For many people, moving to a foreign country seems like something only other people do. A dream, a fantasy, impractical or just plain silly. And yet there are certainly a lot of us expats over here in France. So many, in fact, that some people even jokingly refer to American and English ‘colonies’ in France. One thing I think that’s interesting is the many different types of people that move to France. They’re not all rich art dealers, retired professors, or executives on assignment. You don’t have to be rich, or even well off to come and live in France. But it sure makes it easier!
Some come as students (like yours truly), some as au pairs or English teachers. Some just come over as backpackers and never leave. Once you’re actually IN France, and find some sort of accommodation, the rest isn’t as hard as it looks. Even big cities like Paris and Nice aren’t as expensive as you’d think if you take public transport and buy your food at the markets instead of eating out. Legally speaking, it’s much more difficult for North Americans (and anyone else who isn’t European) to live and work in France. If you’re an independent worker (like a writer or artist), and already receive an income from this from home, then you’re much better off. If you’re a telecommuter in the US anyway, why not move to France? Basically, if you’re not planning on sponging off the ‘system’, and have independent means or income, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to live in France legally.
If the serious thought has ever crossed your mind, you may wonder where to start looking for information. For France, there are quite a few books available. Type the words “living working France” into any online bookstore search and you should get at least ten good examples. Most libraries have books on this topic as well, if you don’t want to blow lots of money on research. You’ll want to examine the logistical aspect (legal, taxes, cost, customs, etc.) as well as the social aspect (what life as an expat is really like). Before I came to France for the first time I read “French Lessons”, a memoir by Alice Kaplan that covered her student years in Paris, and “French or Foe” by Polly Platt, which seemed to be targeted more towards diplomats wives than myself. To its credit, it prepared me for the way French people don’t smile at strangers in public (sure sign of an American or a stalker).
The internet is a great lifeline for the expat communities around the world (I don’t know how I would be here in France without the internet, but that’s another story). There are sites for individual cities like Paris, for certain groups (religious, students, alumni, etc), and for expats as a whole. My new favorite one is Expatica.com. You’ll find French, international and business news, articles on relocating, personal finance and housing. There’s also information that even visitors would enjoy, covering shopping, events, eating and drinking. There’s a job section with good articles on how to prepare for the French job hunt. It’s a well-done site that’s easy on the eyes and enjoyable to read.
Expat Exchange covers many cities, but the Paris section is quite active, and there’s even get-togethers at pubs around town for those who wish to chat in person with other expats. Otherwise, a great site that doesn’t forget about military expats, children and retirees. Also covers the oft-forgotten repatriated contingent (when they say you can never go home again…).
Escape Artist and International Living seem to target the “off-shore investment” genre of expats, and are particularly concerned with quality of living (well, who isn’t?), taxes (or avoiding them), and retirement homes. But they also have great articles, so don’t discount them if this doesn’t seem like your cup of tea. Escape Artist features listings of many other expat magazines, newsletters, and resources, as well as country reports and real estate listings. Looking at those photos of island properties in the Caribbean makes me think I may have to move myself! Subscribe to their free Escape from America newsletter if you need further convincing delivered to your inbox. International Living is an online and print magazine whose editors particularly like France and Central America for quality expat living. Their ‘postcards’ feature little tips from travelers ‘in the field’ on great places to eat, shop, sleep, and buy property.
For the more down-to-earth and student expat wannabes, Transitions Abroad covers working, studying, living and travel abroad in their online and print magazine. They consider themselves to be the affordable alternative to mass tourism as well, so their articles are of interest to budget travelers as well. However, there’s limited info on Paris and France.
For Paris-specific websites, the Paris-Anglo Pages and Bonjour Paris are great for those looking for information, chats, articles, ‘life in France’ commentary and forums with like-minded English-speaking expats. Paris Anglo just relaunched their site with a new directory and events calendar. Bonjour Paris is for anyone who hasn’t already fallen in love with France, and you can practice your French in the language lesson chat room.
Being an expat isn’t necessarily about rejection of the ‘home country’, and in fact people tend to be more patriotic once they’re abroad. But there’s definitely the feeling of ‘escape’ for many. Living abroad has its ups and downs like living at home, but no matter what happens, you usually learn more about yourself and your own country than you would if you never left home. Right now, with the political and economical situation as it is, I know many are looking to France as a new start, or a career break. It’s not a bad idea, and maybe, like many of us, that ‘one year abroad’ could turn into a few, a dozen, or even a lifetime.
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged.