Joining the Expats in France: Alps, Apps, Apartments, and Everything You Need to Know
Coming up in this guide: avoiding subpar apartments, how not to upset people, French tips and tricks, a load of flaky croissants, and everything you’ve ever wanted to know about joining the expats in France.
Because you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you’re planning on moving to France.
There are loads of reasons you might be considering the move. Maybe you’ve secured yourself a job there. Maybe it’s for the top-notch healthcare and education. Or the quality of life. The diverse landscapes, and all the outdoor adventures. The culture and class. The excellent infrastructure. Or maybe you’ve just heard about how nice the pain au chocolats are.
Whatever the reason, we’ve covered all the facts and figures here. Expect juicy details on making friends, French cuisine, finding accommodation, the nation’s best cities, and plenty more.
Today, your relocation-loving friends at Homelike are visiting the expats in France. So pack your bag, cos you’re coming with us!
1. Pros of Joining the Expats in France
Some of the reasons you might wanna become another of the expats in France include:
- Some of the planet’s best food and drink: we’ve covered this in more detail later… but you can expect some of the best food you’ve ever chewed on, and some of the best wine you’ve ever slurped on. This place really is a foodie paradise.
- Excellent healthcare: currently considered to be the 7th-best healthcare system in the world, France serves up world-class hospitals and world-class doctors. Great for older people, great for families, and potentially great for everyone!
- Varied nature (and endless ways to explore it): you get beaches, mountains, Alpine lakes, gorges and valleys, cyclable river stretches, and plenty more. Even better, the country’s outdoor-adventure infrastructure is excellent—the nation is home to around 120,000 kilometers (75,000 miles) of waymarked hiking trails, along with loads of waymarked cycling routes. 7 of the official Eurovelo routes run through the nation!
- Good proximity to endless other places: France borders 8 countries, so you can easily drive (or take buses and trains) to many European destinations. And because the nation is home to 18 major international airports, you can fly (usually direct!) to basically any other part of the planet.
- Many new homes to choose from: France has more than 20 cities with a population of over 150,000 people… and we’ll come to the best of them soon. So you have plenty of places to choose from. And if you’re looking for something a bit more rural, you’ll also find mountain villages, coastal towns, and medieval settlements.
- The nation is consistently voted as having some of the best quality of life on the planet. You can expect good housing, good life satisfaction, an excellent work-life balance, and plenty more reasons to feel happy, safe and fulfilled.
- A slower pace of life: if you’re from an always-hurrying place, like the UK or Japan, you might be surprised by France. People here often prioritize leisure time, long lunch breaks, eating and drinking with friends, and being with their families. The slow pace of life isn’t for everyone… but many expats in France grow to really love it.
- Some of the most artistic places on the planet. Yeah, you’ve all heard of the Louvre, but France also serves up more than 1,200 other museums and galleries. Other arty highlights include Cannes film festival, lots of independent cinemas, and a massive number of music festivals.
Just for a bit of balance (we don’t want you thinking we’re biased), some of the cons of living in France include high taxes, complex bureaucracy, Sunday closures, the lack of simple long-term visas (the nation, for example, doesn’t yet have a digital nomad visa), and an often-high cost of living.
… additionally, making friends in France can be a little more challenging than it is in some other European nations (but we’ve brought you tips on doing exactly that soon).
But for the most part, the pros of living in France massively outweigh the cons. And the majority of expats in France are happy with their move.
2. Best Cities for Expats in France
When you’re joining the expats in France, you have loads of options for where you might want to live. Some of the best city picks include:
For most people, this is the natural first choice—it’s the capital, it’s the biggest city in the nation, it’s got endless stuff to do, and (because of its infrastructure and location) it’s perfect for traveling to other parts of France… and other parts of the world.
And because more than 10% of the nation is foreign born (while many more are from non-native backgrounds), people from around the planet can feel welcome and at home here.
Other perks of living in Paris include high levels of English, all the museums and art, legendary nightlife (with more than 30,000 venues to drink and dance), iconic Montmartre, and… well… it’s Paris.
The only major flaw of moving to Paris is that everyone else is moving to Paris—so it can be difficult to find a good place to live. Often (especially if you’re not yet in the city), it’s much easier to move into a short-term apartment. It’ll save you time and fuss, it’ll help you to settle more quickly, and you won’t need to deal with endless landlords, viewings, and agencies.
