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An Expat's Guide to Living in Annecy, France

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Imagine a place where snow-capped, mountain slopes run down to a turquoise, sparkling lake. Where the cheese is melted and creamy and scooped up with potatoes or bread, and a crisp, clean Alpine white wine washes it all down. 

Weekends are filled with festivals nearly all year long, sports of every kind are at your fingertips, and mellow Sundays are spent winding through the cobbled streets of a quaint old town splashed with colorful buildings and a lazy canal running through. 

They call it the Venice of the Alps. 

To most French people this town is far from a secret. Troves of French have been moving here over the past decade seeking a taste of the “good life.”

This sweet, little mountain town of 130,000 is growing fast, and for good reason.

A two-year study by the official statistic body, Insee, ranked 30,000 communes in France on their quality of life indicators including safety, transport, services, health, education, sports and leisure opportunities, and commercial purchasing power. And who do you think was the overall winner? Yup, the place I am lucky enough to call home. (The research results cited above were published by Le Journal du Dimanche.)

So where is this magical place you ask?

As someone who lives here and knows just how good it is but also how jam-packed with newcomers it is getting, I almost don’t want to tell you. 

 But I will. 

 Just keep it quiet though, ok? 

 It is the charming, alpine town of Annecy in the Haute Savoie region of France. 

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Getting to Know Annecy

Just one and a half hours from the iconic town of Chamonix and Europe’s highest mountain, the Mont Blanc, one hour to the Italian border, five hours to Nice and the Provence region, and 40 minutes to Geneva, Switzerland, Annecy is well placed for exploring some of Europe’s most beautiful destinations. 

A town with a rich, ancient history and a vibrant tourism industry, Annecy is the talk of France. And for me, it definitely fits in with my expat narrative.

Located in the French Alps, the city's natural beauty, rich history, cultural events, and outdoor activities contribute to its reputation as a captivating and enchanting place to visit, and, an amazing place to live.

On any given weekend the options are endless as to how you can choose to spend your time. For nature enthusiasts, this is particularly true. Weekends in winter are filled with trips to the mountains for skiing (the closest descent-size ski resort is just 35 minutes away due east).  And even a midweek, cross-country ski on an extended lunch break is possible at our cute, local mountain range, Semnoz, located on the western side of Lake Annecy. 

In other seasons, winter sports make room for hiking, mountain biking, swimming, and soaking up that mountain fresh air.

The city is situated on Lake Annecy's shores, often referred to as Europe's cleanest lake. When the snow melts and the springtime sun starts to shine, the lake is irresistibly inviting. 

Annecy is also renowned for its well-preserved medieval architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and charming canals. The Palais de l'Isle, a 12th-century island castle located in the heart of the Thiou Canal, is an iconic symbol of the city symbol. 

The Cost of Living

Photo by depositphotos.com

First, let’s get the not-so-nice side of Annecy out of the way - the cost.  

When I moved to Annecy last year, I traveled through Paris to get here from the USA. As I went through the metal detector, I chatted with the security officer. In our conversation, Annecy came up and I mentioned that we were moving there. She said, “Oh, wow. It’s expensive there.

I lived in Paris for three years and found it to be very expensive to live there

So I retorted by saying, “Yes, but it is also really expensive here in Paris, no?

To which she replied, “Here, in Paris, food and housing are very expensive. In Annecy, everything is expensive.” 

And I must say, I have found this to be true.

I'm not sure it is any more expensive than living in Paris though. In fact, it probably isn’t. But it is definitely higher than your average French cost of living. Given its proximity to Switzerland and the increased allure of Annecy, especially during Covid, prices here have skyrocketed in the last decade. 

A Few Tips to Manage Cost of Living

Photo by depositphotos.com

Tip 1. Work in Switzerland and live in France

About 11% of people living in Annecy work in Switzerland, my husband included, where they are known as Frontelier workers. As there are also more jobs in Geneva than in Annecy, commuting to Geneva allows you to live in a thriving mountain town that is still cheaper than living in Switzerland, and earn a salary that often dwarfs the French comparison. 

