"Paris is always a good idea," declared Audrey Hepburn. I thought that moving to Paris was a great idea until we were living in Paris. If you're coming here because you love Paris, you will probably love Paris (most of the time). If you're not a Francophile or you love to judge strangers, you will want to read this 3k word long aritcle on why we don't like living in Paris as expats and why we're leaving France. This is my opinion about being an expat in Paris and based on MY experiences living in Paris, so please read it before judging me. I've included lots of pretty photos of Paris to compensate for being such a negative Nancy because Paris sucks (for me).
We've been living in Paris for two months. If you're here to tell me that I haven't tried hard enough or that two months isn't long enough, try to read a bit before you judge me. This is the most personal post I've written in a while. As a note, I'm American and we've lived in the Netherlands and Belgium (briefly). This are my comparison points.
Most important fact to get out of the way: It's a privilege to live abroad, especially in Paris.
There are plenty of things about Paris that I love: the architecture, food, wine, ability to travel within Europe, and rich cultural heritage of France. I adore France otherwise, but I'll have lots more about great things to do around France as well as Paris soon. As a travel blogger and someone who is into history/culture, I absolutely had a blast going around Paris researching new locations and pursuing my passion of writing. However, I worked full-time in a very different career before we moved to France, which was a fairly quick decision with a fast turnaround (1 month). I'll write more about the things I love about Paris soon, however there's a lot of things I don't like about living in France and this post is about my reasons for not wanting to live in Paris anymore.
I've felt like there was something broken in ME for not loving living in Paris. That said, I've sacrificed a lot to be here, including my previous career and my financial independence. I thought that I'd enjoy living in Paris and it would click (so I kept putting off writing this although I thought about writing it a million times). However, it never clicked. I've posted a version of this in an expat group, and I was floored by the overwhelmingly positive response, including messages from people who felt like they couldn't SAY it to anyone. Well, my comment section is OPEN and tell me how YOU feel about Paris #nofilter.
So, my reasons why we've not loved living in Paris, and why we've left Paris...
I'm not a Francophile.
I think that it helps to be infatuated with French culture although it's not a guarantee that you'll love living in Paris. If you're someone obsessed with France, it's easy to pinch yourself in the bad moments and say I LIVE IN PARIS! Good for you, but the rest of us are here dodging dog poop on the sidewalk and hoping that the pickpockets won't take our wallets on the Metro. (Side note: I love the Metro. Maybe I'm weird, but it's a fantastic subway system!)
I'm so tired of stepping in dog poop. I'm almost ready to buy little bags for every person I see with a dog. Just clean up after your dog. I have a cat, and I do the litter box regularly.
Paris is not what I thought it would be
I never expected Paris to be like a movie (like some starry eyed Americans), but a lot of people come here anticipating it to be a dream full of champagne, the Eiffel tower, pretty dresses, macarons, and romance. I was never that person, and if you come here starry-eyed, you might be disappointed. However, my husband got a competitive job offer in Paris and on paper, it looked good, and we thought that we'd live comfortably here as the cost of living in Paris seemed not so different from the cost of living in Amsterdam.
I've heard from a lot of expats who moved to Paris for love that it's been really hard to break into their fields like they hoped that they would, even with fluent French. Don't underestimate how competitive the expat job market is in Paris.
My biggest reason for not wanting to live in Paris: Paris expats unable to work
A lot of trailing spouses who move to France are unable to work due to visa restrictions. (Trailing spouses are the name for spouses who follow their significant other when their spouse gets a good job abroad.) I was luckier than a lot of spouses that I was granted the ability to work due to an uncommon visa.
However, I was locked out of the labor market for my career path as a non-fluent French speaker. As someone with a graduate degree and international work experience, I was deeply frustrated to see the gap in my CV growing and the only work that I could get involved switching careers/industries. I have worked in the service industry, but that was years ago.
I had invested time in getting a Masters degree and work experience in my chosen professional career. However, I really wanted to continue my career in Paris. I did research prior to moving to France and I hoped that my previous experience working internationally in another European language would help for more international companies. However, English-primary positions asked for fluent French. Given the state of the expat job market in Paris (which is quite competitive), being a specialist isn't always enough for getting a job as a non-fluent French speaker (although it can be).
While in Paris, I met a number of expats who moved to France for love who didn't have specialized educational degrees past a college degree (if they did). That situation made it very difficult for them to be competitive on the general job market despite being intelligent, well-educated people with a good level of French. If you're reading this thinking on how to make your move to France go smoother, I really suggest becoming fluent in French and pursuing a good professional degree from a French university if you don't have a Masters. Similarly, a bachelor's degree is important if you don't have one. A friend of mine has a M.B.A. from a French university and that degree has certainly helped her in France.
Back to my situation in Paris: Not being able to find good work has made me dependent on my husband. I typically don't write about our relationship; however, Paris has shifted our relationship dynamic from one where both of us kept independent finances to one where I was dependent on him for paying the rent. For some people, this is fine, but I was not comfortable with it. I prefer our dual income lifestyle where I had more independence, even if it gave me the flexibility to pursue my passions.
I feel for those reading this who have to wait a year plus to be allowed to work, only to struggle to find jobs, particularly ones that aren't set aside for English speakers (e.g., au pair/teaching English).
