From the sunny beaches of Biarritz to the rolling green fields of Normandy, to the Eiffel Tower lighting up the night sky above glittering Paris, France looms large in the international imagination.
And don't even get us started on French wine! From the finest Champagne to a cheap and cheerful Bordeaux or crisp Rose, the French truly have a wine for every mood, budget and occasion.
The French also take food very seriously, and French gastronomy continues to inspire chefs and home cooks all over the world. From the regional cheeses and high-quality bread and pastries to the incredible fresh produce - the French have a long, proud food history and have built an entire tourism industry around gastronomy and winemaking.
There is so much to love about France and its food, language and culture, but don't limit yourself to enjoying these things on holiday. What if we told you you could enjoy the French way of life full-time as an expat?
If you're considering moving to France and learning French, its natural you might be a little daunted by the task ahead of you. There is a lot to consider! But to get you started, we've got tips on...
- Finding somewhere to live
- Working in France
- Learning French and studying in France
- Volunteering in France
- Ten French phrases to help you get around
Setting Up A Life in France
Firstly, you'll need to determine whether you want to rent or buy a property in France. We recommend renting for a year in an area you're interested in, and then committing to purchasing a house if you find you like it.
Australian expats will be shocked by how cheap it is to buy a house in France. Anywhere outside of Paris, that is!
Whilst Paris rent can be comparable to Sydney, there are also more tiny studios on the market. These can be great for students, those on a limited budget or new arrivals to France wanting to keep things cheap before they invest in an apartment of their own.
Did you know: the minimum size for a studio in Sydney is 35m2, but studios in Paris can be as little as 10m2!
The local term for these tiny studios is chambre de bonne - they are usually at the top of Haussmanian apartment blocks and were intended as living quarters for the maids of wealthy families living in the apartments below. What you lack in space you'll make up for in cheaper rent and a fantastic view over the rooftops of Paris.
If you plan to buy an apartment or house of your own, you should do your research and gather as much information as possible on purchasing property in France.
Employment and Income in France
Unless you're retired or independently wealthy, you'll need to earn a living in France. If you don't speak French yet, this will be a hindrance, but your business can also serve the Anglophone expat community.
France is also a great place to start a business. In fact, an Ernst &Young report tells us that France is one of the easier places in the greater G20 to launch a new enterprise.
Ensure that you have the right credentials and that your visa allows you to work for the duration of your stay. You'll also need to navigate the French tax and social security systems and apply for healthcare.
As with any international move, it's best to start looking for a job long before you're ready to make the big leap. Many corporate employers in France will also pay for French lessons for staff who are relocating.
Did you know: the French work week is one of the shortest in the world - only 35 hours full-time!
However, this will depend on your job, and many expats find themselves working longer hours - especially if they are in startups or tech.
Learning French by Immersion
Perhaps you have a little bit of rusty French from high-school or university, or maybe you've even started lessons with a tutor!
If you have no French, living in France won't be easy - but it is possible.
Assessing your French: do you know a few handy tourist phrases, do you speak classroom French or can you have a flowing day-to-day conversation with native speakers?
No matter your level of French, the absolute best way to achieve total French fluency is by moving to France or a Francophone country.
- Take lessons online before you move
- Study French full-time through a language school or at university
- Apply for jobs that also offer training in the French language, preparing you for a bilingual workplace
- Start your own business in France and take lessons on the side with a local tutor
Studying in France
If you dream of pursuing higher education at one of France's highly ranked tertiary institutions, you'll need to gather information on the language requirements. You may be required to sit the DELF - language competency exams that certify your French level.
Many larger universities also offer their courses in English, but you'll generally have to study in the major cities, such as Marseille, Paris, Lyon, Montpellier or Toulouse.
These cities are also the best place to relocate if you speak no French. You'll find it easiest to get around Paris, as it has the highest number of English speakers and Anglophone expats. In some parts of rural France, you'll find no one speaks any English.
However, where's the challenge in moving to France only to speak English all the time?
Many people also move to France to study trades (such as patisserie or cookery) or music and art (at a conservative or prestigious painting school).
If you speak beginner or intermediate French, we recommend signing up to a language class as soon as you arrive. This is also a great way to network with other expats and make new friends.
When choosing classes, here are a few things to think about...
- Do you want to attend a weekly French class, or do you have time for an intensive course?
- How big should your class be? We recommend prioritising classes where there are no more than 10 students
- What areas of French do you need to improve?
- Do you need grammar and vocabulary help?
- Help with reading, writing, listening...?
- Or if you already know some French... would a conversation class or language exchange do the trick?
- Do your classes offer immersive and fun experiences, such as organising activities and outings for students? Yes, you can learn French while going to an art gallery or wine tasting!
Nearly ready to make the leap, but want to brush up on your French skills before you go? Check out French lessons Melbourne here.
Volunteering in France
If you have caught the travel bug and wish to move to France, but don't have the means to travel just yet, volunteering can be a great low-cost option. Or perhaps you just want to spend your hard-earned money on experiences and not possessions.
It won't be a first-class travel experience, but what it lacks in luxe you'll gain in authentic experiences and chances to fully immerse yourself in French language and culture.
Get off the beaten path and and experience French culture by volunteering in France.
You never know where your spirit of adventure may lead - perhaps to a homestay experience in rural France, WWOOFING in the gorgeous French countryside or becoming an au pair in Paris.
There are plenty of sites where you can sign up to offer a service or some of your time in exchange for room and board. You can check out HelpX and find someone willing to set up a mutually beneficial exchange. Positions listed can be anything from teaching English to becoming a part-time farmhand.
Keep in mind that these kind of positions aren't permanent - you'll be there for a few months and then have the opportunity to move on. This is a great way to discover the different regions of France or dip your toe into the French way of life before moving there full-time.
There are also positions all over Europe - other beautiful places you can speak French are Belgium and Switzerland.
Once you've explored France and gained a certain level of French proficiency, you'll be well on your way to sitting the DELF, finding a flat or home in your preferred area or sitting and setting into la vie francaise.
You can find out more here about learning French and living in France.
Whether you're travelling through France or looking for a place to move permanently, there are a few must-know phrases that will serve you well.
But if you want to truly start speaking like a local, nothing beats hiring a native teacher. And for that tricky French grammar? There are hundreds of qualified tutors on Superprof who can help you out, teaching in your area or online.
Ten Must-Know French Phrases
The first thing to know about French is when to use the formal vous and informal tu. These both mean "you", but you'll use vous to any adult you don't know, especially someone from an older generation or your teacher. Whether you're banking, at the tax office or simply greeting the clerk at your local epicerie, it shows respect to use the formal vous.
It's often said that the French language is more formal than English - but many forget that the Anglophone world has a host of unspoken rules about how you should speak in certain company.
You shouldn't use street slang in a job interview, for example. The same goes for French!
You have probably absorbed these rules of etiquette in Australia without thinking twice, but when you move overseas, you'll need to familiarise yourself with the culture to avoid any conversational faux pas.
We're here to help - below we've listed ten French words and phrases you can use day-to-day in nearly any situation.
You may already know these greeting words. Bonjour translates literally to "good day" and bonsoir to "good evening". Whilst these may sound formal to the Anglophone ear, they're used very regularly in France in almost any social situation. Just don't forget to change to bonsoir around 6 pm!
Salut (hi) is best used among friends or people of the same age - don't say salut to your banker!
Even if you're just popping in to browse or pick up some milk, it is considered quite rude not to acknowledge the shopkeeper. So make sure you make eye contact and chime in with "bonjour"!
Bonne nuit (goodnight) is only used later at night - right before you're about to go to bed. If you're parting ways in the evening (say... at 7 pm), you'll want to use "Bonne soiree" (have a good evening!)
Merci / De rien / Je vous en prie
Even non-French-speakers generally know merci... (thank you!)
De rien is the usual response - it means nothing. In English we would translate this to "Think nothing of it" or "It was nothing".
Je vous en prie translates more readily to "you're welcome", or "by all means". If you say it to a friend, you would use the tu form: Je t'en prie.
D'accord / Mais Oui, Bien Sûr!
If you're Anglophone, you'll be tempted to respond with "Ok" to everything. Trying replacing it with the more French d'accord. If you're from a younger generation, you can also shorten it to d'ac among friends.
You may here mais oui, bien sur! if you make a request. The first part is "but yes", quickly followed by "of course".
If you ask to try on some clothes in a shop, you'll hear mais oui, bien sur! from the shopkeeper - it means go ahead!
The French are very proud of their linguistic heritage, and whilst the French language is evolving all the time, you'll win more brownie points by avoiding Anglicisms and going the extra mile to build up your everyday French vocabulary.
Pardonnez-moi / Excusez-moi / Desolé(e)
In French, you should preface a question or get someone's attention with phrases like pardon me or excuse me.
