Dabbling in Jet Lag
When moving abroad, there are a lot of factors to consider. There are pros and cons of living anywhere. Of course, when I first decided to move to France, I only saw the positives. I imagined picnics under the Eiffel Tower with cherry blossoms in full bloom, glorious evenings in Montmartre, and a constant flow of decadent wine. I romanticized about living in France so much that I didn’t realize there were also cons.
Not long after I arrived did I learn that I needed to speak French to have friends, see a doctor, and renew my visa. I still saw the Eiffel Tower on a regular basis, but it was often from a platform while trying to get around a strike. Reality hit me, and it wasn’t pretty.
But once I understood that France wasn’t as perfect as I imagined, and took the good with the bad, I fell in love with it. So, to help you avoid the mistakes I made, I’m going to share with you what I learned. And to do that I’ve compiled a complete list of the pros and cons of living in France.
Table of Contents
Pros of Living in France
1. Convenient Public Transportation
Public transportation in France is incredibly convenient. Trains and buses are frequent, and, for the most part, reliable. Not only that but monthly passes and one-way tickets are very affordable. There are even applications where you can get special offers and discounts.
But the best part is, your employer is obligated to pay 50% of your monthly expenses. Even though it’s only for the route you use to go to work, it’s still a huge savings!
I’ve used public transport in both Paris and Strasbourg, as well as the many other cities in France. Of course, larger cities like Paris have more options, but, even in a small Alsatian town like Strasbourg, it’s still very efficient.
2. Fantastic Healthcare
The French healthcare system, Assurance Maladie, is one of the best in the world. It’s available to everyone, regardless of income or employment status. And it’s affordable!
Patients only pay a small percentage (0-25%) of the overall cost for doctor’s visits, prescriptions, and hospital stays. As an example, the average cost for a primary care doctor in France is €23. That means that the final bill is only €6.
If I had to choose the biggest pro of living in France, this would be it!
3. Quality of Life
Every year, France continues to rank in the top one hundred nations for the best quality of life. Of course, this is no surprise! From its world-renowned cuisine to its affordable healthcare, France has everything to guarantee a well-balanced life.
When I compare my quality of life in France to all the other places I’ve lived, there’s no doubt that France is the best. There’s a harmony between career, health, and personal happiness that can’t be found elsewhere.
4. Indulgent Cuisine
When you think of France, the first thing that comes to mind is world-renowned cuisine. From Michelin-starred restaurants to casual brasseries, French food is known for elegance and sophistication. But it’s not just the high-end restaurants that are worth mentioning. The everyday cafés and bistros offer some of the best food in the country. And, what’s even better, it’s affordable.
So why is French food so good?
The answer lies in the quality of the products used. French chefs take great pride in their cooking and use only the finest ingredients available. They make sure the produce is fresh and in-season to ensure their dishes are full of flavor. It’s this attention to detail that results in some of the most delicious food you’ll ever have.
5. Breathtaking Scenery
If you love nature and the outdoors, France has no shortage of breathtaking scenery. Snow-capped Alps fill the sky in the east while sun-drenched beaches line the shores in the south. Then there are rolling lavender fields, lush green forests, and never-ending vineyards in between.
And to reach all these wonderful places, you don’t have to travel very far. From Paris or any other big city, you can reach the beautiful seascapes in Sable de L’onnee or the striking vistas in Annecy in only a few hours!
6. Affordable Education
With world-renowned universities, like the Sorbonne, you would think that education in France would be expensive. But that’s far from reality. In fact, France has some of the most affordable education in Europe. Tuition, textbooks, and even student housing are either free or offered at a low cost. Not only that but students receive discounts on public transportation, museum passes, etc.
7. Fascinating Culture
There’s no denying that France’s history full of legacy and tradition. From the Roman Empire to the European Renaissance, it has played a pivotal role in shaping the Western world. Even, today, France continues to be at the forefront of art, fashion, and cuisine.
But what makes France so unique is its continued appreciation for its history. You can tour castles that once housed the kings of France or visit towns in Alsace that are full of buildings from the 16th century.
8. Strong Expat Community
One of the most important things to consider before moving abroad is your support network. And that goes for at home and in your new country. While there are several ways to build such a network, I’ve found expat communities to be the best.
Luckily, France has a thriving expat community. From English-speaking meetups to interactive French classes, there’s a group for everyone. Not only that but they are all welcoming and supportive, which is a huge plus when you’re getting settled.
9. Low Cost of Living
One of the reasons why France is so affordable is because the cost of living is very low. Rent, food, and transportation are all reasonably priced. Most people can afford the necessities as well as some luxuries.
Of course, the cost of living depends on the city. For example, Paris is more expensive than smaller cities like Bordeaux or Toulouse. But, even in Paris, it’s possible to find affordable apartments and eat out on a budget.
10. A Lot of Vacation Days
One of the first things I noticed when I moved to France was the number of vacation days.
First, there are 11 national holidays, which, to me, is a whopping number. That’s more than an American’s average number of vacation days for the whole year!
