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A Complete Guide to Living in France as an American

American expat in France

Bonjour et Bienvenue! What pops into your mind when you think of France?  Do you envision yourself sipping champagne and indulging in traditional French foods like decadent pastries and coq au vin? Aside from food and drink, do you imagine visiting national treasures like the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, and châteaux in the Loire Valley? Do you also dream about strolling along the French Riviera and taking in the beauty of the Mediterranean coast? 

South of France

There’s so much to experience and explore in this part of Europe! Therefore, it’s easy to see why approximately 90 million tourists travel to France each year; making it the most visited country in the world. 

 

While visiting is a great way to get a feel for the country, many Americans also live here. Some perks to living in France as an American include access to stellar healthcare, proximity to other European countries, and stunning landscapes. The climate, (especially in the south), and walkability in many cities and towns are a couple more reasons why Americans have decided to make France their home. 

As you go through this guide, you’ll learn a lot more about why France should be on your radar if you’re an American thinking of moving to Europe. You’ll also get insight and inspiration when you read about two members of the She Hit Refresh community who’ve made living in France a reality!

Can Americans move to France?

Americans interested in living in France have a few options of how they can move abroad. Some options are applying for a specific visa based on your profession, self-employment or even financial status. Other options include studying in the country on a student visa, obtaining citizenship by descent, or securing a work sponsorship from an employer based in France.

Learn more about your visa options for France in the digital book: I’m Outta Here: An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Becoming An Expat in Europe. This valuable resource is filled with a wealth of detailed information on your visa options (and more!) that’ll help you determine the best way for you to hit refresh in France.

Is it difficult to move to France from the U.S?

One of the hardest parts of making a significant life change is pulling off the band-aid and leaning into your decision to change things up. Therefore, you might find yourself questioning if your ship has sailed when you ponder leaving behind what you know to move abroad. If you need a reminder as to why you should listen to your gut and finally make a change, check out 15 Reasons You Should Move Abroad in Your 30s, 40s, or 50s (and beyond!).

 

While you may face some hurdles such as not speaking French or having to navigate a whole new system, making a move from the United States to France is very doable and straightforward. However, while wanting to move to France is great, the practical side of things is that you’ll need to see if you qualify for a visa that will allow you to live there long-term. To help you understand your visa options so that you can say au revoir to your current life and bonjour to your future, grab our copy of our European visa guide.

How to move to France

Before continuing, grab a glass of champagne (or bottle of Evian) and congratulate yourself for prioritizing your happiness to pursue your goal of living in France.

Now, take a moment to think about your answers to the following questions:

  • Where do you want to live? Are you interested in calling Paris home or would you prefer to reside in a smaller city or village? 
  • What type of weather do you like? This answer will help you hone in on a specific region within France.
  • How will you support yourself? The response to this question will depend on your work status and current financial situation.

Along with answering these questions, one of the best ways to learn how to move abroad is by talking with others who’ve been on a journey like the one you’re embarking on. So, tap into She Hit Refresh’s community of 9,000 + members to get your burning questions answered. 

 

Find helpful information about prepping to live overseas with our tips on the 12 things you need to do before you go. In addition to the suggestions shared and— I’m Outta Here: An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Becoming An Expat in EuropeInternNations and Expatica are two resources that’ll also provide you with steps to moving to France. 

Last, search for expats groups in France for even more insight on how to move to France from those who have already done it!

Cost of living in France

A major factor to consider when preparing to move to France is what to budget. To prepare, you’ll need to be aware of the cost of living in France.

 

It’s no surprise that Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Including the cost of utilities, a studio or one bedroom apartment in the city center will average $2000 – $2500 a month. However, compared to major cities in the United States, transportation costs are more reasonable. For example, a train ticket is about 20% cheaper in France than what you’d pay in major American cities. 

 

While some expenses are higher throughout France compared to parts of the U.S., the return on investment (ROI) might be worth it if you’ve always wanted to make France your home. And many people agree that their quality of life in France is priceless compared to the rat race back home.

