The Insider Guide To Living In Paris As An Expat

All you need to know about the French capital before moving there - how much it will cost, where to live, how to integrate and what to expect.

Paris has a somewhat controversial reputation. For some, it’s the ultimate dream. Many people would put up with a considerable amount of discomfort just for the privilege of saying, “yes, I live in Paris.”

Others find their dream shattered and claim the city is hot, busy, smelly, and not at all as they imagined. 

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle. If you know where to go, living in Paris can be a dream where you can wander down cobbled streets with a baguette sticking out of your bag as you prepare to meet a friend at an art gallery opening. Luckily for you, we know the right places to be. 

Is living in Paris dangerous?

Of all the capital cities in Europe, Paris is one of the safer choices.

It sounds alarming, but robberies in Paris are probably one of the biggest issues you’ll face. But because the police are hot on tracking down thieves, they only usually take gold jewellery that can be sold quickly.

Many people are shocked to find they’ve been robbed, and the TV, laptop, and passports are left in plain view. 

In tourist areas, pickpockets are common. The 18th and 19th arrondissements have a reasonably bad rep as the least safe parts of Paris. But again, law enforcement is trying to address these areas. 

As much as they hate the stereotype, the only other primary concern is strike action.

The French love to strike, and civil protests are part of life. As such, some shops and streets can be destroyed, and it’s best to stay inside during these marches. They can turn violent but generally don’t involve people who aren’t actually in the protest. 

Can I live in Paris without speaking French?

Like most major metropolitan cities, Paris is hugely multicultural. This means that you’ll find people living here full time from all around the world. Many people move to Paris not speaking a word of French, and they get on just fine. 

Living in Paris
Latin Quarter of Paris with its narrow cobbled streets.

Many Parisians speak English, but you’ll meet resistance if you don’t at least try to speak French.

Quite a lot of Parisians will pretend they don’t speak English until you’ve struggled through a few torturous minutes of broken French, then they’ll happily converse with you all evening in English. But you have to try first. 

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Paris?

Paris has a reputation for being expensive, but it isn’t that bad.

Of course, compared to the average cost of living in France Paris comes as one of the most expensive places to live. However, if you’re moving from somewhere like London or New York, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. 

Housing is obviously the highest cost to consider. Like all cities, the size and location are the deciding factors. To put it simply, if it’s in Paris and bigger than one room, it’s expensive. 

Paris is divided into neighbourhoods called arrondissements. Two neighbouring arrondissements have very different prices so do your research.

Property is sold with the arrondissement number as part of the property title because it’s so important. There are 20 of them arranged in a spiral shape, and you should be very proud of whichever one you live in. 

On average, rent for a one-bed apartment will be over €1,200 a month.

Right out in the suburbs, you can find studios with a shower in the kitchen and a fold-up bed for €800. Before renting, read our guide on Renting A Property In France – All You Need To Know, it will help you to understand the process and protect yourself as a tenant.

If you want to buy, you’ll find stylish 3-bed apartments for €1.2 million. Houses on the outskirts will be around €1 million, and you’ll still be able to watch your neighbours’ every move through the window. 

If you are a prospective buyer, this guide A Complete Guide To Buying A Property In France will explain the property purchase process and how to do it safely.

Aside from property costs, Paris isn’t too expensive. There are lots of independent cafes and bistros, so eating out needn’t break the bank. You can grab proper coffee for €2 if you know where to go.

Outdoor markets sell cheap, fresh produce, and, of course, there are more bakeries than any city really needs. 

There are markets for everything from food to antiques, clothes and flowers. If you want a bit of everything, the market on the pedestrianised Rue Montorgueil is one of the best. 

A monthly metro pass costs around €75, and there are annual passes and discounts for students and over 65s.

Taxis are expensive, so unless money is not a concern at all, you’ll spend a lot of time on public transport. Or walking when there is a strike. 

As with all major cities, Paris has options. This means that for every super-expensive choice, there is a cheaper alternative. Some international schools can cost €50,000 a year, some cost just €15,000. Childcare is the same, as are gyms and fitness clubs, restaurants, and bars. 

Advantages and disadvantages of living in Paris

Not sure if life in Paris is for you? These are the best and worst parts of living in Paris year-round. 

Living in Paris
The floral city (Cité Florale), a residential area located in the 13th arrondissement of Paris.

The advantages of living in Paris

  • Fresh food is affordable in regular markets
  • Cafes and bistros
  • Good public transport
  • Good schools, hospitals, and public services
  • Excellent connections to the rest of France and the world
  • Packed full of things to do, museums, galleries, pop-ups, shops, etc
  • Outdoor life in parks and on the banks of the Seine 
  • That certain je ne sais quoi

The disadvantages

  • Everything shuts at midday
  • It can become expensive, especially rent
  • Finding somewhere to live is tough; demand is high
  • Some areas are very dirty, polluted and smell bad
  • Very touristy in summer
  • Strikes on transport and public services bring the city to a halt
  • Parisians can be unwelcoming and downright rude if you disrespect them or their way of life

What should you know before moving to Paris?

