‘Our life is so much better here’ – Why do people move to France?

From cycling opportunities to education, retirement to romance and - overwhelmingly - an improvement in their quality of life, readers of The Local have been sharing why they moved to France, and what keeps them here.

'Our life is so much better here' - Why do people move to France?

It’s the question that every foreigner in France has been asked – why did you move here?

But often it doesn’t have a simple answer. Many people move for a variety of reasons and often what makes people stay is very different to what brought them here in the first place.

So we decided to ask readers of The Local about what brought them to France, what keeps them here and whether they see France as their home for the rest of their lives.

Quality of life

Number one by quite some way in the list of reasons to move was an improved quality of life, with 56 percent of people saying this was one of their principal reasons for making the move.

Overall of the readers who responded, 33 percent retired to France, 21 percent came here to work, 6 percent for study/education and 10 percent made the move to join a partner. 

Don Olson, who moved from the US to Normandy, told us: “After our first month-long vacation in the spring of 2017 to Normandy, we were totally smitten. We returned for another month in December of that year to see what winter was like and look at houses. Boom! We bought a house and moved to Domfront the following July, all in a total of 15 months from first sight until arriving permanently.

“And our reasons for staying only broadened as time went by.

“We love the people, who, at every turn were friendly, helpful, patient and kind. We were very impressed with the fonctionnaires with whom, as Americans, we had a lot of interaction, and they were always professional, patient, and responsive.

“The food, of course, is awesome, and the climate, landscape, history, and culture all add to the joy of daily living. And things work – trains, good roads, public services, all of it. And we can pop in to Paris via train whenever we get the urge.

“But it is the overall sensibility, the feeling, of life in France that really captured our hearts. Relationships, whether close or more formal, matter, and they grow over time. I love that the emphasis is on people, not money. I love the formality and mutual respect of encounters with new people, but also the close camaraderie that can arise. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at home.”

READ ALSO I loved my family to France despite never even visiting. I don’t regret it

Stephanie, from London, also emphasised the quality of life in France, saying simply: “I fell in love with the sports and lifestyle in the Alps.”

Andrew Hale, from Manchester, retired to France. He told us: “We had been planning the move for 14 years (since buying our second home in France) as we knew it was where we wanted to live permanently (long before Brexit raised its ugly head!)

“Now we’re here full time and we definitely see ourselves staying. We love the pace of life, the politeness, the excellent health service, the food, the wine – I could carry on listing things.”

For most respondents, the reason for moving was attractions or opportunities in France, but some also added that factors in their home countries had pushed them into making the move – particularly Brexit and the Trump presidency.

Peter Johnson, from London, said: “Brexit made us loathe Britain and Covid made us realise another life was possible and preferable. Our kids will have a better education and healthier life here.”

Reasons to stay

For many people, their reason for coming and their reason for staying was different.

In fact, a striking number of readers reported that their initial plan was for a short stay in France, but many years later they are still here, with others saying they ended up here simply by accident.

For many people their purpose changed – for example students completed their studies and found work here or second-home owners decided to make France their permanent home.

Manant, who moved to Paris from Calcutta, said: “I was young, and had no rigid plans. It was up to life to show me what it had in store for me! I’ve been here 11 years now.” 

Deborah Mir, from New York, moved to Paris and now lives in Luberon, Provence. She said: “I had no idea if my relationship with a guy I met on holiday would work out, but I just knew I had to go find out.

“We married about a year after I arrived, and I discovered how great life is outside the US, and more importantly that France is a great place to raise a family. 30-plus years later, and I have no regrets.”

Tony Alcock, of Paris originally from Somerset, said: “We first came for two years, but that was 2000 and we’re still here.
“Work got extended but the main reason for staying was that the children got settled in school and no one wanted to leave.
“We’re all French nationals now and we’ve sold up in the UK. The children, now in their 20s, have jobs and are here for good, probably. We’re also in the process of moving from near Paris to Montélimar for our retirement.”
Arturr, from Puerto Rico, orginally moved to Paris to study and ended up staying, saying simply: “We fell in love with the country.”
Marta Zaraska, from Canada, said: “We moved for one year (for my husband’s MBA) and fell in love with France.

“We now have a daughter born in France, and French nationality. We have been here for 15 years.”


