Paris, France Report of what it's like to live there - 02/14/15
Personal Experiences from Paris, France
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No - I have been all over Africa and the Middle East.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington DC, easy direct 6-7 hr flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
For USG there two options: apartments in the city, and apartments on government-owned compounds in the 'burbs. Unless you have a gaggle of small children and a spouse at home to take care of them, you do not want to be on the compounds. The commute is double the worst in-city commute (20 minutes vs 45). Plus it's former military housing, so you do the math. The apartments in the city vary in size and style, but most are plenty spacious. (I'm single and have a 3 BR 3 BATHS apartment in a nice part of the city.) It's much nicer than anything you could afford on your own as a government employee, or than most French people you encounter will have. They tend to be in old buildings that can be quirky, but charm is the flip side to that coin. Beautiful crown moldings, wood floors, marble fireplaces..
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Not many U.S. brands but if you don't care about brands you can get whatever you need. Plus, Amazon.com.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None. A lot of people seem to bring U.S. toilet paper, but since the local stuff is perfectly good, and you won't have much in the way of storage, I don't recommend that.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle (yes, 3 of them). But don't go there, eat at one of the 13,000+ restaurants in the city. It is possible to find some reasonably priced meals, and considering the fast food is double the U.S. prices, you might as well!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via embassy DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
This is changing since the French government changed its rules about sponsoring foreign housekeepers, so some of the people who are here now doing this work may have to leave. At present I have someone who comes 1/2 day a week for 12 Euro per hour. I haven't heard anything about the availability of any French citizens willing to do this work.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Tiny, crappy gym at the Embassy. Some other options in town that are very expensive (over US$150/month). Just get out and walk or you can run and bike along the Seine and in the huge and lovely parks.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Ubiquitous, but get a French card with a smart chip - you'll have to open a bank account anyway to pay for cable, internet,etc.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Not sure, probably most.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It definitely helps but more and more people speak English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Somewhat difficult. The metros make zero accommodations -- very few elevators, etc. The buses, however, are accessible with a ramp that extends to the sidewalk. I've seen a couple people in wheelchairs use them.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes and yes. Taxis are a little spendy, but Uber is here and getting very popular (except with the taxi drivers). If you will be using metro or bus for your daily commute, get a Navigo card and you never have to worry about refilling as it is set up on an automatic debit with your French bank account (see above).
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Nothing too big, though people do bring SUVs. The parking spaces are tiny. You'll only need it for going on shopping or vacation trips out of the city.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, the embassy arranges a cable-internet-phone package from Numericable for about 50 euro a month. You can also get it on your own from other companies.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can get whatever you like here, but more expensive. Bring an unlocked phone and get a local SIM.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No quarantine required, good vets are available.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
If you don't have EU work papers then you have to find a company willing to sponsor you. It helps if you have a unique or in demand skill set. Otherwise, there are always EFM jobs at the Embassy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The French aren't really into volunteerism, as they expect the state to take care of things we might rely on volunteers to do. That said, there are some and you can find details by doing an internet search, key word 'benevole.'
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The French smartly, though I see some wear jeans to work. I think its less formal than it used to be. No shorts in public please.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Like any big city, watch your wallet/purse, especially on the metro. Some folks have had smartphones stolen out of their hands on the metro. Then there's the occasional terrorist attack...
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Excellent medical care is available.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Usually fine, but there was a week where one could only drive every other day (based on license plate) in order to reduce smog.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Summers are mild but can have a hot spell and there's precious little AC in this country. Winter will tend between 20-40F. Spring and fall are mild. Overall better weather than DC.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several that people seem to be happy with.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are some, but difficult to get in to. You have to work the system early and often. This is one of the biggest challenges here for expats.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge expat community but very disparate, so hard to gauge overall morale. I'd be surprised if it weren't pretty good.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Dining out or dining in with friends. Cafe scene, walks through interesting quartiers, movies, theatre, shopping, museums etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All, though it can be expensive to dine out with a family.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are some tensions, but nothing you wouldn't see in the U.S. these days.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Exploring all the fabulousness France has to offer - wine festivals, champagne country, museums, etc. It's nonstop.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are volumes written on this See Rick Steve's Paris, or Rick Steve's France.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Foie gras, champagne, lavender, lovely clothes, good restaurants.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
AMAZING food, wine and culture/museums galore. Tons to do in the city, and its easy to get around and see the rest of the country and Europe for that matter.
10. Can you save money?
I hope not. If you are with the U.S. government and get a COLA then MAYBE, but you'll spend it travelling, if you have any sense.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I had previously lived here, so not many surprises.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Loud American demeanor.
4. But don't forget your:
Wallet and sense of adventure.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
7. Do you have any other comments?
Best assignment yet, wish I could stay longer!