new and I would hope that most people needing a mortgage would know that.

Michael Pickel said...

Great exchange of ideas! My spouse et moi have been traveling to France each summer for the fast four years and with retirement at the end of August, we're "getting serious" about a possible retirement en France.

Since we've spent a good deal of time in the Périgord/Dordogne department, we're taking a month's rental in the small village of St. Cyprien in the fall, meet locals, shop and cook our own meals and get un avant-goût of what living there might be like.

During our month, we'd love to meet and talk with as many "expats" as possible. Can anyone suggest ways to get in touch with Americans who've made the jump, especially retirees? Merci bien!

Michael au Maine

Jennifer said...

Michel and Doug
I don't know anyone in the Dordogne, so I asked on my Facebook page. Only received a couple of responses though. Wish I could offer more help!
One person said, "Expand your rental through the winter in the area of your choice. Best thing we did. If you like it ugly, you will love it pretty."
And I received this comment: "They can check out our "Living in France" section which is packed full of info for moving too and living in France: http://www.frenchentree.com/fe-lavie/ They can speak to expats on our forum too: http://www.france-forum-frenchentree.com/index.php"
Good luck with your research!

Tim said...

I think you need to think very carefully before moving to France. When you go on holiday to France you always see the best bits and as we all know the grass always appears greener on the other side. You need to think very carefully and make sure you have reserve funds etc available just in case it's not quite the same when you get there.

Sue Jenkins said...

Great post! My best friend moved in France last year. It was very hard for her first few months. The language is very different and people`s behavior, too. Doesn`t matter that France is in Europe. They are very different country, indeed. Best regards!

SJP said...

Thanks so much for your reply, it was the best read for me as it's exactly what I plan to do . I have a very good job here in oz , but my heart belongs in Paris and tracing my ancestors. I have also gained a teaching qualification in English in preparation of securing this kind of work . I have a bachelor of nursing and I'm a manager of community , respite and aged care residential for the tablelands however I don't plan to use these qualifications. You can teach through Skype and gather students from around the world prior to travelling . Atleast if I have a secure income, savings, learn French I believe my only challenge will be migrating to an unknown place . I thank you for your advice as it only reiterates what I knew I should be doing prior to considering the BIG MOVE. Looking forward to it ❤️Paris

Unknown said...

Thanks for the positive and in-depth advice =)

Unknown said...

We are two retired teachers, aged 68 and 65, who own a house in Picardie (since 1990) - we tend to live there about 3 months in a year, then let it out to other people from France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany (265 times since 1990). We were shocked at the Brexit result and are determined to stay in Europe and France. Now we do own a house in Rochester which we can sell for £400,000 plus another £700,000 in savings. We were initially hoping to move into our French home. We both speak reasonable French having studied it to A level. We have records us paying taxe d'habitation, fonciere tax, insurance, electricity and water bills since 1990. Now through 80 years combined of teaching in state schools, we have built up a good pension, state pension, and National Health Service. However we would need a private health insurance in France, Carte Vitale, BUPA, AXA ( I also invest on French stock Exchange and have AXA shares). The problem comes when one of us dies - the other might want to move back to Britain - so dual nationality may be the answer. Now could you advise us where we go to next - possibly a French address in London who I could write to. I am sure if I addressed my letter to French Embassy it would be "lost" in amidst of all the other letters I read about in the "Guardian". David Wilkinson