Looking on from abroad France may seem like a country in turmoil right now given the terror threat, the community tensions in certain areas and the often poisonous political debate shown in the recent burqini row, but expats still rate the quality of life on offer, according to the new Expat Insider survey by expat network InterNations.
Overall France ranked a lowly 41 out of 67 countries in the Top Destinations for Expats in 2016, with Taiwan, Malta, Ecuador topping the table, although this was a rise on last year’s position of 47th.
But there were plenty of positives to take from the report, which is based on the views of expats.
For a start even with its political instability and the ongoing terrorist threat, 77 percent of participants in the latest InterNations survey said they still felt safe living in France, although this was down from last year’s figure of 84 percent.
And despite being ranked 41st overall, France did score highly in certain areas, which can explain why the country continues to be attractive to those who move here – particularly pensioners.
Quality of life
France ranked 15th out of the 67 countries when it came to overall quality of life.
Some 78 percent of expats surveyed by InterNations were satisfied with the quality of life in the land of cheese and wine, with opportunities to travel around the country and healthcare options being amongst the main perks.
Expats reported satisfaction with the country’s infrastructure and 83 percent of them said they were particularly happy with the transport infrastructure. Anyone who has whizzed across France on a TGV train will no doubt vouch for that.
The country’s healthcare also got a positive rating, with four out of six expats finding the price of healthcare to be very affordable.
French are known for being better at getting the work/life balance right and for prioritizing their joie de vivre.
With comparably less working hours than their global counterparts (just 36.3 hours a week as a opposed to the global average of 41.4 hours) employed expats in France have more time to have fun.
The InterNations survey found that expats in France particularly appreciate this aspect of French life, 84 percent of them were happy with their increased leisure time.
With better and more affordable childcare, expats in France consider the quality of family life as a big advantage to living in the country.
Some 69 percent of expat parents in France are satisfied with childcare options in the country, which is above the global average of 60 percent.
Whilst it has been knocked of the top ten this year in the Family Life Index (it's ranked 11th), France is still viewed favourably among parents with costs and options for childcare and education all receiving positive opinions from expats.
But being ranked 41st out of 67 suggests there are drawbacks…
France’s fragile economy is pointed out as a problem for expats in France, with only one in twenty feeling “very good” about the state of the economy (compared to a worldwide average of 17 percent).
Some expats find they are financially worse off upon starting a new life in France, with their incomes decreasing.
Money worries are also some of the biggest potential disadvantages for expats, including the levels of taxation and the cost of living in France.
Difficulty settling in
The French get a bad reputation for being rude to visitors, and while many of The Local France's readers will fiercely dispute this, the expats who responded to the InterNations survey suggested the perceived lack of warmth from the hosts was an issue.
Many expats reported the lack of a warm welcome in France as being one of the more difficult aspects of life there.
The friendliness of the French is rated as below average by expats, with only 14 percent of them happy with the general friendliness of the population (compared to the global average 29 percent).
“It is difficult to make French friends, they tend to have closed, tight-knit communities,” said one respondent to the survey.
Most expats also agree that it is hard to settle in without being able to speak the language, with some even complaining about the lack of English spoken in everyday situations.
In a comment that will no doubt rile many who have managed to master the language, one expat said: “The language barrier is a pain. A real pain that I would change if I could. I came for an English MBA, but outside of my school, no one speaks English. It is hard to shop for food, go to restaurants, get a mobile plan, etc. The basics are tough, even going to see a doctor.”
Essentially expats concluded that it is vital to speak French if you want to be happy in France.
There may not be many expats who would disagree with that.
A typical expat?
The survey revealed that in France the average age of an expat in France is around 44, but France is also a favourite amongst retirees. Some 12 percent of expats in France are retired, which is significantly higher than the global average.
There are more female expats than male in France, with 60 percent of the expat population being female. Women are also more likely than their male counterparts to move to France, with 13 percent of female expats stating that as their primary reason for relocating. But whilst moving to be with a partner or for a new job are among some of the popular reasons for expats coming to France, a better quality of life appears as the top reason for making the move.
by Fatima Al-Kassab