It’s easy to find 100 reasons why you SHOULD move to France — some aren’t that serious, like the amazing and affordable wine, bread and cheese. Others are more hard hitting that I’ve discussed before like the work/life balance and healthcare system. It’s easy to talk about all the positive aspects of life abroad in France. There are many and I do it often. But it’s always been important to me to show both sides of what life can be like abroad and not just the shiny, happy stuff. To that end, we’re going to get right into some reasons why you might NOT want to embark on moving to France.
Moving to France? Consider this first.
First, many of the things I mention below could apply to moves elsewhere, even within your own country and aren’t specific to just moving to France. Also, if you’re looking for what NOT to pack when you move to France, read this.
OK, so don’t move to France if….
1.You don’t plan on putting some effort into learning the language beyond the basics. Contrary to what you might have heard, the French don’t speak fluent English. Outside of big cities especially, you need to know French. Especially if you plan on building a life here and aren’t in France for a semester or job contract. I’d say learn French to a solid intermediate level or beyond. It’s necessary to integrate, to be part of the world around you, to show respect and to thrive.
Imagine a foreigner moving to the US and not speaking much English. It can be done in some areas, depending on what language they speak, but overall it would be very hard to have a fulfilling life in the United States without speaking decent English. At the very least, it would definitely limit you. Same thing in France.
I’m not saying you need to speak perfect French by any means, I sure don’t, but a solid intermediate level is a good goal to aim for if you plan on making a life here and aren’t just passing through for a year. Just take it one step at a time and remember these truths when you’re stressed out.
2. You’re not a socialist and think of it as a dirty word, or anything a country does that leans in that direction. I’m kidding. Kind of. What I mean is if you’re into the belief of each man for himself and don’t believe in social programs, universal healthcare and a hefty chunk of your pay going to social charges and taxes and this kind of thing really gets under your skin, maybe rethink that move to France.
I see this a lot where people move to France because they are in love with the idea of France but are really put off by the way of life here when it comes to paying into the system for the greater good of all. France is a social democracy and if that’s going to be incompatible with your values, consider yourself warned. It’s expensive to hire employees if you’re in business for yourself. Taxes/social charges are BIG. Inheritance taxes are bigger.
3. If you’re not open minded and cultural differences bring out your judgmental side and/or you’re really stuck in your ways. I think it’s important to remember that France is not our home country so it’s best to not expect things to be done like they are at home. My first couple of years here, I had to remind myself of that often. What we perceive as normal or the most efficient way to do something holds no relevance in France because things are done differently — of course they are because it’s a different country!
It’s best to observe, learn, and adapt to the French way. And I know it’s tempting to refer to things in France as “wrong” or inefficient or dumb or antiquated, but if you are moving to France, resist that snap judgment — and at the very least resist saying these things in the presence of the French people. Learn and understand the French way and then just go with the flow. That’s the most respectful thing to do. The truth is we’re all flawed humans and no one is perfect. It’s normal to judge things in France when you first arrive and are working through the culture shock just trying to make sense of it all.
American social norms to AVOID in France >>
4. If you haven’t done your research. So many people embark on big life changes without doing their research and that applies to moving to France big time. It’s so easy to think life here aligns with the romanticized notions we see in the media and we don’t dig deeper.
The truth is that life in France is real life. I think life here is great but there are pros and cons to life anywhere. It’s important to research all aspects of life in France and see different perspectives to better prepare yourself, not just with the language and culture but maybe things that we don’t always think of ahead of time. Research things that can cause stress and anxiety, like buying a house, opening a bank account, visa applications, work culture, taxes, and even the weather.
Surprises can be a lot of fun, but these aren’t areas where you want to encounter too many surprises after investing so much to move. Being prepared by doing as much research as possible is the best thing you can do to set yourself up for success.
Something else I want to point out is that many of us can do all the research in the world and be SO prepared and still struggle. It’s impossible to know if living abroad is right for us long term until we try it. Living abroad isn’t for everyone and visiting as often as we can might work fine.
We may have the best intentions before moving to France and assume we’ll adapt just fine because we prepared ourselves. We’ll integrate and make French friends and love the culture and pick up the language right away. And then the reality settles in that maybe things are harder than expected and will take more time. Or we may decide to go home. All of that is OK and normal. If we don’t try new things and live our lives, we’ll never know. There is no shame in making a change that’s best for you and your situation, whatever that may be.
5. If you can’t deal with strikes. They exist, it’s not a myth, especially when it comes to transportation. Striking is part of the culture. It’s an accepted thing and the French roll with it. Strikes have been around since the revolution and include train and air traffic control, farmers, truck drivers and more. If you have a hard time dealing with disruptions to your regular routine, this might be something that’ll be really difficult to deal with time and time again.
