From the excellent healthcare system to the high quality of life and, there are plenty of reasons why France is so attractive to expat families. To help prospective expats make sure France is the right choice for them, this article explores lifestyle, cost of living, education options and more – with the help of two seasoned expats living in France.
1. Rewarding lifestyle
With an array of leisure opportunities to enjoy and a wonderful work/life balance, an emphasis on spending time with family and enjoying life is clear throughout France. Jennifer, owner and author of Luxe Adventure Travel, who has lived with her husband in Bordeaux France since June 2016, expresses that “work is a means to life, as opposed to the American mindset that we live to work”. This is further emphasised in HSBC’s most recent Expat Explorer Survey, which awarded France third place out of 31 countries for work/life balance.
Surrounded by majestic mountain ranges from the French Alps to the Pyrenees, France offers plenty of opportunities for all kinds of winter-sports and activities. Tina, an expat who has lived in France since 2013, also comments on the incredible amount of leisure opportunities on offer in France.
She begins: “What can I say. In the winter we ski and snowboard and in the summer we go to the beach and paddleboard” – activities that the whole family can enjoy. During the summer months, it’s common to see people out and about, enjoying a glass of wine or two on a pleasantly shaded terrace, the perfect place for parents to unwind.
While life in France “is slower paced than life in the US, it’s not all cafes and croissants when it comes to being an expat in France” warns Jennifer. “It can be difficult to navigate the systems and there is often a lot of paperwork involved that not even the French themselves truly understand. Being an expat in France is something you really have to want to be, to endure and persevere through the various processes and challenges that come with living abroad. In other words, it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone” she continues.
Expat life in general comes with its upsides and downsides, and if you’ve fallen in love with a country that you wish to call home, it’s well worth facing the challenges.
2. Affordable cost of living
The cost of living in France is lower overall than the cost of living in the United States and the United Kingdom. For Jennifer, the cost of living “played a large part in our decision to remain as expats living abroad” because it is cheaper to live in France than the US, especially when it comes to things like personal care and housing.
The low cost of living also had an impact on Tina’s decision to live in France rather than the UK. For Tina, “housing in France is more affordable” than it is in the UK – which is a great prospect for families looking to buy or rent a nice family home, especially if you’re moving from a country like the US or the UK where house prices are generally high.
3. High-quality education system
Scoring fifth place in the world for school quality, France offers a high-quality education system. So whether your children are just starting out their educational journey or whether they’re looking for higher education options, the French education system is well-equipped to tackle all situations.
There are three main types of school systems in France. These include state schools which are run by the government, where lessons are generally taught in French but education is free. The second type of school are state-funded and controlled private schools, which have to follow the French national curriculum and adhere to the same rules and regulations as state schools. The only real difference being that they have smaller class sizes, provide more individual attention and have better facilities than state schools.
Finally, there are privately-funded schools which offer a wider choice of academic subjects and are fully independently funded, and are therefore not under government control. While these facilities can offer a higher education quality than state schools, they can be expensive. International private schools also fall under this category, where lessons are usually taught in English. When attending an international school, your children will also receive intensive French lessons so they can learn the language of their new country.
4. World-class healthcare
The healthcare system in France is widely considered as one of the best in the world. In fact, France ranks a well-earned fifth place out of 68 countries for quality of medical care in InterNations most recent Expat Insider Survey. The high quality of healthcare in France is reflected by the many happy expats and families who use it, and Tina is one of them.
She says, “the health care is exceptional. In the UK, I couldn’t even get an appointment to see my GP. No wonder we Brits have this ‘stiff upper lip’ in term of sickness. It’s the only way! In the last month I’ve had two operations on my hand and the care I received in France is second to none. It is imperative however, that expats do their research and get appropriate health insurance. Health insurance here is obligatory” emphasises Tina.
This is because the French healthcare system, known as Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA) is a hybrid system which is partially state funded through employer and employee taxes, and part funded by individuals (or their insurance providers).
PUMA covers anyone who has been working, or resident, in France for at least 3 months and so before this time, you will either have to fund the cost of any medical care yourself, or you’ll need to invest in a health insurance policy to cover you and your family.
5. Incredible gastronomy
France is a country that is renowned for its influential gastronomy – including mouth-watering wines and rich, fragrant cheeses. You only have to walk by a local bakery and smell the alluring scent of freshly baked bread, to find yourself thinking about which cheese will be best to accompany such a delectable treat.
From bœuf bourguignon (a traditional French stew made of beef braised in red wine, onions, herbs and mushrooms), to soupe à l’oignon (an authentic French soup made of onions and beef stock), France is home to an array of delicious cuisine.
There are plenty of gastronomic delights for your children to enjoy too. While not the healthiest of options, a croque monsieur is as simple as it is delicious. More than just a sandwich, the croque monsieur has been a French staple since the early 1900s – with an interesting background.
It is believed that some French workers left their lunch pails too close to a hot radiator, and the heat toasted the bread and melted the cheese in their sandwiches – creating the croque monsieur that the French know and love today. Traditionally made with crunchy bread, melted Emmental or Gruyère cheese, smoky ham slathered in béchamel sauce and served hot, this hearty dish will more than please kids with an appetite for good food.
To get them to eat their five-a-day, ratatouille is a great option. Traditionally, ratatouille is a thick stew consisting of tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic, courgettes (zucchini) and aubergines (eggplants).
Home to delicious cuisine, an array of leisure options for the whole family to enjoy, and an exceptional healthcare system to keep your family well looked after, it’s no wonder why families hold France in such high regard.