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How to Move to France: The Ultimate Guide

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Dreaming of sipping café au lait by the Seine, exploring the lavender fields of Provence, or navigating the bustling streets of Paris? Moving to France might seem like a distant dream, but with some preparation and planning, you can turn that dream into a reality.

I first moved to France in 2013 for three years on a talent visa and again on a spouse of a French citizen visa in 2019. I've navigated the bureaucracy, learned French, and experienced both the joys and challenges of life in France.

In this guide, I'll share with you everything you need to know about moving to France. Whether you're planning to move here permanently or for a few months, I've got you covered.

Short on time? Here's the cheat sheet:

💭Moving to France is more than possible but before you dive headfirst into the bureaucracy to make it happen, you'll want to be sure it's the right country for you.

🛂Most expats living here are on a student visa, work visa, spouse visa, talent visa, or au pair visa.

🏠While there are so many great places to live in France, my top recommendations are Paris, Strasbourg, and Lyon.

📚Make your transition easier and get a headstart learning the language with Mondly.

☂️It can be tough finding a job and dealing with the visa process but

☀️Once you do, you'll get to indulge in a rich culture, stunning scenery, impressive architecture, and mouthwatering food.

Why You Should Consider Moving to France

France is known for its rich culture, stunning architecture, and delicious cuisine. But beyond the tourist attractions, there are many reasons why you should consider making France your home.

There are also plenty of reasons not to move here. And it's important to decide if the pros outweigh the cons. For me, they certainly do, but it's a personal decision that you'll have to make for yourself.

Below I'll go over a brief list of things you'll want to consider before making the move.

Things You'll Love About France

Some things you might love about living in France include:

  • Quality of life: France consistently ranks high in quality of life indexes, with a strong social welfare system, good healthcare, and excellent public transportation.
  • Culture: From world-class museums to picturesque villages, there's no shortage of culture to explore in France. Plus, being in the heart of Europe means easy access to other countries.
  • Food and wine: French cuisine is known for its quality and variety. And with a different cheese for every day of the year, you'll never run out of new flavors to try.
  • Work-life balance: The infamous 35-hour workweek may not be as common as it once was, but there's still a strong emphasis on work-life balance in France. This means more time for leisure and family.
  • Scenery: From the vibrant cityscapes of Paris to the peaceful countryside of Provence, France offers a diverse range of landscapes. There really is something for everyone here.
  • Strong expat community: France has a large and welcoming expat community, making it easy to find like-minded individuals and make new friends.

Things You Might Not Love About France

Moving to a new country comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some things you might not like about France:

  • Language barrier: While many French people do speak English, it's still important to learn at least basic French before moving. This will make daily tasks and interactions much easier. I recommend using the app Mondly to get started with basic vocabulary and phrases and switching to in-person lessons once you arrive.
  • Bureaucracy: There is a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy involved in living in France. Be prepared for some red tape when it comes to things like visas and healthcare.
  • Cultural differences: French culture may be different from what you're used to and it's important to be open-minded. For example, mealtimes are often longer and customer service is not a priority.
  • Housing: Finding a place to live can be competitive and expensive, especially in popular cities like Paris. It's important to research housing options and budget accordingly.
  • Limited job opportunities: The job market in France is competitive and opportunities are limited for non-French speakers. It's helpful to have a specialized skill or speak fluent French to increase your chances of finding employment.
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Best Places to Live in France

While France is full of beautiful cities and towns, some are better for expats than others.

Based on my experience, Paris, Strasbourg, and Lyon are where most people decide to move. Some other cities that are worth looking at are Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, or Annecy in the French Alps.

Below I'll cover the top three places to live in more detail so you can get an idea of what to expect.

Moving to Paris

Paris was the first place I lived in France. I moved for work on a long-stay visa called passeport talent chercheur.

In the beginning, it wasn't easy. Most of my co-workers only spoke French, and the paperwork was endless. I struggled with basic things like going to the doctor, setting up health insurance, and exchanging my driver's license.

But once I learned French, my life became a lot easier. I made friends, found my favorite places to eat and shop, and felt more at home.

Pros to Living in Paris

The biggest advantage to living in Paris is the endless number of things to do. There's always something going on. From cultural activities to concerts, I never had a dull moment. And because it's so well-located I was easily able to visit the more underrated destinations in France, like Lille.

