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Living in Paris: Practical Tips for Expats

A woman reading a book on the banks of the Seine
A woman reading a book on the banks of the Seine. Photo by Lucas Peters.

The famed City of Light lulls travelers from around the world with its irresistible siren’s call, whether they are setting out overseas for the first time or are hardened travelers looking for a reprieve to rest their weary bones. For most of us, living in Paris is something of a dream. It’s a picture-perfect postcard on every street corner, packed with great restaurants, stuffed to the brim with history, art and culture, and surprisingly modern with a great public transportation system, wifi-ready cafés, and state-of-the-art theaters and cinema houses. In short, if you’re a city person, Paris is the ideal city.

So what about actually living here? What’s it really like? Well, the truth is that, like every big city, Paris is a little different for everyone, depending on your tastes, budget, and stage of life. I’ve lived here as a poor student, a young professional, and now as a family man. I’m not retired, not yet anyway, but I know that “retired Paris” is necessarily different from “poor college student Paris.” I also know that both versions of this grande dame are incredible.

Here are some practicalities helpful for living in Paris according to your chosen life path or career:

Living in Paris as a Student

As Hemingway once famously opined, Paris is a moveable feast, and if you live here while you're young, you will have Paris with you always. In a hundred years, this has not changed. Paris has been a student-city for close to a millennia. In fact, the university-packed “Latin Quarter” along the 5th and 13th arrondissements is so-called because students once attended the universities here from around the world and the only language they would often have in common was Latin. Students used Latin to talk across their cultures and interact outside of the classroom and in the streets of these arrondissements. So this was the area of Paris to hear Latin spoken. These days, no one speaks Latin, of course, while languages including English, Spanish, Arabic, German and, of course, French, can be heard everywhere. The Latin Quarter remains the student hub of Paris with many student-friendly venues catering to a more typical student budget. Students also have at their fingertips free access to some of the world’s most incredible organizations of art and culture, such as the Louvre and the François Mitterand National Library, something that should be remembered when considering studying in the City of Light.

Studying at a student at the Sorbonne in old Paris
Study at the Sorbonne in the Quartier Latin.

Budget

Most universities around Paris now have offices to help students get settled into housing, including dormitories, home stays, and independent apartments. These services are free, though as everyone knows, real estate in Paris is not cheap. However, in comparison to universities in the US, Canada, and the UK, tuition is very, very inexpensive. Generally, students spend less than 2,000 euros (~ $2,400) per year on tuition. As a bonus, with your student visa (see below), you are legally able to maintain a part-time job. Such a work arrangement is a great way to make money while you’re studying, but at the same time make friends and develop your language skills. Beyond accommodation and tuition, food is the single other largest expense for students. Many restaurants have student-friendly lunch menus with a large discount, provided you have your student ID handy.

Sidewalk seating at of the student-oriented budget restaurants in Paris
Sidewalk seating at of the student-oriented budget restaurants in Paris. Photo by Lucas Peters.

Where to Live

It’s best to network with your university first to see what housing options are available. Universities — such as the Sorbonne, The American University in Paris and Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris — have dedicated staff and/or websites to help you connect with potential roommates, apartments, home stays, and dormitories. Erasmusu is a website that offers student-friendly housing, including shared rooms in apartments, and small studios. Expect to pay an absolute minimum of 350 euros a month on a room, though typical rents range from 500-900 euros for a room in a shared apartment, homestay, or small studio. Many students choose to live in the 13th, though because of the competitiveness of finding housing in Paris, students are spread throughout every arrondissement in Paris. If you’re attempting to rent an apartment by yourself, be prepared for mountains of paperwork.

Visa

Once admitted into a program, students apply for a student visa. There are seldom issues granting student visas, though the process can take a few months. For most people, this is an introduction to French bureaucracy, which tends to move much, much slower than its anglophone counterparts.

Getting Around

As a student, you’re eligible for the Imagine R student travel pass which allows you to travel on all of the public transport networks in the Île-de-France region: metro, RER, bus, tramway, and train. This pass is 342 euros for the year (less than 30 euros a month). For 30 euros a year (less than 3 euros a month) you can subscribe to the Velib bike rental program and ride a bike for free around the city. And, of course, there is walking. There is no better walking city than Paris, any time of year. Using your feet is the least expensive way to see the city and the best way to get to know all the nooks and crannies of your neighborhood.