Not everyone intends their move to be a permanent one, but more than 80 percent of our survey respondents said they definitely planned to stay in France for the rest of their lives.

Andrew and Elaine Greener, from Whitby in the UK, said: “Staying was a really difficult decision to make, so we took a trip back to the UK. When we saw how bad the traffic was, how impatient and stressed that people seemed, it made it clear that we should remain here.

“We have made a lot of effort, paid a lot of money and made sacrifices of sorts, to be here. We have recently committed to buying our first house in France and moving out of our rented apartment.”

Samuel Rigby-Jones, from Folkestone, added: “We have no plans to return to the UK, I have a job in a French factory and my wife is coming up to retirement age.”

If you are planning on moving to France, you can find lots of practical info on everything from visas to taxes, finding somewhere to live and setting up a bank account in our Moving to France section.

Member comments

  1. I moved to France in 2004 and I have never regretted my decision. Sure the French bureaucracy takes a lot of getting used to, but the benefits are many fold, the excellent weather, food, people, wine, cheese, roads, health service, freedom, the list goes on and on.
    Since the small minded British people voted to leave the greatest union of like minded nations effectively stopping barrier free trade, free movement of people to work, study and share in scientific, engineering collaboration I no longer recognize the country I was born.
    Britain has become a worldwide laughingstock, that supports a government that is breaking international laws and treaties, I will never return.

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How non-EU citizens can move to France (and stay here)

From visas to residency cards, taxes to health insurance - here's what you need to know about moving to France, and ensuring that you can stay here.

How non-EU citizens can move to France (and stay here)

Moving to France is undeniably easier if you are covered by EU freedom of movement, for non-EU citizens it’s still very possible, but requires more paperwork.

First things first, unless you are fortunate enough to have dual nationality with an EU country (eg Ireland) you will need a visa in order to come and live in France.

It’s important to note that your visa has to be sorted before you leave your home country. Depending on your nationality you may be able to travel to France visa-free for up to 90 days at a time, but you cannot ‘convert’ your status from tourist to resident while you are in France.

Almost all visas charge processing fees and you need to be prepared to create a big bundle of supporting documents, but the first thing to do is work out the type of visa that you need.

Here’s an overview of the most common types:

Spouse Visa

Contrary to popular belief, being married to a French person doesn’t exempt you from the visa process, but does make things a little easier if you decide to go for a spouse visa – you’ll be able to get a 12-month visa and you’ll have to register at the Immigration Office (OFFI) within three months of arrival. This will count as your residence card (more info on how to get residency later).

The good news is that the application is free but you’ll need a heap of documents including application forms, proof of marriage, proof of your spouse’s nationality, and a residence form. More info here.

Work Visa

If you intend to work in France then you have two options; get a work visa as a salaried employee or get an entrepreneur visa if you intend to set up your own business or work self-employed as a freelancer or contractor.

Employee visa – The toughest part of the employee visa is that you need to find a job first, rather than coming to France and then job-hunting. 

Once you find a job, you then need to have your work contract approved by the authorities at the French Labour Ministry (then again at the OFFI offices) and depending on the sector you work in your employer may have to apply for a work permit and justify why they’re hiring you and not a European.

If you’re bringing family on this visa, get the employer to start a file for them at the same time. You’ll need to fill in application forms, residence forms, and you’ll need to pay a processing fee.  

Entrepreneur – this applies for people who want to set up their own business (eg run a gîte or B&B) or work in an self-employed capacity including as a freelancer or contractor. 

The entrepreneur visa has different requirements, including a detailed business plan and proof of financial means – essentially you need to be able to demonstrate that you can support yourself even if your business idea or freelance career never takes off.

Here 2021 arrival Joseph Keen takes us through the entrepreneur visa: ‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – what it’s like getting a French work visa

Visitor Visa

This is for those who want to live in France but don’t have a job, a French spouse, or plans to study – it’s most commonly used by retired people and it brings with it the requirement to have a certain level of assets.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to get a French visa?

You’ll need: filled-in questionnaires and application forms, an undertaking not to work in France (not even working remotely for an employer back in your home country or setting up a gîte or B&B business in France), proof that you can support yourself in France, proof of financial means, proof of medical insurance, proof of accommodation in France, among other things. More info here

Student visa

The good news is that the fee is around half that of the other long stay visas, at €50, and is usually shorter to process, but the bad news is that it’s no walk in the park.

