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Living in France

Your guide to expat life in France

Want to live in France?

The quality of life in France is exceptional, with a highly developed infrastructure, excellent schools and one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

It’s the lifestyle rather than high salaries that draws many people to France. Locals place great emphasis on ‘joie de vivre’, and French cuisine is renowned across the globe. The country is also famous for its fine wines, and its sun-drenched resorts along the Côte D’Azur are magnets for the world’s glitterati.

Accommodation in France

Housing options range from city apartments to countryside chateaux. It’s not easy to find a place before you arrive, as landlords prefer to meet tenants first. By far the most common type of accommodation in French cities are apartments. In rural areas, cottages are usually up for sale rather than being available to rent. Although full of character, city apartments tend to be old and small with poor insulation. In an unfurnished rental property, the kitchen may be bare, with no appliances or white goods.

To secure a rental property in France, you’ll need proof of income, and your monthly salary should be at least three times the rent. While deposits for unfurnished properties are usually no more than a month’s rent, you may be asked for a much bigger deposit to secure a furnished place. If you live in an apartment building, utilities will be included in your rent, but you’ll have to get home insurance and pay an annual French occupier’s tax.

Those thinking of buying property should note that purchase costs are high, the process is highly regulated, and many properties are sold through word of mouth before they appear in listings. Despite this, there are many expat homeowners in France, particularly in the countryside.

Local culture in France

The French cherish their history and culture. They’re also fiercely proud of their language and any effort to speak it will be appreciated. Manners and etiquette are highly valued and it’s important to follow French codes of conduct in social and business circles.

Locals tend to be discreet and they don’t like overt displays of emotion. They’re also forthright and their honesty can sometimes be misconstrued as rudeness. ‘Bisous’, the French tradition of kissing both cheeks, is reserved for people who know each other. Wait for a local to initiate this intimate greeting.

If you’re invited to a French home, you’ll probably be expected to arrive fashionably late (this isn’t the case for business appointments where punctuality is important). It’s customary to send flowers a few hours before you arrive or to take a thoughtful gift such as chocolates or a book. The French enjoy and celebrate their wonderful cuisine. They don’t like fussy eaters, and leaving food on your plate is frowned upon.

Education in France

Education in France is of a high standard. French teachers consider schooling their domain, and parents are expected to keep a respectful distance. The academic year runs from September to July with the main holidays in July/August and February/March. Primary school children only attend school for half a day on Wednesdays.

Public schools

Public schools in France are free for all residents. They’re catchment based and most follow the national curriculum. Sending your children to a public school is a good option if you want them to learn French and make local friends.

Private schools

Private schools are either state or privately funded. State-funded schools have much lower fees and a better reputation, but they follow the national curriculum more closely. Many private schools are Catholic and religious education is an integral part of the curriculum.

International schools

France has good international schools – most are in cities such as Paris, Nice and Lyon. The majority follow the American, British or German curriculum or the International Baccalaureate. Waiting lists can be very long and fees are high.

Keeping in touch in France

There are four main mobile telecommunications providers in France: Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free Mobile. Contracts can have hidden costs, such as penalties if you want to change providers.

The level of internet use in France is among the highest in Europe. The main providers are Orange, Free, Alice and Bouygues Telecom. In some areas, you’ll need an Orange landline to access the internet.

There are a few free public TV stations in France. English-language channels are available on subscription, along with many satellite and cable channels. There’s also digital television called TNT – it’s free but you’ll need to buy a set-top box and viewing card. Some of the most widely read English-language newspapers and magazines are The Connexion, Expatriates Magazine and Paris Voice.

Healthcare in France

With a good choice of public and private hospitals and clinics, the French healthcare system is among the best in the world. The country is a global leader in medical research and has a high doctor-to-patient ratio.

There are many excellent public healthcare facilities across France and waiting lists are short. Government funding and salary contributions cover up to 70% of medical costs – most expats take out insurance to cover the difference. The government provides free treatment for people who are seriously or terminally ill. Private hospitals and clinics tend to specialise to a greater degree than public hospitals. The French government is active in negotiating reasonable fees in the private sector.

With a large illuminated red or green cross outside, French pharmacies are easy to spot, and many in the main cities stay open late. Because over-the-counter medications can only be sold in pharmacies, it’s unlikely you’ll find even basic painkillers or cold remedies in a supermarket.

Most serious medical emergencies are handled by SAMU (Service d'Aide Médicale d'Urgente), a public organisation that provides ambulance services as well as other specialist help. Not all call operators speak English, so it’s worth learning how to describe various emergency situations in French.

Getting around in France

With highways crisscrossing the country, driving in France is a pleasure, although parking in cities is limited and expensive. Motorway tolls are high, but you can avoid them by taking detours along more scenic roads. If you’re from the EU, you can use your driving licence from home. Expats from outside the EU must have an international licence and convert to a French licence within six months of arriving in the country.

Public transport in France is excellent. France’s high-speed trains (TGV) are among the fastest in the world. As well as connecting all the main cities in the country, the TGV network extends to Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain. The France Rail Pass lets passengers hop on and off the TGV and other intercity and local trains. The Eurostar links France and England via a tunnel under the English Channel. Its high-speed trains run frequently and can transport cars, buses and passengers.

Buses in France are less expensive than trains, but they’re slower and not as comfortable. Intercity bus routes are limited and there isn’t a long-distance bus network, so driving or taking the train are the best ways to travel between cities.

The national airline, Air France, has flights to many domestic and international destinations. The country’s two main airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, are both in Paris.

Cost of living in France

The cost of living in France is high, especially in urban areas, and Paris is consistently ranked as one of the world’s 100 most expensive cities in the Mercer Cost of Living survey.

Accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense – rents in the centre of Paris and cities along the French Riviera can be exorbitant. A 20% sales tax on goods and services adds to the cost of food and fuel. And there are very few mid-range clothes retailers, so shoppers are often limited to cheap mass-produced items or expensive designer labels.

Getting around France can also be costly. Ticket prices for the TGV are high and there are tolls on roads across the country.

Top tips for France

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in France.

Keep a clock near you showing your native time so you'll know what loved ones are up to - but not your watch, phone or computer. You're living somewhere new now. This is the time you're living.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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