Working in France

If you intend to work once you move to Europe, you’ll have a few options in France. This includes obtaining work sponsorship from a company in the country or applying for a self-employment/freelance visa. It’s important to note that like much of Europe, getting a company to sponsor your visa is no easy task because companies are required to prioritize hiring citizens of the EU. But, if you have a skill that can’t be filled by someone locally, it may be possible to get a work visa through company sponsorship.

 

Again, for details on work visas available to expats who plan on living in France, check out I’m Outta Here: An America’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living In Europe.

Best places to live in France

If you are considering living in France you’ll have plenty of options to choose from to call home. To narrow down where to go, check out the following profiles of some of the top cities that draw expats from all over the world. 

Paris

Aside from being France’s capital, Paris is one of the leading cities in the world that’s rich in history, art, culture, and fashion. Since it’s also a popular tourist destination, you won’t have a problem getting by in English. However, speaking French will help you have a more immersive experience. 

Although the cost of living is high, Paris is ideal if you want to live in a lively city that’s relatively safe and walkable. There are plenty of expat communities for you to join too.

Marseille

While Paris has over 2 million residents, Marseille has just under 1 million inhabitants. As a port city located in the southern part of the country, Marseille is ideal for expats seeking an area that’s easy to get around and has lots of sunshine.

 

Marseille port

While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, part of Marseille’s charm is that it’s grittier and less polished than other cities in France. Another perk that attracts expats to living in Marseille is that it’s much more affordable than living in Paris. However, you’ll need to know French as English isn’t commonly spoken here. 

Toulouse

Along with being home to one of the largest universities in the country, Toulouse has a growing tech scene, attracting talent from all over the world, making it ideal if you’d like to live in a smaller city with an international scene.

Expats who’ve moved to Toulouse cite walkability and the city’s transportation system as reasons for deciding to live in this part of France. And since Toulouse is near Spain, you can easily cross the border to visit France’s neighbor over a weekend.

 

For more information about why these French cities (and a few others) are ideal for American’s looking to live in France, get an in depth overview in our guide to moving to Europe

Living in France pros and cons

Benefits: As mentioned, health care, low crime, expat communities, excellent transportation, and access to other parts of Europe are some of the perks you’ll experience when you’re living in France.

Another pro to making France your home is that you’ll feel like you’ve visited another world by simply traveling to a different region within the country. For instance, you can be tanning on a beach in the South of France one season and skiing in the French Alps the next. 

 

Of course, there’s the wine and food too! In addition to Champagne, some of the best wines in the world are from the Bordeaux region of France. And since you’ll walk everywhere, you’ll be able to indulge in a croissant each morning too!

Challenges: While France is a relatively safe country, you should still be street-smart and mindful of potentially being pickpocketed. 

 

Like Spain, expats living in France tend to deal with a lot of bureaucracy when it comes to all things visa related. This challenge, along with needing to complete seemingly endless paperwork, can be frustrating. Also note that similar to the Netherlands, taxes in France are high. However, the country’s excellent infrastructure and healthcare are supported by your taxes. 

 

Finally, it’s important to know some French when you move abroad. Aside from being a sign of respect for your new home, speaking the language will give you a deeper appreciation and understanding of French culture…not to mention make it easier to navigate your home!

Healthcare in France for expats

American expats living in France are required to have health insurance. Depending on your visa, after living in the country for three months, you may be eligible to enroll in the state health care plan. Even if you are eligible for public healthcare you might want to supplement it with a private plan if you seek services not covered under the state system.

 

For more details about public and private health insurance in France check out I’m Outta Here: An America’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living In Europe.

Living in France as an American

If you’re a fan of Sex and the City, do you remember the loneliness Carrie felt when she moved to Paris? While the scenes are exaggerated for entertainment purposes, her struggle to adjust to living as an expat is very relatable to foreigners moving to a new country without knowing the language or having a community to join.

woman in Paris pointing to the Eiffel Tour

To help you get acclimated, take a look at our expat depression guide to managing challenges and adjusting to living in a new country. You can also find affordable professional support with BetterHelp. Use She Hit Refresh’s code for a 10% discount off your first month.

If you need help on how to make friends abroad, we’ve got some tips to help you get started! 