Life in Paris is life at a different pace. It’s a busy life, but it’s much slower than other capital cities. New York never sleeps, but Paris never really seems to wake up. To get on in Paris, here’s what you need to know:

  • Most places shut at lunch to allow for actual mealtime. You can’t run errands at lunch, so just enjoy yourself. Alcohol at lunch with work colleagues is absolutely fine. It’s expected. 
  • Sitting on the sides of the river drinking wine is a rite of passage. Corner shops sell small bottles of wine with plastic glasses for this purpose, so you don’t have to have a full bottle every day. 
  • Similarly, sitting in cafes people-watching, judging, and debating culture is a way of life in Paris. Start forming an opinion on everything. Be prepared to defend it. 
  • Parisians do use the “bisous” when saying hello. Posh people will offer a cheek and do one air-kiss. Most people do two kisses. As a non-native, follow their lead and when it undoubtedly gets awkward, apologise: it’s your fault. 
  • Paris smells. Invest in a good deodorant and a good perfume. This way, you won’t smell, and you won’t be able to smell the city. 
  • Your living area will likely be smaller than you are used to and will have some ridiculous conditions regarding extensions and modifications. Unless you’re a true minimalist, start throwing away your belongings now. 
  • Transport strikes are regular and cause havoc, and it won’t get better. Buy shoes you can walk five miles in and wear them while you complain about strikes.

Living in Paris vs. London

The two cities of Paris and London are regularly compared. But despite being reasonably close to each other, they are very different. 

Living in Paris
The 6th arrondissement in Paris is a chic left bank district, home to posh boutiques, eateries and a few expensive residential houses and apartments.

Size: London is considerably larger than Paris. It’s about 15 times larger. London really feels like a metropolitan city.

Paris often has the feeling of a large town. It’s much easier to run into people in Paris, and it can feel much more intimate. 

Population: Paris might be smaller, but it is more densely populated. This means it can feel claustrophobic. The greater Paris area is home to 12.4 million people, so it’s packed and busy, whereas London has more open space to breathe. 

Cost: London is easily the more expensive city. Rent in London can be double that of Paris, and living costs are also much higher. Paris isn’t necessarily cheap, but it’s definitely the more affordable of the two. 

Pace: London has a New York feel that it never really sleeps. There is always noise, and from midday to midnight, it’s hectic and fast-paced. Paris is much more laid back. Lunchtime is sacred, and everything stops, and evenings are long and lazy in Paris. 

Outdoor life: Paris has nicer weather, which means day-to-day life takes place outside much more than in London. However, London has better parks and open outdoor spaces, so it depends on what you want. 

The best places to live in Paris for expats

So, if you think Paris might be the place for you, your first choice will be deciding where to live. Getting the right arrondissement is crucial. This is a very brief breakdown of the best arrondissement and where you should live. 

3rd: Trendy, narrow streets with hipster cafes and wine bars. Lots of millionaires live here in huge mansions. Can find some flats. Still very pricey. Big Asian community with amazing authentic food. 

4th: Historical mansions and parks. Lots of houses are divided up into stunning flats. One of the best districts to visit and also a great place to live. Home to the gay district. Very friendly area with lots of history. 

5th: The Latin quarter. Culture hotspot, very young vibe with lots of students. Less expensive. 

6th: Not many residences. Mainly expensive art galleries and a few bookshops. Excellent bakeries and luxury boutiques. Pricey but incredible if you can afford it. 

9th: Some of the most romantic, traditional spots are here. Fantastic architecture and history. Feels like a neighbourhood but with nightlife. Again, pricey but some affordable flats can be found.

10th: Boho chic, cool, hipster, modern students, and everything you could need. A very popular place to live and not too pricey. Welcome to foreigners but with enough locals to make it truly feel like Paris. 

12th: Greenest area of Paris. Great for families. Great choice of modern homes and old mansions and flats. The best markets. 

Living in Paris
Rue Cremieux in the 12th Arrondissement is one of the prettiest residential streets in Paris.

13th: Referred to as “no man’s land.” Missing some of the typical Paris magic but super affordable. 

15th: Has the most residential homes. The whole area is basically dedicated to housing. You can find both affordable and pricey accommodations. Fewer shops and bars nearby but it is the most populated area. Popular with families. 

19th: Quirky, off the beaten path, and very unique. Definitely, the area to watch. It’s cheap and totally stunning. It’s a great place to live if you don’t mind being a bit further out. Developed a bad reputation a few years ago but fast becoming the place to be. 

Living in Paris – summary

Life in Paris is unlike aware else in the world. Despite being a multicultural and modern capital city, there is laziness and gentleness to Paris. It’s one of Europe’s smaller capitals but is packed with people and is big on culture. 

You’ll pay a pretty price for accommodation, but then life isn’t too expensive. If you have the opportunity and inclination, living in Paris is something you should try at least once in your life. 

Other popular expat destinations in France to consider:

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