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Top tips for Americans who want to retire to Paris

Many Americans dream of retiring to the French capital but once the dreaming ends the tough reality of paperwork and house-hunting begins. We asked relocation experts and readers of The Local for their top tips for moving to Paris as an American.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris
Retiring to Paris is the dream for many. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

There are many reasons that an American may want to retire to Paris; the city is teeming with culture and history and the health coverage is incredible. 

Adrian Leeds, the eponymous director of the Adrian Leeds Group told us that more and more Americans are retiring to the city. 

“The number one American dream is to live in France. Anything with the word ‘French’ in it, like French toast, French manicures, is about as cool as it gets,” she said.

“It started with Donald Trump. Most expats are pretty politically left. They were upset with Donald Trump and then they realised that even with Biden as President, the underbelly of racism and white supremacy is still there.”

Her business, which helps Americans move to France and buy property, has seen its clientele quadruple over the past two years.

Making the move is both “realistic” and “feasible” according to Sara Hillhouse-Sallembien. 

READ MORE Ask the experts: The pitfalls to avoid when moving to France

She is the founder of the Smart Relocation agency which helps people find property, set up utility and bank accounts and other life essentials and deal with immigration and other paperwork.

But there are some things you need to know before making the transatlantic journey. 

Visa 

If you plan to retire to France, the first thing you will have to do is get a visa – which is essential if you want to stay in Paris for more than three months.

“Generally, you would get a one-year visitor’s visa and then renew it every year,” said Hillhouse-Sallembien. 

“You need to prove that you have the financial resources to stay in France and not be reliant on the system.” 

These financial resources can include pension payments. You must be earning more than the French minimum wage – €1,269 post-tax – every month. If you’re using savings, you need a year’s equivalent – €15,228 in your bank account.

You will also need to have medical insurance that covers you abroad – at least up until you become eligible to access the French public health system (see below). 

The key thing about the visa is you must apply for it in the US before moving. You will need plenty of paperwork, a visa fee of around $150 and in most cases the process will require a face-to-face interview in the nearest French consulate in the US. 

For a full guide to getting a visa, click HERE.

Once here, you must apply to get it renewed at your local préfecture before it expires each year. While this can be an administrative hassle, it is the most straightforward way to remain in the country. 

“There is no ‘retirement in France’ visa for Americans. I’m a ‘visitor’ renewed annually (I’ve been here 20 years),” wrote Ian Brooks, one of our readers. 

You are entitled to apply for permanent residency in France after five years of living in the country continuously. But many prefer to simply keep renewing their visitor visa. 

Healthcare

In order for your Visa application to be accepted, you will need to have international health insurance. 

However, after 90 days in France, you can apply for la protection universelle maladie – universal health coverage, which is free and will cover the majority of medical costs. Anyone living or working in France has the right to do this and must fill in the following form

READ MORE How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one

Once you are enrolled in the system are best-off cancelling your international health insurance policy and taking out a private health insurance policy in France, known as a mutuelle, which acts as a ‘top up’ to cover anything that the state system doesn’t. 

“I pay about €1,500 per year and all of my healthcare costs are 100 percent covered,” said Leeds. 

“Healthcare in France is just incredible.

“Clients fear about the quality of medical care in France because they have been sold this bill of goods that tells them that American doctors are the best in the world. I tell them that it is all about profit and that they don’t realise what a bad deal they’re getting in the States.”

Banking 

Because of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) legislation passed under former US President Barack Obama, it can be difficult for an American to open a bank account in France. 

“We have become the pariahs of the banking industry worldwide,” said Leeds. “Banks just don’t want to go through the cost and hassle of setting up US customers.” 

The law aims to stop Americans from sending money overseas before it can be taxed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

“For an American, the process takes a bit longer,” said Hillhouse-Sallembien. “But when you work with a relocation agency, everything goes smoothly.” 

READ ALSO

Our readers have recommended the following banks that may accept US customers in France: BNP Paribas, LCL, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole and HSBC. 

If you are turned down once by a bank, you could always try again at a different location. 

“It is really hit and miss. Sometimes it depends on the branch,” said Leeds. 

It is also worth making sure that your US bank allows international money transfers without exorbitant transaction fees. 

Once you have opened a French bank account, it should be possible to have American pension payments sent directly to it. 

Money

More generally, do your sums before moving. Paris frequently polls as one of the most expensive cities in the world, and buying or renting property is particularly pricey.

You need to make sure you can afford to live once you’re here, so add up costs like rent/mortgage plus the cost of utilities, taxes, food and leisure activities. If you intend to keep renewing your visa every year, bear in mind that you will need to be able to meet the financial requirements – €1,200 a month income or €15,000 of savings – every year. 

If you aren’t sure whether your budget can stretch to Paris, there are other areas of France that are markedly cheaper. 

Mortgages 

If opening an account can be difficult, then getting a mortgage from a French bank is even harder. 

“Many banks don’t want to lend mortgages to anyone over the age of 60 – the premiums get really expensive,” said Adrian Leeds. 

If you want to buy property in France, one solution is to take out a line of credit against your assets in the US.