Generally, salaries are much higher in Switzerland than in France, so the high cost of living is mitigated when you are on a Swiss wage.

However, if you do opt for this, know that with traffic and the border crossing, you need to be prepared to sometimes spend upwards of an hour each way on the commute, and there is no way to take a train or bus to Geneva that is reasonable.

Tip 2. Live in an apartment

Finding a house in Annecy is not only difficult but expensive. There are very few houses to rent (or buy) and you will pay a premium for them. Apartment living is much more affordable so when searching bear this in mind.

Tip 3. Take advantage of the subsidies

If you live in France on a French visa or you or your spouse is a European citizen, there are many subsidies offered by the government that you can benefit from. From monthly child support to reimbursements for employing workers like cleaners or nannies, there are many ways to save on your spending.

For example, the CAF (Caisse d’Allocations Familiales) is the first one you will want to familiarize yourself with if you have a family.

Where to Live in Annecy

Photo by depositphotos.com

Annecy has some beautiful neighborhoods from more city living to rural countryside feel. 

A few things to note first: It is very hard to move into most rental properties in France if you are not a tax resident. They will want some indication that you can actually pay your rent. This can be a big barrier. If you don’t have tax residency in France, they may ask you for a guarantor - someone who guarantees they will pay your rent in the event you cannot pay it. This person needs to earn 3x the amount of your rent and needs to reside in France. 

You will want to ask upfront what the requirements are before you get too excited about anywhere and perhaps prepare to take an Airbnb when you first arrive. 

Here is a rundown of the different corners of the lake that are good options for areas to live.

Northern Suburbs

The northern part of Annecy is one of the most expensive parts of the city to live in as it is en route to Geneva. The neighborhoods offer quiet living while being within close proximity to the lake and town.

One of the most coveted parts of Annecy, Annecy Le Vieux, is a great choice if you want to be close to town and the lake, but also want a more rural style of living. It is also good if you intend to send your children to the international school, which is located here or if you commute to Geneva as it is quick to get on the motorway.

Further north you have the towns of Pringy, Argonay, and Metz-Tessy Epagny. These towns offer small shopping centers on their high streets, bus access to town, and a bike path that brings you in. They offer cheaper living costs than Annecy Le Vieux but are still comparatively expensive. 

Central & Western Annecy

You have many apartment options in the center of town and surroundings. Apartment living in central Annecy is more affordable than houses in the northern suburbs, but still expect to pay upwards of 2100 euros for 100m2/3 bedroom apartment in the center of town.

You can also opt to live in the old town of Annecy, but be aware that it is very noisy and it is filled with tourists most of the year. Then there are the near suburbs of Cran Genvrier and Seynod. Not the most beautiful parts of town, but have nice residential areas and offer more adorable housing options. Seynod is a little rough around the edges, but likely up and coming as Annecy continues to grow and change.

The Western Side of Lake Annecy

Running south from the old town you have the quaint villages of Sevrier, St Jorioz, and Duingt. This side of the lake is beautiful and rural and you will feel far from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Still accessible by bus or bike, you are still easily connected. However, as there is only one road in and out, the traffic here can be intense, especially during the summer months. Also, it gets far less sun that the eastern side of the lake, making it the cheaper side of the lake to live on.

If you work from home, like rural living, and want access to Lake Annecy at an affordable cost, this is a good area to check out.

The Eastern Side of Lake Annecy

Veyrier and Talloires, the Beverly Hills of Annecy, are two stunning towns where nearly every property will come with a million-dollar view. Prices are high here and access to town can still be problematic. With three ways to get in and out of this side of the lake, traffic is better than the western side, but still congested in tourist season.

Living on this side of the lake offers rural living with lake views and with bus and bike access to Annecy. 

Living in Annecy as an Expat 

As more and more people have chosen to make this their home, it has a larger international community than one may expect for a city of its size. Annecy offers a surprisingly international vibe. There are numerous English-speaking Facebook groups that are fairly active and meetups that happen weekly for those wishing to improve their French or meet new friends.

