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REVEALED: The problems foreigners have getting started in France

The Local France
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REVEALED: The problems foreigners have getting started in France
A person stands on the Petit pont-Cardinal Lustiger in front of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

A recent international has ranked France among the 10 hardest countries for foreign citizens to settle in. But what makes getting started in France so difficult?


France is among the top 10 hardest countries to get set up in after first moving for foreigners, according to a recent survey by InterNations - a platform that connects foreign residents abroad.

The survey, called "Where expats struggle most to get settled", used survey responses from people living abroad to rank countries based on how easy they are for dealing with administration, language, housing and digital life. 

Overall France was placed in 44th place out of 52 countries, faring better than Italy (48th place) and Germany (52nd place), but well-behind other European countries like Norway (15th place), the Netherlands (25th) and Sweden (26th). 

Overall, the survey noted that administrative processes and language were the most difficult parts of setting up a life in France for foreigners.


Complex administration 

France ranked among the bottom 10 countries - in 43rd place - when it came to administrative topics. This subsection encompassed things from setting up a bank account upon arrival to the general ease of dealing with local administrative workers and residency permit renewal procedures.

More than half of the people in the InterNations survey (55 percent) said that is not easy to deal with the local authorities - higher than the global average of 39 percent.

About a third of respondents said that it was hard to open a local bank account. Readers of The Local have signalled this challenge as well - many struggle with the Catch-22 of being asked for a proof of your address to open an account, while on the other hand meeting many landlords who will not rent to you until you have a bank account.

The Local created a guide with vocabulary and relevant information for opening a bank account in France - you can find it HERE.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about setting up a bank account in France

One British resident in France told InterNations, “What bothers me most is the bureaucracy, particularly the time it is taking to get full access to healthcare services. In general, France still has work to do to make such official processes easier and fully possible online".

As for readers of The Local, several have echoed these types of complaints about French administrative procedures. 

In a 2021 survey by The Local on foreigners' experiences living in Paris specifically, several mentioned bureaucracy as a challenge. One reader, Weronika Lasko referred to French admin as a "pure nightmare' and others, like Pavan Puli, advised that for "any administrative assistance it takes a lot of time to get done".

Nevertheless - readers of The Local had helpful advice for those just moving to the country. In a recent survey on applying for and renewing visas and residency permits, one respondent advised everyone to "Bring more paperwork than you think you need and don’t expect anything to make sense". 


When giving The Local their 'top tips for life in France', several readers offered ways to make administrative processes less complex. One reader, Kerstin Hallert, said that it is "absolutely necessary to have a French-speaking friend not afraid to deal with bureaucracy endlessly."

Despite the challenges many foreigners have experienced with French bureaucracy, several of France's administrative procedures have been gradually moving online. In The Local's survey about France's visa procedures moving online, 78 percent of respondents said they had completed their most recent visa or residency procedure online (rather than in person).

Other tasks that may have been a challenge for foreigners a few years ago - like having to call to make a doctor's appointment - have been simplified with the advent of websites, like Doctolib, which allow users to register for their healthcare appointments online.

More recently, the French government put forward a new website called "démarches simplifiées" which allegedly speeds up certain admin tasks by 50 percent. 

READ MORE: The website that speeds up French bureaucracy 'by up to 50 percent'

From driver's licences to submitting documents related to residency permits for foreigners, the new French website aims to streamline administrative procedures and make more processes that once required in-person, paper-heavy meetings available online.


France is also notorious for requiring large paper dossiers for different tasks in life, notably finding and renting an apartment. This is another process that has been put online - now you can use the tool 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.

Language struggles

According to the survey by InterNations, 60 percent of respondents said that they find it "difficult to live in France without speaking the local language", which is almost double the global average of 32 percent.

The survey did find that the vast majority of foreigners living in France speak French fairly or very well (72 percent), but may reported that they struggled to learn it. 

One Greek resident told InterNation that “French is REALLY difficult, even after all these years, and without it you are lost!” 

Readers of The Local have also found language barriers to be one of the most challenging aspects to life in France. For example in a previous survey respondents talked about the difficulty of understanding French people due to the speed they speak the language.

It's also more important for foreigners in France to learn the language because unlike other countries like Switzerland or the Nordics where locals have a high level of English, France has traditionally ranked low in regard to English levels. The 2022 scores for the Education First English Language Proficiency test actually ranked France at the bottom of all EU countries on English levels. There are many reasons that might explain this ranking, ranging from the way English is taught in French schools to the fact France still tends to dub English language films rather than use subtitles.


READ MORE: Worst in the EU? Just how well (or badly) do the French speak English?

In France, English-levels vary greatly based on several factors, such as region - those that ranked "high" instead of moderate on the test, and the best score (in order) was Île-de-France (the Paris region) and the regions with the lowest English levels were Burgundy, Brittany, and Hauts-de-France.

And if you go up to anyone on the streets of France, hoping they speak a little English, the study also found that those aged 26 to 40 were most likely to score "high" instead of "moderate."

On a positive note...

The InterNations survey did conclude with a positive message - France scored well in the "Digital Life" category.

According to the survey - France came in 24th place in this area.

"Around nine in ten expats rate the cashless payment options positively (89 percent vs. 84 percent globally) and agree they have unrestricted access to online services, such as social media (90 percent vs. 82 percent globally)", the survey found.

This stacks up with the figures - in 2013, the French government launched a €20 billion plan to make sure that all households and businesses across the country had access to very high-speed broadband, and that goal was achieved. By the end of 2021, 99 percent of households and businesses had been equipped with it. 

More people also opt to pay using contactless options. According to a study by the group Panorabanques, 86 percent of French people in 2020 opted to use contactless payment with their bank cards - an increase of seven percentage points when compared with the year previous. 

France is also going digital in other aspects - with the goal of reducing waste and its carbon footprint, the French government plans to gradually phase out paper receipts. Customers will still be able to request them, once the new regulation is put into practice.

READ MORE: How France's new anti-waste laws will affect you

Several local authorities have also begun to phase out paper transport tickets, while expanding options to buy rail passes with mobile phone applications and reusable cards.


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