We romanticize how it would be waking up in the morning and opening our french doors into our living room that overlooks the Seine river, and a peek of the Eiffel Tower. Walk over to our kitchen to make fresh espresso and bite into the most buttery croissant.
It always starts with a dream
Then sit down in your mid-century styled sofa positioned right across your marble chimney to contemplate why you still can’t pronounce croissant. Don’t get me wrong, these things do happen, but perhaps without the Eiffel Tower view. This dream alone motivated me to leave everything behind and start over in a new country. But before you start looking at apartments and plane tickets, there are a few things I wish I knew before moving to France that might help if you’re considering becoming an ex-pat.
Things you should know before moving to Paris
And get ready to do a lot of it. I’m not just saying translating your birth certificate, no. You will have to provide evidence and translations of almost everything you think you didn’t need. If you are a dual-citizen like me and married to another dual-citizen, you’re in for a treat. And not the sweet kind. But let’s just say, you only have one nationality, you’ll still have to deal with the préfecture. Whichever city/ arrondissement you live in, you’ll be subject to a designated préfecture to start your residency application, and don’t think about moving until you get through the process. There’s a 99% chance you will have to go back a few times, and your paperwork will never be complete the first time. So have copies of everything in an organized binder to keep for the rest of your stay. This process alone will test your patience and give you a warm welcome into the French administration. Bon courage!
2. Finding an apartment is like finding a partner after 30
Once you find a good one, you need to take a leap of faith and propose. Even with the pandemic, the Paris marketplace remains competitive. Prices haven’t decreased, and people are still switching apartments even though there was a mass exodus after the third confinement. Once you find an apartment you like, you’ll need to schedule a visit (if they are not already taken). The best places to look at are Seloger and PAP. You’ll notice quickly you’re far from the only one submitting a “dossier.” At the end of the day, it’s a bidding game between you and the other applicants. Whoever has the best documents with proof of income will be chosen for the apartment. They also prefer if you have a CDI (full-time contract with no termination date, if not, you’ll need to find a French garant or guarantor). So what I’m saying is, the stars also have to align in your favor, so it’s an actual match in heaven. The other route is joining Facebook Groups and finding a “colocation” if you are single or go through friend referrals. Bon courage encore!
3. Remember how easy it was to open a bank account and get a debit card?
Well, not here. You will need to set up an appointment in person in your corresponding arrondissement. You will also need proof of residency, so if you still don’t have your visa documents or a lease, forget about having a French Bank account just yet. It will have to wait just a little longer. However, you can start the process with a récépissé, a paper receipt with your photo indicating you are in the process of attaining your residency card. And a French friend can also help you with a lease, so start building connections!
4. Parlez-vous Anglais?
No, you will have to attempt to at least try to speak a little french. Regardless of how much effort you put into it, they’ll either say they don’t understand you or switch to English to try to help you. This was somewhat comforting for me initially, but all you want to do is practice once you start learning the language. You’ll often notice that the French, specifically those in the service industry, will either correct you or carry on in English. I suggest kindly replying and saying you want to practice and switch back to French. They can deal with your accent; it’s ok!
5. “Beware of pickpockets.”
Hopping on the metro or the tramway? Yes, well, be sure to guard your belongings because expert pickpocketers thrive in cities like Paris. I have come to realize it’s an art form because the last time it happened, I was standing in front of my husband with less than a foot apart, and someone stole my phone and debit card. And the crossbody bag I had was between both of us! It’s unfortunate enough the metro is not the most pleasant place in terms of comfort and sometimes smell; on top of that, we need to be uber careful about watching our bags. Luckily, we solved that problem with our biometric bag. It’s not a luxury bag, no. But it does give you the luxury of privacy without the high ticket price and without the anti-theft bag look with clips that don’t offer proper protection.
Aside from these five things I wish I knew, Paris can be a magnificent city. You’ll notice there are even names for types of people living in certain arrondissements. There’s a lot of history that dates back to pre-revolution, and you’ll see how those cultural traits are still embedded in their society today. Take, for example, strikes, but that’s a whole new blog on its own. After a single year, you’ll just start getting a feel for how things work here. And you’ll learn to manage your expectations and grow a whole a lot of patience. That alone is a lesson of a lifetime.