Top 5 Reasons to Move to France
I always knew I wanted to travel and visit France. When I was about 8 years old, I wrote in a journal that my dream was to visit the Eiffel Tower. I never knew that my dream of visiting would turn into one of fully living in another country. Luckily, I studied French in college and was already able to speak a bit. In December of 2015, I stayed with my French boyfriend for several weeks, travelling from the North of France to Paris to Lille and Bordeaux. The trip opened my eyes to all the exquisite, sometimes shocking, yet very important differences between life in France and the USA. I quickly decided I needed to return.
1. FRENCH CULTURE & HISTORY
For me, it all started with a fascination (*cough, cough* infatuation) of French culture and history. European history, in general, sparked my interest more than US history, but there was something special about France that drew me to it. Perhaps it was the romanticised cities, people and situations that we often see on TV and in movies. Maybe we discussed Paris and the Eiffel Tower in one of my middle school classes. Or, was it after reading Romeo & Juliette that I became enthralled? And lest we forget the baguettes, cheeses, wines & croissants that made American burgers and hot dogs so boring and unappealing.
Whatever it was, I began digging deeper into French language and its story, both of which were so old and deep-rooted in the trials, tribulations and mistakes of its people. Today, after living in France for over 5 years, I have come to realize that the culture and history (and food, of course) is much more than what we read about in school or see in movies. The thousands of museums with works from tons of famous artists represents the importance of culture, history, expression and art to the French people. From the French Revolution to the French Riviera, the beautiful, complex and sometimes gruesome history lives on in its people’s DNA, and is present today in many ways. Along my journey, I’ve learned quite a few interesting details and fun facts about French history and culture.
Did you know…?
- France is widely known for its successful perfume industry. But, did you know that it all started with an attempt to mask the unpleasant smell of tanned leather and habitually unwashed bodies in the medieval and Renaissance periods? Some even say that there was a time when the rich were afraid to bathe, as illness seemed to come from the bath water. Instead, they opted for infrequent baths and bottles of perfume!
- In the USA, a common stereotype of French people is that they are unkind, snobbish or always frowning. This is based on a misunderstood cultural difference, as the French naturally smile much less at strangers on the street and, while not unfriendly, are a bit more reserved than Americans.
- If you have the pleasure of visiting France, you may find yourself confusedly wandering through a sea of residents marching in the streets. You’ve experienced your first grève! The grève or strike is rather common phenomenon in France. A country rebuilt after the French Revolution has since never backed down to injustice! In fact, some French people may even complain about the strikes, finding many of them useless or silly. However, the strike is a symbol of the people’s resistance to control. Even if they’re not in the streets, you may often hear the French passionately criticizing government and social bodies.
- It is said that baguettes were made famous by Napoleon’s armies, as he insisted on the thin shape so that the bread could be easily transported in soldiers’ pockets, wherever they went.
2. SOCIAL BENEFITS
We come for the history, culture & food, but we stay for the social benefits! I’m half joking, of course. 😉 But, truly, one of the most advantageous parts of living in France is the free and widely accessible health care, ranked #1 in the world by the WHO. That’s right, free! Well, of course the money has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is taxes. You may be surprised to know, however, that this does not account for a huge amount of money, yet covers a large range of medical expenses, including general medical, dental, eye care, physical therapy, hospital, etc. In addition, the SHI (statutory health insurance) is public and non-competitive, which means individuals’ costs can be controlled and maintained by the state.
Anyways, if I had a dollar for every time I heard an American tell me I was paying exorbitant taxes for my “free healthcare”, I’d probably have $50,000: the equivalent of a 3-day hospital visit in the USA. Luckily, though, I live in France. So I could use that money for vacations, investing in a car, an apartment, the stock market, my retirement… Shall I go on?
