Moving to Paris: What You Need to Know as an Expat

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The city of Paris has always captivated millions with its wide boulevards and leafy cobblestoned streets, and thus known as the "City of Lights" and "City of Romance." Nevertheless, for the consummate professional, the opportunity to move to France and the experience of working and living in Paris is a noteworthy achievement. Planning to move to Paris is vastly different from actually living in Paris itself. Will all those expat guides live up to your own expat experience eventually? Find out what you need to know before moving to Paris as an expat.


Région Parisienne


Undoubtedly a beautiful city, there's certainly more to Paris than its famous landmarks and sights like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre. The City of Paris is part of Île-de-France, also known as the Paris Region (région Parisienne), and the most densely populated among the 18 regions of France. It has an estimated current population of 12.24 million people and covers 12,012 square kilometers. Paris is one of the eight administrative departments that comprise Île-de-France, and the others are Paris, Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, Seine-et-Marne, Val-de-Marne, Val-d'Oise and Yvelines.


The Paris Region accounts for nearly 30 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of France and serves as the country's economic hub. Almost all of the 28 French companies in the Fortune Global 500 have their headquarters in the Paris Region. These include the country's major banks such as BNP Paribas, Société Générale, and Crédit Agricole, the telecommunications and electric utility companies of Orange S.A., Veolia, and Électricité de France, and the global oil company Total S.A. French automobile manufacturers Renault and Groupe PSA maintains their research centers and plants in the area.


The region is also home to other historical points of interest such as the Palace of Versailles, Palace of Fontainebleau, and Disneyland Paris. Housed in a historical building in the heart of Paris is the country's stock market, Euronext Paris, formerly known as Bourse de Paris. Euronext is ranked fourth among the global stock markets after New York, Tokyo, and London.


France: Forward to the Future


Paris is one of the world's top destinations, not only for tourism but for expatriates and immigrants as well, with visitor arrivals in 2017 reaching 23 million. According to data from INSEE, the national statistics bureau of France, the country's population was around 65.2 million in January 2012, including 5.7 million immigrants. Of these, 2.2 million people chose to live in the Paris urban area. In January 2018, the country's population reached an all-time high of 67.19 million and is expected to grow to 74 million by 2050, according to INSEE.


However, there's a big difference between visiting Paris as a tourist and living in Paris as a resident. Expats who moved to France cite a big improvement in their quality of living, as well as better childcare and education for their kids. Based on HSBC's most recent Expat Explorer Survey, France is one of the top 20 countries, placing 11th on the list. It also has the sixth largest economy in the world, and the third biggest in Europe after Germany and the United Kingdom. Paris is ranked as the 19th most liveable city in the world, according to the latest Cost of Living Survey from The Economist.


Among the industries contributing to the current economy are its services sector and the fashion industry. With tourist arrivals in France averaging 84 million visitors per year, tourism provides a bulk of the job opportunities, with 70 percent of the working population employed in the service industry. Fashion is yet another major contributor, with Paris staging six Fashion Weeks per year that attracts millions, and fashion-related businesses generating around EUR 150 billion annually.


Paris is eager to cement its reputation as a global finance center by offering massive support to its fast-growing fintech sector. Analysts at global asset management firm Schroders state that due to the uncertainty surrounding the UK due to Brexit, Paris could attract more financial services from London, and entice those interested in finding a job in the industry. The French government under president Emmanuel Macron hopes to maintain the regulatory competitiveness of finance companies, lowering the costs of acquiring financial services staff in France, and cutting the country's corporate tax from 33 percent to 25 percent to attract more investors.


Getting a Visa and Work Permit


If you're moving to Paris for work, it's essential that you have a job offer from your company in order to obtain a valid entry visa and a work permit. The first thing you need to know is if you need a visa to enter France.


Nationals hailing from the 28 EU member states and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland are not required to apply for a visa to enter France, guaranteeing them the right to travel, work, and live in France without any restrictions. If you're unsure whether you or your family require a visa to stay in France, visit the French government's French Visa website at and use the Visa Wizard tool. For country-specific requirements, visit your home country's French embassy or consulate to find out how much time is needed for the application process.


Long-Stay Visa and Short-Stay Visas


For nationals from outside the European Union, there are two general types of visas you can apply for, depending on the purpose of your travel to France: the long-stay visa and short-stay visas.


Short-stay visas or visa de court séjour is also known as the Schengen visa and issued for the purposes of tourism, business trips or family visits. It's also available for those traveling to France in order to attend training programs, internships, conferences or corporate meetings that should not exceed 90 days.


On the other hand, if you're taking up paid employment in Paris longer than three months, then you need to apply for a long-stay visa, work permit and residence permit, which your employer must sponsor and obtain on your behalf. The long-stay visa only allows you to enter France, while the work permit and residence permit allow you to legally work and live in France.


Long-stay visas or visa de long séjourallows non-EU nationals to stay in France longer than 90 days, and give them the opportunity to obtain a residence permit to live in France for a specific period. If qualified, expats may try to apply for a long-stay visa equivalent to a residence permit or the VLS-TS (visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour). This allows the holder not only to enter France but also to live in the country from three up to 12 months without having to apply for a residence permit.


The long-stay visa is applicable for those who wish to enter France for both personal and professional reasons, including family reunification, retirement or paid employment. The visa stipulates how long you can live in France and grants the holder the same rights as those who hold a temporary residence permit or multi-year residence permit. This also makes the visa holder eligible to apply for a residence permit at the Préfecture of their place of residence. For general information about long-stay visas, please visit


Choosing Where to Live in Paris


If there's one thing that expats currently living in France agree about, it's the high cost of living in the French capital. Paris took second place in The Economist's Cost of Living Survey released in March 2018 but ranked 34th in Mercer's Cost of Living Survey published in June of the same year.


Accommodations take up the biggest expense in household income, especially if you choose to live in the more affluent arrondissements. The 20 arrondissements – similar to London's boroughs – are arranged in a clockwise, spiral shape starting from the city center and are numbered. Note that more than 60 percent of the buildings in Paris were built in 1949 or earlier, and around 20 percent were put up in 1949 in the aftermath of rebuilding the city after World War II.


While there are no restrictions on foreigners about buying property in Paris, many expats, especially first-timers, opt to rent an apartment instead. Apartment rentals in Paris are high, to begin with, and location definitely affects the rental costs, whether you end up living on the Left Bank or Right Bank, or near any of the Métro stations.


For expatriates with young children, the suburbs may offer more spacious accommodations. If you plan to live right in the city, expect to pay at least EUR 2,000 or more for unfurnished apartments while furnished ones with modern appliances may cost upwards of EUR 4,000. Residences are in high demand perpetually in Paris so be prepared to compete with other prospective tenants.


The Expat Life in Paris: What to Expect


Many of the expats who moved to the city and ended up retiring in France later on mention that life in Paris as an expatriate can be good, perhaps even better than in their home country. For those with children, having their kids attend local French schools enables them to learn French and adjust to their new life. While English is spoken widely in France, those who speak French fluently definitely have an advantage over those who don't speak French at all.


Speaking the language will also help expats understand and navigate French bureaucracy that is part of everyday life in the country. According to the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, 90 percent of the expats in France interviewed learned French or at least started learning it when they moved. Whether it's getting a residence permit at the Préfecture, opening a bank account or seeing a doctor, knowing and speaking even rudimentary French will make assimilating easier.


The public healthcare system in France is considered one of the best in the world and is funded by the government through taxes and employee contributions. However, for your own peace of mind, a comprehensive international health insurance plan may help offset any additional expenses for medical care for the duration of your stay.

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