So You Want to Live in Paris?
I recently met Kelly during my European travels at an Americans in Paris Meetup. It was my first full day in Paris and earlier that day while walking into the Tuileries…the sky an icy blue, the sumptuous garden and statues creating a breathtaking peaceful oasis beside the River Seine, I sat down with my cup of tea along the promenade and… was gobsmacked with the thought – why am I not living here! Doesn’t everyone have at least a moment of the living in Paris dream? So later that night I asked Kelly if she might tell me how she made her Paris dream into reality.
What made you decide to pack up and move to Paris?
I had spent 14 years working an increasingly stressful media marketing job when I hit full on burn out. My free time was being eclipsed by work which meant I wasn’t able to feed my passions, which included food, wine and travel. Then I lost my mom to cancer and that’s when I had a wake up call about how short life is. After some thinking, a little prep time, and a friendly push, I quit my job and moved to Paris.
What attracted you in the first place?
Paris was always this romantic, exotic and slightly out of reach place for me. I had thought about doing my study abroad program there in college, but then I chickened out over a fear of foreign language, and ended up taking the safe route and studied in England. It didn’t matter which country I was in though. My full on wanderlust began once I hopped across the pond to live for an extended period of time.
How did you make it happen?
I started researching how to live in Paris and merci beaucoup for the internet because there’s a wealth of information on people’s experiences and tips that I devoured. I rented my place in the states to a friend, and lucked into a tiny apartment in Paris through a friend of a friend of a friend, and voila, I was living in Paris!
Do you absolutely need to speak French? Or can you muddle along with just English? Is that true for just Paris / what about in the countryside?
I’m embarrassed to say that I still don’t speak fluent French. I can speak restaurant and food French pretty well since that’s how I spent most of my time, but having long political conversations in French did not happen. You should know some basics before you go and try to speak, but you’ll often find that the Parisians will speak English back to you. Trying usually does get you farther than speaking loud English. There’s quite a lot of people who speak English in the city. The countryside will be more difficult, but they’re also more forgiving in your attempts and good charades can also come into play. I was in a tiny town in the south in a lovely little bistro and the woman who ran the restaurant ran back and forth to my table using google translate on her computer to talk about some of the care they took in their dishes and drinks. It was quite charming.
Did you do any research about living there before you went? If so, how did you find out about how to do it?
Bien sur. You should definitely do some research before you go. There are so many great blogs of ex-Pats who have done the quit the job thing to try and live in Paris. You can see some of my stories at PageinParis.com. Other sites that are helpful include Fusac, Expatica, and Girls’ Guide to Paris.
Would it be easy for a first time traveler to adjust to life there? Why or why not?
It’s definitely an adjustment to live in a foreign country, but for those that have traveled and experienced different cultures, it’s not quite as dramatic. Humility and patience is key. The French have a specific way of doing things and there’s a good chance you’re not going to agree with those ways most of the time. Fighting the system only makes things worse, so you need to go in with an open mind, and a sense of humor to best adapt to the culture.
How do people find accommodation?
There are many online sites that are in English and cater to the ex-Pat crowd. A few big ones are Paris Attitude and Paris Stay. Craigslist is also popular, but you need to be a little more careful in screening your choices. Airbnb has also become widely used in Paris as well.
Where are the best parts of Paris to live located?
Most people want to be in central Paris which means the arrondissements from the 1st through the 9th, but the further out of the middle of the city you go, the cheaper rents will be. You might also enjoy more of a neighborhood atmosphere if you live further out. A lot of exciting things are happening in the 10th and 11th with new young chefs starting restaurants out there due to the cheaper rent. You just want to ensure you’re near one or more good metro lines so you can get everywhere in the city.
What is great about living there? Why?
Living there versus the weeklong stay you usually get on vacation allows you to see Paris on a different level. When you only have a few days, you’re playing the checklist Paris game where you run around and see the big tour book attractions. Don’t get me wrong, those attractions are stunning. In fact, I compiled a list of my top 10 Paris to-do’s for my friends when they are there with limited time.
But when you get to spend extended time, you can spend an afternoon sitting in a café, people watching, and also not getting pushed out the door because they need to turn over the table. They allow and encourage “the linger” I call it. I wrote an article all about the Parisian linger, and this is something the Parisians, and hopefully you, will become an expert in.
What is difficult about living there? Why?
What’s difficult living in Paris if you’re not Parisian, is that you’re not Parisian. Even if you spoke fluent French and lived in Paris for 10 years, you’ll still be treated as an outsider. It takes a long time to build up relationships, whether they’re with friends or your butcher or the guy selling fruit at the marché. It’s hard to always be on the outside.
And the other extremely difficult thing about living in Paris is all the red tape you must navigate to make yourself legal there. More on that later.
Was it easy to make friends with other expats / and the French?
The good news about not being French is that you will very quickly find all of the other non-French people living in Paris. The ex-Pat community is very strong and very helpful. Meetup and InterNations are two great communities that have parties and events to bring ex-Pats, as well as some French, together.
What’s it like being single and dating in Paris?
I took a turn on a French dating website while living in Paris, and wow, it was like being the belle of the ball. Americans are exotic to the Parisians. They’re curious and intrigued by our customs and us. I dated one Frenchmen who said he wouldn’t date Parisian girls because they’re too serious and don’t like to laugh. I was able to meet a lot of very nice men through the site meetic, which is owned by match.com, and it was fun to see Paris through their eyes.
How can you stay there if you only have a tourist visa? (The in and out country trick or?)
You can stay in Paris up to 90 days without a visa. It’s very difficult to get a work visa. You have to prove that you have a skill that basically no one else in Paris has. I ended up going with a one year Visitor’s visa, but with that visa, you have to sign a hand written letter that you won’t work while you’re there.
Have you found it difficult / easy to find work? Can you find work without a work visa (under the table jobs)? If so, what is the best way to find work?
I tried without luck in finding jobs without a work visa. I offered to work under the table or even for free in exchange for learning a specific trade, but I was refused. The government is really cracking down on work by foreigners without papers due to the current high unemployment levels. I was able to do some writing for some companies that were based in the US. That seems to be the best and easiest way – find an employer in the US or your home country to sponsor you and move you over.
What would you say to someone thinking of moving to Paris? Tips, advice, things you might do differently / the same?
Keep an open mind. Things will get very frustrating at times, but at the end of a day filled with French bureaucracy, walk along the Seine, go see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night or enjoy a glass of wine and soak in the beauty and magnificence that is Paris.
What are the definite dos and don’ts when you live there?
One of the definite don’ts is trying to change the Parisian system. It can be archaic at times, but you won’t get anywhere by telling them how they can do things better. Parisians also don’t ask about what you do. That’s a very American thing. Americans are also pretty loud, so best to keep a lower pitch when dining out or visiting museums.
Is Paris safe?
I never felt unsafe and I’d walk or bike home late at night, but just like any big city, you need to be street smart and keep your purse close and be aware at all times.
What websites have been most helpful for moving / living there / finding work / finding community?
As I mentioned, Meetup and InterNations were both really helpful groups in creating a community. They have groups for many different interests ranging from wine tasting to dining out (two of my favorite things), as well as cultural and athletic groups.
Also, check out Expatriates Magazine
Finally, would you do it again?
Absolutement! I’ve already returned for a 2 month visit and look forward to regular trips back. Paris will always be a home away from home for me.
You can follow Kelly’s latest travels and epicurean adventures on TastingPage.
Merci Kelly! And for all of you out there with your own Paris dream – Bonne Chance!
Comments, questions? – now it’s your turn – we’ll be happy to answer your questions so you can live your own Paris dream.