What Living as an Expat in France is Really Like

What living in France is really like

Today, for my Living Abroad series, I’m chatting with Diane, a New Jersey native who has been living in France as an expat since 2012. Here, she shares about French style, cheek kisses, and the honest ups and downs of being an American expat in France.

She also shares her tips for future expats in France, detailing the cost of living, how to learn French, and the best things about living in France as an American, including healthcare that won’t bankrupt you. So if you’re wondering, “What is it like to live in France?” here are the pros and cons of living abroad in France.

Quick facts about living in France:

  • Language: French
  • Currency: € Euro (EUR)
  • Level of crime in France: Moderate (similar to United States and Iraq)
  • Cost of living in France: Moderate
  • Quality of life in France: Very High
What living in France is really like
What living in France is really like

Diane’s background:

Bonjour! I’m Diane, an American originally from New Jersey. I moved to France in 2012 shortly after marrying my French husband, Tom. We live in the Maine-et-Loire region, outside Angers, with our dog, Dagny.

I work in marketing and communications and also have a blog and YouTube channel called Oui In France. It’s a living abroad lifestyle blog where I share about my experience as an American living in France (and not in Paris!) 

On culture shock: Little things that have surprised me like long Sunday lunches with the family, seeing horse meat at the grocery store, stores closing for lunch and not being open on Sundays, etc.

But I think it’s important to keep an open mind and to not view things as automatically wrong. Life abroad will be different but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

What living in France is really like

On learning French: One of the tougest things for Americans living in France is learning French. I think it’s a necessity to learn French if you plan on living here, both out of respect for the French and to make your life easier. In a small town, it would be nearly impossible to get by without French.

I had a low to intermediate level of French when I first arrived, and the hardest thing was understanding actual people speaking real-life French. It’s nothing like what we learn in school and hear in exercises or basic conversations. The speed, the slang, the vocab; it was so overwhelming at first.

But it got easier and now I can hold my own no problem. With mistakes, of course, since I’m always learning.

On the cost of living in France: Certain things in France are more expensive, like gas and tolls, but other things make up for it, such as affordable healthcare, bread, cheese, and wine. You can get a 1BR apartment, maybe 700 sq. ft., in a nice building where I live for 450 euros/month. But keep in mind I’m not in a big city.

What living in France is really like

On the weather: There are four distinct seasons where I live in western France. The summer temperatures are similar to New York City temperatures but it feels hotter in France because air conditioning isn’t as commonplace.

The winter, though, tends to be warmer. There’s lots of rain and temperatures hover around the forties.

What living in France is really like

On cheek kisses: Instead of a hug or a “Hey!” with a wave, the French greet each other with a kiss on each side of the cheek, which is called the bise.

The bise still doesn’t feel natural to me — it’s excessive! — but you just have to roll with it. I wear glasses so it’s always a pain when you encounter someone else with glasses. 

On French style: Overall, French women tend to be a little more dressy than Americans I’d say — tailored jeans, a button-down shirt, and dressy shoes instead of a tee, destroyed jeans and flip flops — but it really depends on the person. Anything goes.

I find that French women seem to be confident in their style choices which is nice to see. I regularly see women over 50 in mini skirts and heels, just rocking their own style.

On healthcare: As a permanent resident of France, I get French healthcare like any citizen would, and a portion of my earnings go toward the universal system. Medical fees are very reasonable: visiting a General Practioner costs 25 euros or so, and then 70% is automatically reimbursed through French social security. Beyond that, you can opt for supplementary insurance called a “mutuelle” that will give you even more coverage.

Basically, French healthcare won’t bankrupt you in the event of an accident and it’s not tied to your job status. So if you or a family member has a serious health condition and you lose your job, you’ll still be insured. 

On feeling safe: I feel safe here, but I’m always vigilant and aware of my surroundings just like when I lived in New York City. There have been a few break-ins on my street over the past couple of years, and just recently, someone attempted to rob a few stores in my neighborhood with a knife.

What living in France is really like

On making friends: Making friends has been the hardest part of living abroad for me. I don’t really have a social network where I live — French or any other nationality — and I’ve kind of accepted that. It’s hard to meet American expats in France when you live outside Paris.

It’s not for a lack of trying! I’m not religious but I’ve gone to church in hopes of meeting people and signed up on meet-up sites, but it’s difficult to make friends as an adult anywhere. It’s definitely not a France problem.

Living in France

On the real France: I feel like foreigners have very romantic, idealized notions of France and the French. They seem to think that everyone is thin and beautiful and fashionable and they all just sit around at cafes drinking coffee and wine and eating baguettes. 

While France is beautiful and charming, it’s also a real place with real people and their problems. But all in all, France truly is gorgeous and I find the people to be generous and kind.

What living in France is really like

On living in France long-term: I could see myself moving back to the USA at some point and I know my husband would like to have that experience as well. But in the near future? I don’t think so. We’d lose a bit of money on our house and right now France is home.

There are a lot of positives to being an expat living in France, such as the work/life balance (five weeks of paid vacation per year and healthcare that won’t bankrupt you). But sometimes you never know and life can change in an instant. I’ll never say that France is my forever hom e or that the US is either. We always have options and sometimes life takes an unexpected path.

What living in France is really like

Thank you so much, Diane!

Over to you! Is this how you pictured expat life in France? Would you like to hear from more expats living in France?


Read more:

How to Order a Baguette Like a Parisian

French Eating Habits I’m Taking Home With Me

15 Things I Learned About Wine After a Year in France

What I Miss (And Don’t Miss!) About Living in France

What Living as an Expat in London is Really Like

What Living as an Expat in Madrid is Really Like

What Living as an Expat in Scotland is Really Like

What Living as an Expat in Norway is Really Like

What Living as an Expat in Hamburg is Really Like

What Living as an Expat in Stockholm is Really Like

What Living as an Expat in the Czech Republic is Really Like

The Real Truth About Dating as an Expat

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6 thoughts on “What Living as an Expat in France is Really Like”

  1. Ashley-thanks so much for showcasing Diane. She has been so super helpful during my move to France. I love how she showcases others as well! And…hello from another Coloradan!

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