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France Expat Health Insurance Guide

France is a country of stereotypes. Berets. Baguettes. Wine. Whilst these assumptions are part of life, people often forget how big France is. For this reason, culture varies throughout all the villages, towns, and cities which make up the country. France is not just Paris.

The capital is undoubtedly an incredible experience and there is a reason as to why many expats flock there. The culture here is saturated with history, architecture, fashion and cuisine; Paris beats to its own drum.

The country’s varied landscape ranges from the towering Alps to the sweeping beaches of the Cote d’Azur, from the rolling hills of Burgundy to historic Normandy. Indeed, there are plenty of options to choose from – and the right location will depend on your preferences, as well as the type of work you do.

Before you make your move, it’s a good idea to get to know what life will be like and it’s important to remember that experiences will differ depending on which of the 27 administrative regions you’ll be living in.

Climate

In general, the climate in France is temperate and pleasant. However, weather patterns and temperatures will be dependent upon where you live. The south and southwest regions of France have the most attractive weather; there is a reason as to why there are so many holiday homes here! With the coast lapped by the warm Mediterranean Sea, summers are hot and winters are mild. The sun is forever shining in the south of France, with most rain falling in the summer as short thunderstorms. The only time of year that expats may find chilly is spring, when the occasional cold wind blows away the cobwebs.

Central and eastern France have slightly cooler summers than the Mediterranean south, but temperatures are still well over 20°C. In stark contrast, the winters are cold and often harsh. Snow is commonplace during November, December, and January. The only other locations that receive more snow are the alpine forests and mountain ranges, where snow can fall for up to six months of the year.

If you are moving to destinations in north and north-western France from the UK, be prepared to experience weather patterns just like that of home. Rain is an annual occurrence, summers are warm, and winters are mild but prone to very cold snaps.

  Paris Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days

JanFebMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug SepOctNov Dec
Temp °C5691115162020161275
Rainy Days141314141211111011131515

_Marseille Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days

JanFebMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug SepOctNov Dec
Temp °C781114182124242117118
Rainy Days10771075357101110

Bordeaux Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days

JanFebMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug SepOctNov Dec
Temp °C671013171921211915107
Rainy Days151414181513121213161716

Calais Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days

JanFebMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug SepOctNov Dec
Temp °C5479121141717161386
Rainy Days101312131513171715131212

Culture

For those who have not visited France, much of assumed French culture is based upon popular stereotypes or depictions of Paris in films. Although Paris is a spectacular city and is rich with fashion, cuisine, architecture and art, there is more to French culture than this.

One stereotype that needs to be forgotten is that French people are rude. Expats must remember that reserve and directness plays a big part in social interactions in France so do not expect to be bowled over with friendliness. It is just not the done thing. This quiet poise and politeness should not be misconstrued as rudeness.

Expats working in France should be prepared to rarely see their work colleagues out of hours. Mixing professional and private lives is not commonplace. When it comes to expats adjusting to French social conventions it is best to remember that it is nothing personal and to just be yourself.

Along with the social traits of French citizens themselves, expats may also have one or two things to learn when it comes to etiquette and manners. Greeting others is one the most important forms of etiquette in France. Flagrantly ignoring this societal norm can earn you a stern response, especially if making demands or requests of an individual.

Social nuances aside, the family is at the centre of French culture and this extends to grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Family life in France is extremely traditional, with older generations being treated with the upmost respect by children and grandchildren.

Lastly, the main religion in France is Christianity, with 62% of the population following the Catholic faith. Due to a large number of immigrants from North Africa, there is also a strong Islamic community forming in the country too. France benefits from being a secular country, meaning that those living here are free to practice any religion they choose.

Language

French is the official language of France and it is spoken by 86% of the population as a mother tongue. In the past, France was perhaps rather unaccepting of foreign languages but now, particularly in tourist areas, you will find the majority of people speak a reasonable level of English. However, as a mark of respect, it is best to know a few key phrases.

Expats in the south of France may notice some regional Occitan dialects that sound different to the French heard in the likes of Paris, Lyon, and Bordeaux. Furthermore, due to the countries which border France, you will often hear conversations in German, Spanish, and Italian.

The high number of North African citizens means that Berber is one of the most widely spoken languages after French. Maghrebi Arabic (from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) is the most common second language, with several million speakers.

British PhraseFrench Phrase
HelloBonjour
How are you?Comment allez-vous?
I am fine, thankyouJe vais bien, merci
YesOui
NoNon
PleaseS’il vous plait
ThanksMerci
GoodbyeAu revoir

Transport

Aside from in the major cities, driving in France is a pleasant experience. The country has a large network of highways connecting its main cities and all roads are well maintained. It is just worth remembering that a number are toll roads and you will need to pay a small fee to use them.

Expats from an EU country can drive legally in the country using their national driving license. Citizens from Australia, South Africa, and some US states and Canadian provinces can exchange their national driving license for a French one during the first year of their legal residency. Other options include applying for an international driving license or taking a full French theory and practical driving test.