The third-largest city in France, Lyon is a better option for expats who want a less-touristy place… but without having to sacrifice all the big-city perks.
It’s compact, it’s stuffed with history (including medieval, renaissance and Roman stuff), there’s a bigger-than-people-expect expat community, and it’s a lot more affordable than Paris (a city-center apartment, for example, is around 40% cheaper in Lyon that it is in Paris)*.
Other perks of Lyon include great nightlife, what might just be the best food scene in all of France (controversial, we know!), mild temperatures in winter, and good connections to other parts of France (including relatively good proximity to both the Alps and the coast).
Top tip: for checking cost of living statistics in any city, Numbeo is the best resource we know of. It’s great for working out the places that fit (and don’t fit!) your budget.
For more, stroll on over to our guide on the 10 best neighborhoods in Lyon.
Nice by name, nice by nature.
Sitting on the Mediterranean coast, Nice is the top city pick for beach-loving expats in France. It’s on the French Riviera, it’s close to both Monaco and Italy, and it’s one of the nation’s prettiest cities (some reckon it’s the prettiest of them all).
Other big plus-points include all the beaches (obviously), the year-round great weather (January lows rarely dip below 5°C/41°F), loads of options for day trips and weekend trips (to places like Èze, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, St Paul de Vence, and endless places in Italy), and lots of easy-to-access hiking trails and cycling routes.
And on top of all that, Nice is home to the second-biggest airport in France, with 122 direct destinations. So it’s an excellent base for regular travel.
It can be a pricey place to live, but if you can afford to live here, it’s absolutely worth it.
Tip: if you don’t like crowds, you might want to avoid Nice. It becomes super-busy in the height of summer, which some locals don’t like.
Also sitting in the south, but much more west than Nice.
Toulouse offers a Mediterranean climate, close proximity to outdoor adventures in the Pyrenees (and loads more national parks!), excellent nightlife, beautiful architecture, and a genuinely ‘French’ feel (whatever that even means). And in many ways, it’s a neat compromise of a place: it has a busy bustle, but with lots of small-town charm.
You also can expect lots of cassoulet (a tasty French stew stuffed with beans and meat), lots of rugby, and lots of opportunities to learn and practice French.
… and, get this: by car, you can be in Spain within less than three hours. Perfect for even more European adventures!
Because it’s one of the biggest student cities in France, Toulouse is particularly well-suited to young people who want to drink and dance. But if you live in a not-central neighborhood, it’s also a decent place for older people and families.For more, here’s our guide to the 10 best neighborhoods in Toulouse.
Port city Bordeaux, as you probably already know, is most famous for serving up some of the best wine in France (and for therefore serving up some of the best wineries and wine tastings in France!).
But it also offers one of the nation’s most interesting atmospheres: a blend of traditional touches and urban hipness, it somehow feels both old and new at the same time.
Other reasons to live in Bordeaux include lots of galleries and arts venues (including Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux and the Bernard Magrez Cultural Institute), a cycle-friendly city center, and the nearby hilly landscapes.
And as a nice bonus, you’re only a one-hour drive from the many parts of the nation’s west coast.Life in Bordeaux is best suited to couples and families. People here can be a little reserved, and the nightlife isn’t as good as the nightlife in other parts of France. So if you come here alone, you might struggle to make friends.
3. Finding Accommodation for Expats in France
For expats in France, one of the biggest challenges is often finding a not-horrible place to live. But if you use the right resources, you’ll be alright. Here are the best of them:
- Furnished rental websites: If you want a better guarantee of comfort and reliability, have a look at the short term and furnished rentals on our website. They’re all cozy and fully-furnished, and they’re all ready to move into today.
- Social media: Facebook is a much better home-finding website than most people realize. Go to the search bar, and type terms such as ‘apartments in [city name]’ or ‘rentals in [city name]’ (for whichever city you’re moving to, obviously). You’ll find loads of apartments, loads of offered-by-owners places, and a wide range of options. If you speak Russian, Telegram channels can also be a good bet.
- Real estate websites: the best sites for searching for unfurnished properties are SeLoger and ParuVendu. If you’re determined to find a property from the person who owns it, head to Particulier à Particulier instead. Ads website Leboncoin can also be a good option, while the Whoomies app is good for people who want to live in house shares.
