21 Best Places to Live in France for Expats in 2024

Wondering about the best places to live in France for expats?

Well, you’ve come to the right place!

Altogether I’ve lived in France for six years, so I have a lot of experience as an expat here. But before I made the move, I wanted to know which cities were the best for expats. After extensive research, I was able to narrow it down. And, if you’re considering moving to France, you’re probably wondering the same thing.

So, to help you make your choice, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of the best cities in France for expats.

The Best Cities to Live in France for Expats
The Best Cities to Live in France for Expats

21 Best Places to Live in France for Expats

There’s no denying that France is an attractive place to live.

The excellent healthcare system, low-cost education, high quality of life, and diverse landscapes are just a few reasons. But not every city offers the same lifestyle, amenities, or landscape.

Below I’ll cover the best places for expats to live in France and go over the pros and cons of each city.

1. Lyon

View of Vieux Lyon at Sunrise
Lyon at Sunrise

As the third largest city in France, Lyon is a major economic hub with ample job opportunities in sectors such as banking, technology, and pharmaceuticals. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why so many expats flock here. But it’s not the only one.

In general, Lyon is a vibrant multicultural city with a ton of things to do. I loved the city’s lively nightlife scene and the wide variety of bars and clubs.

There are also several world-class museums, galleries, and other cultural attractions. And let’s not forget the restaurant scene. It’s the reason why Lyon is often referred to as the gastronomical capital of France. The weather is also pleasant throughout the year with mild winters and warm summers.

The main downside of settling in Lyon, however, is the cost of living. Believe it or not but Lyon is the second most expensive city in France.

Then, of course, there is the congestion. While it’s not as bad as Paris, the amount of traffic and tourists can be overwhelming. If it weren’t for the Alps being only an hour away, it would be unbearable during the peak tourist season.

Who is Lyon for?

  • Lyon is best for expats who want to live in a big city, but don’t have the income to live in Paris.
  • Lyon is not for expats who want to live in a quiet town.

2. Toulouse

Toulouse, or La Ville Rose, is a beautiful city located in southwestern France. It’s the capital of the Haute-Garonne department and is known for its picturesque canals, pinkish-hued Spanish-style architecture, and bustling nightlife.

As France’s fourth largest city, Toulouse is a popular destination for expats. The biggest draw is the weather. It has a temperate climate, with mild winters and warm summers.

Not only that but it’s cheaper to live in Toulouse than in some of the other big cities like Paris or Lyon. This combined with its low crime rate and diverse demographic makes it a great city for expats.

Despite all the pros of living in Toulouse, there are, however, a few disadvantages. The most obvious is the lack of English speakers. If you don’t speak French, it can be difficult to find a job or make friends with locals.

Then, public transportation is not on par with the rest of the country, making it difficult to get around when you first arrive.

Who is Toulouse for?

  • Toulouse is best for expats who want good weather, access to the mountains, and a big city atmosphere.
  • Toulouse is not for expats who want to live in a more central location.

3. Paris

The bustling streets of Paris
Streets of Paris!

As the capital of France, Paris is one of the most popular destinations in the world. And if you’re looking to live in a big city, then Paris has you covered. It has a lot to offer in terms of culture, food, and entertainment. There are also plenty of parks and gardens where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

And let’s be honest, summertime in Paris can’t be beat!

In general, it’s a very cosmopolitan city. You’ll always find someone who speaks your language and shares your interests, so you’ll never feel out of place. But the biggest advantage of living here is the public transport. It’s well-connected, easy to get around, and is home to two major international airports.

That said when I lived in Paris, I found it to be a very stressful city. The pace of life is fast and there’s always something going on.

Not only that but the pollution can be, at times, unbearable, especially during the summer. On more than one occasion, I developed a cough from the intense smog.

Then, of course, there’s the bureaucracy. It’s the worst in France. You’ll spend more time dealing with the administration in Paris than in any other city on this list. But if you have the patience and the money to live in Paris, the pros of living in Paris definitely outweigh the cons.