As is true for most of France however, your life will be made easier and richer if you speak the language. While it seems you can survive in Annecy without knowing French (not true for many parts of France) it will make your landing smoother and your experience here more enjoyable. I suggest you start practicing French as soon as you can before you move - the language learning app Mondly is a great way to hit the ground running.

Alliance Francais along with numerous other French schools offer French here in town. So if you come without much French under your belt, don’t hesitate to jump into a class and head to the French-speaking meetups!

A Few Boring Details: Visa, Healthcare & Transportation

Visa - Carte de Sejour

If you are applying for a ‘Carte de Sejour’ to stay in France expect the process to be laborious and long (upwards of nine months if it is your first time applying). You will be able to work and travel on the temporary one (récépissé) while you wait for the official card.

You will do all of your appointments at the Prefecture here in Annecy, where I am happy to report, most of the current staff are kind, helpful, and knowledgeable. 

Another option to live in France is on a student visa to learn French. This process is easier and faster but the visa only lasts as long as your course.

Healthcare

You will also be required to apply for Assurance Maladie and the Carte Vitale, the French healthcare system. This can also take a very long time, sometimes upwards of a year.

TIP: When you have a doctor's appointment or buy prescribed medication, you should ask for a “feuille de soins.” Keep these, fill them out, and send them to the Assurance Maladie when you finally get your Caret Vitale as you will be reimbursed for what is covered (which is often nearly everything). While it is a long process, the French healthcare system is one of the best and you will have excellent coverage.

Private Insurance

Many companies offer what is called a “mutuelle” as part of their benefits package. If you do not get this through your company, you may want to look into topping up your insurance with a mutuelle to have even greater coverage. 

Note: one of the downfalls of many people coming to Annecy and also the proximity to Switzerland is that there is a shortage of medical staff in Annecy. GPs, pediatricians, dentists, and any specialty doctors are very hard to get appointments with and you will potentially wait months. Be sure you have all of your medical up to date before you move here to give yourself time to figure it out.

Transportation

The best way to get around town is by bike. Bike paths are everywhere, drivers are courteous of bikers, and there are bike racks to lock up. Also, during the summer months when the town and lake are heaving, you will be happy to be able to rock up directly to where you want to go. No fuss.

If biking isn’t your thing, the buses are very well-connected around the city and can take you to most places. In the summer, they are free for everyone including up to the Semnoz mountain range.

Traffic in Annecy is consistently problematic, especially parking. If you do use a car, you may find it frustrating to find street parking. There are however quite a few parking garages throughout the town and often you can find a spot. 

A Few Tips to Help You Move to France

Tip 1. Do Your Research

Annecy is not the easiest place to move to given the high cost of living, the tight housing market, and the French administration that follows. The payoff is huge though, but you will want to be prepared.

Tip 2. Be Prepared for Paperwork & Administration 

France is notorious for its endless “administration.” Things take a long time, a lot is still done with paper, cheques, and antiquated systems. Patience and perseverance are key here.

Tip 3. Learn French

I know I said it before, but I will say it again. With a little bit of French, you will go a long way and you will also win the hearts of the locals if they see you trying.

And remember, don’t ever start a conversation with anyone anywhere in France before you say the mandatory “bonjour.

Tip 4. Use Your Resources

There are many websites to help you as you navigate life in Annecy. Use them!

To find housing, I recommend the website Leboncoin. For other aspects of daily life, there are a number of Facebook groups that have proved to be helpful. The most useful have been:

  • Annecy Professional Women’s Network
  • Annecy Parents and Kids group
  • Annecy International
  • Annecy AIN Anglophone Services
  • Expat in Annecy 

Ready for the Good Life?

Little Venice as we loving call it has been better than I could have ever expected. Surrounded by beautiful nature and city amenities, it's hard to want more than what Annecy can give my family and me. If you're looking for a medium-sized city in the heart of Europe, this might just be the spot for you, too.

If you would like to dive a little deeper, listen to the Simply in Balance podcast where in my interview I discuss my move to Annecy last summer and offer tips for getting settled in your new expat life.

Hero photo by depositphotos.com.

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