France has long been a popular destination for immigrants from all around the world and is today one of Europe’s most multicultural nations. It is estimated that around 11.1 per cent of France’s 65.35 million residents were born abroad, with the majority hailing from North Africa and a sizable number coming from other European Union (EU) countries. However, whereas once expats flocked to France for work, especially in the aftermath of the two World Wars in which France suffered heavy casualties and needed to bring in outside labour to help rebuild the country, an increasing number of today’s modern-day immigrants are more likely to be moving to France to take advantage of the country’s famed relaxed way of life.
From the rolling green fields of rural France to the laid-back café culture, which adorns many of the country’s major towns and cities, the French, it is fair to say, tend to move at a pace to suit themselves. This is what many people tend to find so appealing about the country, especially those who are fed up with the hustle and bustle of their own home countries and the ‘live to work’ attitude that is becoming increasingly common in so many western nations. That said, the pace of life in France is also something that will probably take a bit of getting used to. Don’t expect to get anything done in a hurry – no matter how important it may be, and remember that the more rural the area, the slower you can expect the pace of life to be. Great in some respects, hugely frustrating in others.
However, in spite of this more relaxed attitude that the French, on the whole, tend to possess towards life (and work in particular) France nevertheless possesses one of the world’s key economies. Not only is it a member of the G8 – the group comprising the world’s leading industrialised countries – but the country’s economy also ranks as the EU’s second-largest in terms of Gross Domestic Product and, along with Germany, is the home to the most Fortune 500 companies in Europe. (32 companies, of which 23 are based in the country’s capital, Paris.)
Paris is by far the country’s main expat hub. Around 40 per cent of the country’s immigrant population reside in the Greater Paris region (known as Île-de-France) and figures from the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies estimate that almost one in five of Paris’ residents are immigrants. While one of the main reasons for Paris’ popularity is down to simple economic facts, namely, that this is where a majority of the country’s job opportunities are to be found – especially for non-EU migrants whose residence status is likely to be tied to them having a job – the capital’s well-deserved reputation as a cultural hot-spot is also a major draw, particularly for international business people or well-off singletons. The capital also receives its fair share of temporary overseas residents, especially international students. A 2012 report ranked Paris as the best city in the world in which to study, despite the fact the city’s universities do not provide graduates with as good job prospects as leading universities in other countries.
However, as the largest country in Western Europe there is far more to France than just Paris. The South of France is famed for its warm year-round climate and fantastic beaches, the central regions are known for their rural countryside and world-renown vineyards, there are top-quality ski resorts located in the Alps or Pyrenees mountain ranges… The list goes on and on. The upshot is that if having a well-paid job is not so important to you, then look outside the capital and you will find a diverse country with plenty to offer its expats.
You will also find the cost of living and property values to be far lower outside of Paris – although wages will also be significantly reduced as well. Although the overall cost of living in France is fairly low, a 2012 Expat Payments Index survey revealed that four in ten expats based in France said that their living costs had risen by over 10 per cent in just one year.
However, as stated earlier, your reason for moving to France is unlikely to be to find your fortune – even if you’re moving to Paris. Over the past 20 or so years, more and more immigrants have been moving to France for the lifestyle benefits associated with the country and this has led to many retirees and young families alike moving into more regional areas of the country in search of the ‘real’ France. Areas like the Dordogne and Provence in the South of France are hugely popular among retirees – especially those from EU countries – with the warm year-round climates, tranquil surroundings and laid-back lifestyles associated with both of these regions often viewed as the ideal conditions in which to spend their twilight years. That the French healthcare system is regarded by the World Health Organisation to provide some of the best healthcare in the world is another key draw – for the elderly, in particular.
Many families are also drawn to life in central and southern regions of France. Visit small villages and towns close to sizable cities such as Biarritz, Dijon and Bordeaux and you will often find pockets of expat families with young children living there, looking to take advantage of France’s more rural way of life, while at the same time being close enough to a major centre that they can earn a living.
One thing that is vital to bear in mind when considering moving to France is that without at least a basic grasp of the French language you will almost certainly struggle to settle and fully integrate into the local community, while you will find it nigh-on impossible to find employment, especially outside of Paris or other major cities such as Marseille, Lyon or Toulouse. While English is spoken in many parts of France – even in some really rural areas – you may find that some French people will be unwilling to engage in conversation with you unless you make at least some effort to converse with them in their own tongue first (even if it’s to ask them if they speak English). For families moving with school-age children who don’t speak French, this could also be an important issue. Some schools offer what is known as the Françáis Langue Étrangère (French as a foreign language) option, but mostly this will only be available in big cities or areas that have substantial expat populations. If moving to a rural or regional area, you may need to employ a private tutor to help them, but don’t enrol them into a school and expect them to pick up the language – they will be lost! On the whole, though, the French education system is of a fairly high-standard. The most recent Human Development Index education report ranked France’s system 20th out of 187 countries.
Providing, then, that you take the time to learn the language, there’s no reason why you won’t find much to like about life in France. After all, there’s a good reason why year after year it remains the most visited country in the world by foreign residents: 82 million people simply can’t be wrong!