READ MORE Why getting a mortgage in France is about to get more difficult

“If you have brokerage accounts where you can park you money, that can work, but the interest rates won’t be as good,” said Leeds. 

American banks will not generally give mortgages to those looking to buy in France. 

Where to live 

Where you choose to live in Paris is largely a question of personality and budget. 

“I think if a retired person doesn’t speak French, they would be best-off staying in one of the American enclaves in the 7th, 8th or 16th arrondissements,” said Harriet Welty Rochefort, an American writer based in Paris.  

“The Haussmanian districts [concentrated mostly in the city centre] are the most magnificent in terms of architecture. These are areas that a lot of expats like because you have gorgeous streets and buildings,” said Hillhouse-Sallembien. 

“Then you have other areas that are more bustling like the 10th and 11th arrondissements and then of course there is the Marais, with small streets, galleries and shops.”

READ MORE Seven suburbs around Paris you could potentially move to

It may be worth looking for a place in the suburbs too. 

“In terms of price, you can often get bigger places for less,” said Hillhouse-Sallembien. “You might want a garden and a house, rather than a smaller apartment.” 

Brooks suggested that the Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines as two départements just outside the city that would be suitable for retired Americans. Another reader warned: “Stay away from areas popular with tourists.” 

Language and culture 

Welty grew up in Iowa and came to Paris after graduating from college in 1967 – she has stayed ever since. 

She believes that learning French and mixing with the local population is important. 

“You meet some people who generally stick around groups of other Americans because it makes them feel more at home. Some people will do that and be oblivious to the culture around them and quite happy,” she said. 

“But you should’t come to France as some conquering hero, looking to get French healthcare and with no intention of learning the language. There is more to France than that. You should have a big stab at learning French to make the most of life in Paris.” 

Getting help 

For assistance relocating to France, you can contact any of the experts mentioned in this story. Asking a professional agency to help you with various administrative tasks and finding a suitable property can save you a lot of time and effort. 

Contact details for the Adrian Leeds Group are available here and the Smart Relocation agency can be reached through this page.

If you are interested in reading more about some of the cultural differences between France and the US, you should consider one of Harriet Welty Rochefort’s books: 

Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French

French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French

French Fried The Culinary Capers of an American in Paris

And don’t forget to check out The Local’s Americans in France section for issues pertaining particularly to Americans, or the Moving to France and Living in France sections for practical guides to daily life. 

Member comments

          1. Can you find it within your snarky self to reply to someone with an an ounce of kindness? What’s wrong with you? Please get help before it’s too late!!!!

  1. Adrian Leeds is the LAST person anyone should look to for this!!!
    Do NOT retire to Paris.
    It’s for tourists.

    1. It’s for tourists and very well to do (ie. rich) people both foreign and French. One of the great joys of living in France is meeting people and learning of their lives experiences. Paris used to have many middle class people whose lives may have been like your own. And assuming you could communicate with them, you could meet and become friends. Costs have driven so many out. What’s left are the rich. For many considering moving to Paris, the idea of mostly running into rich people (especially foreign) should be taken into consideration. There are many cities in France where you can meet and socialize with more “normal” people, and go to Paris for the culture, and other appealing features as a tourist, getting on the TGV and breathing a sigh of relief once you get home. Note: more and more lifelong Parisiens are doing exactly this.

  2. I visit and stay every year for about 2 months. The topics covered here are excellent. One thing I would like to mention is finding a place to live. Before you do any looking walk up 5 flights of stairs to see how you handle it physically. Or make sure your building has an elevator. I am not even close to 50 anymore!! And yes the western suburbs of Paris are really nice. Neuily is also very nice, if a bit expensive. And unless you will own a car, each time you look at a property, walk from there to a Metro or Bus stop. And PLEASE learn to speak some french. My french is not very good, but people are happy to help correct me, in a friendly way most of the time. And I always ask them to repeat what they have said that I mispronounced. You might even get a smile.

  3. People should also read I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do) to read about one New Yorker/Californian’s life outside of Paris, in Brittany, and (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living to read about (and hopefully reduce) the number of faux pas you will definitely make. Both books are hilarious and illuminating.

  4. I began living in Paris in 1980, and have lived in Paris (7eme) and a western suburb (currently) for 25 years in total of that time. While the desire to live in Paris can be very strong for a newcomer, I would not do so. Paris has changed so much over the years. Personally I find it less and less livable. More crowded, and noisy and dangerous (try walking down any sidewalk, and accidentally drift into the ever present bicycle lanes to find a crazed bicycle or even motorcycle bearing down on you ! ). Try finding a parking space ! Paris has changed, and its appeal diminished. Just my take on the subject. One thing for sure, if you don’t speak French, even if you do live in Paris (or anywhere else) you will be living a very limited experience. Bonne chance …

  5. Check my daily presentations. ABOUT everything France en français. You learn a ton of things and you will be mastering French in no time. Free week by asking otherwise very low cost. www,frenchwithsimone.com

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Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

Plumbing ermergencies are common in France, so here's our guide to what to do, who to call and the phrases you will need if water starts gushing in unexpected areas.

Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

How do I find a reliable plumber and avoid getting scammed?

First, try to stick with word-of-mouth if you can. Contact trusted individuals or resources, like your neighbours and friends, or foreigner-oriented Facebook groups for your area (ex. “American Expats in Paris”). This will help you find a more reliable plumber. If this is not an option for you, try “Pages Jaunes” (France’s ‘Yellow Pages’) to see reviews and plumbers (plomberie) in your area. 

Next, educate yourself on standard rates. If the situation is not an emergency, try to compare multiple plumbers to make sure the prices are in the correct range. 

Finally, always Google the name of the plumber you’ll be working with – this will help inform you as to whether anyone else has had a particularly positive (or negative) experience with them – and check that the company has a SIRET number.

This number should be on the work estimate (devis). You can also check them out online at societe.com. If you want to be extra careful you can also ask to see their carte artisan BTP (craftsman card). 

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?

Who is responsible for paying for work?

If you own the property, you are typically the one who is responsible for financing the plumbing expenses.

However if you’re in a shared building, you must determine the cause and location of the leak. If you cannot find the origin of the leak, you may need a plumber to come and locate it and provide you with an estimate. You can use this estimate when communicating with insurance, should the necessity arise. 

If you are a renter, the situation is a bit more complicated. Most of the time, water damage should be the landlord’s responsibility, but there are exceptions.

The landlord is obliged to carry out major repairs (ex. Natural disaster, serious plumbing issues) that are necessary for the maintenance and normal upkeep of the rented premises (as per, Article 6C of the law of July 6, 1989). The tenant, however, is expected to carry out routine maintenance, and minor repairs are also to be paid by the tenant. If the problem is the result of the tenant failing to maintain the property, then it will be the tenant’s responsibility to cover the cost of the repair.

Legally speaking, it is also the tenant’s responsibility to get the boiler serviced once a year, as well as to maintain the faucets and joints, and to avoid clogging the pipes.

READ MORE: Assurance habitation: How to get home insurance in France

If you end up in dispute with your landlord over costs, you can always reach out to ADIL, the national Housing Association which offers free legal advice for housing issues in France. 

What happens if the leak is coming from my neighbour’s property?

Both you and your neighbour should contact your respective housing insurance companies and file the ‘sinistre’ (damage) with them.

If you both agree on the facts you can file an amiable (in a friendly fashion), then matters are much more simple and you will not have to go through the back-and-forth of determining fault.

If having a friendly process is not possible, be sure to get an expert to assert where the leak is coming from and file this with your insurance company.

As always, keep evidence (lists and photographs) of the damage. Keep in mind that many insurance providers have a limited number of days after the start of the damage that you can file. Better to do it sooner than later, partially because, as with most administrative processes in France, it might take a bit of time.

Vocab

Plumbing has its own technical vocabulary so here are some words and phrases that you’re likely to need;

Hello, I have a leak in my home. I would like to request that a plumber come to give me an estimate of the damage and cost for repairs – Bonjour, j’ai une fuite chez moi. Je voudrais demander qu’un plombier vienne me donner une estimation des dégâts et du coût de la réparation. 

It is an emergency: C’est une urgence

I have no hot water: Je n’ai pas d’eau chaude

The boiler has stopped working: La chaudière ne fonctionne plus.

I cannot turn my tap off: Je ne peux pas arrêter le robinet.

The toilet is leaking: Mes toilettes fuient.

The toilet won’t flush/ is clogged: Mes toilettes sont bouchées

There is a bad smell coming from my septic tank: Il y a un mauvaise odeur provenant de ma fosse septique

I would like to get my electricity / boiler safety checked: Je souhaiterais une vérification de la sécurité de mon installation électrique / de ma chaudière

I can smell gas: Ca sent le gaz

My washing machine has broken: Ma machine a laver est cassée

Can you come immediately? Est-ce que vous pouvez venir tout de suite?

When can you come? Quand est-ce que vous pouvez venir?

How long will it take? Combien de temps cela prendra-t-il ?

How much do you charge? Quels sont vos prix? / Comment cela va-t-il coûter?

How can I pay you? Comment je peux vous payer ? 

Here are the key French vocabulary words for all things plumbing-related:

Dishwasher – Lave vaisselle

Bath – Baignoire

Shower – Douche

Kitchen Sink – Évier

Cupboard – Placard

Water meter – Compteur d’eau

The Septic Tank – La fosse septique

A leak – Une fuite

Bathroom sink – Le lavabo

The toilet – La toilette

Clogged – Bouché

To overflow – Déborder

A bad smell – Une mauvaise odeur

The flexible rotating tool used to unclog a pipe (and also the word for ferret in French) – Furet 

Water damage – Dégât des eaux

The damage – Le sinistre

And finally, do you know the French phrase Sourire du plombier? No, it’s not a cheerful plumber, it’s the phrase used in French for when a man bends down and his trouser waistband falls down, revealing either his underwear or the top of his buttocks. In Ebglish it’s builder’s bum, in French ‘plumber’s smile’.

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