And, the social benefits don’t stop there. In France, you have access to housing aid, public transportation aid, business activity bonuses, family allowances, disability aid, etc. These kinds of social benefits can be claimed through online portals such as through the CAF (caisse d’allocations familiales). Upon arrival in France, signing up for these benefits can feel intimidating, as there are a few steps to take, different meetings to attend and documents you must prepare and send. However, if you persist for a few weeks, you’re sure to find the answers you need and receive the benefits you are entitled to!
You might think I’m money obsessed. The truth is, when it comes to social savings, I am! It’s a strange feeling to arrive in another country and realize how much more opportunity you have, simply by being there. Free higher education is a huge one, for me. Since my first move to France in 2017, I have studied and received not one, but two Master’s degrees from two French universities… FOR FREE! Well, technically I paid $250.00 in academic fees for the second one, but it’s still nothing compared to the tends of thousands of dollars of student debt I still have in the States.
These social benefits are so important to understand and take advantage of. Especially as an American, I think we don’t realize the way this changes the game of life; the struggle; the options. I have a theory that international programs are very expensive and not widely encouraged in schools because they don’t want us to see how much different (and better) things are in this aspect.
3. CHEAP HOUSING
Once again, I swear my life does not revolve around money but… Did I mention the affordable housing here?! Yet another game changer and yet another thing I never even considered before travelling and living abroad. Of course, if you want to live downtown Paris, in the bougie parts of Bordeaux or on the French Riviera, the price points change quite a bit. However, if you’re living in or around any big or medium-sized city like Lyon, Nantes, Lille, etc., rent comes at a fraction of the price of any apartment in the USA.
Let me give a personal example or two. When I was studying at the University of Iowa in the middle of nowhere and in a college town that didn’t have all that much to offer, I was paying $1,500/month for a small, old one-bedroom apartment in off-campus housing. For the same size apartment in the Chicagoland area, rent can go from $1,500 – $2,500 and up.
In France, the game changes. A very spacious one-bedroom apartment with a balcony in downtown Nantes goes for €590 (or around $583)/month. That is more than half the price for a bigger apartment in a central location with access to public transportation and view of the famous Tour de Bretagne et the lovely Sèvre River.
You could argue that American salaries are much higher, therefore accounting for the large gap in housing prices. Let me give another estimated comparison to make it more convincing: Starting salary for Sophie, a communications/ marketing person in the Chicagoland area is currently about $45,000/year or $35,690 net. In Nantes, Rebecca has the same position. Her average starting salary is €38,000/year or €28,500 net. To compare the two, we can take the percentage of their income that each person pays in rent per year.
Sophie, Chicago : 1,500 X 12 = (18,000/35,690) X 100 = 50.43%
Rebecca, Nantes : 583 X 12 = (6996/28,500) X 100 = 24.55%
Here we can see that Sophie spends half of her income on housing, while Rebecca only spend a quarter of hers. Rebecca pays half that of Sophie for a larger apartment in a more central location. She doesn’t have to get a roommate, live on ramen noodles or limit spending on the things she loves, like travelling, seeing concerts or going to restaurants with friends. Then, take into account the overall cheaper groceries in France, healthcare included in those taxes, cheaper phone and internet bills, etc…
Of course, this is just an estimation for the fun of it, in order to give a concrete example of the difference. While you might make more money in the USA, you may not be able to spend that money on the same things.
So, what would you do with that extra $500-$600 each month?
4. COUNTRY HOPPING
Once you get to Europe, you can pretty much go anywhere by train, plane or bus for €80 or less! This is a huge perk to living in France, because you can visit another country, explore a new culture and be back home in no time at all.
A long weekend in London? €30 round-trip. Christmas in Vienna? Less than 2 hours by plane. Beach trip to Barcelona? Easy, fast and super cheap!
Like I said, you can go anywhere in Europe and even North Africa by plane, train or bus. When choosing, you just have to decide what your time and budget restrictions are. You may also take into account your environmental impact. These days, I try to avoid taking the bus long distances, unless I find a super good deal for a night bus to Berlin or something. Otherwise, I usually take a flight. It’s not the best mode of transportation for the environment, I admit. However, it is definitely the fastest and quite often the cheapest way to travel in Europe and some North African countries.
