The City of Light is one of the culture capitals of the world and has long been a popular destination for expats. Frequently voted one of the best cities in the world in which to live, and recently named the world’s best city for students, Paris is a city you can make your own.
It can seem expensive at first (unless you’re coming from London), but it’s not impossible to live well in Paris on a budget, with many food markets, free events and museums as well as cheap, efficient public transport. If you aren’t on a tight budget, even better! There are a few essentials to cover upon arrival in this beautiful city so you can get settled as soon as possible:
Arrival – have somewhere to stay, and find a permanent home.
Ensure you have somewhere to stay when you arrive in Paris. Contact any friends or family you have in the city beforehand, or book a holiday apartment. It can take up to a few months to find and move into a permanent apartment, so many people find that a short-term rental is better value than a hotel for this initial 1-2 month period. Check out our Paris listings here. Backpackers and students may also be able to find cheap short term accommodation through organisations like CNOUS and ADELE who arrange university accommodation for students.
Before beginning your search for an apartment, get a clear idea of your needs and limits. Decide on a budget, which arrondissements you like, and what features are most important to you. It can be helpful to prepare a spreadsheet where you collate all of this information, as well as the contact details of the agent. When you see something you like, contact the landlord or agent immediately to arrange a property inspection.
To land an apartment, you will need to provide evidence that you are permitted to be in France and will be able to pay your rent. An agent will expect to see your payslips for the previous three months and a letter from your employer, confirming your position, salary and the length of your contract. For students, or those whose monthly salary is less than three times the monthly rent, a guarantor will be required. A copy of your residence permit and identification will also be required.
Setting up a bank account
There are plenty of international banks in Paris. BNP Paribas, HSBC, and Societe Generale offer some English language services, while others like ING offer online accounts which are convenient and can easily be translated online to help you navigate banking. You will normally need an address in Paris before you can get a bank account, so it can take a little time and it will help to have a travelcard from your home country to use until then. Shop around – depending on your situation, some banks offer reduced transfer and ATM fees.
To get an account, you’ll usually need to attend the bank in person, and provide your passport, a residence permit and proof of address. A Carte Bleu (debit card) will be ready to pick up or be sent to your address within a week or two. You should also receive a Relevé d’Identité Bancaire, or RIB, which has all the details you will need to give an employer, client or landlord in the future.
Begin learning French immediately!
One of the best things about moving to another country is learning to speak a new language. Though the French have a reputation for being impatient with non-French speakers, they appreciate the difficulty of communicating in a new language and will be helpful as long as you are respectful and give French speaking a try.
A few French lessons at home before moving to Paris will make the first few days in the city a bit easier, but aren’t necessary. Once in Paris, many expats take classes at a university, such as the Paris-Sorbonne University or the ILCF centre at the Catholic University of Paris to improve their spoken and written French. Another option is to join a community college – the City of Paris runs these in several arrondissements and they are a cheap and cheerful way to learn in a classroom style environment.
Whenever you have a spare moment, brush up on vocabulary and grammar with apps such as Duolingo and Memrise – they feel like games and will help you along the way.
Sign up for social and sporting groups
Many Parisians get their daily exercise just dashing up and down the steep cobblestoned alleys and stairways of the city, not to mention carrying groceries up the stairs of buildings without elevators. However, for a bit of variation there several gym chains in the city with competitive rates and a variety of classes. Chains like Espace Vit’Halles and Club Med offer 6 and 12 month memberships and are usually equipped with swimming pools, saunas and showers. There are also many public swimming pools in Paris, most of which charge only about 3 euros per visit.
A good way to make like-minded friends is to join a sporting team, book club and or social group, many of which are listed on the Paris Meetups page. Although it’s not the best way to make French friends, it will open up a support network of people who are going through the same kinds of changes as you and who can share your perspective on life in Paris. WICE are another great organisation who arrange tours and classes for expats on all things French.
Make sure you have permission to drive.
If you’ve just moved to Paris, chances are you wouldn’t mind taking a drive to the French countryside one weekend, or hiring a van to move your furniture when you find the perfect apartment. Be prepared by knowing whether you are allowed to drive in France or not.
From 2013, EU citizens have been able to continue using their valid and current EU drivers license in Paris. Driving in Paris is fairly straightforward for non-EU citizens, and at first will simply require you to carry your current non-EU license, as well as an International Driving Permit. To avoid heartache, it’s best to take out insurance and revise French road rules before getting behind the wheel, especially for those who haven’t driven on the right hand side of the road before. Your license from your previous country of residence is only valid for 3 months to one year from when you arrive in France (depending on where you are from) and before that period is over you will need to attend the Préfecture de Police de Paris to exchange it for a French one. If your home country does not have a license exchange agreement with France you will need to take a French driving test to keep driving. More information for non-EU citizens can be found here.