If you want to politely ask to switch to English, you could ask "Excusez-moi, parlez vous anglais?".
Pardonnez-moi is for when you've bumped onto someone on the metro or accidentally stepped on their toe!
Desolé (or desolée, in the feminine form) is generally reserved for a more serious offence. Keep that one for when you're gravely sorry.
Language tip: if you're younger, you can shorten desolé(e) to deso among friends
Pas de problème / Ce n'est pas grave
These are two standard responses to French apologies. Loosely translated, they are...
Pas de problem - it's no problem
Ce n'est pas grave - it's not serious, don't worry!
You may also hear a French parent consoling a child on the playground by saying ce n'est pas grave
Except where we've already stated, these words and phrases can be used with anyone of any age - strangers on the bus, friends, shopkeepers, teachers...
If you're seeking a more in-depth lexicon of the important words and phrases to know you should take a look here.
A Note On Accents In France
Today, France is divided up into 12 regions. This is down from the 22 regions of France recognised historically.
The Parisian accent is generally considered "neutral" - although this is hotly contested! And there are some regional dialects that you may find difficult to understand, especially if you are living in or travelling through the countryside.
As a rule of thumb, people from the south will sound more "nasal", whilst those from the northern regions will have a more booming, resonant sound.
The French also tend to speak very fast, so make sure you do lots of listening preparation before moving. A great way to practice French listening free and from wherever you are is to listen to French podcasts or radio shows.
You can test your French listening skills and hear different accents by listening to French music: Johnny Hallyday, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Aya Nakamura, or even the French-language music of Celine Dion (who has a nasal Quebec accent!).
The Top 5 Destinations for Studying in France
If you're looking for an international learning experience with a rich history and strong intellectual culture, you can't go past France.
You can take a mix of French language classes and also take classes in French on other topics (such as sociology, history, sciences). Many universities also offer some classes in English - so you may like to take a mix of classes in English and French to reduce your mental load as you study.
So what are the top destinations for international students wishing to study in France? We've gone looking further afield than Paris, and chosen a few of our favourites...
1. Grenoble is ranked very highly among international students. It's a smaller city near the alps, with sparkling clean air, excellent universities and lots of great alpine activities to keep you entertained.
Grenoble is particularly popular among students studying technology or engineering as it hosts the European Institute of Innovation and Technology!
2. Montpellier boasts a warm Mediterranean climate and proximity to the ocean. You can soak up its stunning architecture and study at one of the world's oldest universities.
3. Nantes is a smaller city near Brittany. The Audencia campus was hailed by the Economist as the top Management school worldwide.
4. Aix-Marseilles University has a strong focus on preparing its graduates for immediate job placements.
In 2012, there was an overhaul of the French tertiary education system, and many small campuses merged into larger universities.
Through this merger, Marseilles earned its place as the biggest university in the Francophone world, with the biggest budget.
5. The University of Bordeaux has a warm and welcoming student culture, top-notch facilities and is surrounded by one of the most famous wine regions in France. You can get to know the university through their Grande Festival de Rentrée, help at the start of the academic year each September.
But don't just take it from us - you can read what international students have to say in their responses to the French universities poll.
Final Trip Notes: Before You Move
Taking a trip to France is a very different experience to living here full-time.
Settling into a new country is a grand adventure. It's no small thing to be able to uproot yourself, and possibly your entire family to live on the other side of the world. There are so many different things to take care of before you go, and even more so once you've landed.
Think short-term, but also consider the long-term - will your stay in France be indefinite, or do you plan to return home to Australian shores in future?
Here's our checklist before you make the big move, to ensure your immigration goes smoothly:
- Take a look at Numbeo to calculate the average cost of living in each city and region of France - you can even compare things to where you live currently
- Plan out how you will end your lease, sell your place and store your things in Australia - get quotes from removals companies and how much it will cost to ship your possessions to France.
- Look into buying or renting a property - if renting, make sure you have a France-based guarantor and beware of scams - especially in Paris! Don't rent any place you haven't seen for yourself, and ideally transfer the bond and rent at the moment you receive the keys.
- Set up a bank account, register with the tax system, social security system and apply for your carte vitale (health care card)
- Purchase health insurance to ensure you're fully covered
- Whether you plan to work or study, check that your degrees and qualifications will be accepted in France.
- Network, network, network... every city has an expat Facebook group where you can meet fellow Anglophones and you can check out Meetup for making new friends
Start preparing now with these online French courses.
And lastly - bonne chance!