Moving to Lyon from the UK
Lying just 700 kilometers southeast of London, Lyon is the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region, an entrepreneurial hotspot, and a gastronome’s paradise. A world UNESCO heritage site, Lyon is known for historical and architectural landmarks such as the Rennassiance district of Vieux Lyon, the silk district (the slopes of Croix-Rousse), the Roman district of Fourvière, and the presqu'île, the area between the two rivers of Lyon, which contains architecture dating from the 12th century through modern times.
One of the first things an expat from the UK will realize about Lyon is that its metropolitan area is far smaller than that of London. Lyon’s city space is only 18.51 mi² for 491,268 residents (as of 2011), whereas London covers 607 mi² and has the largest population of any municipality in the EU at 8,416,535 (as of 2013).
The pound has been consistently stronger than the euro (as of this writing, the exchange rate is 1 GBP = 1.4 EUR); that, combined with Lyon’s reasonable cost of living, makes moving to France’s #2 city easy on the wallet.
Moving to Lyon
Learning French is an absolute must for anyone moving from the UK to Lyon. Luckily, French courses abound in Lyon. A two-week, intensive language course will set you back around €350 (£300). Standard French is the official, predominant language, but if a Brit wants to truly integrate into the Rhône-Alpes life, it’s also important to have a good grasp on Lyonnais, a Franco-Pronvençal dialect.
While EU citizens are not required to obtain a residence card (carte de séjour), it is recommended unless you want carry your passport with you everywhere. Retired immigrants will need to prove that they have the means to support themselves (i.e. that they won’t be relying on the French welfare system).
There’s a lot of paperwork involved in moving to France. The country has a reputation of being a bureaucratic nightmare, which is why it’s best to prepare for your move by making multiple photocopies of your important documents. If you have a car, make sure you obtain a carte grise to bring it with you. The cost for this card is calculated based on the age of your car and its condition, so having a newer car will be more expensive. (You may want to consider selling your car and buying a French model across the Channel.)
Although health care in France is free, and while the country does have efficient, competent medical staff, many UK expats are surprised to discover they have to pay for their treatment upfront and then apply for reimbursement, which is typically only 65–90% of the total cost. Also, to be eligible to access the French system, you’ll need to contribute to the social security system (sécurité sociale). Contributions, often higher in France than in the UK, will be calculated as a percentage of your taxable income. Many choose to take out a “top-up” complémentaire health insurance policy to avoid paying the extra charges.
Comparing Lyon to London
Although Lyon’s climate is not radically different to London’s, it sees greater extremes in temperature and weather as it lacks the UK capital’s moderating proximity to the sea. For example, while the average high temperature in London in August is 23°C, in Lyon it soars to 27°C. Conversely January in London brings an average low of 2°C while Lyon’s average low is freezing. And while Lyon sees 23% more annual sunshine, it also experiences 40% more precipitation.
The Lyonnais on average report themselves as feeling safer, experiencing far better healthcare, and experiencing greater spending power than Londoners. They are, however, less happy with their city’s pollution levels.
Lyon has recently been developing its waterfronts with walkways and recreation spaces to try and achieve something akin to the south bank of the Thames. If improvements in this direction are successful, they’ll add another string to Lyon’s already impressive bow when it comes to intriguing civic spaces. Roman amphitheatres, Byzantine basilicas, Italianate opera houses, and gothic churches make up just a part of Lyon’s impressive architectural tapestry. While museums and galleries may not exist in as great numbers as in London, institutions like the Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon are impressively curated.
In short, the cost of living is far lower in Lyon than in London. Clothing costs around 20% less; renting an apartment costs up to 70% less; going out to eat is around 30% cheaper; transportation costs are 50% of the London value; and even groceries are around 5% less expensive than in the UK capital. Add that to the fact that local purchasing power is 23% higher in Lyon than in London, and you have a recipe for a cocktail of discounts. The one thing that comes in significantly higher in a cost of living analysis is the price for renting a tennis court for an hour on a weekend; it costs around £20 in Lyon, which is double London’s £10 price tag. Unless you’re planning on playing nonstop tennis, however, Lyon should be kinder to your pocketbook than London.
