Moving to France
Bienvenue! Planning a move to France? This elegant European nation is the perfect place for expats to start a new life. With plenty of cosmopolitan cities, quaint villages and stunning landscapes, there’s no doubt that France is a land of immense variété.
Whether it’s the busy streets of Paris or the calming shores of the French Riviera, people always find something to fall in love with in France. Oh, and the food? Legendary.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about moving to France, including average shipping costs, healthcare information, and all things cultural.
The mighty spire of the Eiffel Tower looking over the River Seine
Cost of moving to France
You probably aren’t moving to France empty-handed; most international relocations involve shipping a few belongings. Whether this is just a few boxes or a whole house-load of furniture, our suppliers can help you get it over there.
Check out the table below for an idea of how much it will cost to ship your stuff to France. The estimates are based on the port-to-port (London to Le Havre) delivery of a 20ft container of household goods worth £40,000 (approximately the value of the contents of a three-bedroom house). Source: WorldFreightRates.com.
Please note: the rates shown above do not include typical add-ons such as door-to-door delivery, professional packing/unpacking and cargo insurance. Most of our suppliers will include these additional services in their initial quotes, so expect some discrepancy between their prices and those listed here.
So where in France are you going to live? If you like being around other people, you should consider one of France’s three busiest cities: Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Alternatively, we discuss the beautiful villages of Provence further down the page.
The French capital has always been popular with expats. Paris is the epitome of style and elegance, charming newcomers with its café culture, tree-lined boulevards and romantic atmosphere. There’s history to explore, parks to ramble in, and some world-class cuisine to enjoy. Home to around 2.27 million people, the city is bustling with energy.
For something by the sea, the coastal city of Marseille is perfect. Situated on France’s Mediterranean shores, Marseille offers a gorgeous mixt of natural beauty and urban lifestyle. The locals are spoilt for choice, with stunning limestone hills to the east and the warm sea to the west. Marseille feels less busy than Paris, with around 850,000 people living there.
France’s third most populous city lies much closer to the middle of the country, not far from the Swiss border. Regularly named France’s gastronomical capital, Lyon is the one for the serious foodies, and it’s got some of the most fascinating history of all the French cities. People come from all over the world to see the Roman amphitheatre, and the lucky locals get to see it every day. There are around 500,000 people living in Lyon, and you can be one of them.
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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.
L’Assurance Maladie is rather generous by global standards. It usually covers 70% of GP and dentist charges, 80% of hospital fees, and often up to 100% of medicine costs.
Once you have lived in France as a resident for at least three months, you can access their healthcare system. You just need to make sure you spend a minimum of 183 days in France each year. However, most people also choose to take out private health insurance (l’assurance complémentaire) to cover the remaining costs.
The visa arrangements for Brits in France are currently nice and simple; you don’t need one. That’s right, if you’re a British citizen, then you don’t need a visa to live and work in France.
This situation will certainly change once Brexit happens, and we’ll update our information as soon as the visa requirements have altered.
Can you still move to France after Brexit?
Yes – but there are a few extra things you'll need to do.
You'll need to submit an application for a long-stay visa to live in France for longer than 90 days. If you’re successful, you’ll have a year after you arrive in France to apply and obtain a residence permit, which you can do at your local prefecture.
When applying for your long visa, you’ll need to send a photo or scan of your passport, together with one or more additional documents highlighted in these flow charts made by the French government.
The enchanting spires of Mont St Michel at nighttime
Finding a job
Ah, the working life! La vie travail! Unless you’re retiring, it’s highly likely you’ll need a job in France. Fortunately, international job-hunting is easier than ever, what with online job sites such as TheLocal.fr, Reed.co.uk and Indeed.co.uk.
Although English is widely understood by most French people, having some familiarity with the French language will give you a serious advantage when applying for work over there. We recommend you use free language-learning websites such as Duolingo, take up proper language courses, or even just start watching French TV.
Transferring money to France
If you’re thinking of moving to France, you’ll probably need to convert some of your British pounds into euros.
That’s why we’ve teamed up with Wise, an easy-to-use online international money transfer service which uses the real exchange rate, and charges low fees.
How much could you save? Well, its service can be up to 8x cheaper than high street banks.
Join more than 7 million people and start using Wise today.
Cost of living
The living costs in France will range quite widely depending on where you are living. For example, day-to-day life in central Paris will leave a much bigger hole in your wallet than a village down in the south. Here’s an idea of prices in France (source: Numbeo.com).
|Three-course meal for two people
|Domestic beer (0.5 litre draught)
|Monthly public transport pass
|Monthly gym membership
|Bottle of wine (mid-range)
|1kg of local cheese
|20-pack of Marlboro cigarettes
|One cinema ticket
You’re going to need a roof over your head, or a toit over your tête. If you’re looking for the cheapest properties, get yourself to Nièvre in Burgundy. According to French-Property.com in 2017, this is where you’ll find France’s most affordable properties, with house prices averaging €70,600.
