Moving to (and Living in) Strasbourg, France
Situated on France’s eastern border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace and the “Grand Est”, Strasbourg is a truly European city with both French and German characteristics. The city has a medieval past, with twisting alleys and crooked half-timbered houses, among old fashioned Alsatian taverns or “winstubs”, akin to those in traditional fairy tales.
Strasbourg is the second most popular tourist city in France, after, of course, Paris. With a stunning gothic cathedral, second only to Notre Dame de Paris, picturesque quaysides, and famous for its Christmas market which fills the streets for the whole of December. Strasbourg is one of the capitals of the European Union, and is the home to several major European institutions including the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, The European Parliament, and the European Ombudsman of the European Union. It is also the seat of the International Institute of Human Rights
History and culture
Strasbourg grew from the Roman camp of Argentoratum which first appeared in texts in 12 BC. Strasbourg celebrated its 2000th anniversary in 1988, and the area between Rhine and the River III shows evidence of inhabitants since the middle Palaeolithic era.
After being governed by the Bishops of Strasbourg the city became a Free Imperial City and then a French city in 1681. The city was later under German rule until 1918, the end of World War One, when it became French again. It came under German control again during the Second World War until the wars end. in 2016 Strasbourg was promoted from the capital of Alsace to the capital of Grand Est.
Strasbourg is both a multi-cultural and a multi-faith city It is heavily influenced by both French and German cultures and Christian and Catholic faiths. In 2012 it became the home of the largest Islamic place of worship in France, the Strasbourg Grand Mosque.
The official language of Strasbourg today is French, though historic German influence and German occupation during the First and Second World Wars mean that many residents also speak German. German is also taught in schools. Widely spoken is a southern German dialect, influenced by French, called Alsatian.
You will see place names through the city in both French and German Alsatian.
Making your move to Strasbourg
Visas and residency for Strasbourg, France
As a citizen of the USA you can visit France for up to 90 days. To stay longer you will need to apply for a long-term French visa (visa long de sèjour).
Important note: long stay visas must be applied for before you arrive in France!
Long Stay Visas for France
Long stay visas are usually for 12 months, you will have to register at the Immigration Office (OFFI) within three months of arrival, and apply for residency later.
Usually taking about three weeks, and free to apply for. A spouse visa can be granted for a 12-month period.
To obtain a work visa you need to have a job in France first. You’ll need to have your work contract approved by the French Labour Ministry and then the OFFI offices. Your employer should include your family in their application file and it will take around three weeks.
If you are not planning on working but would like to stay for longer than 90 days, there is a visitor visa which takes around a month to process. As well as the usual identity documentation you will need a letter explaining what you plan to do in France, and proof that you can support yourself, proof of your accommodation and your medical insurance.
For a student visa you will need financial guarantees, proof of enrolment, and other documents from Campus France. It takes about two weeks.
Au Pair Visa
Students between the ages of 17 and 30 can apply for an au pair visa. You’ll need an “au pair contract” approved by the French ministry of labour, an invitation from your host family, and you will need to attend French courses.
There are also special visas for scientists, internees and diplomats.
Staying in France for longer than a year
Two months before your long stay visa runs out you must apply for a residency permit (carte de sèjour) to remain in France. You have to take all your documentation to the local prefecture to file your application. You will need to prove your family situation, financial resources, employment contract, address, and have all your identification. You will also need to prove you have a good grasp of French.
American Embassy in Strasbourg
There is a US Consulate office in Strasbourg. The consulate can help American citizens in an emergency, help deal with passport issues, and offer certain other services.
You can take your pets with you to France. France accepts dogs, cats and ferrets under the following conditions.
- They must be microchipped and tattooed, there are rules for the type of microchip
- Every animal must have a valid rabies vaccination, administered after any microchip, and at least 21 days prior to travel
- A blood test is not required for pets travelling from the USA and Canada
- An official health certificate must be completed and endorsed by the USDA
- The pet has to be accompanied by its owner during non-commercial movement
You may also take reptiles, small rodents, rabbits and birds to France. A health certificate must be issued and endorsed under the USDA.
The full rules for all animals can be found here
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Travelling to Strasbourg
Travelling to Strasbourg by air
Strasbourg International Airport (SXB) provides routes directly to many European destinations, but to arrive in Strasbourg by air you will need to take a connecting flight to a major international airport such as Paris or Brussels, then transfer to Strasbourg.
