Expat quality of life surveys are a dime and dozen and most highlight the usual suspects, with countries like Singapore and Switzerland regularly coming out on top.
The latest HSBC Expat Explorer study is little different. Based on interviews with over 21,000 expats in 39 countries, it puts the Asian city–state in number one spot overall, while Switzerland comes in top place on the economics front. In other results, New Zealand was rated best in terms of the expat experience, and Sweden is the winner when it comes to family and social life.
For France, the news is not so rosy. The country idles in 29th position overall, or just below China and the Philippines.
Broken down further, France came in 32nd place in the economic rankings, 14th for the expat experience and 13th for family and social life.
So where does France get it right? And how is it failing expats?
On the plus side:
While France’s famous (or should that be infamous?) 35-hour working week may be more myth than reality, France is still a great place for expats hoping to move over into the slower lane, notching up 6th place when it comes to balancing out work and personal commitments.
If you want stability, France is your place: the country ranks fourth overall in terms of job security. Although critics will say that's because it's impossible to sack people in France. Either way you look at it, France might be hard place to get a permanent job, but once you've got one, then it's great.
With the possible exception of Italy, no other country in Europe breathes culture as much as France. Indeed, you can barely leave the house without tripping over one of the 1,220 museums (yes, there’s a list) in the country. Add that to the 7,000 plus libraries and the 2,000 plus cinemas, and you’ve got a mix that’s hard to beat.
(The Rodin Museum in Paris is just one of 1,220 museums in France. Photo: AFP)
Overall cost of children
France takes eighth place when it comes to the expenses related to bring up little ones. You only have to compare the cost of a place in nursery/creche in Paris to London to see why the France allows you to have kids without going bankrupt.
Whereas the costs in Paris depend on wages, the average couple will pay something between €500 and €700 a month to put their kid in creche, whereas in London the figure could be three times that amount.
Quality of life
Despite all the complaints about low wages, supposedly unfriendly locals and the difficulties involved with integrating, expats in France give the country the thumbs up for quality of life. France ranks 9th overall in the HSBC survey here.
Could it be the long summer breaks, the long lunches, the wine and cheese, the more relaxed social culture?
And on the minus side:
While France scores high for job security, there’s a downside. Expats in France feel like they are not moving up the career ladder any time soon. In France the job market is not as fluid, because it's harder to find a job, people tend to stick around and don't change positions every few years. A dramatic change of career in your 30s and 40s is almost unheard of in France, unlike in the UK or US.
Unfairly or not, French people continue to have a reputation for coldness, with expats ranking France in a lowly 32nd place in terms of finding ‘copains’. Many expats say the French are hard to make friends with, but once you have cracked it, then they will remain friends for life.
Perhaps the language gap, makes it harder as well as the fact that first greetings in France are often less familiar, they don't really do small talk, which can often be a way in to meet people and they don't have an equivalent for “let's go for a pint someday”.
With the French economy currently stalled, unemployment at a persistent 10 percent, and politicians seemingly waiting for someone to provide the electric shock that will bring the country back to life, wage growth in real terms is still far too low for ambitious expats.
Despite the existence of success stories like BlaBlaCar which recently became France’s first unicorn startup, red tape continues to ensnare expats who put the country in second last place among the 39 countries looked at by HSBC.
This might surprise many. Perhaps France’s famed health care system is not what it was. In March, a leaked memo from France's intelligence services said that the country's hospital emergency wards are on the brink of “social implosion”. And while the system was described by the World Health Organization as the world’s best in 2010, it seems expats are also unimpressed: The country came 20th in the HSBC rankings.