Panorama of a busy commercial boulevard in Paris.
Panorama of a busy commercial boulevard in Paris.

Living in Paris as a Young Professional

Paris has a surprisingly vibrant startup community and is a hub for many English-language companies needing expertise in English. Having a solid foundation in French can be extremely helpful in your job search. But somewhat surprisingly, with so many international companies located in Paris, French is often not necessary, and English is the everyday working language. NGOs, such as the OECD and UNESCO, have their headquarters in Paris, so do several game companies, including Pretty Simple and Blizzard. Global leaders, such as Microsoft, Apple, Campbell Soup and Danon, have a large presence in Paris, as well as Fortune 500 companies like Total, BNP Paris, and Peugeot. LinkedIn is a powerful resource for finding employment in Paris. Perhaps the biggest reason to consider living in France as a young professional is the vacation time (a minimum of five weeks per year) as well as the cheap flights and train tickets possible from Paris to explore the rest of Europe and the world.

Budget

Salaries in Paris, particularly in industries such as Communication and Marketing, can seem lower at first glance in comparison with their anglophone counterparts. The average entry-level salary is 1,800-2,500 euros per month, net (after taxes). With a one-room studio costing around half that (900 euros, give or take, depending on the neighborhood), this will take up the lion’s share of your monthly expenses. Most employers also participate in a restaurant ticket system providing you a daily allowance for lunch, which the budget-conscious can also use to purchase groceries. A Parisian salary will allow you to live comfortably, though not extravagantly.

Where to Live

The most vibrant nightlife in Paris takes place on the Right Bank — the Marais, Belleville, Canal Saint Martin, Republique, and Oberkampf being home to some of the trendiest restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Unsurprisingly, these are the neighborhoods most occupied by twenty-somethings, young couples, and others who want to be within walking distance to super-charged, Brooklyn-chic, electric evenings. For those who appreciate a great cocktail and enjoying shaking their proverbial moneymakers late into the night, the Right Bank is the place to be. Such neighborhoods are geared to the hip and trendy, though many sports lovers are happier to live in quieter neighborhoods near some of the larger parks or the forests bordering Paris, the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne. Others seeking charm are happy in studio apartments and small one-bedrooms on the storied hill of Montmartre nestled comfortably below Sacre Cœur.

Parisians celebrating after the World Cup in 2018
Parisians celebrating after the World Cup in 2018. Photo by Amina Lahbabi.

Visa

Obtaining a visa is often the biggest hurdle to finding employment in France. If you’re not a French national or a citizen of the European Union, you will need a working visa. If you’re lucky, you have a specific enough skill set and an employer who will offer to sponsor your visa. If you don’t have an employer to sponsor your visa, you could consider a few different options, including enrolling as a student (see above). For those with a tech background, profile, or interest, there is an exciting new visa dubbed the “Talent Passport,” a four-year, renewable visa for those interested in investing in, working for, or basing their tech start-up in France. For artists, writers, journalists, photographers or other professionals who already earn a decent amount of money (more than 30,000 euros a year), the Competency and Talent Visa is a multiple-year working visa, popular with many expats in Paris. Generally speaking, you will be issued with a long-stay visa, equivalent to a (VLS/TS) residence permit before your arrival in France, bearing the statement travailleur temporaire (temporary worker). You must validate it in the three months following your arrival in France.

Getting Around

Employers are obliged to pay for half of your monthly Navigo public transportation pass. This pass will allow you to travel around Paris for 70 euros (you will pay 35 and your employer the other 35). Before purchasing a monthly pass for the full price, if you’re self-employed, you may want to consider other transportation options or consider purchasing your metro passes by the carnet de 10 for a substantial discount. The Velib bike rental program cost 30 euros a year (less than 3 euros a month) and gives you access to bikes all around the city. Walking, any time of year, is the least expensive way to get around and a good way to burn off those extra calories from the wine and cheese.