Having a car in France is not a necessity as public transport links are strong, particularly in cities and towns. The country has 9,501 kilometres of railway including high-speed lines. Not only is travel between cities and towns easy; passengers can also hop on trains to the likes of the UK, the Netherland’s, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, and Switzerland.

In the cities of Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Toulouse and Rennes, are metro systems. The Paris Metro is one of the most extensive networks in the world, consisting of 300 stations on 16 lines across the city. The metro in Paris tends to run from 5.30am to 12.40am from Sunday to Thursday and to 2.30am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Those living around Paris also benefit from use of another train network, the RER (Regional Express Network). These trains serve the city, suburbs, and the wider Ile-de-France region. The RER trains are often quicker than the smaller metro trains as they call at fewer stops but only run on five lines.

Another fantastic way of getting around cities and towns is by tram. Lyon has the biggest network but there are 25 locations around the country, including Bordeaux, Lille, Nice, and Paris, which benefit from having light rail systems.

Buses are a more affordable option than the various trains throughout France, but tend to be slower and less comfortable. Also, France doesn’t have a long-distance bus provider, so long journeys will require a train or a car. Buses tend to be a great option in suburban areas of cities or in more rural areas that have limited access to trains, such as Normandy and Brittany.

Compared to other European countries, taxis are actually quite affordable and easy to book or hail. Taxis are distinguishable by a sign on the roof of the car. Expats should make sure the meter is running from the moment the taxi driver starts the journey.

Healthcare

pharmacieThe French healthcare system is ranked the best in the world by the World Health Organisation. France runs its medical sector on a well-balanced combination of public and private offerings. The standard of care is championed and nationals tend to rely upon the public services only. Expats tend to supplement state medical care with private medical insurance so that they can get access to private hospitals, eye care, and dentistry. However, in France, the care offered both publicly and privately is exceptional.

Within the public healthcare sector in France an emphasis is placed upon primary care. This means that GPs are the first port of call for many without life-threatening ailments as the service is so phenomenal and waiting times are non-existent. The system is funded by tax contributions from salary deductions so, any expat in France making the necessary payments, are eligible for public care once they have registered at their nearest social security office, often referred to as CPAM.

Opting for private medical insurance is often a wise decision for expats and nationals alike as, sometimes, public care isn’t 100% free. In France the general motto is, the sicker you are, the less you pay. The government will cover all surgery, therapy, and medicine bills for those with chronic illnesses. However, those with less serious injuries or illnesses may be required to cover a small fraction of the medical bill. The public system will always cover the vast majority.

All medical emergencies that require an ambulance are handled by SAMU. This publicly run organisation not only provides ambulances but other specialist medical assistance. Expats can call 15 from a landline or 112 from a mobile.

Money

Before January 2002, France’s currency was the French franc. As one of the 11 Member States who adopted the single European currency, Euro notes and coins were introduced as of 1st January 2002. The franc lost its legal tender status on the 17th February that same year.

Each euro is divided into 100 cents and there are 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cent coins. There are also 1 and 2 euro coins and notes are available in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500.

Expats may be a little confused when first moving to France as commas and full-stops are used in unconventional ways when showing numbers. Large numbers are written with full-stops and decimal places are shown with a comma. For example, ten million would be shown as 10.000.000, and 30 euros and 50 cents would be written 30, 50 EUR.

Throughout France thetre are many local and international banks for expats to choose from. Internet and telephone banking are the norm with most providers and multilingual support staff are commonplace. In expat-dense areas there are even banks dedicated to different nationalities.

Expats living in France will need to decide whether they want a non-resident or resident account. A resident account is best suited to an individual living in the country for over three months. They must also be able to provide proof of employment or a residence permit.

The other option is a non-resident account but these tend to have restrictions, such as no overdraft facility. More often than not, expats are also required to pay a higher initial opening deposit. Not all banks offer non-resident accounts and expats are most likely to find one with an international branch.

Expats wanting to open a non-resident’s bank account in France will need to have the following documents:

  • Passport or birth certificate
  • Proof of residence
  • A letter of recommendation from your bank at home (in some cases)
  • Deposit

Expats wanting to open a resident’s bank account in France will need to have the following documents:

  • Passport or EU card (if appropriate)
  • Proof of residence
  • Birth certificate (in some cases)
  • Proof of earnings or status
  • Resident status
  • A letter of recommendation from your bank at home (in some cases)

Schooling

schoolThe French school year traditionally starts in September and finishes for summer break in July. Education is compulsory for children aged six to 16 years old and schools are either state-fundeds, private faith schools, or international schools. Some schools are solely taught in French, whereas others are bilingual or speak the language of the country they are representing. Expat parents will need to consider their educational budget, curriculum, and language barrier before settling on a school for their child.

Public schools in France are free for nationals and anybody that can show proof of residence using a property contract or utility bill. Children and parents will get little choice over which school they attend as places are given based upon catchment area. Enrolment starts at aged six but children have usually attended a pre-primary school for two or three years before this, funded by their parents.


When expat children attend a state-funded school parents
 will only need to pay for school equipment, uniform, and any trips or activities. This is extremely attractive to expat parents, especially those who haven’t moved on a relocation package by an employer. For young children, public schools can allow for easier social integration and a speedy pickup of the French language, as lessons will be solely taught in French. For older children, trying to adjust to a new school and pick up a foreign language can be tougher.

