Life as a Foreigner
When moving to Paris many foreigners have this romanticized notion of what it is like to live in the city of love. In the beginning, you will probably be taken by this je ne sais quoi that Paris emanates. You will enjoy a magical ride of sunset walks along the Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower), and picnics at Montmartre eating macarons, croissants, and beignets. But one day you might not notice all the beautiful Haussmanian buildings anymore, as with time they might start to blend into one another, and you will walk the city in a blur, trying to avoid bumping into tourists, and stepping on dog poop.
It is important for expats to realize that Paris can be the city for freedom, culture, and creativity like in movies. There are more benefits to living in Paris than there are downsides. The most important lesson expats can learn is how to not let the cons outweigh the pros by adapting to the Parisian standard of living.
Regarding the City: Overview
Living in Paris can be an enriching experience. As an expat you are forced to really get out of your comfort zone and make an effort to integrate. You will not be able to retreat to speaking English as easily as if you had moved to an expat haven. Paris can really get under your skin, but if you accept it the way it is, you will be able to experience life there from the eyes of a true Parisian with all ups — apéro (happy hour) and sunset at Montmartre —, and downs — waiting at the préfecture for five hours just to be told you are at the wrong office.
It is Expensive to Live in Paris
One thing every expat agrees on is how expensive Paris is. In the 2020 Economist Intelligence Unit survey, Paris ranked 5th most expensive city in the world. The city of love is also one of the top ten worst places for expats according to the 2019 InterNations Expat Insider Survey. The main reason for this is that it is hard to get settled, because of both the language barrier and the housing crisis. Rents and mortgages are not the only exorbitant costs. Day-to-day amenities, such as groceries carry a heavy price tag. A beer in a bar costs on average between 7 and 9 EUR (8 and 10 USD). This shocks foreigners so much that local magazines felt the need to create a metro map showcasing where to find the cheapest pints in Paris.
However expensive daily life may get, something Paris does well is free healthcare and education. Both are subsidized by the government and taxpayers, making them accessible to everyone living there. Museums are also free for everyone under the age of 26, and free for everyone else on the first Sunday of the month.
EUR USD Milk (1L) 1.20 1.30 Eggs (12) 4 4.40 Local cheese (1kg/Xlb) 14 15.40 Baguette 2 2.20 Apples (1kg/Xlb) 3 3.30 Bottle of good wine 8 8.80
The Never-Ending Paperwork
Parisian bureaucracy can become easily tiresome when it comes to the hoops, expats and all residents alike have to jump through. Be prepared to plan at least one whole day to run errands. It is not uncommon to wait hours on end at the préfecture (registration office), and then be told you are at the wrong office.
Many expats noticed that customers are not kings nor queens in this city. Some had to pour their hearts out about some personal drama, in order to get sympathy from the customer service worker.
When starting a conversation with a local, try avoiding using this particular question, which translates into “Do you speak English?” Parisians prefer speaking in theor native tongue. Before moving to Paris, consider starting to learn the language. Our experts at InterNations will be able to refer you to a good language school in your area.
It also helps if you memorize the phrase “Je suis désolé(e), mais je ne parle pas bien le français” (I am sorry, but I do not speak French well). Even the grouchiest of Parisians will appreciate foreigners being polite and trying to speak French.
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Expats who already have more advanced knowledge of the language should look into learning about common mistakes and false friends. Otherwise you might find yourself sitting in a non-airconditioned office accidentally telling your colleague you attracted to them (je suis chaud(e), instead of saying you’re feeling hot (j’ai chaud).
There’s a Dress Code
Parisians dress well. Not in a fancy, haute couture kind of way, but in a rather classic and simple manner—and they expect the same effort from everyone else. How you dress will tell locals everything they need to know about you. Yoga pants, running shoes, and hiking gear in public is simply intolérable if you want to fit in.
Living in the moment
While some people have a more task-oriented “faire” (to do) and materialistic “avoir” (to have) mindset, Parisians enjoy simply existing (être), and living in the moment. Sitting alone at your desk during lunchtime while nibbling on a sandwich is frowned upon, as Parisians like sitting down for meals, enjoying a good conversation, and savoring every bite. You’ll often hear something along the lines of on est bien lá (it is nice here), reaffirming how pleasant the moment is.
This relaxed and present mindset shows a lot in the way Parisians raise their children. More often than not you will witness the so-called laissez-faire attitude. An “allow to do” culture stems from times when the government did not interfere in the economic affairs of society. This model has since been adopted into the French lifestyle and family homes. Children are often raised in a very independent manner. They make their own choices without parents interfering much.
There is a Lot to Do
In the beginning, you will want to go for long walks just to take in the amazing Haussmanian architecture. For this, you should ignore the rigid Parisian dress code and wear comfortable sneakers.
Apart from incredible architecture, Paris boasts many green spaces and parks across the city. The André Citron park has one of the best views over the city and even offers balloon rides. Going there for a late afternoon picnic with some wine and cheese to enjoy le coucher du soleil (the sunset) over Paris will become part of your to-do list.
The Cuisine is Amazing
You will probably never get tired of fresh pastries, nor of having apéro (happy hour with finger food), the most French thing you will want to adapt to your life, at the end of a long workday at the brasserie near your work.
It is Very Diverse
Paris is considered to have the most multicultural society in Europe. Around 13.7% of the region’s entire population (13 million) has a migrant background. The biggest communities have Maghreb roots, meaning they come from the former French colonies in Africa. Other large groups are from Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
The education system in Paris is competitive. Students enjoy a well-rounded education, and public schools are free for every resident. Expats settling in the city long-term should consider enrolling their children in a public school. Apart from the monetary advantage, the biggest benefit of sending your kids to a French school is that it will be much easier for them to become fluent in French, which helps them integrate more quickly into society.
Expats moving to Paris for a short period of time should consider enrolling their children in international schools. The curriculum is similar to that of other international schools around the world, and classes are taught both in English and French. If you want to learn more about France’s school and grading system, read the Education section of our France Guide.
Best International Schools in Paris
- International School of Paris
- American School of Paris
- British School of Paris
- L’École Internationale Bilingue
- Lycée International de Saint-Germain-en-Laye