Paris metro
The Paris Métro is used by over 4 million people a day.

The Velib bike rental program is used widely in Paris
The Velib bike rental program is used widely in Paris. Photo by Lucas Peters.

Living in Paris with a Family

When we think of the City of Light, we dream of the l’Age d’Or or maybe Paris in the 1920s. We think of Gothic cathedrals, Michelin-starred restaurants, and vast museums. What we don’t often think of is children living in Paris. Truth be told, Paris is perhaps one of the best cities in the world to raise kids. There are squares and parks in every neighborhood with well-maintained sandbanks, slides, and playgrounds. Many of the parks still offer pony rides, as well as marionette theaters, outdoor fountains, boat races, and other kid favorites. There are many top-notch public and private, bilingual schools and numerous daycare facilities that are much more affordable than their British or American counterparts. Many public schools in Paris offer bilingual sections and are free while there are a number of other international and private schools with monthly fees that run up to 2,000 euros per month. With world-class museums offering child-friendly exhibits and activities every week, as well as an active English-speaking community, Paris should be at the top of every parents’ list for possible living destinations.

Budget

Families live on every type of budget in Paris, just as in other cities around the world. However, as an expat family living in Paris, you will likely want a higher-than-average salary. When reviewing offers for employment, it might seem as though the salaries are smaller than their anglophone counterparts. Very often, this is the case. However, because of the inexpensive health care system, low-cost and easy access of public transportation and affordable daycare and fantastic public schooling, when adjusted for cost-of-living, you might be surprised on how far a “low” salary in Paris can take you. Most families will want to make sure they make at least 4,000 euros a month (net, take-home) with 6,000 or more being ideal.

Where to Live

It’s probably not any news to you by now, but space is at a premium in Paris. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment will typically run 1,800 euros or more a month. With a renter expected to make 3x the rent, you can see the type of salary you and your partner would need to make to be able to rent a roomy enough apartment for the whole family. It is not unheard of for a family of four to live in a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment. This is why so many families choose to live in easy-to-access suburbs along the RER line. Montreuil (close to the expansive Bois des Vincennes), Saclay (known for its tech and university connections), Saint-Germain-en-Laye (popular with more wealthy anglophiles and its well-renowned international school), and Issy-les-Moulineaux (dubbed “media land” by the locals for the media companies headquartered here) are all top locations for families fleeing to the suburbs in search of a bit more space. In Paris, do strongly consider the 14th and 15th arrondissements and location to parks, though for most, ultimately how far they are willing to commute to work dictates where they live.

Playing at the Georges Brassens neighborhood park.
Playing at the Georges Brassens neighborhood park. Photo by Lucas Peters.

Visa

If you’re considering moving to France with your family, you’ll most likely be looking for a company to sponsor your visa. The process can take a few months, which will give you plenty of time to look for an apartment or house, explore different neighborhoods and pack up your life back home. Those with a bit more savings and a serious tech business concept could also consider the “Talent Passport," especially if they want to base a tech start-up in France. For artists, writers, journalists, photographers, or other professionals who already earn a salary, the Competency and Talent Visa is a multiple-year working visa, popular with many expats in Paris. Generally speaking, you will be issued with a long-stay visa, equivalent to a (VLS/TS) residence permit before your arrival in France, bearing the statement “travailleur temporaire” (temporary worker). You must validate it in the three months following your arrival in France. Large NGOs, such as UNESCO and OECD, often hire outside of the EU. If you have a particular skill set, consider searching their careers section for employment opportunities. Salaries for these organizations are tax-free and you will receive a diplomatic visa. All of these visas will also allow your spouse to work.

Getting Around

Employers are obliged to pay for half of your monthly Navigo public transportation pass. This pass will allow you to travel around Paris for 70 euros (you will be 35 and your employer the other 35). Before purchasing a monthly pass for the full price, if you’re self-employed, you may want to consider other transportation options or consider purchasing your metro passes by the carnet de 10 for a discount. The Velib bike rental program cost 30 euros a year (less than 3 euros a month) and gives you access to bikes all around the city and is a great option for families with older children. For families still using strollers, the underground metro system can be a real pain with few escalators and fewer elevators. Consider exploring the bus routes as the busses are much easier to load strollers on and off and are often less crowded than the metro.