Then, there are your personal vacation days. The national average is 25, but most people have between 30 and 40.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t used to having so many days off but let me assure it didn’t take me long to adapt. Having so many vacation days gives me the chance to indulge in my hobbies while still finding time to relax. I’m able to build a good work-life balance that I would not be able to do otherwise. It’s definitely a huge benefit of living in France!
Cons of Living in France
11. High Taxes
It’s no secret that France has some of the highest taxes in the world. In fact, the income tax alone is a whopping 45%. And that doesn’t include the housing tax, social security tax, and tax on goods and services.
Luckily, it all goes back into the country. About 31% of France’s GDP is spent on social programs like unemployment and healthcare. So, while it may seem like a lot is being taken, it’s going to services that you will inevitably use.
It’s only a con of living in France if you don’t consider all the benefits.
12. Endless Strikes
The French have a reputation for being very passionate. And a lot of that gusto is expressed through strikes, protests, and manifestations. It seems to be their go-to negotiation tactic for anything work-related. And, while they do raise awareness, they are inconvenient. The most disruptive strikes are those connected to public transportation. Trains, metros, and trams will suddenly stop running without warning. I’ve been left in the middle of nowhere more times than I can count because the train drivers wanted an extra vacation day. Needless to say, they don’t have my sympathy!
13. Heavy Pollution
Pollution is one of the biggest cons of living in France. Cities swell with smog and during the summer, it can be dangerous to go outside.
So, why is it so bad?
There are a few reasons for this, but the most significant contributor is traffic. Of course, public transportation is an option, but, given the number of strikes, most opt for a car if they can afford it.
As more and more people choose to drive a car, the worse the pollution gets. And it doesn’t help that the cities are poorly designed. The streets are small and, oftentimes, only one way. So, as you can imagine, during rush hour, the smell of car exhaust is suffocating!
While there are efforts to decrease the amount of pollution and alleviate the traffic, it’s still a major problem in France.
14. People can be Unwelcoming
Living in a foreign country can be difficult. But when you live in France, it can be even more challenging. There are so many unwritten rules and social norms that you need to master before you can be considered a ‘local’.
It didn’t take me long after I arrived to learn that there was a ‘French way’ of doing things. And the phrase, “this is how things are done in France” was frequently repeated to me.
It can be alienating and frustrating, but it’s something every expat must deal with at one time or another.
15. Difficult to Find Housing
Finding an apartment in France can be a daunting task. First, landlords prefer to rent to someone who is already living in the county. Second, you need a work contract, a bank account, and several other documents that you won’t have when you arrive. Finally, the competition for housing is fierce. From locals to students and expats, there’s always someone who needs an apartment. And if you looking to live in one of the best cities in France, you may have to settle on your third or fourth choice.
16. Postal Service Sucks
I have no idea why it’s so difficult to send and receive mail in France. I also don’t understand why people feel the need to steal items out of mailboxes. It’s a reoccurring problem to which I’ve been unable to find a solution. In general, I try to avoid using the postal service at all costs. If I need to, then I use express services like DHL or FedEx.
17. Small Stores
Another downside of living in France is the lack of variety when it comes to stores. There are a few chains such as Leclerc that resemble supercenters, but, even then, the options are very limited. I often have to go to two or three stores to find what I’m looking for.
Whereas in the United States, I can find everything I need in one store. Not only that but the variety is endless. There are aisles dedicated to cereal alone! Such a luxury doesn’t exist in France.
18. High Language Barrier
The language barrier is one of the most difficult things to overcome in France. In fact, it’s this factor alone that makes it one of the most challenging countries to move to. Without French, it’s almost impossible to do basic things like open a bank account or rent an apartment. And let’s not forget about the bureaucracy. If you don’t speak French, you’ll have a hard time renewing your visa.
When I learned French, my life changed. Everything was easier. I made friends, I could relate to my colleagues at work, and I could handle basic administrative tasks. If you plan on moving to France, learning French is necessary.
19. Winters are Grey and Dreary
The weather is both a pro and con of living in France. The summers are wonderful, but the winters are long, dark, and dreary. It’s not uncommon for it to be cloudy and raining for weeks on end. And, when it snows, it’s usually a light dusting that instantly melts, leaving behind a cold slushy mess.
Many cities along the Mediterranean coast have mild winters. But the number of cloudy days is still more than sunny ones.
20. Bureaucracy is Slow
It’s no secret that the French bureaucracy is notoriously slow. Every form needs to be impeccable, or else you have to start all over. And the definition of perfect depends on the person taking your documents. They all seem to have different sets of requirements. It’s like a game of Russian roulette, you never know what you’ll get.
Of the situations that you’ll encounter, visa renewals are the worst. From the moment you submit your documents to the time you receive your visa; it can take months.
In my most recent adventure, the prefecture ‘forgot’ to notify me that my resident permit was ready for pickup. It’s a never-ending headache that you will have to accept if you decide to live in France.
Living in France as an expat can be a challenging experience. The language barrier, grey winters, and slow bureaucracy are only some of the difficulties. But there are also many pros to living in France. The quality of life is the best I’ve experienced, the food is amazing, and there’s a lot of history and culture to explore. For me, the pros outweigh the cons, and I would encourage anyone interested in living in France to give it a try!
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