Tips for Moving to Paris from Someone Who Just Did It
Moving across town is stressful. Moving to another continent will test your mental stability. Six months ago, my French husband and I made the jump from the United States to France, and let me tell you I learned some things!
Everyone’s moving situation will be a little different — single or as a couple, budget or balling, for work or school or family or just the experience — but these are universal tips that will save you stress regardless of why you are moving to the most beautiful city in the world.
1. Get rid of as much stuff as possible
Save yourself the hassle of relocating more than you must to Paris. Use this move as an opportunity to get rid of the tons of crap you’ve been holding on to: clothes, books you will never read, knick-knacks, duplicate items, anything old or outdated. Purge, see what “sparks joy,” whatever method works for you. Trust me, they have everything you need in Paris. Except yogurt pretzels, which I miss dearly.
We went back to NYC recently and were surprised how much we still had in storage. We’ve been living six months without these boxes and didn’t miss any of it. We still have a full suitcase waiting at someone’s apartment. Don’t be like us.
2. Don’t bring your furniture
Unless very expensive, a family heirloom, or your company is covering the cost, it isn’t worth bringing your furniture. It is very expensive to ship, takes a long time to arrive and may not work in your new apartment anyway. For the money you will pay to ship your couch, you could probably just buy a new one.
3. Neighborhood matters
You find a beautiful apartment… but the neighborhood is not great or isn’t your style. My advice: Don’t take it. An acquaintance of mine did just that when she moved to Paris, renting a nice, big place with her husband near one of the major train stations in Paris. Beyond the noise, the neighborhood felt transient and none of the shop owners bothered to make connections with customers because of it. Not exactly the Paris experience she was yearning for. They moved again after just a year.
Which neighborhood is best for you depends on what stage you are at in life and what type of experience you are looking for. But make sure you get to know the area a little before signing a lease. Don’t choose an apartment based on what it looks like alone.
4. Keep your foreign banking
Yes you will want (and need) to set up a French bank account too, but do not close your foreign accounts. I still use my American credit cards to shop online, I still use my venmo account with friends and can deposit checks into my U.S. checking account using my phone. Banking is much more flexible than it used to be and you’ll be surprised how much you continue to use banking services in your home country while abroad.
5. Choose your phone plan wisely
Communication is also much easier than it used to be even four or five years ago — no need to make everyone download Whatsapp to talk anymore. But there are also some phone plans that can make your life easier. If you plan to call your home country a lot, and frequently travel home or around Europe, make sure your phone carrier is flexible too. I use the company Free Communications and can call the U.S. at no charge and data service (up to a certain limit) is free when I’ve traveled in Europe and North America.
6. Start job hunting early
I talked about my frustration with the slow-going French job search process in my Paris Dispatch #4, and I’ve heard the same thing from many others here (French and expats). It is not uncommon for it to take six months or longer to land a job in Paris, or to wait a month before hearing back about your last interview. So get started looking for jobs quickly, ideally before you even arrive.
7. French, French, French
This is obvious, but needs to be stated. Even basic French skills will greatly improve your experience living in Paris. Although you can live in Paris without speaking much French, your life will be richer and easier the more you are able to communicate with people. Make a concerted effort to study as much as possible before you come. Even getting through the beginner levels before you arrive will make a difference. I wish I had worked harder on my French before touching down, it would have saved me a few mental breakdowns.
8. Don’t try to recreate your exact life
Right after we made the decision to move to Paris, I was a bit obsessed with how I could mirror my New York City habits in my new country. What will I do without a 24 hour bodega? What will replace my go-to Chinese takeout order? Where would I get my cheap pedicures? None of these things exist in Paris, and that is okay. Six months in I am still discovering all the new treats and the lifestyle France has to offer, and I don’t miss my old routines and NYC favorites. Except yogurt pretzels.
9. Paperwork: Have it all and be organized
French bureaucracy is obsessed with paperwork. Getting your visa, getting a bank account, getting a cellphone, getting an apartment…it all involves a lot of documents and you can never have enough. Winging it won’t work. If you show up without everything you need (and sometimes things you didn’t know you needed) you will promptly be shown the door. So my advice, be meticulous about finding out what you need, getting it and keeping it all organized.
10. Get a Navigo Card
A Navigo card is an unlimited public transit card that works on all the buses, metros and commuter trains (RER) in Paris. You have to apply online, upload a photo and wait a few weeks for it to arrive so apply for it as soon as you can. If you have a French bank account you can get the annual pass which automatically recharges the card every month. If not, you can order one that you charge at metro stations (it is a little more expensive that way). I got one when I started working (many companies will cover the monthly fee) and I love how easy it makes getting around the city. No more fumbling with the tiny paper tickets, waiting in line, running out of tickets — and you can take the commuter trains outside the city all on the same card.
11. Give yourself time to adjust
I thought within three months I would be feeling comfortable in my new neighborhood/city/language. Not even close. Understand it may take a year or more to truly feel at home in Paris — making friends, getting familiar with transportation, feeling comfortable with the language, finding your favorite places. It isn’t something that happens overnight, and not putting a huge amount of pressure on yourself to adjust quickly (as I did) will make you feel better about your progress. Be kind to yourself: celebrate your gains, even little ones, and don’t beat yourself up too much about failures. It will happen, it is part of the process.