The Best Expat Guide for Living or Retiring in France

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Retiree in Paris, France
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Live and Invest Overseas.

France is a country of superlatives, from the world’s best food and wine, art and fashion to the most beautiful, most romantic city and best overall quality of life on Earth. Most people want to live in France.

France is tops in more practical ways, as well. The country boasts the world’s best health care and some of the most developed infrastructure anywhere.

Indeed, for many, la vie française is the good life defined, and the best news is that it can be more accessible than you might imagine.

More Affordable Than You Think

The Louvre
Netfalls Remy Musser /

Some of the best France has to offer comes free. Picnics in the Luxembourg Gardens, long walks along the river Seine, afternoons lost among the cobblestones of the Latin Quarter … these things cost not a sou.

Most museums, including the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, forgo admission fees one day a month. The Metro will transport you from restaurant to nightclub or from museum to cafe for less than $2, and even the chicest Parisians don’t mind using it for transport around their city.

Paris is a never-ending feast of gallery openings, special performances, exhibitions, and celebrations, many available for little cost. You can join conversation groups, discussion groups, book clubs, and even cooking classes for free. You can enjoy prix-fixe meals for $25 or less, and you can spend hours in a cafe, seeing and being seen, for the price of but a single cafe au lait.

The more practical necessities of life don’t come free, but, again, they are more affordable than you might imagine.

France boasts perhaps the world’s best infrastructure, and it’s a bargain. You can purchase a cable TV, internet, and phone plan for $50 that allows for free calls to anywhere in Europe and North America.

Public transportation (the Metro, the bus, and the RER train system) are likewise likely less costly than comparable services wherever you’re living now.

Diverse Lifestyle Choices

Provence, France
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France is remarkably geographically diverse, from sophisticated urban centers to quaint rural villages, sparkling beachside towns, and Alpine mountain settings.

You could settle in Occitanie and embrace the best of country life in the south of France. This region boasts historic and romantic cities and towns, varied outdoor recreation opportunities, and more than 300 sunny days a year.

It’s affordable, too, unlike Provence, its more famous counterpart in the south of France.

You could try out life in Morbihan, a mostly rural department on the southern coast of Brittany — uncharted land for most non-French tourists and residents.

Life here is centered around the Gulf of Morbihan and its endless corners of coastline worthy of exploration.

The expat community in Morbihan is small, but if you’re proficient in French, it’s an excellent base for cultured and sophisticated coastal living.

Like Disneyland Come to Life

Paris, France
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Annecy, a mountain town also known as the Pearl of the French Alps, would make for a phenomenal home base. The centuries-old town is like Disneyland come to life.

In summer, life revolves around the crystal-blue lake at the city’s center; in winter, the focus is the snowy Alpine peaks all around. The city of Annecy in the southeast appeals to nature lovers, museum aficionados, foodies, adrenaline junkies, and fashionistas all at the same time.

Or you could call ground zero of refined Western culture your home by setting yourself up in Paris.

With hundreds of museums and galleries, one of the liveliest cafe cultures and the most-revered cuisine in the world, plus space to breathe in sprawling parks and woodlands, Paris can be the ultimate retire-overseas dream.

Learn the Language … or Not

three senior men white african american asian elder older Group Of Senior Retirement Discussion /

In parts of France with a heavy tourist presence, including Paris, you can count on finding someone who speaks English, meaning you don’t have to learn to speak French if you don’t want to.

A simple “Parlez-vous anglais?” can carry you a long way, and if you’d like to live in this country but have no interest in learning a new language, Paris — where you can also find English-language news services, bookstores, religious associations, and a large English-speaking expat community — is your best bet.

Outside Paris and in more rural settings, it’s less likely that waiters, shopkeepers, and tellers in the local bank will speak English, meaning that, to make the most of French country life, you’ll want to make the effort to learn at least conversational French.

World’s Best Public Transportation

A man rides a train to work
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As with learning French, whether or not you’ll need to invest in owning a car will be determined by where you settle. The best way to get around Paris is on foot. When your feet give out, you can get on a bus or the Metro or grab a bicycle or a scooter.

All of these options are available across the city for the cost of a few euro. Having a car in Paris would be an unnecessary expense. Living in the south of France, on the other hand, you’d want your own car to be able to take advantage of all that this part of the country has to offer.

France’s domestic road network is well maintained, and you can easily connect to other destinations in Europe along the excellent highway system.

Note that gas prices are higher than in the United States, meaning getting around by car can add significantly to your budget.

Also, note that you can drive in France on your home license for one year only. After that, you’ll need to trade it in for a French one, which will require passing the French driving exam.

France also has well-established train systems that make it easy to travel around the country and beyond throughout Europe. The domestic rail, called SNCF, is easy to navigate, affordable, and fast, and fares are reduced by 25% for senior travelers.

Becoming a Resident of France

Red, white, and blue French flag in France on a building
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Americans can stay in France for up to 90 days as a tourist. No visa or permit is required, and you can travel beyond France anywhere in the Schengen Zone during this period.

To stay in France beyond the tourist window, you’ll need to prove you can support yourself financially, taking the minimum wage (which varies region to region) as the guiding amount for how much income you’ll need to show to qualify for residency.

In addition, you’ll need to show proof of health insurance.

The important thing to understand is that you must begin the residency process from your home country. If you haven’t, you’ll be required to leave France, go back home, then return to France after you’ve obtained the appropriate stamp in your passport.

This process provides you with a one-year, long-stay visa. You can extend that long-stay visa with the local authorities in France, assuming you still meet the requirements. If you do, you’ll be granted acarte de séjour, which is permanent resident status.

What You Need to Know About Taxes in France

Senior couple studying finances or taxes or financial paperwork
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France has a famously complex system of taxation. Residents of France are taxed on worldwide income, while non-residents are taxed on locally earned income only.

While figuring French tax can be complicated, the amount of tax you’re likely to end up paying in total between taxes paid to France and taxes paid to the United States should be roughly the same as what you’re paying in tax now, thanks to the tax treaty in place between the two countries, which eliminates the risk of double taxation.

In addition, in France, you’ll pay taxes to the central government only; there are no state or county taxes.

If you’re moving to France as a couple or a family, you’ll be able to take advantage of tax reductions.

Best Health Care in the World

Doctors discuss a patient's chart
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The health care in France is the world’s best, as reported in the World Health Organization’s regular surveys. Even better, it can be possible to access this top-notch health care free.

That said, you’ll need to show proof of insurance when applying for a long-stay visa and to keep this insurance for the first five years of living in France.

After this, you can apply to take part in the public system. To qualify, you’ll need to be employed in France, self-employed and making the necessary contributions, or of retirement age.

Remember, the French Invented the Word Bureaucracy

Retirees enjoying a walk outdoors
Monkey Business Images /

Bureaucracy by any other name would still be French.

This country loves its red tape, which can cause headaches for newcomers unfamiliar with the system. You’ll need the proper paperwork with the right stamps to get anything done.

Another frustrating aspect of life in France is that this country is not entrepreneur-friendly. This is no place to start a business.

Many expats also complain about the rigid public school system, taking issue with the very particular way the French educate their children.

Education in France is perhaps the highest quality in the world, but it may not be palatable for kids or parents used to more liberal teaching methods.

Finally, it can be difficult to integrate with the local community. The French have a reputation for being rude. In fact, they’re extremely well-mannered and will respond best if you are, too.

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