Useful Tip: Paris is one of the best cities in France for American expats. There’s a strong welcoming community that will help you get settled and adjusted to your new life.

Who is Paris for?

  • Paris is best for expats looking live in a busy city with a lot of things to do.
  • Paris is not for expats who want to live in a quiet and calm city.

4. Grenoble

Grenoble is a vibrant city that offers a unique blend of urban life and natural beauty. It’s perfect for expats who love the outdoors. And there’s a ton to do here. In summer, trails are filled with hikers while winter brings ski enthusiasts.

The city is also home to a dynamic community of professionals and students. It’s an enriching multicultural environment that is perfect for expats.

The weather is both a pro and a con. If you love living in a place that has four seasons, then Grenoble is for you. The winters are cold and snowy and the summers are hot and sunny.

However, living in Grenoble does come with some challenges. It’s expensive to live here. The cost of living is only slightly lower than in Lyon. Not only that but the high tourist season can also be overwhelming.

Who is Grenoble for?

  • Grenoble is for expats who love nature and outdoor activities.
  • Grenoble is not for expats who need to live in a big city.

5. Marseille

Vieux Port in Marseille with Notre Dame de la Garde in the Distance
Marseille!

Nicknamed the “Gateway to the Mediterranean”, Marseille is a bustling port city with a rich history dating back to the Roman Empire.

Today, it’s a popular destination for expats, who are drawn to its sunny climate, laid-back lifestyle, and stunning coastal scenery. There’s a strong sense of community and the multicultural demographic is very welcoming. It’s easy to fit in and you’ll never stand out as an ‘expat.’

There are also plenty of things to do in and around Marseille. The historic Old Port is full of chic shops and restaurants. I spent several afternoons here soaking in the sun on a beautiful terrace while sipping a glass of white wine. There are also tons of museums and cultural events throughout the year.

On the downside, Marseille has a reputation for being a dangerous city at night. But, from my experience, I never felt in any danger. I walked around at night and even hung out in restaurants without any problems.

Who is Marseille for?

  • Marseille is best for expats who want to live in a busy city with warm weather.
  • Marseille is not for expats who want to live in a quiet town.

6. Montpellier

Château d’eau du Peyrou in Montpellier at sunrise. This is a small stone structure at the end of Aqueduc Saint-Clément. It's one of the many beautiful pieces of architecture in town.
Château d’Eau du Peyrou

Montpellier is France’s undiscovered gem of the south. It’s known for its sunny weather, stunning architecture, and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. The cost of living is also relatively low compared to other French cities.

In general, Montpellier has a large student population and a diverse expat community, making it easy to meet people and build a network. Other advantages include its extensive public transportation system and exceptionally low crime rate.

On the downside, the weather isn’t the best. Winters are long, cold, and wet. And, to make matters worse, warmer temperatures don’t come around until mid-June and are long gone by September.

Job opportunities are also few and far between. Most are in education or medicine, which means you’ll have to be fluent in French. But, if you’re looking to live in a quiet, safe town in the south, then Montpellier is a great place to live as an expat.

Who is Montpellier for?

  • Montpellier is best for expats who want to live in the south of France, but don’t like Marseille.
  • Montpellier is not for first-time expats who don’t speak French.

7. Strasbourg

Beautiful Architecture in Strasbourg
Strasbourg!

Strasbourg, the cultural and economic hub of Alsace, is one of the best places to live in France for expats. It’s a quaint charming town steeped in rich history and surrounded by natural beauty.

Despite its size, Strasbourg attracts a lot of expats. This is largely due to its location, low cost of living, and diverse demographic. In fact, there are four major international airports that are less than two hours away. And, since Strasbourg is one of the capitals of the European Union, English is widely spoken.

Then, of course, there is the Bas-Rhin Prefecture, where you will go to renew your visa. It’s right downtown and the staff is friendly and efficient. It’s rare to have anything related to the French bureaucracy work so well, and it’s why I decided to move to Strasbourg.

