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READER INSIGHTS

Readers reveal: What makes the quality of life in France so high

Good cheese, comprehensive healthcare and friendly neighbours - The Local's readers reveal the reasons for their great quality of life in France.

French football supporters smile during a match
French football supporters smile during a match - but it turns out the country's foreign residents are even happier. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

Earlier this month France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies found that the average French person rated their quality of life as 7.4 out of 10 –  but it seems that readers of The Local are much happier. 

Out of 100 people who responded to our survey last week, most said they were very happy and the results of our – admittedly unscientific – survey gave a life satisfaction score of 8.5 out of 10.

“Living in France was the best decision we ever made,” said American, Robert Heuer. 

A whopping 91 percent said that life in France was better than in their home country, with work-life balance, great public services and magnificent culinary offerings among the reasons why.   

Here’s what you had to say: 

Food 

Unsurprisingly, French cuisine is seen as a key benefit by many of the country’s foreign residents. 

Julia Fray, an American living in the Alpes-Maritimes, praised the country’s “wonderful markets”. 

Among her favourite culinary delights are “wild-caught fish and game, mushrooms, provençal wines, locally raised vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat, and delicious prepared foods: foie gras, terrines and pâtés en croûte.” 

Others among you pointed out the obvious, but nonetheless salient truth. 

“Wine and cheese is much cheaper,” said American, Barry Epstein. 

A British lady called Harriet, living in Paris, praised the city’s “croissants and baguettes”, while an American reader told us how they appreciated having a “more connections with local merchants”. 

Louise McTavish, a mother living in Essone, said that France had less of a “junk food culture” compared to her native Scotland. 

Pace of Life 

Another common theme among our readers is an appreciation for what Elaine Denny, who lives in the Pyrenees, described as a “relaxed pace of life”.

“There’s more respect for the pleasures of life here and people make time to enjoy them,” said Paris-based American Robert Friday. 

“There is a more balanced lifestyle in France between work and home,” said Randy Kerber, perhaps reflecting the fact that French workers spend fewer hours at work than the European Union average.  

Economic opportunity 

The French economy has bounced back strongly from the fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic, with unemployment at a near-10 year low. 

Canadian Val Critchley, put it succinctly. “Cost of living cheaper, housing cheaper, friendly neighbours, low crime rate.” 

READ MORE How well is the French economy really doing?

“Somehow I make less money, but end up having many more holidays and can afford better quality clothing,” said Fabio Ferretti, an Anglo-Italian. 

Maryke from South Africa, described France as having the following benefits: “Economically stable. More spending power and disposable income. Better prospects.” 

An Indian reader, Aditya Das, said that the standard of living in France is about the same as in India when it comes to the middle class, “but for the poor, France is much better.”

Public services 

Many of you said that state-managed services were run highly effectively in France. 

“Our taxes are visible in the good roads, schools, parks and free events,” said Scheenagh Harrington, a Brit living in Tarn in the south west.

John Walton praised the country’s “genuinely helpful local services” and “rural fibre internet, high-speed rail, fast roads”. 

Americans, in particular, were also keen to highlight France’s incredible health system. 

“The quality of healthcare is first rate and is so much less expensive than in the US,” said Robert Heuer. 

But the Brits were impressed too. 

“The health system is second to none,” said Susan Smith, who is based in Aude. 

Politics 

While it is an election year, we were still pleased to hear how many of you are enthusiastic about French politics – or rather, French politics in relation to your home country. 

“I don’t have to live in a country that would elect Donald Trump president, or even a corrupt half-wit like George W. Bush,” wrote Julia Fray. 

Harve Cohen, also from the US, heralded a “better political environment” in France. 

Readers from the UK also said the political scene was less toxic here. 

“No Brexit, less racists”, declared Howard Turner, from the UK, when summarising why he preferred life in France. 

“At a population level, the Brits suffer from an overbearing superiority complex in combination with an attitude of righteous indignation if anyone disagrees with them. The French might be anarchic socialists but they are easier to live with,” said Nigel Thomas. 

Friendliness 

Perhaps surprisingly, at least for those living in Paris, the friendliness of the local population was also frequently mentioned as a key advantage of life in France. 

“When out walking everyone says ‘Bonjour’,” said James Dunkley. “We have found the French people to be very friendly.”

READ MORE Why bonjour is the most sacred word to French people

“While we have many American friends and have developed strong friendships with our French neighbours,” said Robert Heuer. 

“French people, in my experience, are always pleasant and friendly,” said La Sarthe-based Brit, Geoff Todd. 

Member comments

  1. I very much agree with the views expressed in this article. Having lived in English speaking countries, France is my first experience of genuinely being a ‘foreigner’ inasmuch as I struggle with the language yet I feel more welcomed here, and far more comfortable and at home, than I ever did in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

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FRENCH BUREAUCRACY

Everything you need to know about your vital French ‘dossier’

It's a crucial part of life and an incomplete one can bring about a whole world of pain - here's what you need to know about your French dossier.

Everything you need to know about your vital French 'dossier'

The French word un dossier simply means a file – either in the physical sense of a plastic or cardboard item that holds documents together or the sense of a collection of documents. You might also hear civil servants use dossier to refer to the responsibilities they hold, as in English we might say their ‘brief’. 

