I’m a big fan of making lists. When I’m grappling with a decision, I’ve been known to whip out a notebook, make two columns, and list out as many pros and cons as possible. Do you do the same thing? Somehow, seeing everything visually listed out makes me feel more in control of the decision making process and less in my head about it. Lists make everything more organized and less daunting.
Would you believe me if I told you I made a pros and cons list for moving to France back in the day before I took the leap? Oui! I did. OF COURSE I DID! If I remember correctly, I think I made several pros and cons lists concerning France and I still write out my lists on a variety of topics all the time. If you’re in the research stage of moving to France or are just curious about some of the pros and cons of living in France, you’ve come to the right place.
Pros and cons of living in France
Bonjour! In case you’re new here, here’s a quick glance at my life. I moved to France from NYC back in 2012 to join my French husband. We’ve always lived out in the Loire Valley, never Paris or a big city. We both work and we don’t have kids (but we have a sweet little dog, Dagny ;-)).
What I’d like to focus on in this post are the top pros and cons of living in France long term. I feel like fewer people write about the deeper stuff and it’s so needed in the living abroad in France space. I could make a list of little things that I find to be pros and cons of living in France (maybe I’ll make that a Part 2?? LMK?), but the pros and cons below represent life in France overall for me after being here awhile. I’m tackling the overarching, hard-hitting pros and cons for me at this point and not the surface level stuff that falls into the cool little thing or pesky annoyance category.
For less serious pros and cons that fall into the culture shock category of things that might surprise you or annoy you the first year or so of living in France, I’ve got you. These posts touch on more surface level observations and aspects of life in France that newcomers here might find interesting: I’ve written at length about the cultural differences, and big list of little culture shocks, and things I do as an American that confuse French people. I’ve also written about the dark side of expat life in France.
Keep in mind that what might be a con for me might be a pro for you and vice versa. Not everyone’s living abroad experience is the same and our tolerance and sensitivity levels are all different too.
Someone coming to France as a student for a semester abroad is going to have a different set of challenges than a retiree who lives in France a few months a year. They will both have a vastly different experience from someone living in a city in their 30s who works full-time and is raising a family. Or someone who speaks no French and doesn’t work. There’s no one right or wrong way to do the living abroad thing in France. All experiences are valid and we can learn from and support each other.
What’s not cool is to tell someone else that their experience and feelings are wrong because you haven’t personally experienced that same exact thing. And that’s my point here. Of course we haven’t lived someone else’s life, so let’s keep an open, respectful mind and try to really listen. I feel like a jackass having to even write that but you have no idea how many times I’ve written about something (or made a video about it), highlighting my personal experience and feelings, just to have someone rudely tell me I’m wrong because that hasn’t been THEIR experience. Nutso, n’est-ce pas?
Lastly, before I get to my list of the top pros and cons of living in France, I want to reiterate that picking up and moving to another country is a major undertaking. It’s not something to take lightly or do on a whim. I’m careful to not paint life in France as “living the dream” in a place where everything is perfect and a fairytale because that’s not real life. I think it’s important that people considering a move to France don’t pull the wool over their eyes and minimize the challenges of life here by only focusing on people’s highlight reels on social media.
It’s great to focus on the pros — there are many — but ignoring the challenges (or thinking they don’t apply to you) would be naïve and a mistake. On the flip side, so much about life in France is positive and rewarding and I love writing about all of that and making videos on all the fun travels and cultural experiences. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s not an easy path by any stretch of the imagination so I want to be real with you and talk about the bad things about living in France too.
OK, let’s go.
Pros of living in France
The travel. France’s landscapes are incredible. From the Atlantic Coast to the Mediterranean Sea to Corsica to even the canals, France’s waterways first and foremost blow me away. Add in the cityscapes and landmarks and castles and you have no shortage of places to discover in ten lifetimes. France is breathtaking in a way words can’t even describe.
The fact that I’ve discovered so much of France alongside my husband is an amazing experience that I’ll never minimize or take for granted. I get so excited seeing places like the Mont Saint-Michel or Brittany (even for the 10th time!) or the beautiful town of Amboise and all the wineries I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. For me, the travel within France is one of my top pros of living here and it never gets old.
Food culture. France has some of the best food and wine in the world. This includes farmers’ markets, the affordable high-quality wine that you can easily buy direct from the producer, cheese and bread, pastries, and more. Let’s not forget the amazing Michelin-starred restaurants and even lesser known mom and pop bistros that make wonderful home-cooked meals and everything in between. France’s focus on quality food and mealtime has introduced me to not only foods that have blown my mind but a way of life. The French savor their food and make mealtime a priority. It goes beyond food; it’s about connection.
Affordable healthcare system. This one is BIG! Health insurance in France is a right and not a privilege and that’s how it should be. There’s nothing like knowing you and your family have health insurance and don’t have to worry about crazy, anxiety-inducing deductibles or in-network labs or this or that. Healthcare here isn’t dependent on your job status, so if you’re laid off, you don’t lose your health insurance.
Is French health insurance without flaws? Of course not. No system is perfect and you can find less-than-ideal practitioners in France. It can also be difficult to get a quick appointment with a specialist depending on where you live and the demand. But all in all, I’ve been extremely happy with the French healthcare system and the whole principle of how healthcare is viewed by French society. France takes care of its people and the medical system is one of my favorite things about living here.