The weather is, however, not the best. I find the winters harsh winters and the summers stifling. But if you can handle it, living in Strasbourg won’t disappoint.

Who is Strasbourg for?

  • Strasbourg is best for expats who need a strong community and access to outdoor activities.
  • Strasbourg is not for expats who prefer big-city life.

8. Annecy

With its storybook-like setting on the edge of a glistening alpine lake, Annecy is postcard perfection. It’s no wonder that it’s often called “the Venice of the Alps”!

But what’s it like to actually live in Annecy?

First, it’s located in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps. So, if you’re looking for a quiet, rural French lifestyle, Annecy might not be the right fit. It receives a lot of tourists, and, given its size, it can feel congested at times.

It’s also in the middle of nowhere. The nearest international airport is in Switzerland, which means you’ll be paying a lot to travel internationally.

On the other hand, Annecy has a vibrant cultural scene, with plenty of festivals and events to enjoy year-round. And of course, the stunning natural setting is hard to beat. From hiking and biking to swimming and skiing, there’s something for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Who is Annecy for?

  • Annecy is best for expats who have an adventurous lifestyle and don’t mind living far from an international airport.
  • Annecy is not for first-time expats who don’t speak French.

9. Bordeaux

The Famous Vineyards of Bordeaux
Vineyards of Bordeaux

Known for its world-renowned wines and warm-hearted people, Bordeaux is one of the best cities in France to live in, especially for expats.

It’s located in the southwest of France and is the capital of the Gironde region. And while it’s not an oceanfront town, the beach is only an hour away. Not only that but the weather in Bordeaux is mild and pleasant throughout the year.

As for the city itself, there are plenty of things to see and do. From museums and historical sites to wine tastings and festivals, you’ll never get bored living here. In general, Bordeaux is a safe and welcoming place for expats.

Like anywhere, Bordeaux does have its cons.

First, housing in the city center is limited, and, of the apartments that are available, they are either extremely small or very old. Second, the pace of life is rather slow, which can be frustrating when it comes time to renew your visa.

Finally, the amount of tourists Bordeaux welcomes per year is a lot for the size of the town.

Who is Bordeaux for?

  • Bordeaux is best for expats looking to live in a small town and immerse themselves in French culture.
  • Bordeaux is not for expats who want to live in a big city and prefer a fast-paced lifestyle.

10. Nice

Located between the mountains and the sea next to the Italian border lies a little paradise called Nice. This eclectic city is one of the best places for expats to live in France.

Here the weather ranges from 18 to 25 degrees Celsius (64 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit) year-round and there’s always something going on. This dynamic city has tons of events and activities throughout the year. So, whether you’re into art, music, or simply exploring new places, you’ll never get bored.

Then, of course, there’s the food. From fresh seafood to indulgent pastries, it’s absolutely amazing. If you’re not a foodie when you arrive you’re sure to become one here.

The cost of living is, however, very high. While it’s cheaper than Paris, it’s not an inexpensive city to live in. The language barrier can also be challenging to overcome. Even though many people speak English, it’s not always easy to get by without speaking French.

Who is Nice for?

  • Nice is best for expats who want excellent year-round weather.
  • Nice is not for expats who need access to an international airport and don’t speak French.

11. Nancy

The Beautiful Basilica of Saint Epvre of Nancy
Basilica of Saint Epvre of Nancy

Nancy is a beautiful city in the Lorraine region of northeastern France. It is the capital of the Meurthe-et-Moselle department with a medium-sized population of about 100,000.

It’s a great place to live for expats who want to experience all that France has to offer. The city is large enough to provide a variety of cultural and outdoor activities, but small enough to feel like home. The cost of living is also relatively low, and there are several opportunities for employment.

However, living in Nancy as an expat has some drawbacks. The city can be quite cold and rainy, and the winters are long. Additionally, the language barrier can be difficult to overcome. I didn’t meet anyone who spoke English, so you should have a good handle on the language before arriving.

