Dabbling in Jet Lag
France has been and continues to remain a top destination for those looking to move abroad. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly 140,000 people immigrate to France every year. That’s a whopping number for a country of only 67 million.
So, what makes France such an attractive country for expats? The excellent healthcare system, low-cost education, high quality of life, and diverse landscapes are just a few of the reasons. Of course, there are a lot of pros and cons of living in France, but it’s clear that the pros outweigh the cons.
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 abroad 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 places to live in France for expats. There’s a wide range of places to accommodate a variety of lifestyles. I’ve even included a section that covers many of the frequently asked questions.
Table of Contents
Best Places to Live in France for Expats
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. The city has a lively nightlife scene, with a wide variety of bars and clubs to choose from. 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 living in Lyon, however, is the cost of living. Believe it or not but Lyon is the second most expensive city in France, second only to Paris. 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.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Lyon (excludes rent): €916.43*
*All cost of living data is taken from Numbeo, unless otherwise stated.
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.
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.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Toulouse (excludes rent): €860.36
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.
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, Paris in summer can’t be beat!
In general, it’s a very cosmopolitan city. You’ll always find someone who speaks your language in Paris 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 being said, it is a 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.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Paris (excludes rent): €947.80
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.
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.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Nantes (excludes rent): €842.20 (This data suggest that the cost of living in Nantes is high, but this number does not include rent. On average, the rent in Nantes is 50% lower than in Paris.)
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.
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. It’s easy to spend an afternoon 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 can be a dangerous city at night. And the dirty and run-down parts are not easy to ignore.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Marseille (excludes rent): €820.05
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.
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 are friendly and efficient. It’s rare to have anything related to the French bureaucracy work so well, and it’s why I love living in Strasbourg.
The weather is, however, not the best. Harsh winters and stifling summers mean you’ll have to be ready for everything. But if you can handle it, living in Strasbourg won’t disappoint.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Strasbourg (excludes rent): €794.86
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.
Montpellier is France’s undiscovered gem of the south. It’s known for its sunny weather, stunning architecture, and beautiful beaches. 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, Montpellier does not have much of a nightlife scene. Bars and restaurants close early and the streets are almost always dead at night. Job opportunities are also few and far between. Most are in hospitality or tourism, 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.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Montpellier (excludes rent): €782.40
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.
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.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Annecy (excludes rent): €1,045.22 (This data suggest that cost of living in Annecy is higher than Paris, but this number does not include rent. On average, the rent in Annecy is 41% lower than in Paris.)
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.
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 this 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. In 2021 alone, it received 4 million visitors! That’s 16 times the size of the population.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Bordeaux (excludes rent): €870.44
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.
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.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Nice (excludes rent): €923.42
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.
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. French is spoken almost exclusively, so you should have a good handle on the language before arriving. Finally, the expat community here is not as prevelant when compared to some of the other cities on this list, 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.
Cost of living for a single person per month in Nancy (with rent): €1182*
*Cost of living data was taken from CostofLiving.org.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 food and wine to the beautiful countryside and charming towns and villages. There are advantages and disadvantages of living in France, like any country. But, if you’re willing to speak French and are ready to embrace to culture, you’re sure to love your time here.
I’ve lived in four countries and I can, honestly, say that nothing beats the quality of life in France. There’s a balance here that I haven’t found elsewhere. It’s the reason I’ve stayed for so long, and that’s why I think France is such a great place to live.
Where is the most affordable place to live in France?
France has a big range when it comes to affordability. In general, it’s a very affordable place to live, but there are some cities that are more expensive than others. For expats, the cost of living, access to amenities and services, and quality of life are the three most important things to consider. Of the cities listed above, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Nantes, and Nancy are the most affordable places to live in France as an expat. (On the contrary, the most expensive cities are Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Nice.)
Where is the prettiest place to live in France?
There is no shortage of pretty places to live in France. In fact, every year there’s, actually, an award for the prettiest town in France called Les Plus Beux Villages de France. But it depends on what you’re looking for. If you prefer coastal towns or never-ending lavender fields, then the south of France is a great option. If you’re more interested in city life, then Paris or Lyon are magnificent. For vast mountainscapes, Toulouse, Annecy, and Strasbourg should be at the top of your list.
In my personal opinion, towns in Alsace, like Strasbourg, are the prettiest. There’s a fairytale-like feeling that is impossible not to love.
Where is the safest place to live in France?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the safest place to live in France as an expat. Some of these include the crime rate, the level of police presence, and the overall feeling of safety in the community. In general, smaller towns and villages are safer than larger cities. But that goes for any country. Of the cities listed above Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, Nancy, Montpellier, Strasbourg, and Annecy are the safest places to live.
Which area in France has the best climate?
There are a few areas in France that boast an ideal climate, depending on your preferences. The country’s southern coast, which includes cities like Nice, Marseille, Montpellier, and Toulouse, has a warm Mediterranean climate with long, sunny summers and mild winters. If you’re looking for something a bit cooler, the mountainous regions in the east are ideal. So, cities like Annecy and Lyon would fit these criteria.
Where do most expats live in France?
Some of the most popular places for expats to live in France include Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, and Nice. While each city has its own set of pros and cons, they all have a strong expat community. And if it’s your first time living in France, you’ll be sure to establish a strong network in any one of these places.
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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