Living in Paris as a Retiree

Whether for the quality of life, the romance of living abroad, a call to a new, post-career adventure, or just the desire to try something different, many retirees are drawn to a new life in Paris. However, moving during retirement, particularly to somewhere as far away as Europe, can be daunting. There are many logistic hurdles to overcome. Countries such as Portugal and Spain offer retirees the option to collect their pensions tax-free, which, with the warmer, generally sunnier weather, draw many retirees from Germany and Great Britain. Paris, however, has its plentiful charms and many retirees find the City of Light to be the perfect place to spend their golden years. Petanque is a popular activity for retirees with clubs all around Paris and pick-up games in just about every park in the city. Seniors enjoy special pricing for museums, theater, opera, dance, cinema, and even some restaurants. Paris boasts some of the best healthcare facilities in the world. However, the city is not extremely friendly for those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. Despite this, many French retire to Paris for the culture and easy access to medical care and facilities, and enjoy having everything in walking distance. For English speakers, Paris for Seniors is a great resource and a good link to the anglophone community of Paris.

Claude Monet in the Musee de l'Orangerie
A woman studies the brilliant Claude Monet in the Musee de l'Orangerie. Photo by Lucas Peters.

Budget

A retiree can live very well in Paris on a modest pension. With inexpensive museum admissions, a number of low-cost or free local clubs, sports facilities that cater toward the over-60 crowd, and pleasant parks, there are many ways to live well and live frugally. The cost of a rental or purchase price of an apartment will be the largest expense for the majority of retirees relocating to Paris by far. One could comfortably live on 1,000 euros a month, excluding housing expenses, though 1,500-2,000 euros would be much more comfortable and allow more freedom to travel and the ability to splurge on those special things, be it a night at the opera or a delicious meal, from time to time.

Where to Live

Many retirees already feel the call to downsize and be responsible for a smaller footprint. Luckily, Paris has that in spades. Anything from a cozy studio for 800 euros a month to a relatively expansive two-bedroom apartment for 1,800 euros a month is the norm for most retirees. The 16th is one of the quietest arrondissements and close to the Bois de Boulogne, while areas in the 15th and 8th also have very active communities. If you’re making the move to Paris, you’ll want to budget a couple of months to investigate neighborhoods and communities that match all of your criteria. Key considerations likely will include proximity to grocery stores and pharmacies, local cafés, hospitals, and ease of a commute to one of the major airports — very important when considering visits to and from family who might live some distance away.

Visa

The visa process for retirees is fairly straightforward. You will need to obtain a long-stay visa. The process typically takes about three months, and you will need to apply at your local French consulate — with every consulate having a different way about arranging appointments. Some are arranged online and others by a phone call. You’ll need to provide proof of health insurance that will cover you while living in France as well as evidence of your pension.

Getting Around

The largely underground metro system is full of stairs with few elevators or escalators. For that reason, most retirees prefer the aboveground, well-connected bus system to get around Paris. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy being whisked down the Seine, staring out from a warm window as the Eiffel Tower appears closer. A monthly Navigo public transportation pass will allow you unlimited travel anywhere around Paris, whether on the metro, the RER, or the bus, for only 70 euros a month.

Bastille Day Fireworks on the 14th of July
Bastille Day fireworks on the 14th of July. Photo by Lucas Peters.

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Lucas M. Peters recently penned and photographed the Moon Morocco Travel Guide with Avalon Publishing. His articles, essays, short stories, poems, photos and videos have appeared with Creative Nonfiction, Ploughshares, The Voyage Report and various other magazines and websites. He has been a travel consultant for The Travel Channel and is the editor-in-chief of the Journey Beyond Travel travel web series. 

Lucas lived in Morocco from 2009-2015, where he taught English Composition, Literature and other courses at Al Akhawayn University. He now lives in Paris with his wife and son and can sometimes be found giving students a hard time at the Sorbonne, where he adjuncts. 3-4 times a year, he still travels Morocco, visiting friends, family, researching and finding moments to capture.

 
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