Private schools in France are either sponsored by the state or privately funded. They tend to have smaller class sizes and there are bilingual facilities, which are ideal for expats who want to pick up French but not feel out of their depth. The vast majority of private French schools are Catholic. This means that the traditional French curriculum is supplemented by a faith-based value system.

school2Fees of state-sponsored schools tend to be less expensive than the fully private establishments. However, the price tag of private schools is significantly less than that of international schools. Some schools may require that prospective children undertake entrance exams or provide records from their previous school.

Older children, particularly those in their teens are often placed into international schools by their parents. This is so they can continue studying the curriculum of their home country, with lessons delivered in their mother tongue, which is important when exams are approaching. The alternative is to study the International Baccalaureate curriculum which is usually taught in English.

International schools are expensive, but class sizes are small and the level of teaching and facilities is outstanding.

Food & Drink

French cuisine is one of the most revered in the world. It is such an integral part of French culture that it was added to UNESCO’s world list of intangible cultural heritage in 2010. Traditional dishes rely on simple French ingredients which complement and enhance the rich and natural flavours.

Whether visiting or living in France, there are simply some world-famous dishes that must be tried. The delicacy that everyone initially squirms at is escargot; cooked snails. They snails are usually cooked with garlic butter and special tools are used to extract the snails from their shells.

A popular started in French restaurants is French onion soup. It is made from a blend of beef stock and onions, before croutons covered in melted cheese are added to the top. It is caramelised onions and drop of brandy or sherry that gives French onion soup its unique taste.

Another internationally well-known traditional French dish is beef bourguignon. It originates from Burgundy (the same place that created the delicious coq au vin). Beef braised in red wine is served in a stew with beef broth, garlic, pearl onions, mushrooms, and fresh herbs.

Untitled design (63)

When it comes to sweet treats or desserts in Paris, gastronomic excellence is the same as savoury dishes. Crepes and waffles doused in chocolate sauce, strawberries, and cream can be found in many street stands in cities and towns. However, crepes enjoyed with just butter and sugar are a traditional French experience.

Expats living in France should prepare to put on a couple of pounds as France is the home of patisserie. From mille-feuille to countless petit fours, you cannot move for delicious buttery pastry. Tarte Tatin is another pastry-based French classic and no other country does it better.

One of the most popular French treats is the macaroon and you will often see throngs of tourists with bags emblazoned with Laduree after visiting one of the stores in Paris.

After enjoying so much delicious food it is only right to have a traditional French beverage to accompany your meal. Wine is by far the most popular alcoholic drink in the country and each French wine region has its own distinctive wine. However, if you don’t want an alcoholic beverage, simple water and French coffee are the most commonly drunk.

Safety

Sadly, France has been witness to some terrifying terrorist attacks over the past few years. November 2015 was the month of the Paris terror attacks and Bastille day of July 2016 saw a truck deliberately driven into crowds. Due to these tragic incidents France has a high threat from terrorism. The French Government warns the public to be extra vigilant and has reinforced security measures. Particularly when in major cities, expats should be aware and alert the authorities of any suspicious behaviour.

In general, France is considered a safe place, with the majority of crimes revolving around non-violent theft. Particularly in busy areas, pickpocketing is rife. Visitors and expats should be very mindful of their belongings and conceal any expensive items. The same goes from homes and cars, everything should be locked away safely out of sight.

Other than these points, expats can enjoy a worry-free life in France. Using public transport or walking well-lit streets late at night is normal and women report that they do not feel unsafe.

Places to Visit

From vast cities to quiet countryside or coastline retreats, France has it all. Despite the world having a stereotypical view of what life in France is like, the different villages, towns, and cities that come together to make up the country are extremely diverse.

Paris

Over 45 million visitors head to Paris each year. It is the most popular destination in the world and its blend of architecture, history, art, fashion, and food make for a culture like no other in the world. Home to the Eiffel Tower, Norte Dame, the Louvre, and Arc de Triomphe, there is no better place to get to grips with France.

French Riviera

Located on the Mediterranean south coast of France is the Cote d’Azur, also known as the French Riviera. The region exudes luxury and the summer months provide incredible weather to sun yourself in Cannes, Monaco, or St Tropez.

Marseille

Marseille is one of the oldest cities in Europe and is located on the southeast coast of France. The old port is at the heart of the city and two historic forts grace the skyline. Many enjoy meandering around the cafes, shops, and bars before spending a relaxing afternoon on the beach.

Bordeaux

The eastern French city of Bordeaux is said to be the most graceful. The city is the world HQ of wine and the cuisine is certainly delicious too. Due to its proximity to Spain, many comment that Bordeaux has a Latin side which can often mean a party after dinner.

Dordogne

Like something out of fairy-tale, Dordogne is an area of undulating green countryside, bequeathed with medieval properties and chateaus. The Dordogne has a celebrated culinary heritage and the restaurants here are visited by holidaymakers and locals time and time again.

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