There are also tons of job opportunities here. A lot of international companies are based in Paris, and it's most likely the first place you'll look for a job.

Cons to Living in Paris

But with that comes a high cost of living, crowded streets, endless transport strikes, and pollution.

Rent prices are high, and even everyday necessities like groceries can add up quickly. Luckily, I lived in the 11th arrondissement (district), which is far more affordable than living near the Louvre or Champs-Élysées.

Of all the downsides to life in Paris, I would say the transport strikes and the pollution were the biggest problems for me. They were both very disruptive to the quality of life, but, if you aren't bothered by either, then living in Paris can be a wonderful experience.

Best Areas to Live in Paris

In general, the best arrondissements or districts in Paris for expats are:

  • 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Arrondissements - These are the most popular districts and where you'll find a lot of expats. The biggest downside is the high rent prices.
  • 5th and 6th Arrondissements - These two districts are also very expensive. But they are full of history, famous landmarks, and beautiful gardens.
  • 7th Arrondissement - This is a highly sought-after area for expats due to its central location and proximity to the Eiffel Tower. However, it's also one of the most expensive areas to live in.
  • 8th and 9th Arrondissements - These two districts are further out from the city center, but still well-connected through public transportation. It has a mix of affordable and upscale areas.
  • 11th and 12th Arrondissements - This is where I lived. Rent is affordable and it's well-connected. But you'll be far from all the main attractions.
  • 13th, 14th, and 15th Arrondissements - These districts are mostly residential and are far from the tourist crowds. They are also more affordable.

Moving to Strasbourg

I moved permanently to Strasbourg in 2019 on a spouse of a French citizen visa. While Paris had its advantages, I wanted something closer to nature so I could hike on the weekends.

It's a small city located on the border of Germany, but, because it’s the seat of several EU institutions, it has a big international community.

Pros to Living in Strasbourg

The cost of living is affordable and there are far more budget-friendly activities in Strasbourg than Paris, which was one of the main perks for me.

Public transportation is also well-developed, making it easy to explore other parts of France and Europe. In less than an hour, I can be in the Vosges mountains, Switzerland, or the Black Forest. There's even a direct train from Strasbourg's central train station to Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

Both the economy and job market are another draw. You’ll find tons of opportunities in various sectors like technology and research.

In general, Strasbourg offers a high quality of life with its mix of culture, affordability, and access to nature. It may not have the same allure as Paris, but, for me, the lifestyle is far more relaxed and affordable.

Best Areas to Live in Strasbourg

In general, the best neighborhoods for expats are:

  • Grande-Île - This is Strasbourg's city center. It’s full of attractions, restaurants, and things to do. It’s also the most expensive area to live in.
  • Krutenau - This is the most popular area to live in for expats. It’s next to Grand-Île, but it’s far less crowded. 
  • L'Orangerie - This neighborhood is where most families live. It’s quiet, but far from everything.
  • Neudorf - This is one of the most affordable areas to live in. Over the years, it has become more popular with restaurants and bars popping up on every corner.

Moving to Lyon

Lyon is another popular city among expats in France. It's known for its gastronomy, university life, and historical landmarks. It is the third largest city in France and has a strong economy with a variety of job opportunities.

Pros to Living in Lyon

The cost of living in Lyon is lower compared to Paris, but higher than Strasbourg. However, it offers a great balance between urban amenities and access to nature, with the Alps and Provence region less than two hours away.

The city also has a great public transportation system, making it easy to get around.

Plus, you'll never have to wonder what to do in Lyon, there's always something going on.

It's the gastronomic capital of France and its Old Town is home to some of the best restaurants in the country. Then, if you're a fan of festivals, Lyon hosts several events throughout the year like the Festival of Lights.

Lyon is also home to a large expat community, making it easier to settle in and make new connections.

Cons to Living in Lyon

But the biggest downside to living in Lyon is that it tends to get busy, especially during peak tourist season. It's smaller than Paris, but it can get just as crowded. It's also far from any major international airport. So, for someone like me, who still has family back home, it would be a hassle.