- Local connections: when you’ve been in France a while, you’ll (hopefully) have some friends. They can help you, their friends can help you, and… I’m sure you get the idea. Though that’s probably not an option for you now, it’ll be a good option for future-you.
- Real estate brokers: if you’re desperate, you can contact real estate agents. They’ll help you, but they’ll charge you—and they’re often less interested in finding you a good place to live, and more interested in finding you any place to live.
For much more information, here’s our big guide on how to find an apartment in Paris (though that link is centered on the city, lots of the advice applies across the nation).
4. Learning French for Expats in France
Yep, expats in France should learn French:
It’s polite, it’ll help you to make local friends, it’s fun, bureaucracy will become easier, and levels of English in France aren’t as good as you might expect (why would they be? It’s not the native language here).
To get started, your first resource should be Duolingo. A game-like language-learning app, it starts with the very basics, then moves into pretty complex territory. You’ll get addicted to using it, like basically everyone else does… and you’ll also be surprised by how much it teaches you.
After you’re done with Duolingo, you can move onto something a bit more sophisticated. Rosetta Stone and Babbel are usually the two most popular next-step options. Other choices include French Today (which is centered around audio lessons) and iTalki (which connects you with native-speaking French teachers).
Or, if you want to learn in person, your new city will have plenty of options for both group classes and 1-to-1 classes. Use Google or Facebook to find the specific options in your specific city.
Useful Tip: Finding your feet in France but your French is still a work in progress? No worries at all. Google Translate is your new best friend. This handy tool can translate words, phrases, and even web pages from English to French, making those early days much smoother. It’s like having a pocket-sized interpreter! Remember though, it’s there to help you along the way, not replace learning the language. You can download the Google Translate app here.
5. Getting Around: The Best Local Apps for Expats in France
Cos we’re all living in the future now, you can use apps to make your life better, easier, and more stress-free. The best ones for getting around France include:
- Navigation and transportation: Google Maps and CityMapper are great for both short and long journeys—and for working out your various options for getting where you need to get. The Trainline app is excellent for buying train tickets, while BlaBlaCar is a cheap and easy way to organize some long-distance ride-sharing.
- Food delivery: Uber Eats and Deliveroo are good options for when you can’t be bothered to cook.
- Other food options: HelloFresh delivers ingredients and recipe cards to your door, so you can cook tasty and healthy meals without having to do any thinking. For eating out, check out The Fork—it gives you ideas for restaurants you might want to eat at, and the ability to book tables at those restaurants.
- Language learning and translation: for translation, Google Translate is the best option (though DeepL is another popular choice). And as we’ve mentioned, Duolingo and Babbel (and others) are great for language-learning.
- Other good apps for expats in France include N26 (an excellent easy-to-use online bank, with quick signups), Wise (for super-cheap international transfers with no hassle), Vinted (for buying second-hand clothing), France.tv (for watching French TV, obviously), and Doctolib (for finding nearby doctors, booking medical appointments, and even having video-call consultations).
6. Joining the Expat Communities in France
If you’re joining the expats in France, you’ll be keen to make some brand-new buddies.
(Well, unless you’re an absolute recluse who hates everyone and everything).
First up, get yourself on Facebook. Jump onto the search function, and play around with different phrases for the city you’re moving to. Try terms like ‘events in [city name],’ expats in [city name],’ and ‘foreigners in [city name].’
Using the methods above, you’ll find groups like this one, this one, and this one. Note: all of these groups are for expats based in Paris… but for all major cities, you’ll find groups just like them.
Other good resources include Couchsurfing (most famous for offering free accommodation, but also great for hunting down local friends, foreign friends, and loads of varied events), Internations (a massive around-the-world community of friendly expats), and language-learning events (which you can find in most major cities by using Facebook).
Another option is to find clubs and groups practicing whatever hobbies you practice (or want to practice). Wherever you are, you can use Facebook to find people and groups who enjoy hiking, dancing, yoga, running, weightlifting, reading, or whatever else. Find those people and groups, and you’ve got a ready-made way to practice hobbies and find new friends. Simple!
… and, realistically, you only need to worry about making a couple of buddies. Once you’ve found a couple of friends, you’ll meet their friends, and their friends, and so on and so on.
7. Chowing Down on French Cuisine: Must-Try Foods
Since French food serves up so much quality and variety, you could spend years in the nation without ever getting bored of chewing and chomping.
