Despite what Hollywood might tell you, moving to Paris is unfortunately not as simple as walking into the airport, suitcase in hand, and hopping onto a plane to your happily ever after.
For months, I’ve been doing research on how to move abroad, from visas to arrondissements. With all the details of “how to get there” finally settled, I’ve moved on to “what to do when you get there.” I’ve been looking for any and all expat wisdom from those who’ve gone before me.
Lucky for me, British expat blogger extraordinaire Chloe Martin, over at mylifelivingabroad.com, was willing to dish some of her best advice for moving to Paris after 5 years living there herself…
10 Things I Wish I had Known Before Moving to Paris
Let’s be honest, there aren’t many people who would argue with you if you said Paris was the most beautiful city in the world. It’s charming, romantic and incredibly alluring, what could possibly go wrong when moving here?
Paris is very different to life in other big cities, and after living here for five years now I can honestly say there are plenty of things I wish I had known before I actually moved here. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Paris, but knowing these things would have just made my life a LOT easier. So here are my top ten.
- You can’t dress up in Paris like you dress up in England. Bare legs are a huge no no, as is fake tan and too much makeup. It’s impossible to even buy sun shimmer here (sorry girls, you better get used to it) and fake tan in general is just a foreign concept to the Parisians. I wish I knew that wearing a fairly short dress, fake tan and my ‘night out’ makeup in Paris would result in men thinking I was a lady of the night. French girls COVER UP! Listen and learn ladies.
- You need to bring photocopies of every semi-important document you have ever received. The French are absolutely OBSESSED with paperwork and a lot of places will ask you for copies of any number of documents. You also need a translated copy of your birth certificate, done by an authenticated French translator, so get this done once you arrive. Last of all, you need to keep copies of everything you EVER receive while in France. I guarantee you that you will need it one day.
You can’t get a bank account without an apartment but you can’t get an apartment without a bank account. Sound confusing? It is. In Paris you need to prepare a ‘dossier’ before you are able to even attempt to find somewhere to live. The best thing to do when you first move here and have no French address (obviously), is to get a friend or someone you know living in Paris to write you an attestation d’habitation to say that you live with them. That way you can open a bank account and as soon as you find a flat (thanks to the bank account) you can change your address. Of course, choose someone you trust, as they will receive your letters from the bank!
- You need to start your Carte Vitale process as soon as you have an address and a job. The French healthcare system is one of the best in the world, but getting the card is about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. The process takes between 6 and 12 months so start it as soon as you arrive to be sure to receive it as quickly as possible.
- You should get a Navigo, never buy tickets.
Compared to London the tickets aren’t actually expensive but it’s still cheaper to get a Navigo. For only 70 euros a month you can travel within ANY zones of Paris (1-5) on any day, at any time. All you need to do is go to a big station like Chatelet and they will help you create your card which you can then charge monthly or annually.
- You must learn how to say you are ill in French. Learn ALL the basics: I have a cold, I have the flu, my body aches, I have a fever, my throat is sore, my nose is blocked, etc. No matter what your French level is you need to know these basic expressions in French. In France the pharmacies are so efficient that you often don’t need to go and see the doctor. However if you can’t explain your symptoms clearly you will soon realise how much money you can waste on medicine that won’t cure your illness. Make sure you can tell the pharmacist exactly what is wrong. It will save your wallet from taking a beating.
- The Cinema is REALLY EXPENSIVE. Get the loyalty card. Cinema tickets are around 10 euros for most people and around 7 euros for students or people under 26. There are certain week days where it’s cheaper but it’s still a LOT more expensive than in the UK. However, the silver lining is that France does a loyalty card for big cinema companies like UGC or Gaumont. Pay 20 euros a month and see all the movies you want. Even several in one day. It’s a real money-saver.
Getting a VELIB subscription is too cheap not to. A 1-year velib pass (the bicycles in Paris) costs 29 or 39 euros depending on if you want the first 30 minutes or the first 45 minutes free. Either way you look at it, it is such a BARGAIN and the velib stations are everywhere so you’re never short of a bike! It’s also amazing to rent a bike in the summer and avoid the non-air-conditioned metros.
- The Tax System is very different. The good news is that as a foreigner you don’t pay taxes during your first year in France so for the first year there’s nothing to worry about. However, if you arrive in 2015 and start working, you will pay taxes on your earnings the following year. Everything is paid the year after so make sure you put money aside to pay for your taxes when they come around. Taxes are very high in France so this is really important and if you pay late or not at all you can incur huge fines. Ask a friend or colleague who knows the system to help you out!
- French women not getting fat is a myth.
French women eat more cheese than us, drink more wine than us and digest more baguette than us but miraculously they stay slim! So we will too, right?? Wrong…French women work really hard to maintain their figures. They work out several times a week, they eat bread and cheese and drink wine but all in moderation and they don’t binge drink or eat. They also order a burger and never touch the bread, so until you can learn this kind of discipline, you will not stay as slim as your French counterparts.
So there you have it, my top ten things I wish I had known before I dragged my Union Jack covered suitcase across the pond. If you are thinking about making the move to Paris, I hope these points will be helpful for you and will shed some light on la ville de la lumière!
With just a few days to go before I start my own Paris adventure, this is just the sort of advice I’m looking for. Don’t forget to check out Chloe’s work over at My Life Living Abroad! You can also find her (and other great info for and by expat women) on Inspirelle.com.