Reasons to move to France

Hitting refresh is all about doing what’s best for you. And, as you’ve learned in this piece, Americans tend to move to France for work, study, retirement, or simply to have an adventure. Regardless of why you’re planning to move to France, congratulate yourself for making your dreams happen.

Americans living in France

Meet Diane

Diane, age 54, was born in Ohio. Six years ago, she made the move to France with her husband on a visitor visa that was valid for one year.

Prior to hitting refresh, Diane and her husband lived in New Jersey where she worked as a healthcare IT consultant. Since they both had grueling schedules, they decided to leave the stress behind, take a leap, and move to France! 

 

Part of Diane’s refresh journey included planning the actual move. One of the first steps in her process was identifying a medium-sized city that had excellent public transportation, nice weather, and low crime. After doing in-person recon, Diane and her husband selected Toulouse – a charming city in the southern part of the country – as their home for the year they had visitor visas.

 

During her time in Europe, Diane found it challenging to learn French. Therefore, she recommends knowing as much of the language as possible before living in France.

 

Aside from getting some French under your belt, Diane suggests building community by joining Facebook groups such as Expat Life in France, Expat Women in France, and other online communities local to the region you plan on making your new home.

 

Another learning from Diane’s refresh in France was navigating how to find and create remote work opportunities. To figure this out, Diane and her husband returned to the United States after their visitor visas expired to focus on building her online photography business. They’re currently based in Northern California and hope to return to France in two years on an entrepreneur visa. In the meantime, Diane is networking, practicing her French, and looking forward to living in France once again.

Meet Patricia

Originally from New Jersey, Patricia, 54, spent 25 years in Virginia before deciding to make France her home. She was compelled to create this change after realizing she wanted more from life than a career as a project manager for a health insurance company. This aha came to light when she was in her forties; after the death of both of her parents.  

Patricia initially went to France on a visitor visa and renewed it three times. During this period, she reflected on how she wanted to hit refresh long-term. 

Patricia received her professional coach certification a couple of years prior to moving to Europe. When she initially arrived in France, she took time to create a business that combined her coaching skills with her passion to support women in finding confidence to make their dream of moving abroad happen. When her business plan came together, she applied (and was approved) for the French profession-libérale visa—a type of self-employment visa.

While figuring out what she wanted to do in France, Patricia explored where she wanted to live too. When she visited the village of Céret on market day, she thought it would be a nice place to live.  So she followed her gut and moved 30 minutes from Perpignan (where she began her French life) to Céret. To this day, she hasn’t regretted this decision!

Like Diane (see above), Patricia recommends learning French sooner rather than later. She also encourages Americans considering living in France to do some soul searching about why they’d like to move to this European country.

Along with these suggestions, Patricia believes it’s helpful to be in the know before you go to France. For example, expats in France have one year to ship household items over before import taxes incur. Expats in the country are also allocated a year to exchange their driver’s license (if your state has an agreement with France) before being required to take lessons and pass the local driving test. 

Like other members of the She Hit Refresh community who set off to live somewhere new, loneliness and self-doubt hit Patricia too. As a result, Patricia found herself questioning why she left a good paying job and her community to live in France. However, over time, Patricia’s been able to adjust, make friends, and happily embrace her new life as an American expat in France!

Next steps to living in France

To recap, one of the first things to focus on that’ll get you towards your goal of living in France is to learn the language. Along with finding an online or in-person class that works for you, the other initial step is to research all you need to know about living in France as an American.

If you need more resources to get the wheel turning towards your goal of moving to France, get your copy of  I’m Outta Here: An America’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living In Europe to learn about all of your visa options and a run-down of the best cities to live in France. 

There’s also no need to worry if you’re not sure if France is calling your name. If you need help deciding which European country you’d like to move to, check out She Hit Refresh’s complete guides to Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Iceland


Merci!

All information included in this piece is based on most recent information available at time of writing – December 2021.

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2 thoughts on “A Complete Guide to Living in France as an American”

  1. I was born in LA Rochelle France in21nov. 1955, I have wondered if and how I could move and reside in France. I’m retired engineer civil

    1. She Hit Refresh

      Oh wow, that’s so interesting. There are definitely options to staying in France long-term via a long-stay visa.

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