Where Do You Want to Live in France?
Volume XX, Issue 36
There’s a lot of France to love…but you have to determine what location checks off all or most of the boxes as a place to live. This is what I explained to the attendees of our Living & Investing in France Conference. In fact, it’s what I explain just about every time I consult with someone considering moving to France.
Most people have a rosy-colored view of their idyllic life in France. Either Paris puts stars in their eyes or Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” convinced them that renovating a house in the countryside is what life is all about. Either way, it’s usually all in their heads, dreaming away about what it might be like in their Frenchy future, but it’s not usually the reality.
Part of the problem comes from our own need to create expectations. When expectations are not fulfilled, disappointments follow. The best course is to exchange the word “expectations” for the word “hopes”—and then no matter what happens, you are never disappointed and just accept what is for what it is.
Over the course of the years, knowing Americans as well as I do and knowing what France has to offer, its given me a kind of insight that is tough to have if you’re wearing those rosy-colored glasses. That idyllic life in the French countryside might turn less than idyllic when the reality sets in that you traded a house in suburbia for a house in the middle of nowhere with no one with whom to communicate or commiserate. This is especially true for single women who come to me thinking all they want to do is garden! And then they discover true loneliness…in their garden.
Here’s the checklist of the boxes I believe everyone moving to France should consider, and consider seriously before making a move to France, especially North Americans who are not fluent in French, nor swarming with French friends:
• A thriving American community—ease of making friends. This isn’t a joke. You think you don’t want to be around Americans anymore, but trust me—you’re going to be awfully lonely without your cultural and linguistic compatriots to help you through the trials and tribulations of maneuvering in your new country of residence. Besides, you’re going to meet other Americans just like you, with whom you can connect and relate very quickly. You’ll make so many new friends so fast, that it will make your head spin. And you’ll look back and realize how much you were missing all those years because you weren’t connected with this kind of American! Don’t discount the need to find the others out there. So, pick a place where you can easily find them!
• Fast and easy access to transportation—an international airport, TGV hub, local transport. You can’t imagine how important this is to have the life you want—especially if you imagine yourself traveling all over Europe and beyond. If you are in immediate access to good transportation, you will be using it and having a blast! The three international airports in France are in Paris, Marseille and Nice. Be as close to them as you can if you want to hop on a plane to go to Venice for the weekend at less than 100€! Need to take a train for a few hours to get to one of them? That takes time, money and energy, so think again!
• Necessity or not of having a car at your disposal (French Driving License). Want to live free of the burden of a car or the need to get a French driving license? Can you imagine what it’s like to no longer need to live in that bubble you’ve been living in all these years?…the bubble of going from your house to your car to your supermarket to your car to the restaurant to the car to the…etc., etc., etc. When you live in a place with great public transportation, you are free to go from Point A to Point B to Point C and so forth, without ever having to go back to the car you parked! You become a free person! So, choose a place that offers that freedom!
• Cost of living—but, mainly the cost of housing, for rent or purchase. The cost of living in France is pretty consistent across the board, with the exception of housing. Paris is the most expensive destination for both rent or purchase, and some areas of France are more affordable than others. Match this with your budget, but don’t forget that everything is going to cost you less, especially if you’ve saved $10,000 a year just by giving up that car! (According to the latest research from AAA, the average yearly cost to own and operate a new vehicle in 2022 is $10,728, or $894 per month.) Spend your money differently and make it count.
• Access to good healthcare and hospitals. If you’re my age, or even 10 or 15 years younger, this is something you should be thinking about. Healthcare in France is top-notch at a bargain, but do you really want to be too far away from a good hospital with formidable physicians and equipment? Not me! Small towns in France aren’t going to be equipped, except for the most basic of care, so don’t discount this check box too lightly.
• Business opportunities or cultural activities? Which is more important or is both? Maybe you don’t care about business anymore, but what about cultural activities? Isn’t this one reason you want to move to France to begin with? Paris is a cultural Mecca with more to do than you will have time in your life to do it in. Other cities in France offer quite a lot, but none more than Paris. Still, if you’re in rural France, you’ll limit that even further. I’m not suggesting that Paris is the only spot in France for culture, but don’t discount your need for such creative stimulation!
• Language level—do you need or want to speak English? If you’re not fluent in French, then landing in the countryside where the locals can barely understand you may not be such a good idea. Either bone up on your French or think about living in a more international spot where language will not be your biggest problem. It can get awfully lonely and frustrating if you can’t communicate!
• Urban vs rural environment—apartment living vs village house or house in the countryside? This goes back to all of the above check-off boxes. Urbanity will offer up most of everything on the list, but with it can come traffic congestion, pollution, noise, a fast-paced life, etc., so, maybe a mix is a bit better—like a smaller city or village house where you can still walk to the “boulangerie” for your morning baguette. Think about where you’ve lived before, what you liked about it and what you didn’t like about it, before you decide.
The cities in France I rank high on the list are:
1. Paris: urban lifestyle, but a high cost of living. Paris has it all, and perhaps more that you don’t want, too. The downsides are higher cost, cool, rainy weather, pollution, noise, etc., etc., but you’ll never be for want of things to do or people to meet. For those wanting to enhance their professional lives, this is where there is the most opportunity. Travel from Paris to anywhere in the world is easy. And there’s the caché of being a Parisian—the city that is the number one tourist destination in the world and where most people dream of living!
2. Nice and the Riviera: urban-suburban lifestyle, with a moderate cost of living. Nice is not only nice, it’s pretty close to perfect. Access to it’s international airport is easy and inexpensive. The North American community is growing by leaps and bounds, but it’s very international and locals speak many languages. Events and cultural activities abound. The weather is the best in the country—warm and moderate. The diet is Mediterranean, which is considered the healthiest in the world. It has tons of great hospitals and it’s absolutely drop dead beautiful. It offers a much more relaxed life than Paris, with friendlier people, most of which is accessible by foot, although public transportation is tops.
3. Aix-en-Provence: urban-suburban lifestyle, with a moderate cost of living. Aix-en-Provence is a smaller town life, but vibrant and young thanks to the number of universities. It’s a 30-minute drive to the Marseille international airport and three hours by TGV to Paris and 2.75 hours to Nice. The weather is generally warmer, but can be hot in the middle of summer. There is a growing and active Anglophone community, while the cost of living is less than Paris or Nice.
4. Lille: urban lifestyle, with a lower cost of living. I recently discovered Lille as an interesting alternative primarily because of its proximity to several major cities—Paris, Brussels, London, and Amsterdam. All of these international cities are accessible by TGV, offering many alternatives to air travel. Lille’s student population keeps it young. Being close to the Belgium border offers up a big Anglophone community, particularly the British. The cost of living is less than in Paris and the south, but the trade-off is the weather, as it’s cooler and wetter.
Other cities gaining interest, such as Lyon, Bordeaux or Toulouse, just don’t make the grade in my book. While they are lovely cities in which to live, you’ll be a lot more trapped in any of these places if what you want to do is explore Europe and beyond.
And isn’t that one of the big reasons to live in France?
The Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Considering a property purchase in France? Don’t do it lightly. Let us help you make the smartest decisions to ensure you make the best investment you can. We can also expertly advise you how best to create a profitable rental. Contact us to learn more.