Ten reasons your dream of life in France could turn into a nightmare

Ten reasons your dream of life in France could turn into a nightmare
Photo: Johan Seland
Surveys and personal stories reveal that most foreigners who come to live in France see a jump in their quality of life. But the reality is that for some, their new French life can go from dream to nightmare.

Most people who move to France testify to jump in quality of life.

Whether it's a better work life balance, the food (and wine), the friendly locals, or the affordable healthcare, most who come to live in France have numerous reasons not to regret it.

But not everyone experiences la belle vie.

For them the transition to a Gallic way of life proves to be a little rockier than anticipated and unfortunately they may end up realising they simply took the wrong path.

While the same can to some degree be said for expats moving to any country abroad, one factor that causes many foreigners' dreams to fade on this side of the Channel is that the romantic image of France can be very different to the reality.

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“Many people have this big dream of selling up in the UK and moving to France. But unfortunately the dream and the reality do not conform to each other,” a volunteer from SOSHelp, an English-language listening helpline based in France tells The Local.

“For some it just doesn’t turn out to be the great life that they thought they would have.”

Here the volunteer breaks down the reasons why many foreigners in France end up calling out for help. 


1. Holiday versus Home

(Vic Burton)

What can make matters worse is the gulf between the experience of France that people have during a relaxing two-week holiday in a rural ‘gîte’ to escape the stresses of life back home, and that of moving here for the long term.

“When people visit France on holiday, everything seems quaint and rustic. Going to the market everyday for a couple of weeks might be great but for 365 days a year, it can get to people,” a volunteer at SOS HELP tell The Local.

2. Making French friends:

(Jakob Montrasio)

“The French are not as forthcoming as people in the US or Britain,” says SOS Help's volunteer.

“Anglos have more of an open culture. It’s not that the French way is wrong, it's just different. And this is something that perhaps people don’t anticipate. And when you don’t speak the language it’s obviously harder. Often people call us because they haven't found good friends like they had at home.”

3. Language struggles

(Meddy Garnet)

Unsurprisingly, many problems around integration stem from expats' inability to speak the language.

The SOSHelp volunteer says: “People sell up, move to France with the impression that their French, which maybe they learned in school, will just come back to the them once they have arrived. They think it will be just like at home but with people speaking in a cute accent. But the reality brings a lot of disillusionment.”

4. La France (too) Profonde

The tranquillity of rural life in France is a major pull for those escaping clogged British cities during their summer break, but the gulf between an urban lifestyle at home and rural living in France can make the move even harder: “Some expats will have the double shock, because they have been used to living an urban life, where everything is close by and then end up in rural France and having to get used to very different customs and habits,” said the SOSHelp listener.

5. La vie est chère:

Financial troubles also play a part for many, especially those who go to Paris or who buy their home, not realising how expensive their new life can become.

“Some people end up not being able to afford to stay or at least they can’t afford to live the life they thought they would. And often what makes matters worse is they cannot afford to go back home either,” the volunteer says.

6. Paris syndrome:

“Paris is the most visited city in the world but when people come it often does not turn out the way they anticipated. They think they will live across the street from the Eiffel Tower, or have a three room apartment by the Seine, fall in love and make babies, but in reality it can be very different,” said SOS Help who receive most of their calls from expats in Paris.

7. Family matters:

“Friends and family often tell them they are so lucky to live in France,” says SOSHelp's volunteer.

They say “oh you must have a wonderful life here”, and expats often put on an act because they don’t want to tell their loved ones that actually it’s not as beautiful as it seems. They often don’t want to burden them with their problems. Sometimes their families may have told them it’s a mistake but they don’t want to admit it.”

8. Rocky relationships:

All the problems with settling in can put a severe strain on relationships, which is the reason why many expats end up picking up the phone to dial SOSHelp. “Often couples come here and they only have each other for support. Perhaps one of them finds it easier to settle than the other and they end up doing very different activities to each other. Perhaps one works from home doesn’t have the same professional position they had before.”

9. Investment needed:

“Often people don’t realise they need to invest in French life to make it work. They come on holiday and think it’s lovely but they don’t realise how much effort they will have to put into it when they live here,” says the SOSHelp listener.

10…. And finally… Brexit

We have added this one on ourselves simply because many Brits in France have testified to the fact that the uncertainty around the UK's divorce with the EU is impacting their life in France.

Many have told us how the stress of the unknown has affected their health whereas as others have suffered financially due to the drop in the value of the pound.

Others have put off moving to France because they now can't afford the property they had they eye on, whilst others are havin trouble selling  their properties in France.

In short Brexit has put a spanner in the works for many Brits in France, with the retired population suffering most. Many fear they will simply have to give up the dream and return home.

For more information about SOS Help you can visit their website by CLICKING HERE or give their experienced listeners a call on 01 46 21 46 46 between the hours of 3pm and 11pm daily.

Just for a bit of balance, here are the ways foreigners in France say their lives have improved since coming here.



The Gallic habits you'll pick up living in rural France


A version of this artile was published on The Local in 2013.