Tips for Moving to Paris from Someone Who Just Did It

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of crap you’ve been holding on to: clothes, books you will never read, knick-knacks, duplicate items, anything old or outdated.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.

Did this guide help you?

9 thoughts on “Tips for Moving to Paris from Someone Who Just Did It”

  • Hello Charlianne
    I feel so related with your stories. I am Colombian and just married my french boyfriend in November 2017 and starting to feel so many thing you mention. I was wondering if you decided to open a normal (traditional) banking account or if you were more for the new online banking ?
    I am still relying on my saving in Colombia and an US account I have since I also Studied worked in the US, but still don’t know if going trough the traditional paper work or just for the new online banks in France. I will call myself more “millenial” type on this subject, since I am not familiar with checks at all hahaha, so that why I am not sure about what to do.
    Any advice from your part and experience will be helpful. Hope your are having a nice evening. And congratulations for this blog and for embracing your new life in Paris.
    Best regards, Carolina

    • Hi Carolina, thanks for reading! Bank accounts are a tricky in France. You will definitely need a French account because so many elements of life (health care reimbursements, getting paid by work, etc) require one. I opened a normal joint account with my husband at a major French bank. He already had a banking history with them so we opened a new joint account which wasn’t too difficult. We also use online banking out of Germany which is better for fees. Check if the French online banks work for the Carte Vitale, Navigo, your work and other times you’d need to link the account to something. Also how you would pull out cash. If that isn’t an issue I don’t see why the online bank wouldn’t be fine.

      Banks are legally required to open your account as long as you have a passport with a valid visa and proof of residency. I’ve heard a lot of people say banks refused to serve them, in which case you need to go to a Banque de France location (it’s a banking union/regulator of sorts) to report it and get help opening one.

      Good luck!

      • Thanks a lot. I’ve been reading al your stories and I feel totally alike with so many things while I get to know more about the city, culture etc

  • Dear Charlianne,
    While I am very happy to hear of your rather easy move to a new life in Paris, I think the picture you paint as one who moved based on a marriage to a French man portrays a path that is an unrealistic representation for anyone who is not. In doing so, you have glided over many of the problems others encounter: you already have an existing bank account to share, an existing residential address, a credit history, a French person who will run point on all of the more difficult fundamentals of life in Paris, a free French tutor at home 24/7, etc, etc, etc.
    Hence, some of your claims resulting from the privilege of your experience do not translate into reality for anyone who doesn’t step off a flight at CDG with those advantages. By example, bank accounts and legal leases represent a Catch-22 in France that is both legendary in both its rigidity and absurdity. On top of a long-term carte de sejour, one must have proof of have a legal residence – a signed lease plus a bill in your name at that exact address (if the batiment is missing a letter or apartment number it may not be accepted) from EDF to open a bank account. But few to no proprietors will give you a lease, nor will EDF give you an account – without an EXISTING bank account! Plus proof of income acceptable to a French proprietor which means income in France, as props care not a fig about how much income you have in the USA.
    Should you be refused a bank account (as the current IRS/DoJ laws discourage many French banks from taking US citizens), the Banque de France – the FR central bank akin to the US Federal Reserve, FDIC and state banking regulators all rolled into one) will not force the bank of your choice to give you an account. Once you are refused you must ask for and obtain a “Lettre de refus” often mailed to an address (!), and you can then apply to the BdF with that and another form, le driot du compte. After what can be several weeks you will then be assigned a bank that will accept you – BdF chooses it for you and it can be some small bank with one or two branches in Paris, which then takes weeks to give you a fully functional account. What do you do in the month or two interim without a bank account? With no Pin/chip card to buy Metro/SNCF tickets, etc? Because finding a decent affordable apartment is hard enough for French citizens who know the rules, have jobs and years of quittance de loyers in their application file – without a complete and acceptable ‘personnelle dossier de location’ IN HAND when you show up it is impossible.
    Anyone without it better have a friend’s sofabed, or a lot of money for an AirBnb, hotel or furnished apartment to rent by the month until the escargot pace of French bureaucracy plays out in their favor!
    I could go on as there are many other pitfalls presented to those who move to France without a corporate relocation service or husband to create an easy landing. And please, do not take this criticism personally or be offended as that is not my intent. However, if you wish to paint and accurate picture of what moving to Paris from NYC (something we did on our own 11 years ago)? Best to use brushes and colors that are available to everyone – or rename your blog “Marrying Into France” so your readers fully know in advance the prerequisites to your advice.
    Soyez bien, bon courage, bonne chance et bienvenue en France!!

    • Hi Richard, thanks for the comment. Yes, everyone’s situation will be very different depending on your immigration status, language skills, how much money you have, etc. I was hoping to give tips anyone could use whether you are coming as a student or retiree or anything in between. Since I can’t provide advice for actual immigration status or legal contracts beyond my own experience, I defer to those who have been in other situations to provide that advice. Much of the advice on this blog is focused on spouses of french citizens because that is my experience and what I was looking for when I was moving here. Hopefully some people still find this information useful even if not exactly pertinent to their particular immigration situation. Thank you for reading!

  • Getting rid of thngs is such a pain for me, but I guess that is the right way to make place for new things in your live. THank you for the wonderful tips that you shared!

  • Paris is nice place for move. I like this place. Moving in Paris is sometimes a difficult work. your blog gives a lot of valuable information for Paris moving. Thanks for sharing this so interesting post! I really want to be thankful for the way you have put it here.

  • This is a good guide for those looking to get settled in Paris. I agree 100% with the “neighbors” point. It doesn’t matter if the house/apt is nice if the neighborhood isn’t good.

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