Paris, France Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15
Personal Experiences from Paris, France
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No - this is my seventh and my husband's eighth overseas assignment.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, DC area. It takes about 8 - 9 hours to fly direct.
3. How long have you lived here?
It will be two years as of September 2015.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of a government employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mostly apartments and a housing compound at a near in suburb. My husband uses a local bike share and can get to work in 20 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Paris has many outdoor markets and we are lucky to have an excellent on very close to our apartment. I buy all of my produce, dairy, meat and ready made food there. The grocery stores in the city are small and not cheap but have almost everything you would need. We try to shop at larger grocery stores when we're out of town with our car. Paris has a DPO and we order some things (like coffee) from the U.S. Picard is a store with only frozen food and there are several locations throughout the city. The quality is excellent and the prices are good.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Paris is expensive but there are good choices from reasonably priced fast food or healthier lunch take away places to the most expensive fine dining restaurants.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Mainly through the DPO. French post is excellent and we receive local mail at our apartment.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We are lucky to have a housekeeper and we pay 14 euros an hour. I think people are able to find part time house help if they look but I have heard that full time child care is difficult to find.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are available but there aren't as available as in the States and they are very expensive. The U.S. Embassy has a gym through the employee association. There are parks and paths for running and walking and the city is relatively bike friendly with many bike share stations.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Very safe to use both and widely available. This is the first post that we've had a local bank account. We use that account to get cash and to pay local bills (phone/internet/tv). I would recommend having a credit card with a chip.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I know of the American Church and the American Cathedral but there are other English speaking services as well.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Many people speak English and there are English menus at restaurants and signs in museums but people who speak French find life here much easier and more fun.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, it would be difficult. I walked around with my wheelchair bound mother-in-law and most sidewalks curbs are sloped for wheelchairs or strollers. Most apartments that expats would be housed in have small elevators. But riding on the metro would be almost impossible. Almost all metro stations have stairs and no elevators. Many people with physical disabilities ride the bus.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Metro and buses are affordable (esp when compared to a city like London), safe and very convenient. Taxis are not overly expensive when traffic is light. We use Uber two to three times a month. Trains are a good value, especially when you are able to plan your travel in advance.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
We have a small Volkswagen Tiguan and it is big to drive and park in Paris but nice to have when travelling. We only use our car for trips to the airport and to travel. Driving in Paris isn't necessary and can be a huge hassle.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - very available. Expensive but I think it's expensive like in the U.S. :)
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We have our phones through Orange and have been happy with the service.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No. The pet care is excellent. There are not many kennels but there are providers who will pick up your pets and keep them outside of Paris for a reasonable fee.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
I know many expats who have jobs on the local economy but most of them are Europeans or people who have found their jobs in their home country and then were sent here for work. For those of us at the U.S. Embassy, there is the "must have visa to work, can't work without a visa" conundrum. And I think it would be very difficult to compete with other applicants without fluent French.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many English language volunteer opportunities in France. I currently volunteer for three different organizations.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The work environment seems to be suit and tie. In public, it is definitely business or smart casual. People wear jeans but they are neat and with a nice top and shoes. You do not see slobby dressing and people do not wear workout gear in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpockets are plentiful and there are car and home break-ins. We have been lucky and have not experienced this personally. There is terrorism (Charlie Hebdo and other incidents) so an awareness of your surroundings is needed.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is excellent and very available. I have paid cash for any doctors visits (around 100 euro) and medication is not expensive.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Good most days.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
My family has suffered from seasonal allergies here. There are very limited gluten free options here. The French do not have peanut free, gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan options widely available like in the U.S.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Climate is definitely varied. We've had some hot days this summer (at or near 100F degrees) but the winters have been pretty mild. We haven't had snow during the two winters we've been here.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge expat community. Overall people love living here. But you have to make an effort to start building your friend circle like at other large urban posts.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Dinners out in world class restaurants, dinners at home, bars, cafes, movies, and concerts.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This city is fantastic for couples. I have heard from friends and acquaintances that it can be more difficult for families and singles.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Many fabulous meals; art exhibits; walking tours; outdoor markets; trips to Corsica, Dordogne, Brittany, Normandy, Pays-Basque, Lyon, Burgundy, Bordeaux.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Too many to mention. The good thing about Paris is that there are many, many internet resources to find things of interest to do.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
We spend our money on local food and wine. We don't buy clothing or luxury goods but they are definitely available!
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The food and culture are world renown for a reason. Paris is an incredible city with a wealth of opportunities. We have had fun exploring France and have traveled all over with still more to discover.
8. Can you save money?
You COULD but we've been having fun spending here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I feel like I was prepared before I moved here since I had visited many times prior.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, yes, yes!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Car, high heeled shoes (unless you can walk on cobblestones in them).
4. But don't forget your:
Comfortable walking shoes, umbrella, layered clothing and scarves.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I love David Lebovitz' books and his blog. Time Out Paris (in French and in English) has great information about goings on in Paris.