Moving to France

There’s something for everyone in France; it’s no mere coincidence that the phrase joie de vivre is French. Time and time again, expats choose to make the move to France and it’s clear to see why.

Universally available, affordable healthcare and education, high quality of life, delicious food and drink, and gorgeous landscapes. Those are just a few of the many reasons why expats choose to settle in France.

Along with Germany, France is one of the two largest economies in the European Union and as such exerts a large influence over the politics of the region. It’s also the fifth-largest economy in the world and France’s citizens enjoy some of the highest living standards found anywhere.

As such, immigration to France is very popular and estimates suggest that around 19% of the population are either foreign-born or are first generation immigrants. This diversity enriches an already vibrant and historically excellent cultural life evidenced by some of the world’s premier museums, galleries and performing arts venues.

But immigrants don’t just go through the effort of finding a job (difficult in a country where French candidates are preferred by law), and obtaining a work permit (not required for EU citizen of course) just for the culture alone. Nor do they do it just for the world renowned cuisine; or for the incredible range, quality and value of the wine; or for the cutting edge of Haute couture; or even for the beautiful countryside.

From the sun drenched Mediterranean coast of the Languedoc, via the rolling vineyards and picturesque chateaux of the Loire Valley to the musical bustle of Paris, France is suffused with the spirit of independence and lust for life that is irresistible to world emigres.

Visas and becoming a citizen

If you’re an EU/EEA citizen or Swiss citizen, you have the right to live, work and stay in France without needing a visa. The one exception to the rule is for Croatian citizens. If Croatian citizens wish to find work in France, they must get a work permit beforehand.

If you’re a non-EU/EEA citizen, there are several visa options. Foreigners can get student visas, work visas, intern visas, partner/spouse visas, scientific research visas and family member visas. The paperwork varies depending on the visa, but generally, applicants are required to provide proof of study/job offer/marriage, and have sufficient funds to sustain their stay. Visas are usually valid for a year and can be renewed two months before expiry, as long as the applicant satisfies the requirements.

If you’ve fallen head over heels in love with France, you could be eligible to apply for French citizenship. There are several ways to become a French citizen, such as having French parentage, being born in France to foreign parents, naturalisation and marrying a French citizen. All of the processes and required documents to complete the citizenship applications are explained in this article.

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With one of the best, if not the best, healthcare system in the world, signing up to French healthcare should be one of the first things on your list when you move to France.

If you reside in France for more than 180 days, it is obligatory to have basic health insurance, which is deducted from your monthly pay packet. If you are retired or self-employed, payments are made to the Caisse Primaire de l’Assurance Maladie (CPAM). The amount is approximately 7-8% of your salary, and it will cover 70% of most treatment costs. Most residents opt to buy a top-up insurance (mutuelle) to cover the remaining costs.

Job market

Most of the jobs in the French job market are based in the tertiary sector. As France is the most visited country in the world by foreign tourists, tourism is a big industry. Paris and the surrounding areas of Ile-de-France, Lyon and the Rhône-Alpes region, and Nice and the French Riviera welcome the most visitors.

France is a prominent industrial leader, with most of the industrial work being located in the North and West of France. Alsace is the second biggest industrial region in France, with Strasbourg being home to many big industrial corporations such as Punch Powerglide Motors (formerly General Motors), Mars and Kronenbourg.

Since the global recession, France has seen a steady rise in unemployment with the rate averaging 10% since the start of the year. Expat job seekers will find most success in international corporations and jobs requiring native English speakers. Job prospects are also boosted if expats have working knowledge of French.

Essential Info: France

Official language:French
Capital city:Paris
Timezone:UTC+ 1
International dialling code:+33
Emergency numbers:17-police, 15-ambulance, 18-fire, 112
Population:67 million
Electricity:220-240 volts
Drives on the:right
Tipping:A euro for casual restaurants and 5% for more expensive restaurants.
Unusual fact:There are over 1,000 types of cheese made in France.

Property information

Property prices vary greatly, with Paris by far having the most expensive property price per square metre. On average, the cost per square in Paris is €7,770 for an apartment and €7,869 for a house. The capital of the French Riviera, Nice, has the second most expensive property prices at €3,766/m2 for an apartment and €4,409/m2 for a house. The high-class surrounding areas of Nice such as Cannes are more expensive with the average being €5,455/m2.

Three of the top 5 biggest cities, Marseilles, Lyon and Toulouse, range in €2,500-3,000/m2 for apartments and €3,000-3,500/m2 for a house on average. Rural properties tend to be less expensive. But tourist hotspots such as the Rhône-Alpes, Aquitaine and the French Riviera are comparable to, if not, more expensive than major cities per square metre.

In rural areas, properties tend to be older builds and cities tend to have more modern housing on offer. There are exceptions, however, with the majority of Strasbourg city centre’s housing options lacking mod cons such as lifts and garages.