Here my flight finder strategy:
- First, I check my schedule months in advance to see where I have gaps, long weekends and other opportunities in my schedule for travel.
- Then, I might contact a friend or two (my usual travel companions) and/or ask my boyfriend if he wants to take a little trip!
- I open two incognito windows with Google Chrome and go straight to Skyscanner.fr. It’s important to use incognito for this so your ticket prices don’t go up just because they have tracked your searches!
- On each skyscanner window, I type in the airport I want to leave from: One from Nantes and the other from Paris. It’s always nice to compare and see if it’s worth taking a quick and cheap train from Nantes to Paris.
- I type in the full month I am looking to travel in, not selecting any particular dates.
- Finally, I set the destination to “take me anywhere!”.
- The search pulls up a list of the cheapest destinations. I skim through and make note of the ones I really want to visit, making sure the flight dates and prices align with my needs.
- Next, I compare the Airbnb and hotel prices for my top locations for the duration of my trip.
- According to my overall budget, schedule and favorite destination, I pick a place and book my tickets!
Note that it is a good idea to look for flights and Airbnbs in advance to guarantee the best prices; however, you can usually find cheap tickets (under €100) when booking last minute, as well! In any case, you can easily country hop for very little money. For some people, country hopping can even become a bit of an addiction!.. Okay, it’s me. I’m some people.
5. LESS STRESS & MORE FREEDOM
My last, but certainly-not-least reason to move to France: the low stress lifestyle that feels almost automatic the minute you step out of the airport. I could have included the calm, collected and stress-free life of the French in the section on history and culture. However, I really think this one needs it’s own section.
Here’s why: An American-born, city girl from Chicago, I always felt like I was in a constant state of rush; always trying to outdo myself and others; weighed down by the omnipresent be-the-best pressure; caught in this weird, perpetual fog of personal gain and professional prestige. Prove yourself worthy. Always.
The first time I stepped into the streets of Paris, the unspoken undertone of stress, the essence of the American “winner-take-all” spirit just melted away. I felt like the sudden impact of anti-gravity might just carry me off into the air, as the false weights rolled off my shoulders, detached and dropped from ankles.
As the hours went on, slowly turning into days and nights, then to weeks and months, I realised that one American year was equivalent to 3 or 4 French years. I stopped and looked around me, because I was able to. I sat alone on a park bench, overlooking the Seine in Paris to eat my lunch, unafraid of any result-based repercussions. Simply. I felt like I had time to breathe and I did so, over and over again. My days were suddenly meant just for inhaling fresh air and exhaling the leftover remnants of anguish that begrudgingly latched onto my star-spangled lungs. Twenty-one years in the land of the free, but it took crossing an ocean to find my lady liberty.
The people on the streets walked in a fashionable rhythm, but never seemed to rush. The parks were filled with break-takers, day-offers and hand-rolled cigarette smokers. The air was filled with hushed stories being told on a terrasse and the scent of baked breads. Just being there in that moment- in every moment of every day- felt special because I was able to be there; to stay there; to leave a piece of myself there in those winding roads, like bread crumbs for others to follow, sweep out of their way or step on.
Those first days, nights, weeks, months and every year since have come as slowly as they’ve gone, allowing me the time to grow on French time. It was the greatest gift, yet it came unwrapped, no shiny ribbons or tissue paper distractions in sight.
The mental liberty was coupled with a physical freedom granted only by the never ending access to every part of the city, country and continent. Carless couch-surfers and economy class jet setters, free to roam where you please without worry. I didn’t have to be someone to go somewhere and feel alive. I just needed more days, weeks, months… Luckily for me, I was living on French time. Stress free freedom.
I’m living the “broké”-bitch-life (abroad). A twenty something-year-old optimistic cynic, lover of new cultures and self-care addict, I’m here to teach you that “doing it all” (and then some) really is possible!
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