Loneliness, the big foe for expats in France

by Mark Benson on March 30, 2012

Expats moving to France face a number of challenges

Despite the fact that France is the most popular tourist destination in Europe, and indeed one of the most popular in the world, there were a disappointing number of votes when you take into account the stature of the country. Whether this is indicative of the number of people looking to move to France and begin a new life or indeed a sign of the times, regarding austerity measures across Europe, is open to debate.

However, and curious about the challenges to those looking to move to France, we ran a poll commissioned by Barclays International Banking on the expat forum website asking the question regarding challenges faced by expats living abroad.

First striking finding is that Loneliness (44% of the vote) is the bigger issue for expats living in France.

Time and time again the subject of loneliness with regards to the expat community comes to the fore. The first few countries which we reviewed seemed to set a trend whereby the cost of living was the main issue and the main challenge facing expats moving to various countries. However, as we moved on it is becoming more and more apparent that loneliness is perhaps one of the more feared after-effects of a move to a foreign land. But why?

There is no person in the world that has never at one time or another felt lonely so we all know exactly what it feels like and what brings it on. In the expat community feelings of loneliness can often be multiplied due to the fact that you are in a foreign land and it is likely to be the very early stages of your move when you do not know the area, may struggle with the culture and may not yet have built up your own social network. There are many ways in which you can combat loneliness which include getting out and about, hobbies, meeting the local community and visiting the sites of your new homeland.

Loneliness seems to affect everybody to a certain extent but it is perhaps those who have time on their hands in the early days who suffer most. If you moved overseas with a partner and they have employment opportunities, while you wait looking after the family and looking after the home, even the most basic 9-to-5 working day can seem like months. However, even those who have taken the merest of glimpses at the attractions and sites of France will be well aware that each individual area of the country has its very own tradition, its very own culture and its very own attractions. So in all likelihood wherever you move to in France there will be something different, something you can investigate, something you can visit and something which will take your mind off the almost inevitable bouts of loneliness.

We must also take into account the fact that when you move overseas as a group, may be a married couple or family, you will very much in the early days depend upon each other more than you would normally. It is this failsafe mechanism which is likely to get everybody through the initial settling down period once the nerves and excitement have gone. While it is very dangerous to live in each other’s pockets 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it is also nice to have the support of your nearest and dearest. One simple action which will reduce potential bouts of loneliness is to talk, talk, talk.

Cost of living (28%)

Whether the cost of living in France is an issue or simply something which needs to be addressed as soon as possible may well explain why it has constantly been either number one or number two in the list of considerations for those looking to move overseas. In general the cost of living in France is relatively moderate compared to the likes of America and other well developed countries although in reality, as with so many other different countries around the world, the cost of living will vary widely from place to place. Aimed to make your landing on France easier, experts at Barclays Wealth and Investments have put together a guide to banking in France so you can find out per instance what is the best way to open a bank account or what paperwork can be done prior to your moving.

It is interesting to note that France is by far and away the most popular tourist destination within Europe and indeed one of the most popular tourist destinations around the world. Therefore, it will come as no surprise to learn that the cost of living in these high population density tourist destinations can seem extortionate at times. Paris is obviously one of the main attractions within France and some of the more luxurious suburbs of the city are extremely expensive with a very high cost of living.

However, there are so many different types of climate, so many different cultures, so many different landscapes and so many different areas to choose from in France that you would be very unlucky not to find an area which fits in with your requirements, your budget and your hopes. Many people automatically assume that where ever they “lay their hat” when landing in France will be their final destination. However, even if you end up moving to the cheaper cost of living areas of the country to find your feet and reduce the financial pressure, there is always the opportunity to move to the more salubrious suburbs and cities in the future. Not that everybody wants to move on a regular basis but lives do change, financial situations do change and while we tend to look at the negative aspect of a move overseas to a new country, there are ways and means of working your way up the income ladder.

Also bear in mind that even when moving abroad, you might need to be taking care of your mortgage, insurance or other regular payments back home. A non-brainer way to do it is to open an international bank account that allows you to operate in a range of different currencies and to save all the hassle of foreign exchange on your day-today life.

One word of warning, do not automatically assume that you are moving to a like for like country with regards to the cost of living because different elements of life in France will be cheaper and others more expensive than the same elements in your former homeland. Go in with your eyes open, your brain switched on and you’re realistic radar very much tuned in!

Cultural differences (12%)

There are many cultural differences with regards to life in France where the authorities still have a relatively tight control of the main industrial sectors. Indeed, unlike places such as the UK, many of the main utility companies in France are protected from takeovers and mergers by legal legislation which would seem to go against the idea of a “free market within Europe”. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing in the long term is debatable but the government has a culture of control in many areas of everyday life in France.

Working practices in France are also very different to countries such as the UK where a more militant/union movement often comes to the fore. This is not to say that France is run by the unions or militant workers but very often we see the underside of this particular area especially in the agricultural sector. Immigration has also introduced a number of issues for the government and the French population to consider because friction between the various cultures has been very prominent for many years now. Many believe the problems remain because of low-income employment positions offered to immigrant workers and the very often substandard accommodation which follows. Whether this is a wholly true or not is open to debate but there is no doubt there are cultural issues to be addressed.

For those looking to move to France from the UK there has for many years been a disturbing underbelly of cultural friction and in some cases mutual dislike. Whether or not this unpleasant observation is again wholly correct is another matter for debate because once UK expats move to France there are very few who complain and come back “home”. In simple terms, unless you are willing and able to appreciate, accommodate and compromise with regards to the local culture and your own culture, then no matter whereabouts in the world you are, you will struggle. Whether France is any worse than the other countries which we have covered in the online poll is debatable and it really does depend from which angle you are looking.

