I made a lifelong dream of living in Paris come true when I moved here in 2005 at age 49 after living in New York City for my entire life. I was a chef and caterer in New York, and when I moved here, I reinvented myself as a tour guide, travel writer/blogger, and photographer.
I have led thousands of private tours since 2007 with mostly American clients and the most frequently asked question is: Why and how did you move here? After I tell them my story and they have experienced the magic of Paris and/or other places in France, many of them are inspired, and I have received frequent emails asking how they could move or retire to France.
Below are the top reasons why someone would consider moving to France to retire.
1. Quality Of Life/Lifestyle
Culturally, the French value their leisure time and pleasure more than work. They receive a minimum of five-weeks’ vacation time a year by law, whether they are a supermarket cashier, nurse, or a CEO. In fact, at certain jobs, employees receive more vacation time the longer they stay at the company. It’s common to receive seven to eight weeks of vacation after 10 years.
The French also take dining seriously and spend the longest time in the world eating their meals. Typically, the French take 60-to-90-minute lunches at work, and it’s considered a no-no to have lunch at your desk while working. Dinner is rarely less than two hours. The average work week in France by law is 35 hours, compared to 40 hours a week in the U.S. France also has a strong commitment to family time, and school children have a 2-week vacation every 6 weeks and also have July and August off.
In social situations, most people talk about their leisure time and vacations rather than work, and it’s taboo to discuss or ask what salary someone makes or what they pay for things.
2. Variety Of Places To Visit
Imagine if you had all the different landscapes and terrains in the U.S compacted into the size of Texas. That’s more or less what you have in France. You have an incredible variety of landscapes including beaches on many different coastlines, the Atlantic Ocean and many seas, lakes, and rivers, mountains for skiing and hiking including the mighty Alps and the Pyrenees, woods and forests, national parks, beach towns and resorts, and islands. There’s also great diversity in the cities of France, from the stunning 18th-century architecture of Bordeaux to the sun-kissed climate of Nice and the Cote d’Azur, to the other culinary capital of France, Lyon, to medieval Rouen in Normandy, to the German influence of northeast France in Strasbourg, and, of course, Paris.
I have traveled extensively in France for the last 16 years and I still have not been to many places because of how much there is to see in France.
3. Medical System
France has one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world and is always rated within the top five. Even if you are retired and don’t work in France, you are entitled to be part of the national medical system once you become a resident. You will receive a medical card named a Carte Vitale, which you use for all your medical procedures, doctor and hospital visits, and at the pharmacy for your prescriptions.
Although healthcare is not entirely free, the cost is minimal. In Paris, which has the highest cost of living in France, a visit to a GP costs between 25 and 40 euros (which is usually the cost of a co-pay in the U.S. with insurance). You only pay 7.50 to 10 euros out of pocket. Specialist doctors such as osteopaths, dermatologists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, and oncologists are minimally or not covered, but visits usually cost no more than 80 euros. Most prescription medications and drugs are under 15 euros per month.
I had a major surgery in 2016 and had to stay in the hospital for four days. My treatment and care was as good, if not better, than any hospital visit I ever had in the U.S. and my total out of pocket expenses were under 200 euros ($250).
Dental and vision insurance coverage is minimal, about 10 to 15 percent. I am diabetic and also take medications for other conditions, so I have taken out an additional private insurance policy for 89 euros, or $110 a month. This policy covers all my medications including my four times a day insulin doses, needles, and my Freestyle Glucose meter and patches for free. The Freestyle patches, which are changed bi-weekly, can still cost up to $60 a month even with insurance in the U.S.
France has a rich and historical cultural heritage almost beyond measure. There are hundreds of museums across the country, some housed in significant historic structures. There are thousands of churches, from the grand gothic cathedrals of Notre Dame, Chartres, and Amiens, to tiny, countryside churches. There are also hundreds of royal and aristocratic chateaux and palaces open to the public (some with beautiful gardens and activities) and medieval villages and towns. The performing arts are numerous, especially in Paris, which has the world-famous Paris Opera, ballet at the Opera Garnier, pop and rock concerts, modern dance at many venues including The Theatre de la Ville, French and English language theatre, and classical music at the recently opened Philharmonie Paris.
Don’t forget the wide variety of annual festivals around France, including cultural festivals in Avignon and Aix en Provence, food and wine events, and contemporary and classical musical concert series.
5. Food And Wine
It’s a no-brainer that the food and wine are two of the best reasons to move to France. Known the world over, French cuisine, produce, and food products are superior in quality and taste, including the bread, pastries and desserts, cheeses, meats, eggs, fruit, and seafood.
You can spend the rest of your life in France and never even get close to tasting all the fantastic wines from so many regions and, of course, the thousands of Champagne brands.
One of my top personal reasons to live in France is the incredible and efficient public transportation, especially the train service. In Paris, the metro system is superior to the New York subway. The extensive service has 14 lines which take you to all corners of Paris. The average wait time between trains is never more than 5 to 8 minutes, and no more than 3 to 5 minutes with the popular lines. There’s also excellent service on the RER trains, the commuter trains of Paris that reach the suburbs. Many major cities in France have installed new tram lines with silent, electric cars.
The TGV, or fast train of France, is an amazing experience. The trains run at over 150 miles an hour and are super smooth, quiet, and comfortable, especially if you are in first-class. From Paris you can get to almost every region and major city in France in 2 to 4 hours including Marseilles, Lyon, Bordeaux, Provence, the Alps, Alsace, Brittany, and the Loire Valley. In 5.5 hours, you can be in Cannes, Nice, and the Côte d’Azur.
For only 50 euros a year, you can buy a senior pass, which discounts train fares up to 30 percent.
France is also in close proximity to many other countries in Europe, and you can easily travel to Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe in less than 3 hours by train or plane.
Editor’s Note: To avoid a potential faux pas, check out Richard’s 9 Ways To Avoid Looking Like A Tourist In France.
One of the few drawbacks I have found living in France is learning and speaking French, though this concern can be rectified. I did not study French in high school and only took lessons for about a year before I moved here. It is not the easiest language to learn, but the thing I find most difficult is speaking. Frequently watching French television shows and movies on Netflix and going to the movies has significantly helped me improve my understanding of French. Although I have a decent French accent, I find that people will still answer me in English when I speak French. What’s most frustrating is thinking you have pronounced a word correctly and then repeating it several times until someone understands what you said. English is widely spoken in Paris, a few other major cities, and in tourist destinations, but don’t expect English to be spoken much outside of these places. Remembering a few key phrases when shopping is helpful.
Currently, between 150,000 and 200,000 Americans live in France, and there are many support websites and organizations for American expats. Below are a few of them.
- American Citizens Abroad
- American Community In France
- Americans In France Facebook Group
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