Meanwhile, the most expensive department outside of the Ile-de-France (i.e. the Paris one) is the Alpes-Maritimes on the southeast coast, containing Nice and Cannes. Property prices here average €414,600.
As you can see, there’s a pretty big range.
Culture and traditions
So what do the French get up to?
The French love a good revolution, but having one annually would be a logistical nightmare. Instead, every 14 July, France celebrates la Fête Nationale (or Bastille Day). The public holiday commemorates the 1789 storming of Bastille prison by the people of Paris, which was a pivotal moment in the French Revolution. Fireworks and wine are to be expected… and military parades. One of these, the oldest and largest in Europe, takes place on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The parade has gone on almost every year since 1880 – a friendly reminder that would-be monarchs should keep their distance.
When you receive kisses from strangers in France, it’s not because you’re irresistible – it’s because of ‘La Bise.’ It’s a French custom when greeting someone to air kiss their cheeks a couple of times (or more). We can’t emphasise the ‘air’ bit enough here. Ironically, this French kiss requires no tongue. Just brush your cheeks against theirs and make puckering sounds. You’ll look silly if you don’t. The only exception to La Bise is when a man is greeting another man, in which case shaking hands is more appropriate (though not nearly as fun).
Dejeuner et diner
You haven’t experienced lunch until you’ve experienced déjeuner. Meal deals wolfed down in twenty minutes of shame and despair have no place in France. It’s not uncommon for lunch breaks to last up to two hours, with many businesses closing during that time to ensure every course can be savoured. To do it right, you’ll need an entrée, a main course, some cheese, and a dessert. The extravagance of lunch pushes back dinner, which doesn’t happen until around 8pm, or even as late as 10pm. Just another reason to gorge at lunchtime, non?
Things to do
France is bursting at the seams with culture. There’s almost no end to the list of things to do there, but we’ve picked our favourite three.
Marvel at Mont Saint-Michel
If magical places of divine worship are your thing, you can’t get much more enchanting than Mont Saint-Michel. It’s basically a tiny medieval town crammed onto a little island, topped off by a mighty abbey with Disney-esque spires. For centuries, pilgrims would come from far and wide to visit Mont Saint-Michel, and it’s still one of France’s most beautiful places today. What’s more, you can only access it via a natural causeway that disappears when the tide comes in, so make sure you don’t get trapped there overnight.
Explore the villages of Provence
If there’s one thing that can compete with France’s super cities, it’s the country’s rural villages. What these tiny settlements lack in hustle and bustle, they more than make up for with idyllic charm. For people who like the rustic life, you can’t do better than the villages of Provence, a southeast region filled with olive groves, vineyards and pine forests. Saint-Paul de Vence has some lovely cobblestone lanes, Biot and Gordes offer magnificent hilltop views, Seillans is rich with medieval history, and Banon blooms with lavender in the summer months. There are of course many, many more.
Tour le Château de Versailles
Feeling fancy? Head 20 km southwest of Paris for an experience that’s really rather royal. Not just any old palace, le Château de Versailles is a sprawling, dazzling complex of regal buildings, glittering halls and pristine gardens. It was France’s main royal residence between 1682 and 1789, and it’s hard not to feel like you’ve gone back in time when you’re walking around. The Hall of Mirrors is a real highlight (as long as you don’t hate your appearance).
Food in France
There’s a lot of delightful food waiting for you in France, from heart-warming traditional dishes to the avant-garde fusion food of Paris and Lyon. Here are three of the country’s greatest culinary hits.
Coq au vin
Stop sniggering at the back! This glorified stew is a French classic, comprising a tantalizing combo of chicken, pearl onions, mushrooms and wine (normally a red Burgundy). The dish tends to fall in and out of fashion in cycles, but the reliable harmony of coq and vin will always have a place in the hearts of the French.
One day, an imaginative French person realised that snails might actually make a nice meal. Was this a sensible decision? For most countries the jury’s still out, but France took to the idea with serious vigour. Escargots are a popular starter in restaurants across the country (especially in Burgundy), promising slimy and (almost) fat-free mouthfuls of protein and vitamins. Most snails also come lathered in tasty garlic butter.
French onion soup
Simply named and simply made, French onion soup is the heartiest of winter warmers. If you’re feeling tired, cold, or just plain hungry, a bowl of this stuff will sort you right out. Essential ingredients are just meat stock, onions, croutons and cheese. It really is that simple, and if you mess with it, then it won’t be French onion soup anymore. Slop a bit of white wine into it if you please, but for Christ’s sake show some restraint.
Still hungry for more information about France and what it’s like to live there? Check out these great titles.
France, A History: From Gaul to de Gaulle (2018) by John Julius Norwich - get a proper sense of how far France has come with this blow-by-blow account of the nation’s history.
The Best Loved Villages of France (2014) by Stéphane Bern - learn about 44 of the most picturesque villages in France (and then visit them).
Let’s Eat France! (2018) by François-Régis Gaudry - not just a recipe book, but a region-by-region encyclopaedia of French food. Fascinating.