Finally, the expat community here is not as prevalent when compared to some of the other cities on this list. And I like having a mix of friends from a variety of backgrounds. So, if that is something you’re looking for, Nancy might not be the ideal place.

Useful Tip: Every town in France has something called Accueil des Villes Françaises (AVF). This is an agency dedicated to helping people get settled and integrate into the city. So, if you do decide to move to Nancy, definitely check them out.

Who is Nancy for?

  • Nancy is best for expats who want to live in a quiet town.
  • Nancy is not for first-time expats who don’t speak French and need a strong community.

12. Rennes

Rennes, the vibrant capital of Brittany, has earned a reputation as one of the best cities in France for expats. Here you’ll find a mix of cultural richness, a dynamic job market, and a high quality of life. Not only that but it also has modern amenities that make it easy to adapt to life abroad.

As an expat in Rennes, you’ll find a lively local community and an active expat group. And despite its size, there are plenty of career opportunities.

On the downside, the cost of living is higher than in similar-sized cities. Moreover, the language barrier will be challenging if you don’t speak French. It’s also far from everything. So, if you need an international airport nearby, Rennes might not be for you.

Who is Rennes for?

  • Rennes is for expats who want to live in a small town and are willing to learn French.
  • Rennes is not for expats who want to live in a big city that is well-connected.

13. Dijon

Half-timbered houses in Dijon's town center. Dijon has a mix of old and new houses. It's this charm that makes it such an attractive place to live.
Dijon

Dijon is an appealing city for expats seeking a blend of history, culture, and affordability. Its incredible museums, well-preserved medieval structures, and walkability only add to the charm. Then, of course, there’s the food. From its famous mustard to its exquisite wine, Dijon is a foodie haven.

I found it to be a unique blend of elegance and simplicity, which is perfect for expats seeking a taste of authentic French life.

On the downside, Dijon’s expat community isn’t as large as Paris or Lyon, which might pose a problem for extroverts. That also means that the nightlife is minimal.

But the biggest con of living in Dijon is the location. While high-speed trains will bring you to Paris or Lyon in under two hours, for someone like me, that’s too far. I need access to a well-connected airport.

Who is Dijon for?

  • Dijon is for expats who want to live in a small town and experience France as a local.
  • Dijon is not for expats who need access to a major economic or transport hub.

14. Clermont-Ferrand

Clermont Ferrand Cathedral in Clermont Ferrand France. This cathedral is black with bright red doors. It's one of the most recognizable sites in town.
Clermont Ferrand Cathedral

Clermont-Ferrand is a popular city for expats seeking an authentic French lifestyle. It’s home to Michelin, one of the world’s largest tire manufacturers, which brings jobs and other expats.

The city hosts families from around the globe, creating a diverse and welcoming community. There are also tons of social events aimed at helping expats make new friends and adapt.

But learning French is essential if you want to integrate into the local culture. Moreover, the cost of living is quite average for a city this size. It falls between Lyon and Strasbourg.

And its location is both a pro and a con.

Clermont-Ferrand is in the middle of nowhere, which means international travel is a pain.

On the other hand, it’s surrounded by two giant national parks (Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne and Parc Naturel Régional Livradois-Forez). That means you’ll have access to tons of different outdoor activities. All of which are less than an hour away. From hiking to the summit of Puy de Dôme to paragliding over breathtaking landscapes, you won’t get bored here.

Who is Clermont-Ferrand for?

  • Clermont-Ferrand is for expats looking for job opportunities and speak French.
  • Clermont-Ferrand is not for expats who need access to a big city.

15. Reims

Exterior of the Reims Cathedral in Reims, France. It's full of beautiful architecture and history, which is why it is so appealing.
The Reims Cathedral

Reims is a major economic hub of Champagne-Ardenne, a region in eastern France. This combined with its cultural richness is the biggest draw for expats.

I loved being surrounded by so much history. From the Reims Cathedral to the Musée de la Reddition, I found it impossible to get bored here.