6. If you’re moving to escape your problems at home. I think this one is huge and can apply to a move anywhere. Society romanticizes life in France and it’s easy to think that life here is a paradise and a 24/7 vacation. If you’re having trouble at home with any aspect of your life, move abroad and your worries will disappear. Magic!
Except that’s not reality. Your struggles from home will move with you, so I don’t think it’s a great idea to move abroad to escape loneliness, grief, a toxic relationship, mental health issues and that sort of thing. Maybe it works in some cases if the problems are specific to your immediate geographic area, but don’t let that escape be your only reason to leave where you currently are living for France. Life’s problems don’t go away just because we’ve changed our scenery. They may even get worse when you add in culture shock, homesickness, a new language and culture.
Big questions Americans ask me after learning I live in France >>
7. If you’re not ready to be a foreigner and the challenges that come with uprooting your life. If you haven’t traveled much and are very comfortable where you live and have strong ties to your community, it can be really uncomfortable or even jarring to move abroad and suddenly stand out as “other.” This is especially true in smaller towns. You get used to it but at first being the foreigner, the one who is different, and doesn’t quite fit in, might be a bit of a learning curve if you aren’t ready for it. Starting over from zero is daunting.
Being away from loved ones, losing touch with people you care about, adapting to a new culture, and the stress of it all is something I think a lot of us sweep under the rug or don’t spend enough time thinking about ahead of time. Why? It’s not pleasant.
These challenges are not insurmountable by any means and they aren’t deal breakers. They’re just things that we should give as much mental attention to as we do to our vacation plans, our apartment search, and our language lessons to be better prepared.
8. If you expect a fast-paced, 24/7 society. Life in France moves slower than it does in the US. Even comparing New York to Paris, well the French way of life isn’t the same, and that’s a good thing. But if you are looking for a 24/7 society where stores are open all night or very late, and businesses have extended hours and you can bank all day on Saturdays and everything else we might see as normal, France might cramp your style.
Living here has taught me to slow down and it’s for the best, especially if you move from a big US city to small-town France. In some cases, the slower life can be a blessing so it just depends on your personality, what you’re looking for, and what you can adapt to over time.
9. If you’re not secure in who you are. This goes for most major life changes n general, not just to France. What I mean by this is if you aren’t super confident in your abilities, in who you are, in your job, in your relationships, in you mental health, taking on the challenge of moving abroad can make anything you struggle with worse.
For example, let’s say you weren’t the greatest employee back home. You were not super reliable, not the best team player, and not motivated at all. Then you come to France, and you’re still not the best employee but now you have the added stress of learning a new professional environment, in a new culture with language and it’s that much harder.
All this is to say work on yourself as best you can before moving abroad. That way, you’re starting things in France as the best version of yourself.
Planning a trip to France and want to be prepared? Get my eGuide (just a few bucks for a limited time!) >>
Finally, don’t think you need to have it all figured out before you move abroad. I sure didn’t. I’m prone to getting easily overwhelmed and I wasn’t on top of everything 100% before I moved to France. Living abroad doesn’t just work out for the special few who do everything right ahead of time.
My French wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t rich. I didn’t know everything about visas and taxes. I wasn’t the 100% confident best version of myself. I didn’t research everything I should have. But I made it. I’m still here.
In a perfect world, we’d have all our moving abroad ducks in a row, so to speak, ahead of time. But life is messy. We’re humans — imperfect and living in an imperfect world. We have to work through our challenges and experience some of the difficult aspects of moving to France to grow and learn. I know that’s part of the process, a beautiful one.
Wherever you are now, please know I’m rooting for you. If you want to move abroad — or make any change for yourself — I hope some of my advice here spoke to you in some way. You’ve got this, ok?
Above all, I think life in France is incredibly rewarding and has been a positive experience for me overall or I wouldn’t still be here. But as I said in the intro, I don’t want to use Oui In France to paint a picture of only the highlight reel. Or a place where we only talk about easy, superficial crap that’s been recycled 100 times all over the web.
I have never focused on only talking about aspects of life abroad that are easy and Instagram worthy. None of that will prepare you for real life, so it’s definitely a balance. I hope you understand where I’m coming from, especially if you’re new here. 😉
What advice do you have for someone moving to France or moving abroad in general?
P.S. Thank you all for your kind words after I shared my mom just passed away. The support means more than you know. I am putting one foot in front of the other still and trying to do the best I can. We just got some bad news about Dagny’s health (and if you know me, she’s like our child so this is HARD). It is compounding the grief and adding anticipatory grief, again, to stress upon stress. Everything is rough right now so thank you for your understanding if I’m not too active in the comments or in my email inbox at the moment.