Rent or buy?

Since the credit crunch, the tendency has been to rent property in France. If you do wish to buy property in France, mortgages to finance the purchase are available. The norm is at least a 20% deposit to secure the mortgage.

Cost of moving to France

For the average family requiring a 20 foot container FCL, the cost of moving to Paris are as follows:

Moving from...Cost
London£480 GBP
Frankfurt£650 GBP
New York£2,600 GBP
Dubai£5,200 GBP
Sydney£5,700 GBP

Living costs

Generally, living costs are reasonable, especially when you consider the quality of services on offer. However, there is a marked regional difference when it comes to living costs in France. Prices are at a premium in Paris, especially when it comes to rental prices.


There is a negligible difference when it comes to buying supermarket groceries. Staple buys such as 1kg of most fruits and vegetables average €1.5-3, a litre of milk is 1€ and a loaf of bread is €1.50 throughout France. A mid-range bottle of wine will cost approximately €5-7 with a domestic 0.5l bottle of beer will be about €1-1.50.

Dining out shows a slight difference between Parisian prices and Provence prices. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant will be approximately €12 in Paris, in comparison to €10 elsewhere. A three course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant will be €45 outside of Paris, in relation to €50 in Paris.


Public transport is also at higher rate in Paris with a monthly transport pass costing approximately €70 in comparison to the €45 average elsewhere.


Rental prices are where the biggest disparity between Paris and Provence is found. The average monthly rent for a city centre 1 bedroom apartment would cost €750-1200 in Paris and €500-800 in Provence cities. The average 3 bedroom city centre apartment rental prices in Paris will cost €2000-3000, in comparison to €1,200-2,000 elsewhere.


Utilities for the average 85m2 apartment will set expats back 200€ in the capital and 140€ outside of Paris. 6Mbps of broadband internet is similar nationwide costing €25-30 monthly.

Schools and education

The French education system is one of the most prestigious in the world. Children can attend école maternelle (nursery school) from the age of 3, before starting compulsory education at the age of 6.

Children attend école élémentaire before progressing to collège at the age of 11. They finish compulsory education at the age of 15/16, after which they can either go to a lycée (sixth form college) or a vocational training college.

Subject study is broad, especially when you consider the baccalauréatcovers 6 subjects and the UK’s equivalent, A Levels, tend to cover 3-4 subjects. The primary focus is on core subjects such as French, Maths and Sciences with little emphasis on the arts. Like with all public institutions, the French education system is secular. Therefore, any wear of religious symbols such as the cross or a hijab is prohibited.


The standard of university teaching is high and state universities have low tuition fees. Student life in France differs greatly to those at British/North American institutions.

Most French students tend to stay in their home cities and commute to university, instead of moving to different cities. Extra-curricular activities such as societies and sports teams are not as well-established as in Anglophone universities.

Whilst the competition for prestigious grandes écoles is high, they are internationally renowned. The Ecole Normale Superière ranks as number one in continental Europe, teaching a select 2,500 students per year.

For science and technology, the Ecole Polytechnique in the Parisian suburb of Palaisseau is the leading institute. The second biggest university in France, the Université de Strasbourg offers a broad range of subject studies as well as teaching to a high standard for students.

Driving in France

If you hold a valid licence from an EU/EEA country, you can drive in France, provided that the holder satisfies the following requirements:

  • The holder is at least the minimum age to drive in France eg. At least 18 years old for the B licence
  • Conforms to the medical requirements eg. Wears the correct glasses or contact lenses
  • The holder has not been subject to a driving suspension in the country of the obtained licence

If you hold a valid driving licence from outside the EEA, you can drive on your current licence for a year. The licence must be issued in the country of residence before moving to France, and be accompanied with an official translation in French. The holder must be at least 18 years old to drive in France.

Once the year is up, the holder must present him/herself to the nearest préfecture or the préfecture de Police de Paris, if they live in Paris, and exchange the current driving licence for a French driving licence. The holder has up to a year to request the exchange.

If the holder’s licence is not exchangeable, or the holder fails to exchange the licence within the year, they lose the right to drive. To regain the right to drive in France, they must take the French driving theory test and driving test to get a French driving licence.

Ranking in the world

The French healthcare system is widely recognised as the world’s best, public education standards are excellent and French households are wealthier than those of any other nation in Europe.

Living in France does come at price, due to high taxation, and it ranks as the fourteenth most expensive country in the world. However, in comparison to popular expat destinations such as Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, life is less expensive in France. According to a NationMaster survey, France has the 11th highest disposable income in the world.

According to the Happy Planet Index, France ranks as the 50th happiest country in the world. Whilst this may not appear to be a high ranking, when you take into account the quality of life, high quality healthcare and education, expat life in France is very appealing.