That said, the Lyonnais report an average monthly disposable, post-tax salary of £1,319, which is 28% less than Londoners’ average £1,845. So while everyday expenditures may cost less in Lyon, make sure your salary stays in proportion to your living expenses, or you may find yourself with less money to save for a rainy day.
Although housing prices have been steadily on the rise for the past several years in London, rental prices in Lyon have been relatively stable, and high-end properties have even seen price drops. There is currently less interest from overseas buyers like in London or Paris, but Lyon’s reinvention of itself as a city for entrepreneurs is slowly turning the tide, so now is a good time to invest.
Since the housing market in France is struggling, Brits can upgrade from a low-end apartment to buy an historical home in the city centre for around £3,000 per m² (compared to almost £10,000 per m² in London). Apartment prices in Lyon in general are around half of what you’d expect to pay in the French capital. Even in the attractive sixth arrondissement, prices for flats average around €5,000 (£4,270) per m2.
Lyon, like Paris, is split up into administrative sectors called arrondissements of which there are nine. Unlike Paris, they are not laid out in any recognisable pattern.
- Family-Friendly: Croix-Rousse, the area in the 4th arrondissement that originally housed hardworking silk workers, is being gradually renovated, but it still maintains the feeling of a small village within a metropolitan area. Picture an area like London’s Kennington. Although there are tourists during the day, this area is relatively quiet at night. It’s also home to a great marché, or open market, which is an ideal place to grab your daily baguette and fresh oysters.
- Upmarket: The 6th arrondissement is arguably the chicest arrondissement in Lyon, housing trendy boutiques and posh apartment complexes. It also contains the Parc de la Tête d'Or, one of Europe’s largest urban parks. While it still doesn’t compare to the ritz of London’s Marlyeborne, it’s a great area for those wishing to live well a little off the beaten track (and up several hills).
- Hip & Trendy: The 2nd arrondissement has many of the finest old residential buildings in Lyon, and even more importantly, it’s always surrounded by action. If you want to see and be seen, you have to live in the 1st or 2nd arrondissement, which are located on the presqu’'île. International brands inspire shopping along the pedestrian-only Rue de la République that leads north from Place Bellecour, the third largest public square in France and Lyon’s hub for tourism activity. Bordering la Saône and next door to la Rhône river, the 2nd shares vibes with some of the classic yet trendy stores and areas that border the Thames.
- Up & Coming: East of the Rhône is a large, urban area where most of Lyon’s modern population lives. This area is home to La Part-Dieu, France’s second biggest business district after La Défense in Paris, and it contains a library, a concert hall, a large shopping centre (Lyon Part-Dieu), a food market (Les Halles de Lyon), and Lyon’s main TGV station (Lyon Part-Dieu). Also in this area is the ornate, former train station of Les Brotteaux and its surrounding streets, which are one of Lyon’s foremost restaurant and bar areas. Although it doesn’t have the charm of Vieux Lyon, it is a convenient and competitively priced area to live.
Schools and Education
France operates on a primary, middle and upper school system, with pupils entering secondary middle school (collège) around age eleven, going to sixth-form college or high school (lycée) at fifteen, and graduating around age eighteen. With over fifteen international schools in Lyon such as Ombrosa, The International School (CISL), and The International School of Lyon, expat students are sure to receive an education of the similar caliber as the British system.
There are, however, a few differences that distinguish French education. In France, there is a greater emphasis on core subjects like math, science, and history, and less attention is given to the arts. In addition, schools are strictly secular, and any conspicuous religious symbols (crosses, hijabs) are banned. While there are no breaks for religious holidays, the school calendar is still structured to allow for vacation time for traditionally Catholic holidays, including Christmas and Easter.
Six of the world’s top twenty universities are housed in London, and the variety of post-bac education is far greater in the UK capital than in Lyon. Of its four universities, Lyon does boast the 2nd largest scientific research center in France at the University of Lyon as well as the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, which is currently ranked number 158 in the world.