It’s less than an hour from Paris so if you’re in need of a night out in a big city, it’s easy to do. Plus, you’ll have access to Paris’ airports making international travel hassle-free.

The biggest pro of living in Reims is the cost of living. It’s surprisingly cheap compared to the rest of France. You’ll be able to rent a nice apartment in the center of town without emptying your wallet every month.

There’s also a strong sense of community among expats. And you’ll find plenty of opportunities to meet new friends and join in on events.

But it’s not a traditional expat group. You’ll need to speak French and be well-integrated into French culture. So, if this is your first time abroad, Reims might not be for you.

Who is Reims for?

  • Reims is not for first-timers moving to France.
  • Reims is for expats who don’t want to live in Paris and speak French.

16. Rouen

Rouen is a charming city in the Normandy region of France. It offers a unique blend of rich history and vibrant culture that makes it appealing for expats. It’s renowned for its beautiful architecture and historic past, which means there’s plenty to do here.

In general, it’s a culturally diverse city with an active nightlife. Rouen has that small-town vibe, but you still find big-city amenities here. And as a bonus, it’s well-located and connected.

There are ample opportunities to immerse in the French language and culture. So, even if you don’t speak French, you’ll find affordable courses here.

On the downside, Rouen does have a lot of traffic congestion. And there are not a lot of job opportunities, which means you’ll have to get creative. If you’re a digital nomad or work remotely, then you won’t have a problem.

Finally, the weather isn’t the best. Winters are cold and rainy, and summers often have more cloudy days than sunny ones.

Who is Rouen for?

  • Rouen is for expats who want to live in a small town and have access to remote work opportunities.
  • Rouen is not for career-orientated expats.

17. Besançon

Panoramic view of Besançon from the Citadel. You have a bird's eye view of the town it's flanked by tree covered hills on both sides. It's this beauty that makes it such an attractive place to live.
Besançon

Besançon is a hidden gem in France. It has a perfect blend of history, innovation, and affordability. It’s also home to a thriving microtechnology industry, so jobs are plentiful. But, for me, the biggest pro of living here is the people. I’ve never met more welcoming locals in France!

The cost of living in Besançon is quite reasonable and less expensive than in Paris or Lyon. It’s a medium-sized town, so it has a big-city feel with small-town vibes. I felt like I knew people but still had access to everything I needed.

And because it’s a university town, there is a big student population. This can be both a pro and a con, depending on what you’re looking for.

On the downside, the weather isn’t the greatest. And it’s in the middle of nowhere, so you’ll have to travel to Mulhouse or Paris to fly out of the country.

Who is Besançon for?

  • Besançon is for expats who want a big city that’s not well-known.
  • Besançon is not for first-time expats who don’t speak French.

18. Lille

This is Lille's Grand Place. It's the largest square and is full of history and culture. It makes it a very attractive place to be.
Grand Place

Lille is located right in the heart of Europe. It’s known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and gastronomy, making it an ideal city for expats.

Here you’ll also find friendly locals and a lively social scene. And because it sits on the border with Belgium, the demographic is very diverse. There’s a dynamic feel to Lille that fosters a high quality of life that you won’t find in most other northern towns in France.

It’s also well-connected with access to other big cities so you always feel connected. That combined with the affordability makes it impossible not to consider living here.

However, if you plan on living in Lille, you’ll need to speak French. The weather is also damp and chilly, especially during the winter months. And even though Lille is central, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. For me, it was too far from the rest of France.

Who is Lille for?

  • Lille is best for first-time expats who need a vibrant and affordable city.
  • Lille is not for expats who prefer warmer weather.

19. Mulhouse

This is the main square in Mulhouse with it's Hôtel de Ville. This is the best district to live in in Mulhouse.
Hôtel de Ville in Mulhouse

Mulhouse presents a unique blend of opportunities and challenges for expats. On the positive side, it has seen a surge in expat interest. And this is mostly due to its location. In fact, Mulhouse is so well-located that it’s impossible not to consider it.

