The Reality of Moving to and Living in Paris


I have written a number of essays on this blog about the realities of moving to Paris, from reflections on the difficulties of finding an apartment, to struggling to feel at home due to the relentless French bureaucracy, to the multi-year slog that was securing a long-term titre de séjour that gave me working rights in France.

With my three-year anniversary of living in the city now come and gone (while in confinement, in typical 2020 fashion), I’ll be the first to admit that I worked really hard to make my life in France and secure my rights to stay here for the long haul.

Maybe if I had come as a student, or if I had married a French citizen, my path would’ve been easier. That said, I have friends who are in those exact situations and their efforts to become parisien haven’t been a walk in the park either. Because to be brutally honest, whether you’ve come to study, for love, to work, or whatever your motivation, and whether you’re an EU citizen or not, moving to Paris is hard.

An avid member of expat-related Facebook groups, I see publications from time to time from people dreaming of making Paris their home, many whom have an idealistic notion of the city and think that moving to Paris and finding a job is as easy as Google translating your CV and being hired on the spot, and having their pick of a number of charming Haussmann studio apartments within a few hours of landing. Sometimes seeing this type of post makes me want to scream that it’s not what they expect, that it’s not that easy – on the contrary, it’s the most difficult country I’ve ever emigrated to!

But I catch myself. While stints living in three other European countries meant I had absolutely no illusions about how difficult it would be to secure a residence permit, I used to have a dreamy vision of Paris and thought it would be relatively simple to move to, as I spoke French and had some friends in the city. Said vision was quickly shattered in my first year here, and again in the second year… But I’m still here, in the third year, and have no plans to leave despite all of the hardship.

Because while Paris is not what I imagined it would be, and while it has been fraught with challenges, I still love it here, and I thought and still think it was worth the struggle.

The same cannot be said for everyone. I’d need more than two hands to count the number of friends I’ve had leave after a year or two because they couldn’t find a job, secure another visa, find a long term place to live, or were quite simply fed up and decided to leave for a place where life would be simpler. Many arrived with very optimistic views of the French capital and did not anticipate that it would be so hard.

That is why I try to be as honest as possible on my blog about what it’s really like to move to, live in, and settle in Paris. While everyone should be excited to move to a new city and dream big, I firmly believe that this needs to be underpinned by the reality of things. I also encourage people to do as much research as possible before making the jump, so that they can be better prepared and not be blindsided by the avalanche of bureaucracy and administrative procedures coming their way. I for one wish I had, as it would’ve saved me a lot of tears, headaches, and early morning trips to government buildings.

This essay is not all doom and gloom, though! I can confidently say that compared to my first and second year in France, the third year has been a dream so far (global pandemic withstanding). I have a 4-year carte de séjour that lets me work, a long term housing contract for a studio apartment that I absolutely adore, and am all set up with social security, healthcare, banking, transportation, and everything else you need to survive in France. Sure, I need to continue to do a tax declaration every year (always a daunting task), but besides that I don’t anticipate any trips to the prefecture, immigration office, labour bureau, or any other government entity that would threaten the stability of my stay.

In short, I feel at peace. Like I can finally relax and put down roots without fear of a major upheaval.

Yes, three years is a long time to have to wait to feel this way, but I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Upon my arrival, whenever I met an expat who’d been here for a few years or more – a rarity! – I’d eagerly inquire how long it took them to feel settled. Two to three years was always the answer. I thought I’d be able to do it faster, just as I’d managed to complete some other processes sooner than expected, but in the end it took me just as long as everybody else.

So if you’re looking for an honest answer, that’s it. I apologize if it’s not what you want to hear, and I can’t give a proper explanation for it besides one that I find is the explanation for so many things here: it’s simply how things are in France.

So would I still encourage people to move to Paris? Yes, absolutely. It’s a great city. There is an endless list of things to do, places to see, and when you get bored (impossible) there is the rest of this magnificent country to explore. The food is exquisite, the wine more so, the people are wonderful with a great sense of humour and, in my personal opinion, the language is one of the most beautiful. Whether you want to stay for a few months or the rest of your life, I think it’s worth a shot. Just be prepared and be ready to put in some hard work if one day you’d like to call Paris home!


  1. I’m glad you’re honest about moving to France. I make a point of being honest about expat life in general on my blog because it is hard! There are many struggles being an expat and also a third culture kid, like I am. I think I heard that 1 in 3 expats return home after their first year or so, and I’m not surprised. There comes a time where a country either works out for you, or it doesn’t, and I have been through the doesn’t twice already and the US didn’t work out even though it is my passport country and my parents are American! Then again, with everything that’s happening in the US, it feels like moving to another country is better for well-being


    1. I think it’s important to be honest about living abroad, especially when it comes to a place like Paris that has a lot of myth attached to it, as a lot of people have a false idea of what it’s like to actually be an expat. I’m not surprised by that figure as I definitely see it reflected in the number of friends I’ve had return home after a few years, during my time in Europe. I think there definitely does come a time where you just realize it works or not, and either continue fighting or go home. But there is no shame in feeling like the US is not working out for you – I’m Canadian and left my home country nearly a decade ago, and have no plans to go back. My family is Canadian and I was born and raised there, but I feel no desire at all to go back and feel I don’t fit in there and am not as happy there as I am in Europe. Just because you hold a passport there doesn’t mean you need to stay forever – if someone has the chance to move to a place where they think they could be happier I encourage people to take it. Wishing you the best in the future, and that you manage to find a country where you can be happier and have a better sense of well-being!


      1. I definitely think there is a false idea of expat life. I know other people who say outright they could never live in another country, but you wonder how can someone know if they don’t try?
        Thanks for your kind wishes. I grew up in London, but I left because my life crumbled there. I am moving to Canada, and we’ll see. I’ve done both culture shock and reverse culture shock and I feel prepared. Whatever will happen will happen!


  2. A realistic and informative post! I think people have this romanticized notion of moving to Paris (mostly perpetrated by the media with shows like Emily in Paris) and they don’t realize that reality is very much different from what TV shows portray. Overall people think expat life- in an y country- is just an extended holiday and this never translates well when they move abroad!


    1. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed the post! I agree 100% that moving to/living in Paris is highly romanticized, a misconception that has just been made worse by Emily In Paris (don’t even get me started on that series, it’s regarded as a massive joke by expats in France and the majority of French people I’ve discussed it with found it stupid/offensive). I think anyone who moves here thinking it’ll be even remotely like the series is in for a rude awakening. That said, the real Paris is lovely – albeit nothing like what’s seen on TV – and while French bureaucracy is difficult I think it’s worth dealing with in order to stay.

      Liked by 1 person

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