You’ll need a series of documents from Campus France, financial guarantees and proof of enrolment at a French establishment of higher education. More info here

Au Pair visa

If you’re between the ages of 17 and 30, don’t mind a few household chores and quite like children, then this year-long visa could be right up your alley.

You’ll need all the usual forms, but also an “au pair contract” approved by the French ministry of labour, an invitation from your host family, and you’ll have to sign up to language courses for while you’re here. Read more about becoming an au pair here, and find out more on the visa info here

Talent Passport

If you qualify for it, there’s also the ‘talent passport’ which is really the best type of visa because it lasts for four years before you need to renew and you can bring family members on it. 

It offers a four-year work visa to people who can demonstrate certain business, creative or academic skills, or who have a provable reputation in their field – for example, scientific, literary, artistic, intellectual, educational, or sporting. The categories were recently expanded and cover quite a wide variety of fields. More info here.

Besides these options, there is always a scientist visa, an internship visa, and a diplomatic visa.

Next steps

Once you have decided which visa you need, you apply online, submitting all the required documents and a fee (usually around €80-€100). You will then need to make an in-person visit to the French consulate in your home country – which will often mean travelling quite some distance from your home to the nearest consulate.

EXPLAINED: How to get a French visa 

Processing times for visas vary, but you should allow at least six weeks.

What else?

Once you have secured your visa you’re more or less ready to travel, but there are some other things to check.

Health insurance – some visa types, especially those for people who will not be working, require proof of health insurance. If this is the case you will need to buy a private health insurance (not travel insurance) policy that covers the entire duration of your visa. Depending on your age and state of health these policies can be expensive, so you should factor this in to your financial calculations.

Once you have been living in France for three months, you’re entitled to register in the public health system and get a carte vitale, but the process of getting the card can be quite lengthy, so it’s a good idea to have health cover for these early months even if it’s not a requirement of your visa.

Driving licence – licences issued by most countries can be used in France for an initial period, but you will need to exchange this for a French licence, usually within one year of arrival.

Whether this is a simple swap for a French licence or involves taking a French driving test depends on whether the country that issued your licence has a reciprocal agreement in place with France.

By country: How hard is it to swap your driving licence for a French one? 

Bank account – for everyday life in France you will likely need a French bank account, but many French banks require proof of an address, while landlords often won’t rent to you without a French bank account, creating something of a Catch 22. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about opening a French bank account

Taxes – this is something that often catches people out – if you live in France you need to file an annual tax declaration, even if you have no income in France (eg you are living on a pension from your home country). More details here.

If you still have financial activity in your home country – such as a property rental – you will usually also need to file a tax return there, but while you have all the fun of doing two tax declarations every year, most countries have dual-taxation agreements with France, which means you won’t have to pay tax twice on the same income. 

And how to stay in France

But once you’re in France, you might want to stay here. Think that getting your visa represents the end of your French paperwork? Dream on!

Depending on the type of visa you have you may be required to visit OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et Intégration) on arrival to register and you may be required to undergo a medical examination or to take French classes if your language skills are a little basic.

Other types of visa require you to validate them at your local préfecture within a certain time period.

These ‘in country’ steps are important, so in between popping Champagne when your visa arrives, take the time to read carefully the accompanying documents and note down when you need to take the next steps.

Your visa will also need renewing, most initial visas last for one year, but there are exceptions.

The exact steps vary depending on your visa type, but the most common route is to apply for a residency permit (carte de séjour) so that you can stay longer than just 12 months – you usually apply for this two months before your visa runs out.

We look in more detail at the next steps HERE.

French administration is in the process of moving its immigration system online, but we’re now at the halfway stage where you can apply for some types of cartes de séjour online, but others require a visit to your local préfecture.

Once you’ve been here for five (continuous) years, you’re eligible for long-term residency, which does away with the annual paperwork.

And if you have been here for five continuous years (or three years if you completed higher education in France) and speak good French, then you can apply for French citizenship – if you’re game for a whole lot more paperwork.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

You can find more details in our Moving to France section.