It sits on the border of France, Germany, and Switzerland. So, if you want to live in France but work in another country, it’s entirely possible here. The central train station is well-connected serving both regional TER and high-speed TGV trains. There’s even an international airport, EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg.

However, living in Mulhouse also has its downsides. The city, beyond its historic center, feels largely industrial and run down. While it’s undergone massive changes in recent years, it might be difficult for some.

Who is Mulhouse for?

  • Mulhouse is for expats who need access to Germany and Switzerland.
  • Mulhouse is not for first-time expats who don’t speak French.

20. Poitiers

This is an empty road in rural France. There are no cars and houses are spread far apart.
Rural Life in France

Poitiers is a small town that perfect for expats who want to live in a calm setting. It’s known for its gorgeous countryside, fabulous markets, and gorgeous cathedral, Église Notre-Dame la Grande. Furthermore, it boasts a safe environment with a low crime rate.

The local community is welcoming, and you’ll have a high quality of life if you decide to live here.

There are, however, downsides to living in Poitiers. If you don’t speak French, you’ll find it difficult to integrate into the culture. The expat community is also very small, so you’ll have to work on building your support network. Add to those limited job opportunities, and you might find yourself looking elsewhere.

Who is Poitiers for?

  • Poitiers is for expats who want to live in rural France and don’t mind living far from everything.
  • Poitiers is not for first-time expats who don’t speak French.

21. Nantes

Beach on the Atlantic Coast in Western France. It's right on the shore so the waves are coming in and there a boat in the distance.
The Atlantic Coast

Nantes is a charming city located in western France. It’s one of the lesser-known cities for expats, but nevertheless, there are several reasons to consider living here.

In general, it’s a clean, safe city with a low cost of living. There are plenty of job opportunities and public transportation is excellent. Not only that but locals are welcoming, which makes it easy to meet people and develop a strong support network.

But the biggest advantage to living in Nantes is its proximity to the beach. In less than one hour, you can find yourself soaking in the sun with the sound of crashing waves in the background.

While the climate is relatively mild, it’s often cloudy and rainy, which can be a big deterrent for some. Nantes is also far from everything. It does have an airport, but it’s not well-served. This combined with its less-than-diverse population means you might feel isolated if this is your first time living abroad.

Who is Nantes for?

  • Nantes is best for expats who have a family and want to live in a quiet town.
  • Nantes is not for first-time expats who don’t speak French and need a strong expat community.

FAQs About the Best Places for Expats in France

Is France a good place to live?

Yes, France is definitely a good place to live! There are so many wonderful things about living in France, from the excellent quality of life to the good food and wine. It’s hard to do better than France.

Where is the most affordable place to live in France?

France has a big range when it comes to affordability. In general, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Nantes, and Nancy are the most affordable places to live in France.

Where is the prettiest place to live in France?

There is no shortage of pretty places to live in France, but Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Annecy, and Strasbourg are undoubtedly the prettiest.

Where is the safest place to live in France?

The safest place to live in France is Bordeaux. But Toulouse, Nantes, Nancy, Montpellier, Strasbourg, and Annecy are also very safe.

Which area in France has the best climate?

The area that has the best climate in France is the south. This includes cities like Nice, Marseille, Montpellier, and Toulouse. They all have a warm Mediterranean climate with long, sunny summers and mild winters.

Where do most expats live in France?

Most expats in France live in Paris. But Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, and Nice are not far behind.

Where do most Americans live in France?

Most Americans live in Paris and Lyon. There are even some Americans in Strasbourg, but not as many.

Conclusion: Best Cities in France for Expats

From world-class museums and delicious culinary delights to stunning landscapes and pristine beaches, France has it all. So, it’s no surprise that expats flock to this wonderful country.

But not all places are created equal. Some cities are better for expats than others.

Make sure to think about what is important to you and what you need to feel comfortable. You may prefer to live in a quiet town while someone else might need to be in a big city. There’s no right or wrong answer. But, hopefully, this list will help you narrow down which city is right for you.


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Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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