15 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to France
Ah la France – home of the Eiffel Tower, the French Riviera and the best cheese known to man. Who hasn’t dreamt of strolling hand-in-hand along the banks of the River Seine or sunning themselves on the golden sands of Saint-Tropez?
But when you’re actually moving from Australia to France to start a new life, is it all baguettes and berets? Expat life in Europe’s largest country can certainly be as chic and glamorous as the French movies at times – but it can also be confusing and even downright frustrating at times.
So, what are the things you need to know before moving to France to make your move a little easier?
1. French isn’t the only language spoken in France
French is the country’s official first language but there are also many regional variations. For example, around 1 million French people living close to the border of Italy speak Italian. In the Pyrenees mountain range of the south, Catalan is widely spoken, while in the north you might come across Breton or Flemish. Many French people speak at least two languages, putting the majority of native English speakers to shame.
2. You’ll have to insist on speaking French
Thanks to the impressive language skills mentioned above, if you want to become fluent you’ll need to be assertive about speaking in French. Stumble over your grammar or pause to remember a word and many French people will seamlessly switch to English for your benefit. Try to keep speaking in French, even if they reply in English, and they should cotton on. You can then expect your attempts at French to be politely corrected as you go along. Don’t take offence, it will help your learning!
3. You've got good healthcare options
France’s healthcare system is a little complicated, but it’s also one of the best in the world.
People’s healthcare costs are mostly covered by a mandatory, state-controlled social security system called L’Assurance Maladie. This is funded by a mixture of things, such as income tax (35%) and employer payroll taxes (50%). For example: if you earn between £8,592 and £23,731 per year (or €9,807 and €27,086 per year), then you pay around 14% in sécurité sociale.
However, most people also choose to take out private health insurance (l’assurance complémentaire) to cover the remaining costs.
4. French bureaucracy is notorious
And not in a good way. Paperwork is an arduous reality of French life, especially for expats who have to deal with the immigration authorities. Bring plenty of photocopies of all potentially relevant documents and keep proof of all of your income and expenses in France – from your pay slips to your bus tickets.
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5. Say goodbye to Cornflakes and Rice Bubbles
Breakfast (or petit dejeuner) in France is a whole different ball game. It’s goodbye cereal and fruit, hello pastries dipped in hot chocolate. That doesn’t sound too bad now does it?
6. The trains are fantastic
The high-speed French rail network is the ninth biggest in the world. Carriages are comfortable, fares are reasonable and it’s a great way to see the country. You’ll even find state-of-the-art double decker trains that travel at speeds of up to 320km/h. The TGV trains are the fastest but the slower Intercités trains are still modern and comfortable.
7. A trip to the Alps is a must
Whether you’re an adventure fan or you just love a good view, get yourself to the spectacular Alps mountain range in the east of France as soon as you can. They are home to Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc, and a whole host of fun outdoor sports, including skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking and paragliding.
8. Paris is empty in August
During the hottest month of summer, Paris residents leave the city en masse in search of sunny beaches and cooling coastal breezes. Many small businesses shut down for the month and the streets can be eerily quiet. It’s either the ideal time to sightsee without the crowds or best avoided in favour of more action-packed times of year depending on your point of view.
9. Look out for fishes on April Fool’s Day
The French tradition on April 1st is to sneak up and try to stick paper fish onto each other’s backs. If successful, you can expect children to point, laugh and call you a ‘poisson d’Avril’ (April fish). It’s thought to date back to the era of King Charles XIV of France.
10. The food and wine is world-class
No surprises there, French gastronomy has a stellar reputation around the world but did you know the food is so good it’s been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status? Prepare to delight your tastebuds with over 1,000 varieties of cheese, traditional delicacies like snails and Sole Meunière and some of the best wine in the world – champagne anyone? And you don’t have to shell out in fine dining restaurants to sample these gems, local French markets are renowned for their mouth-watering seasonal produce.
11. You can expect a good work-life balance
France ranks 12th in the world for work-life balance, with workers enjoying at least five weeks of annual paid leave and long lunch breaks of up to two hours. French workers, on average, retire younger and live longer than their counterparts in other OECD countries. In fact, the world’s oldest ever human was French. Jeanne Calment lived to the ripe old age of 122 years and 164 days.
12. There are unique social customs to navigate
The stereotype of French people kissing each other on the cheek upon meeting is definitely true – up to a point. The number of kisses ranges from one to four depending on the region, so you’ll need to find out what the custom is in your local area. Be aware that men will usually only kiss other men that are relatives and close friends, so if you’re male don’t go kissing all your new male work colleagues on your first day. As a general rule, if someone expects to be kissed they will offer a cheek. Try to take your cue from the locals.
13. Table service is standard
Unlike in Australia, you don’t have to go up to bar to place your order. A waiter will come to your table and take your order. You then settle your bill at the end. You probably shouldn’t expect the same level of chattiness as you might back home though…
14. Don’t bother queuing
It’s every man or woman for themselves when it comes to queuing in France. Whether you’re waiting for a bus or to buy your daily croissant in the boulangerie, people tend to get their elbows out and go for it. There’s no point tutting or rolling your eyes, cast aside your Aussie upbringing and join the throng.
15. French culture is king
Although a multicultural country, French tradition and culture is fiercely prized. The majority of food is steadfastly French, at least 40 percent of music on the radio must be French and the Toubon Law mandates that French must be spoken in all workplaces, schools and government publications. But with such a rich and beautiful culture to discover, it’s worth embracing the adulation of all things French and just diving in to enjoy.