Many people dream of moving to France. If you’re realising this dream, you could be moving for a job, an educational program, or simply pursuing an adventurous life change.
This step-by-step relocation guide will help you get started with the practicalities of la vie en France. You’ll find information on visas, cost of living, bank accounts, health insurance, finding a job and connecting with other expatriates.
Here are some basic statistics about France:
- Total population: 66.9 million
- Capital: Paris
- Currency: Euro (€)
- Total number of expats: 5.3 million
- Expats from the US: 100,000
- Expats from Australia: 5,500
- Expats from the UK: 300,000
- Official language: French
- Weather: France has a temperate climate. The average temperature in July is 20°C (68°F), and in January it's 5°C (41°F).
- Biggest cities: Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Nice
- Average salary: €2,770 a month for a physician, €1,900 for a teacher, €2,133 for a financier, €1,210 for a cook, and €1,789 for a real estate professional
For a short stay in France, you won’t have any problems. You can obtain a three-month tourist visa with little effort. To remain in the country for longer, you’ll need a one-year visa, which you have to renew each year. It can take anywhere from three to ten years for you to receive an indefinite leave to remain. One year into your stay, you’re obliged to start paying taxes on any income. You also must abide by other French requirements, such as obtaining a driver’s license.
You can begin the long-term visa application process before you arrive in France. You should contact the French embassy or consulate in your home country, and request the application form. The form will be in French. You’re expected to explain how you'll support yourself financially during your time in France. After submitting your application to the consulate, you'll wait for its approval. This procedure can take up to six months. Once you’re granted approval, you'll have a three-month window in which to travel to France.
Australian citizens will need a visa for a long-term stay in France. The best way to relocate is through your employer or through sponsorship from a family-member who already resides in France. Barring these options, contact your embassy in France to discuss your options. You’ll likely request a tourist visa to start, and then transition into a one-year permit.
EU citizens don't need a visa to enter France, a fellow EU country. They’re free to pursue employment and accommodation opportunities with no limitations.
American citizens will likely go through a similar visa process as an Australian citizen, as noted above. They’re not able to stay in France without a visa once their three-month tourist visa expires. At that time, they must find a more permanent sponsorship option.
UK citizens are considered EU citizens with respect to France’s employment and living laws. They don't need any visa to enter and stay in France.
Students in France from the EU/EEA area or Switzerland simply have to secure a place on a course at a French university. After that, they must have a valid passport that remains valid for the duration of their course of study.
Non-EU/EEA students should apply for the long-term student visa in France. This visa can last up to three years for a bachelor’s degree, two years for a master’s degree, and four years for a doctorate degree. You’re expected to detail your academic background, your French language proficiency and your financial standing. Some students will be required to prove they have an income of around €700 per month.
Here are some estimated costs you can use to plan your budget in France once you arrive:
|Good or service in France||Approximate Cost|
|Rent, per month, outside city centre||€530|
|Rent, per month, city centre||€650|
|Casual lunch for two, including wine||€35|
|1 pint of beer||€5|
|Utilities, per month||€95|
|Fitness club membership, per month||€40|
|1 pair of jeans||€75|
|One-way ticket on local transport||€1.60|
|Monthly transport pass||€56|
|One gallon of milk||€3.50|
|One loaf of bread or baguette||€1.19|
Opening a bank account in France isn't difficult, but it will take some time. French banks tend to close in the middle of the day, and they aren’t open on weekends. That means that you’re probably going to have to wait a while to get your account fully up and running.
Depending on your status, you can open a bank account in France as a student, a non-resident or as a permanent resident. A non-resident will have more limited options. One of the difficult things about France is that you often need a bank account to obtain a permanent address, but you need a permanent address to open a bank account. You may get around this tricky rule by speaking with your bank or finding a particularly lenient landlord.
If you plan to send money to your French account, you can save money on those transfers through TransferWise. Traditional banks and money transfer companies end up delivering a poor exchange rate, leaving you to pay extra for no real reason. To get the real exchange rate, the same one you find on Google, consider TransferWise for moving your money from one country to another. Also, with the TransferWise Borderless account, you can store and manage your money in dozens of currencies, and pay individuals and bills in several different currencies.
A French proficiency is important if you want to find employment in France. The visa application process can be lengthy, so finding a job in France isn't something you can do on a whim. Especially for under 25s, the job market can be tricky. The best way to get a job in France is through an internal transfer of a company you already work for. Barring that, you should try to find a job in a large multinational corporation.
To get started on your search, here are a few resources you can use to find jobs in France:
Because of the large number of expats moving to France each year, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding accommodation once you arrive. The rental market in large cities is thriving. The most common accommodation will be apartments that are rented out on a monthly or yearly basis. You’ll be able to find both furnished and unfurnished apartments, and join a group of roommates or live by yourself.
Most people start by looking online in Fusac or le bon coin. Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Strasbourg are the most popular cities among expats. Price-wise, Strasbourg and Lyon are reasonable, while Paris tends to be more expensive. Smaller cities like Grenoble and Aix-en-Provence are budget-friendly.
France has universal healthcare, which grants the right to care for anyone who legally resides in France. After three consecutive months as a permanent resident, you can apply for coverage. You’re automatically eligible if you’re employed in France or if you pay into French social security. Even if you’re not covered by a plan, anyone in France can access emergency services at any time, in the event of a medical crisis.
If you’re not eligible for universal healthcare, you must buy private insurance. It’s illegal to reside in France without healthcare. There are several reasonably-priced plans for expats that cover healthcare for foreigners.
Don’t expect French locals to speak English. Unlike many other European countries, French people don’t necessarily become fluent in English at a young age, especially not outside of the larger cities.
If you prefer an in-person French class, you can sign up throughout the country via the Centre d’International d’Antibes or another accredited institution near you. Most universities will offer introductory courses.
The following are forums for expats throughout France to connect with each other:
- Expatica, for expats by expats
- France Expats
- Expat Community for Americans in France
- British Expat forum
- Paris Aussie Meetup
Following are some emergency contacts in France:
- Medical Help - Dial 15 or 112
- Police - Dial 17
- Fire - Dial 18
- French Diplomatic Service
- British Embassy in France
- Australian Embassy in France
- US Embassy and Consulates in France
- Canadian Embassy in France
France is a beautiful and unique country filled with expats from around the world. There are lots of logistics to think about, but it’s well worth it. Bon voyage!