But by far the most important use of dossier, particularly to foreigners in France, is its use to indicate the collection of documents that you must put together in order to complete vital administrative tasks, from registering in the health system to finding somewhere to live.

When you begin a new administrative process, you will need to put together a collection of documents in order to make your application. Exactly what you need varies depending on the process, but almost all dossiers will include;

  • Proof of ID – passport, birth certificate or residency card. If a birth certificate is required check carefully exactly what type of certificate is being asked for (and don’t freak out if they’re asking for a birth certificate no more than three months old, it doesn’t mean you have to be born again).

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

  • Proof of address – utility bills are usually the best, if you’re on paperless billing you can log into your online account with your power supplier and download an Attetstation de contrat which has your name and address on it and also acts as proof of address
  • Proof of financial means – depending on the process you might have to show proof of your income/financial means. This can include things like your last three months payslips or your most recent tax return. If you’re house-hunting you might be asked for your last three quittances de loyer – these are rent receipts and prove that you have been paying your rent on time. Landlords are legally obliged to provide these if you ask, but if you can’t find them or it’s a problem you can also ask your landlord to provide an attestatation de bon paiment – a certificate stating that you pay what you owe on time.

Paper v online

The traditional dossier is a bulging file full of papers, but increasingly administrative processes are moving online, so you may be able to simply upload the required documents instead of printing them all out. 

If you have to send physical copies of documents by mail, make sure you send them by lettre recommandée (registered mail), not only does it keep your precious documents safe, but some offices will only accept documents that arrive this way. 

If you’re able to send your dossier online, pay careful attention to the format specified for documents – usually documents like rental contracts or work contracts will be in Pdf format while for documents like a passport or residency card a jpeg (such as a photo taken on your phone) will suffice. If you’re sending photos of ID cards, residency cards or similar make sure you upload photos of both sides of the card.

If you need scanned documents there is no need to buy an expensive scanner – there are now numerous free phone apps that will do the job and allow you to photograph the documents with your phone’s camera and convert them to Pdf files.

Some French government sites are a little clunky and won’t accept large files – if you get an error message telling you that the file you are uploading is too big, you can resize it using a free online photo resizing tool. 

Payment

If the process requires payment (eg changing address on certain types of residency card or applying for citizenship) you may be asked for a timbre fiscale – find out how they work here

House-hunting

If you are looking for a property to rent you will need to compile a dossier and if you’re in one of the big cities – especially Paris – landlords or agencies usually won’t even grant you a viewing without seeing your dossier first, so it’s always best to compile this before you start scanning property adverts.

The government has put together a tool called Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Find a full explanation of how it works here.

Attestations

For foreigners, especially new arrivals, it’s often a problem getting together all the documents required. It’s worth knowing that if you don’t have everything you need, you can sometimes substitute documents for an attestation sur l’honneur, which is a sworn statement. 

How to write a French attestation sur l’honneur

This is a legally valid document, with penalties for submitting a false one, and needs to be in French and written in a certain format – the French government website provides a template for the attestation.

Vocab

Déposer un dossier – submit your file

Pièce d’identitie – proof of ID eg passport, residency card

Acte de naissance – birth certificate. 

Copie intégral – a copy of the document such as a photocopy or scan

Extrait – a new version of the document, reissued by the issuing authority

Sans/ avec filiation – for birth certificates it might be specified that you need one avec filiation, which means it includes your parents’ details. Some countries issue as standard short-form birth certificates that don’t include this, so you will need to request a longer version of the certificate

Justificatif de domicile – proof of address eg recent utility bills. If you don’t have any bills in your name you can ask the person who either owns the property or pays the rent to write an attestation de domicile stating that you live there

Justificatif de situation professionnelle – proof of your work status eg a work contract – either a CDI (permenant contract) or CDD (short-term contract)

Justificatif de ressources – proof of financial means, such as your last three months payslips (employers are legally obliged to provide these), other proof of income or proof of pension payments or evidence of savings.

Avis d’imposition – tax return. Some processes ask for this separately, for others it can be used as proof of resources – this is not a copy of the declaration that you make, but the receipt you get back from the tax office laying out your income and any payments that are required. If you declare your taxes online in France, you can download a copy of this document from the tax website. 

Quittance de loyer – rent receipts

Attestation de bon paiment – a document from your landlord stating that you pay your rent on time

Un garant – for some processes, particularly house-hunting, you might need a financial guarantor. This can be tricky for foreigners since it has to be someone you know reasonably well, but that person must also be living (and sometimes working) in France, and they will also need to provide all the above documents. If you’re struggling to find an acceptable guarantor, there are online services that will provide a guarantor (for a fee).

En cours de traitement – this means that your dossier has been received and is in the process of being evaluated. Depending on the process this stage can take anywhere between hours, months or even years (in the case of citizenship applications).

RDV – the shortened version of rendez-vous, this is an appointment. Certain processes require you to first submit your dossier and then attend an in-person appointment.

Votre dossier est incomplet – bad news, you are missing one or more crucial documents and your application will not proceed any further until you have remedied this.

Votre dossier est validé – your dossier has been approved. Time to pop the Champagne!

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