Living in Paris is not the same as visiting Paris
I had visited Paris some years ago, and I enjoyed Paris a lot after staying with a local who took the time to show me her favorite places. Living in Paris is not like visiting Paris. Real Paris is expensive and seven euro beers (for a pint) made me cringe. When you live in a city and deal with the bureaucracy and mess, you see it for what it is, and Paris involves a lot of persistence/resilience. I always thought I was a persistent person, but maybe I'm not that tough.
All the magical things about visiting Paris aren't the same when you live here. The Metro is packed during rush hour and the charming hours of the shops become a lot less so when you forget to go grocery shopping on a Saturday for Sunday (when everything is closed). It's still a gorgeous city, and I remember this whenever I find a beautiful quiet street or look out at the rooftops from the window of my chambre de bonne.
Being on vacation with minimal concerns about money is very different than living in a city with a limited income that is split between food, groceries, bills, and other things that normal people pay. I can't go out to lovely restaurants every day. The city is still so instagrammable, but instagram isn't always pretty behind the scenes.
That said, I've loved playing tourist in Paris while living in Paris. However, that doesn't really dictate how you live in a city. I've been become obsessed with "secret streets" around Paris, photographing secret spots, and just exploring all the different arrondissements. However, you can't play tourist 24/7 if you're living in Paris if you need to earn money. My husband rarely got to experience this side of Paris while working full time and really felt like he missed out a bit on the better parts of Paris without the crowds as a result.
Every single Parisian resident hates dealing with the bureaucracy. I've wasted so many hours of my life sitting in the prefecture waiting room. Sometimes you go, wait five hours, and you're told that you need to go to another office by a civil servant who criticizes your French on your first day in France. Then, you manage to reach another office on the phone and you're told that the original office was correct. Then, you return, wait for four hours, and you're advised that you need to go to a different office. It's a cycle of frustration. If you don't speak French at all, it will not go well without a translator and there are people in the expat community who specialize in this. That said, try it out without one and see how it goes. It might go terribly.
High cost of living in Paris / Housing market in Paris
Compared to New York City and London, Paris seems somewhat okay. However, compared to other European capitals, it's pricey. As someone acutely pointed out to me, it's my fault for wanting to live in Paris proper for my first couple months. We pay over 1,200 euros for a double chambre de bonne. A normal chambre de bonne is a former servant's room around 10 square meters with a shared toilet with 6+ apartments. It is up on the sixth floor of the building up a narrow staircase.
As the housing market is so tight, a filthy furnished apartment can be rented for an obscene amount of money because it's a good neighborhood and an old building. Also, real estate agents want to see your assets and contracts, so without a second income or some assets, it's hard to qualify for decent rental apartments in Paris due to the income ratios that require making around three times the rent. Having a non-working spouse will not help much in this situation.
My biggest issue is the cost of groceries (although it's cheaper in the suburbs). French food is excellent, and the quality of food in Paris is great. We shop for veggies at the local markets. However, a "cheap" healthy dinner in Paris can cost us up to 15 euros for two people. In Amsterdam or Brussels, the average meal that was 100% equivalent would cost about 10 euros. Similarly, the cost of going out for drinks can be a bit crippling at times where a pint of beer can easily be 7.50 not during happy hour. (It's way more affordable to buy a cheap bottle of decent French wine for about 5 euros from Monoprix. That said, I absolutely loved the wine in Paris, however being on a tighter food budget dictated wine less often.)
As a note, I was delighted by how affordable and GOOD healthcare and education are in France. Although we don't have kids, I could definitely see how you can save thousands of dollars compared to living in the United States.
I'm not fluent in French.
I'm not bad, but I'm also not good at French. I stumble around hoping that nobody will notice how terrible it is (they all notice), and when you're dealing with anything official, you need to know French. Similarly, to find work in Paris, it's best* if you're fluent in French. *If not, at least B2/C1 level is what people want to see, so if you're intending on finding a job in Paris, work on your French for a while as you'll need it for everyday things even if the job itself isn't in French. (That said, Parisians have a decent level of English, so I'm a bit shocked when people complain about English not being spoken well here.) We ended up here by mistake, however, if I had known that we were moving here a year ago, I would have started French classes.
My bigger issue regarding French in Paris is being locked out of the job market for my career due to the language barrier. Before you tell me that it's naive to move to a country without being fluent in their language, I intended to become fluent long-term and I moved for my husband's work, not my own. We only had about 1 month to figure out our move to France after deciding to move to France. It was a bit spontaneous, unplanned, and not really the best decision given that my French isn't good. I started learning immediately after we decided to go to France and I have multiple French books that I worked through while living in Paris. I realize that knowing French CAN change your life in France, however it's impossible to become fluent within only one month.
What nobody tells you about living in Paris:
Karen & Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Then, Paris. (Confusing, we know!) Now, we're back living in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Disclaimer: On my blog, I sometimes use affiliate links. I will always tell you when there's affliate links in a post. If you click an affiliate link and purchase a product or service, I will be paid a small commission, however your cost will be the same.
Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Please check my disclosure page for more information.
All content and photos COPYRIGHT to Wanderlustingk.com unless otherwise noted. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Wanderlustingk. ANY unauthorized use will be pursued under US Law.