Work/life balance. Full-time employees in France get five weeks of paid vacation per year and are encouraged to use it. Taking two weeks off (or three!) during the summer is normal and encouraged! The French seem to work to live, not the other way around and that mentality is a welcome change from how things are done in the USA.
Leisure time is important. Family time is important. My husband gets twitchy when he hasn’t had a weekend away or a vacation in a while. It’s in the French blood to relax and enjoy life! Life in France is not just about packing as much into a day as you can, working yourself to the bone just to buy a bigger house or car and keep up with the Joneses. That’s an oversimplification of how some people live, but my point is that the priorities of a French life are different, and in my experience, it’s for the best.
Cons of living in France
French bureaucracy. France is known for paperwork and red tape. It’s part of life here. The dreaded but obligatory bureaucracy is often the punch line of well-deserved jokes from foreigners just trying to get something simple accomplished at the prefecture. You’ll always need more documents than you think you’ll need and a ton of copies of everything. Administrative tasks get done slowly, business hours are often annoyingly short, and civil servants don’t seem to get things done very efficiently. Patience is a skill I’m still learning.
Learning French. You will need to learn French to have any semblance of an integrated, fulfilled life in France long term. No, you don’t need to speak perfectly by any means, but you do have to speak at least intermediate French. That way you’ll be a part of what’s going on around you and not just a silent observer. This goes double outside of major cities where you’re less likely to run into fluent English speakers. I also think making an effort to learn the language shows you respect the country you live in and are serious about creating a life here.
Acquiring a new language is definitely a pro but the process of doing so can be stressful. Getting to a place where you speak confidently can be a long, windy path.
Don’t underestimate what a daunting task it can be to get up to speed in a new language. Even when you are fluent or fluent enough, there’s always more to learn and you’ll never understand the language and all the cultural references and expressions like a native. It can get tiring and feel like an insurmountable task some days.
As much as I love learning new words and having days where I feel super confident and proud of how far I’ve come with French (which is most of the time), there are still days when I’m so frustrated with myself for not saying exactly what I meant the exact way I intended to say it. Sometimes I don’t put myself out there enough and try to say as much as I’d like for fear of sounding like an idiot. It can weigh on you, always standing out as a foreigner.
Taxes/social charges. Remember the great healthcare system I mentioned above? Well, nothing is “free.” Everyone pays into the system and this amount might be higher than what you’re used to paying in your home country, especially for entrepreneurs or business owners who want to hire employees. France has a progressive income tax system and then on top of income taxes, a hefty chunk of your paycheck goes toward social charges on the back end. Don’t even get me started on real estate taxes, the TV tax, and the CFE tax you pay as a self-employed person.
All in all, I know the taxes and social charges go toward making life here better for all and I accept it 100% as someone who lives and pays into the system (and uses the services), but it can be a bit surprising to see just how much is eaten up out of your earnings every month.
Now for this next part, I’ve identified the top pro and con of living abroad for me in general. These are things not specific to France but just the living abroad experience overall.
Top pro of living abroad
It’s a challenging, interesting experience that will keep you curious and always growing. I will be forever grateful to France for so much — traveling all over this beautiful country, getting to know its people, culture and language and experiencing my husband’s home firsthand by his side. But it’s far from easy and that’s the point. Living abroad constantly pushes me to do better and I continuously learn — not only about France and the language and culture but about myself and what is important to me. I’ve discovered more about my tolerance for change, aspects of my personality that I maybe wouldn’t have discovered back in the USA, become even more sensitive to what other people are going through, uncovered my affinity for making videos, and so much more.
Top con of living abroad
Being away. I wish teletransportation were real and we could magically be anywhere in the world with just a snap of the fingers. It is incredibly difficult to be away from loved ones and everything that is familiar, especially as we grow older, have kids, go through life changes, etc. Living abroad long term is not for the faint hearted. I think it’s different if you move abroad with the plan of staying a year or two and returning home and also if you don’t feel like you have much to return to at home and don’t have a strong connection with it or the people there.
I always wonder what our life would look like if Tom and I chose to live in the USA after getting married. No one has a crystal ball and the uncertainty is hard to deal with for those of us who crave control.
There is so much back “home” that I yearn for including an in-person relationship with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew (who I’ve met once). Sometimes I miss being away from everything that was comfortable, comforting, and easy.
Let me say that I know you can be far from loved ones within your own country as well so I know people living abroad aren’t unique in this aspect. But it’s something that really weighs on you over time and is a top con of living abroad for me. It’s extra difficult for those of us who had a tight-knit inner circle and thrive on close, in-person relationships. It costs a ton of money (and time) to visit and this can be hard to deal with sometimes, especially when you feel out of sorts and down.
Living in a different country long term means life goes on at home without you. You aren’t in touch with everything and everyone you used to know. Your friends and family have kids that you rarely see in person and relationships change and become strained due to the distance. This doesn’t only happen for people who move abroad — let me say that again. But it’s a very real part of life for those of us who do. I think it’s hard to know what’s best sometimes, and while there are so many pros that weigh out, the cons have cemented their place on my list.
Do you live abroad in France? What are some overarching, hard-hitting pros and cons of living in France or elsewhere for you? Talk to me below!