Best Areas to Live in Lyon

In general, the best neighborhoods for expats are:

  • 1st Arrondissement - This district is Lyon’s city center. It’s very busy, but you’ll be near everything.
  • 2nd Arrondissement - This neighborhood is a mix of residential and shopping. It’s convenient, but can be pricey in some areas.
  • 3rd Arrondissement - This is Lyon's second city center. It’s next to its main train station Part-Dieu. If you have to travel outside of Lyon for work, it’s the best place to live.
  • 4th Arrondissement - Located in the northern part of the city, it’s full of cafes and small shops. The overall atmosphere is more laid back than the other neighborhoods.
  • 5th Arrondissement - This is where you’ll find all the main tourist attractions. If you decide to live in the OOld Town, expect to pay a lot for rent.

Visa Options in France

If you're planning on moving to France, it's important to understand the visa options available for foreigners.

If you're an EU/EEA citizen or a Swiss national, you won't need a visa to stay or work.

But, if you're a non-EU/EEA citizen, you'll need to apply for a long-stay visa (visa de long séjour) if you want to stay more than 90 days. The application process can be lengthy and requires a lot of documentation.

Below I'll cover the types of visas available for non-EU/EEA citizens:

  • Student Visa - This allows you to stay in the country for one year and can be renewed as long as your studies continue. You can specifically get a student visa to learn French if your goal is to really improve your language.
  • Work Visa - This requires a job offer from a French employer and approval from the relevant French authorities. The visa will be valid for one year and can be renewed after that time. One of the fastest
  • Spouse of a French Citizen (or Family) Visa - If you are married to a French citizen, you can apply for a visa as a spouse or family member. With this visa, you’ll be able to work and live in France with very few restrictions.
  • Talent Visa (Carte de séjour Talents) - This is a special category of visas aimed at highly qualified individuals. It grants you permission to live and work in France, but your rights will depend on the type of talent visa you get. There are 11 different categories, and each has its own requirements.
  • France Au Pair Visa: If you're interested in living in France as an au pair, this is the best visa for you. The main requirements for this French visa is to be aged 18-30, have a host family lined up, and have a basic understanding of French (level A1/A2 only).

Settling into Life in France

Once you have arrived and settled into your new home in France, there are a few important things you should be aware of.


France has a rich history and culture, with its own unique customs, traditions, and way of life. It's important to take the time to learn about these aspects so you can better integrate into your new home.

One of the hardest things for me was introductions. French people tend to faire la bise (kiss on the cheek) when meeting someone, even if it's for the first time. This can be quite intimidating and uncomfortable. I refused the first few times and, unintentionally, offended a few people. I recommend following the lead of those around you and trying to adapt the best you can.

It's also important to note that French people tend to take their time with things and value a slower pace of life. Don't be surprised if things don't move as quickly as you may be used to.

Patience is key but will make your move to France that much smoother.


While many people in big cities speak English, French is the official language of France, so you should learn at least some basic phrases. This will not only make your day-to-day life easier, but it will also show that you are trying to integrate into the culture.

There are plenty of affordable classes (especially in the cities I mentioned above). And, depending on your visa, you may even get free classes offered by the government.

I, personally, use a platform called iTalki. It's private tutoring but without the cost. You can find tons of affordable teachers and tutors to fit your budget. Plus, you get the added bonus of speaking with a native speaker.


Healthcare in France is known for being one of the best in the world. The country has a universal healthcare system, which means that everyone is entitled to basic medical care regardless of their income.

But you can't access the national healthcare system until you've lived in France for more than three months. That doesn't mean you can't see a doctor; it just means you'll have to pay full price.

To mitigate risk during that time, I recommend you have basic travel insurance to cover emergencies.

The average cost to see a general doctor is €25. Compared to other countries like the United States, it's much more affordable, but it’s still an expense you’ll have to factor in your budget.

Then, after the initial three months have passed, you’ll be considered a resident and only pay €7.50.

Will You Move to France?

This & hero photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

Moving to any new country can be an exciting and daunting experience. It requires a lot of planning and organization. But moving to France has its unique charm and benefits that make it an attractive option for many people.

For me, it has been a dream come true. I've fallen in love with the history, culture, and language. Plus, the quality of life and healthcare are unbeatable.

Whether you're considering a move for work, study, or a change of scenery, I highly recommend giving France a chance. It may just become your new home away from home.

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