Relationship problems (12%)

Is becoming ever more apparent that while finances, culture and employment often take the lead with regards to a checklist of things to do and consider when moving overseas, relationship problems are often brushed under the carpet. In a perfect world it would be best if everybody who is moving to the country was 100% with the move but in reality there will always be some people who are sceptical and maybe not wholly convinced until they do land on French soil and begin to sample their new life.

There is no problem having reservations, nobody is ever 100% certain but if you are “wobbling” then you do need to talk these through with your family members and partner. There is no point in ignoring your issues because at some point they will come back to haunt you and they could cause more damage than you could ever imagine in a foreign land. As we have mentioned on numerous occasions, even the smallest issues may well be multiplied to an enormous extent because of the overall situation in which you find yourself. You may have nobody to talk to, you may miss your friends, you may miss your pets and you may well miss the culture of your former homeland.

The key to a successful move is to ensure that everybody is there for each other, any issues are discussed sooner rather than later and if some of these problems are insurmountable then perhaps you need to think again. Planning, preparation and research will take the edge off some of the emotions and the experiences you will inevitably face when moving to any country. Perhaps one reason why France has been so popular in the past with UK expats is the fact that it is only a hop skip and a jump from the UK to France if you need to come home for any reason. In the eyes of some people this is something of a “copout” because if you are serious about moving overseas then you should not make it too easy to return without giving it your best try.

Healthcare (4%)

If you’re looking to move to France then you will be glad to hear that the French healthcare system was deemed by the World Health Organisation to offer the “best overall health care” in the world in 2000. In general the government reinvests over 10% of GDP into the healthcare system which is run along the lines of a public insurance fund which allows doctors and physicians to draw their costs from a central fund. The fund itself, unlike other countries such as Germany, has no self-management on behalf of doctors and physicians and is wholly managed by the French government. Whether or not this will remain in place in the long-term remains to be seen as more and more international public health funds transfer management to the healthcare sector itself.

While private health insurance is very popular in France, official statistics show that around 70% of the cost of healthcare is reimbursed to patients and in some cases, for example long-term ailments, up to 100% of the running costs can be taken from the central government pot. It is only recently that the French government has expanded those who are eligible for national health care from those who contributed to the social security fund to those who are legally resident in France. As a consequence, it is likely that we will see the cost of healthcare in France continue to rise in the medium to longer term and as the vast majority of funding is via taxes and insurance premiums this will increase the cost of living.

It is widely regarded that the French national health care system was based upon the same report which brought about the UK NHS service. The introduction of a “social conscience” with regards to the healthcare and the well-being of the overall population is at the very foundations of the service itself. There are three main schemes in the French healthcare system which cover industry workers and their families, agricultural workers and those who contribute via national insurance payments and are deemed to be self-employed non-agricultural workers. It is worth checking the exact details of the French healthcare system prior to arriving in the country to ensure that you are well aware of how it works.


France is a country which is often overshadowed by the likes of Paris, the tourism industry and agriculture when in reality it really does have much more to offer. It is a country which brings in a whole range of climates, terrain, cultures and prospects and together with Germany it has become one of the powerhouses of Europe. This in turn has attracted significant international investment into France which has then carried on into the expat market, attracting those looking for a new career and a new life.

We are starting to see a pattern emerging with regards to issues which expats will need to address if living in France with loneliness, cost of living, cultural differences, relationship problems and healthcare all deeply ingrained on the minds of expats. The issue of loneliness is one which has been something of a surprise because you would hope that anybody looking to move overseas would have done their homework prior to the move and be well aware that it may take some time to “settle in”. However, when you also take into account the fact that you can be lonely in a full room in your former homeland then we can only begin to imagine the potential issues when in a foreign land, with potential language issues and nobody to turn to.

The prospects for France at the moment are fairly subdued as the Eurozone debt crisis continues to roll on. Initially we saw Greece struggling and these issues then carried on to Portugal, Ireland, Italy and indeed some experts believe that France may be the next domino to fall. In reality there needs to be a major shakeup of the European Union and the euro, although how long this will take and how the European Union will come out the other end is unclear at this moment in time. If France was to fall by the wayside, which is highly unlikely, there would be little hope for any other of the European Union economies with even Germany likely to be dragged into the mire.

However, if you’re looking to move to France in the medium to long-term there are still many positive aspects to consider and take into account. This is a country which has grown significantly over the years, attracted by far and away the most tourists in Europe and has some of the largest companies (especially utility companies) in the world. The historic friction between the likes of the UK and France would appear in many ways to be “paper talk” with more and more expats deciding to jump ship and try France. Dare you take the plunge?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerald Peterson April 19, 2012 at 7:05 am

We want to move to northern France, perhaps Lille or Strasbourg for 6 months to see if we can be happy there. The problem I could not solve is transportation. We would need a car and renting one for such a long time would strain our finanaces. We currently live in Panama but would like to savour France for a few years. P


Chrissie. September 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm

As a person who lived in Annecy and Lyon over 4 years, then bought a holiday home in Bordeaux, which is now on the market as I intend to buy a small place in Marseille, I have always found the public transport system in France excellent.However, if you definitely need your own car, and you intend to initially try living in France for 6 months, why not look at the auto ads. in the local free newspaper, where you will find many reasonably-priced used cars. Good luck!


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