… so we can’t cover all the top stuff here, but some of the best French foods include:
- Bakery fayre: baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat, world-class bread, and plenty more. France might just have the best bakery culture in the world—so get yourself to a boulangerie, buy as much stuff as you can, and enjoy all the doughy delights.
- Patisserie pleasures: for sugar-loving expats in France, this is one of the nation’s gastronomic highlights. Expect macarons, eclairs, profiteroles, mille feuille, and plenty more. You’ll see stuff you recognise and stuff you don’t… but you’ll want to eat it all.
- Steak frites: it’s steak and fries. But very very very tasty. Other popular meaty dishes in France include chicken confit, steak tartare, and beef bourguignon.
- Meat and cheese (of course!): for many expats in France, this is one of the best parts of living in the nation. France is home to more than 1000(!) different types of cheese, and you’ll find endless varieties of cured meat. Highlights include brie, camembert, roquefort, saucisson, loads of jambon varieties, and endless tasty pates.
- Super soups: the most famous by far is French onion soup. But other options include mushroom soup, lobster bisque, bouillabaisse, and more.
- Seafood: because the nation has a lengthy coastline (measuring in at around 3,500km/2,200 miles), France serves up a surprising amount of excellent seafood. HIghlights include lobsters, mussels, loads of fish, and stews and soups made with fruits of the sea (or ‘les fruits de mer,’ as you’ll hear in France).
- Ratatouille: originally hailing from Nice, this is just simple stewed vegetables. Healthy, tasty and chunky, you’ve probably never had stewed vegetables this good.
- … and, last up, some of the well-known unusual options, like snails, frogs’ legs, whelks, foie gras, andouillettes sausages, and lots of stinky stinky cheese.
Like in any other nation, you’ll also find lots of regional specialties in France. So whichever part of France you’re in, seek out the specific local fayre!
8. French Culture and Etiquette for Expats in France
For expats in France (or expats anywhere!) adapting to local culture can be one of the biggest challenges of moving to a new place. So here are some of the need-to-know cultural quirks of the nation:
- People can be restrained: on the surface, French people can seem a little aloof and distant. They’re not those things… but they can take a while to warm up. So don’t expect immediate smiles and hugs if you don’t already know the person you’re talking to.
- … but once you get to know them, French people are way friendlier than some people expect. We don’t know why, but French people have a reputation for being a little unfriendly. Spend long enough in the nation, and you’ll soon see that’s untrue. Once you’ve made friends and learned a little of the language, you’ll fit right in.
- Sleepy sundays: expats in France are often bemused by how France operates on Sundays. Most shops and services close for the entire day, especially in smaller cities. That said, restaurants, cafes and attractions usually remain open.
- Always say hello: in France, it’s pretty typical to always say a quick “bonjour” to anyone you’re interacting with. Even if it’s in a restaurant, or a shop, or a cafe, a quick hello is normal. And not saying hello can be construed as rude.
- French folks aren’t the most punctual people on the planet: for some expats in France, adapting to the French way can be a little tricky. Sure, French people aren’t as late-running as Latin Americans… but they aren’t as prompt as Germans or Brits. For a social occasion, expect people to be around 15 minutes late.
- People eat for a long time: in France, a meal isn’t just a meal. Instead, it’s a time to relax, and chat, and enjoy the company of whoever you’re eating with. Enjoyment over efficiency is often the way in France.
… it’s also important to remember there are regional cultural differences in the nation. For example, Paris has a faster pace of life than other French cities. People in southern France can be a little more open and welcoming than people in northern France. Accents can vary throughout the nation. And, in smaller places, levels of English aren’t as good as in bigger cities.
Expats in France: Final Thoughts
Okay everyone, that’s us done here—and that’s everything you need to know about becoming another of the expats in France!
A great place to live for loads of reasons, it serves up world-class food and drink, endless outdoor adventures, good access to other parts of the planet, a high quality of life, and loads more pros and perks.
… but, because it’s such a popular relocation choice, you might struggle to find a nice home. If that’s the case, it’s often easiest (at least in the short term) to move into a serviced apartment or serviced flat instead. All of ours are comfortable, homely, perfect for living and working, and ready for you to move into today.
For more on France, here are our top ten travel hacks for Paris.
Thanks for reading, thanks for coming over to Homelike, and we’ll see you soon in France. Bon voyage!