Travelling to Strasbourg by sea
You may be able to take a freight liner or cruise ship and make your passage to France by sea. It would take a few weeks, and unless you have arranged space on a freighter it doesn’t mean you can take extra baggage. You would then need to make the journey from your arrival port in France to Strasbourg.
Shipping and removals
To transport the contents of your home, or those important belongings you wish to take with you, you must pack them, organise insurance and customs documents, and arrange transport both across land and sea. It’s a big task, and one thing that may be better to hire experts for, to make sure it’s 100% perfect. There would be nothing worse than starting your new life without your belongings.
A shipping and removals company will work with you to completely secure and transport your belongings to your new home in Strasbourg. If you take a full service, they will create an inventory, pack, load and transport from your old home to your new home, stress free. A shipping and removals company will also take care of things like insurance and customs requirements.
What to pack for a move to Strasbourg
If you are shipping your possessions, you must make sure they are wrapped safely and securely and protected from damp as they could be in transit for a while.
You can ship your belongings ahead of time, so they are waiting for you when you arrive. If you are going to be waiting for the rest of your items when you arrive in Strasbourg, it’s important to pack what you will need immediately, and to pack appropriately for you how you will be travelling.
Remember you are moving to a country where English is not the first language. Though you will be able to order English language books online, you won’t find them in the shops. If you are shipping your belongings you may want to take some English titles with you, especially if you have children. Or consider moving to e-books.
A few quick tips on suitcase and hand luggage contents:
- Pack according to what you have decided to purchase new when you get to Strasbourg
- Pack as if you were going on vacation, if you are likely to be waiting for your shipment of belongings that will meet you there
- Add a few items which are important to you or remind you of home, like photo’s or treasured items of your children’s. This will help their transition to a new home straight away
- Take important documentation with you when you travel, ideally in your hand luggage if you are flying. This should include things like birth certificates, passports, visa’s, marriage certificates and bank cards.
- Create digital copies of your important photo’s, paperwork and documents and make sure they are stored safely so you are prepared for any lost luggage issues. Although rare they do happen.
- Look closely at weather forecasts when you arrive and plan clothing accordingly. If you are starting work or have children starting school immediately what might you need?
All that said don’t give in to the temptation to overpack. Only pack what you can comfortably carry transport with you.
Living in Strasbourg
Strasbourg is important to the French economy, particularly for manufacturing and engineering. It’s a hub of road, rail and river transportation and has the second largest port on the Rhine, the Port of Strasbourg. There are a wide range of professions available for migrants looking to live and work in Strasbourg.
There are actually over 20 major European and international institutions based in Strasbourg, which is considered the legislative and democratic capital of the European Union. The European Parliament, European Science Foundation, and International Institute of Human Rights are just a few more examples.
In most cases, you will need a good to excellent level of French language ability, both spoken and written to be able to work for a Strasbourg employer. Depending on the employer in Strasbourg, strong German language skills may be a suitable addition, or possibly a replacement.
Requirements will vary from employer to employer so it’s important to understand their expectations. If you are starting your job search without knowledge of a suitable role, the chances are you will need one or more languages.
Looking for work in Strasbourg
You will need a CV/Resume and to write cover letters when applying for jobs in Strasbourg by post or email. Good job hunting etiquette is essential, the French expect this. Your French CV should be concise, a page or two at most.
France has a national employment agency Pôle Emploi which posts jobs. APEC (Agence pour l’Emploi de Cadres) is a good source of jobs for professionals and executives. Other sites which are commonly used in France include:
If you are planning to work in France you will need to find a job first, and then apply for a work visa.
Children in France must attend school between the ages of six and 16. There are primary level schools (école), elementary or middle schools (collège) and high schoosl (lycée).
You can choose from French state schools, state contracted private schools, or independent/international schools in France. Home schooling is legal in France under the guidance of the school’s inspectorate.
State schools will teach in French and expect a certain level of achievement in the language. Some may offer extra support in English. Attending a French school will help children to integrate into French society faster, but can be demanding. German lessons are common in Strasbourg.
There are a number of international and bilingual schools in the Strasbourg area, included the reputed Bilingual International School of Strasbourg (BISS), which is no doubt utilised by many of the resident European government workers and diplomats from across the continent.
Strasbourg has three major universities with around 45,000 students, including around 6,000 foreign students. They group into one European University Centre or Pôle Universitaire Européen. The three universities are The Université Louis Pasteur, The Université Marc Bloch and The Université Robert Schuman.
A new scheme in France makes healthcare more accessible to expats and the healthcare system there is one of the best in the world.
Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA) grants an automatic right to healthcare for those who reside in France in a “stable and regular” manner. If you have lived in France for three consecutive months and are a permanent legal resident, you can apply for public healthcare coverage.
You can apply straight away if you are legally employed in France and pay into the French social security system. If you are not eligible, having private medical insurance is a legal requirement.
Cost of living in Strasbourg
Renting a three-bedroom apartment in the centre of Strasbourg will cost around 1,100 EURO per month, outside the city centre that falls to 792 EURO. A loaf of bread will cost 1.10 EURO, a dozen eggs 2.50 EURO, and a beer 3.75 EURO. A three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant is likely to cost around 50 EURO.
Despite Strasbourg being a popular destination for high-level professionals the cost of living is no higher than other cities in France, such as Toulouse, at around 11% lower than the cost of living in Paris. (Source: Numbeo).
In France they drive on the right, the same as the USA and Canada.
The first phase of the French high-speed rail network, the TGV, was Paris-Strasbourg in 2007, then Strasbourg-Lyon in 2012. There are also standard rail services, all operating from the Gare de Strasbourg in the city centre. Trains run regularly to destinations in France and Germany, and to Strasbourg airport.
The futuristic Strasbourg Tramway opened in 1994 and has six lines, and total track length of 55.8km, so a sizable city network. A similarly city-wide bus network integrates with the tram system.
There are over 500km of bicycle paths across the city making it a convenient way to commute and travel for Strasbourg. The regional transit company who operate the buses and trains Compagnie des Transports Strasbourgeois also provide a value for money bike-sharing scheme called “Vélhop”.
You can drive in Strasbourg with your US driving licence but should carry a translated, notarized copy. If you are a resident of France, and from certain US states, you can exchange your US licence for a French one if you apply three months before the 12-month period is over. For other US states you will have to take the French written and practical driving tests, once the 12-month period has expired.
More information on eligible and un-eligible states for driving licence exchange can be found here.
Strasbourg is divided into ten districts:
- Bourse, Esplanade, Krutenau
- Centre République
- Centre Gare
- Conseil des XV, Rotterdam
- Cronenbourg, Hautepierre, Poteries, Hohberg
- Koenigshoffen, Montagne-Verte, Elsau
- Neudorf, Schluthfeld, Port du Rhin, Musau
- Neuhof, Stockfeld, Ganzau
- Robertsau, Wacken
City centre property is in high demand and expensive, so you probably want to look at the outskirts of the city. L’Orangerie, Tribunal and Robertsau are the more expensive neighbourhoods. Otswald is close to school’s parks and leisure facilities, so is excellent for families. Koenigshoffen features historic homes, shared gardens and urban parks. Cronenbourg’s and Quartier de la Gare are being rejuvenated and are worth investigating for lower property prices.
Next to Paris, Strasbourg is the 2nd most popular tourist destination. Visitors and residents alike love to explore the medieval streets, markets, cobbled squares, and gothic cathedral.
Strasbourg is home to fine arts, museums, parks and many examples of both French and German culture. The Alsace style is one of pretty houses with timbered struts, and flower boxes, amongst the locks and bridges of the river.
You can enjoy theatres, operas, concerts and festivals, or tour the many monuments and buildings. Strasbourg is as equally young and dynamic as it is historic. There is an excellent nightlife for students, visitors or residents.
You can take a 70-minute city tour by boat through the city for an overview of all the major sites in the Alsatian capital including Petite France, the Covered Bridges, the Vauban dam and the Neustadt Imperial Quarter. Petite France has the quaint 16th and 17th century buildings, and was home then to the fisherman, millers and tanners.
There is always something happening in Strasbourg, from festivals and concerts through to the month-long Christmas Market and festivities in December.
The numerous museums hold events through the year including free visits, and “Le nuit des Musées”. “La Fete du cinema” (Celebration of Fims) occurs in May and “La Fete de la Musique” (Celebration of Music) in June. “L’Ill aux Lumieres” (The city under the lights) lights up the sights on summers evenings in July. For Bastille Day on the 14th of July there is grand firework display.
Major sports teama include the Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace (football), Strasbourg IG (basketball) and the Étoile Noire (ice hockey). “Internationaux de Strasbourg”, womens tennis, is one of the most important French tournaments.
There aren’t too many ice rinks in France. Strasbourg is home to both an ice rink and ice hockey team. There are also many general sports facilities and swimming pools, 187 in total including professional level stadiums, 15 tennis venues, two equestrian centres and 9 bowling alleys.