Feeling at Home in France


Something I get asked a lot by newcomers to France is how long it took me to feel truly settled. The short answer is: Over two years later, I’m still not.

I’ve lived in other countries in the past, sometimes for even less than two years, and had been able to set myself up there and feel “at home” much faster than I have in Paris. Why? I speak French, have French friends, work in a French office… So why do I still feel like my settling here is still a work in progress?

I chalk the majority of these feelings up to France’s famous (and utterly relentless) bureaucracy.

Upon my arrival, I’d planned to spend a few months living with a British friend, passing a fun spring and summer in Paris before she had to return to England to attend med school. We soon found out that things we thought would be easy – like finding an apartment to rent and opening a bank account  – were minefields of unexpected difficulties.

We got our first taste of the French catch-22 – needing an apartment to open a French bank account, and a French bank account rent an apartment. The end result was we ended up in an overpriced flat by République, rented to us by an owner who would go on to scam us in a multitude of ways – but at least it enabled to us to have bank accounts!

As we acquired one thing after another in the following months, things got a bit easier, and I felt more carefree and at ease exploring Paris. I was also rapidly making new friends and acquaintances, which definitely helped me feel more at home and like I was finding my place in the city. I even snagged a well-paid CDD job, that while short term, gave me my first French work experience!

Then came my first visa renewal. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to live in France on a working holiday visa, a 12-month visa that can be renewed twice with two six-month autorisations provisoire de séjour for a total of 24 months. I was worried sick about renewing at the préfecture, and spent weeks stressing over my coming appointment, worried I’d be one paper short of a full dossier and be kicked out when I’d just started.

While the renewal was a relatively nightmarish experience (six hours waiting around and a very unpleasant woman dealing with my file), I succeeded in getting my renewal and felt like I had a new lease on my life in France. I adopted a cat, moved twice (another scam, followed by -finally – a legitimate rental with a fair price and landlord), began a CDI at a different company, and finally acquired a French social security number and carte vitale.

Before I knew it, I was at my second renewal, which was no more painful than the first. But that was when the stress set in again. I had the sinking realization that I had six months left on a temporary visa that was non-renewable in France. No matter what, I’d need to go back to Canada at that six month mark – and so I had to scramble to get my next visa, what I hoped would lead me to an elusive carte de séjour.

What followed was half a year of stress and depression. I won’t bother sugarcoating it. I’d begun working together with my company to put together my file to apply for a working visa in France – a carte de séjour salarié – and it was horribly tedious and nerve-wracking.

After a lot of work on both ends we submitted an application several inches thick to the DIRECCTE, and then had to wait for months for their reply. All the time I was on pins and needles and unable to sleep, worried sick that I’d need to pack up my life & cat and go back to Canada. What would happen if I was rejected? I didn’t want to know.

One month short of my visa expiry date, we finally received the answer: I was going to be granted salarié status. I cried in the office of my HR, I was so relieved and happy. It was like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders, one that had been building for the past two years.

After that, I was one letter from OFII and one email from VFS away from returning to Canada for a few weeks to get my new visa. Despite the tragedy that happened within minutes of my touching the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle – Notre Dame was engulfed in flames, something I couldn’t help but take as a bad omen – the noticeable change I felt once back in Paris on my new status was not negative, but oddly and overwhelmingly positive.

No longer burdened by the stress of immigration, and feeling assured I was going to be able to stay for the long haul, I felt more comfortable seeing Paris and France as my new home. I explored new places in my neighbourhood, and began to have local haunts and favourite shops. I made new friends – and made more time for old ones. I was happier at work and more chatty with colleagues. I attended my afterwork French classes through the Mairie with a new zest and motivation to perfect my language skills in preparation for the C1 exam I hope to write this year. I wasn’t even bothered when doing taxes for the first time!

While I’m much happier and settled now, it’s still a work in progress. Now that I have all the immigration and bureaucratic obligations out of the way, I can free up my time to do the things that I feel would make Paris truly “home” – exploring more of the city and its arrondissements, making friends with more locals, finding new go-to spots, becoming more involved in my community, beginning the process towards buying an apartment… Things that allow me to truly invest in my life here, both literally and figuratively.

I’m excited to see how it goes.



  1. Wow interesting read, I can relate to never quite feeling settled having moved around a lot to study throughout the past few years myself… home will always be home! But I hope you have settled somewhat now and are enjoying your ‘home’ from home!


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