The Eiffel Tower - Bastille Day, 2005.
Photo, Qingbo Sun
Many people write to me expressing interest in moving to Paris and asking questions about various practical issues.
Like any big city, Paris is full of anomalies, both good and bad. For instance, in the summer mosquitoes sometimes travel on the metro. One of my husband's colleagues was bit more than a dozen times last weekend!
But seriously, if you want to move here, you've probably consulted your embassy or the state department about visas and assorted regulations, which vary depending upon from whence you hail.
Before you pack your bags and excitedly jump on a plane, take a moment to see past the romance and beauty and relaxed atmosphere you enjoyed when visiting here and take a hard look at some practical aspects of living here.
If you are from any country outside the European Union - including the United States - you will not be able to work legally in France, other than in extremely limited circumstances. This means you might have a long shot at working for an international organisation, such as UNESCO, but ONLY if you can fight off the competition and there is a slot available to meet the quota of jobs allowed from your country of origin.
French youth unemployment hovers at 22 percent, so many qualified French applicants are having trouble finding jobs. Some 300,000 French residents are now commuting to London, so limited is the job market in Paris. An administrative position at an international organisation in Paris recently fielded 287 applicants - almost all of them overqualified.
Do not fool yourself into believing you can find a job teaching English. Hundreds of English courses are offered in Paris, taught by people with university teaching degrees or who have trained to teach English as a second language. If you lack either of these qualifications, your only hope is to tutor students or offer private lessons. Even if you manage to find enough students to fill eight hours a day, this income will not pay your costs of living in Paris. If you have a partner who's earning a full-time salary, your lack of steady income won't be an issue. If you're on your own, the romance of living in Paris will soon be replaced by discomfort at your precarious financial situation.
A cautionary tale: An American friend lived in Paris for 16 years, 14 of which she was working for an international organisation. When she left that job, she did some apartment relocation work, taught Reiki, etc. Even though she spoke French fluently and knew how to manuever through minefields of city bureaucracy, she was unable to earn enough money to pay her bills and reluctantly returned to the U.S.
In a survey earlier this year, Paris was ranked the most expensive city in Europe and the fourth most expensive city in the world. Rent for an unfurnished two-bedroom apartment is typically about 2000 euros (about $2,300) per month. An unfurnished studio can cost from 750 euros monthly to 1,200, depending upon the arrondisement, or section of the city.
If you try to rent an apartment without a verifiable source of income, you may experience difficulty. Some landlords may ask you to pay up to six months' rent in advance. We have a French neighbour who works full time but lacked adequate financial means to rent an apartment. A wealthier French friend stepped in, renting the apartment on his friend's behalf.
If you rent an unfurnished apartment, you are renting an empty shell - no closets, no kitchen appliances or cupboards, sometimes not even any light fixtures. Each time a tenant moves out, the apartment is completely stripped of all accoutrements and repainted. The next tenant must buy and install kitchen components, etc.
If you have a short-term lease for a furnished apartment, you may have a washing machine, but you will not have a clothes dryer. Electricity in Paris is wildly expensive and few apartments have dryers. Instead, you will become accustomed to hanging your clothes in the hot-water closet or airing cupboard, draping them over radiators or at the first outbreak of warm weather, hanging them on a rack on the balcony.
Utility bills are expensive - cable television, DSL line, electricity and telephone. Basic cable and DSL services run an average of 100 euros per month. Hardly any apartments have air-conditioners, so you will experience some hot summer weather.
If you are female exceeding an American size 10 or a British size 12, you will have difficulty buying clothes here. French women are small and thin and clothes shops stock accordingly. Other than in a few chain stores, French clothes are quite expensive. I recently bought a simple cotton shirt and trousers for a friend's newborn baby - the cost was 70 euros, or nearly $80!
This post isn't meant to be discouraging, but too many people who contact me seem to think they can manage Paris the same way they might manage in New York or San Francisco. You can't. It's very very different. The rules are different and you can't bend the rules in a country that thrives on bureaucracy. French logic is something you may never come to understand, although you will learn to live with its consequences.
So if you've faced the practical issues and think you can handle the challenges of living in Paris, then good luck to you! I hope you have many wonderful experiences in this amazing city!