Paris has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. However, the reality of living in Paris isn’t as perfect as often portrayed in movies or TV series. Although I acknowledge some benefits of living in Paris, I didn’t enjoy it. To help you decide if living in Paris would be right for you, I have compiled a list of the pros and cons of living in Paris.
Pro: Beautiful old architecture
My favourite aspect of living in Paris is the stunning old architecture. Parisians often take this for granted but walking through many arrondissements can feel like strolling through an open-air museum. The city is full of iconic landmarks, but even the not-so-famous buildings can have an alluring charm with their Haussmannian architecture.
Con: Outdated residential buildings
However, while the exterior of many buildings may appear picturesque, the reality of living inside some of them can be less than desirable. Outdated apartments with thin walls can be rather unpleasant when you’re used to having space. Many buildings don’t have elevators, meaning that you may have to climb several flights of stairs to reach your apartment – so you’ll save on your gym subscription if you live on the fifth floor!
Additionally, some residential buildings are not permitted to install air conditioning units due to aesthetic reasons. So some Parisians struggle to stay cool during the hot summer months.
Pro: Paris has a fascinating multicultural diversity
Contrary to how Paris is often portrayed in movies and media, the city is not just about romance and picturesque streets. Paris has a long and complex history of immigration from around the world, which is evident in many neighbourhoods such as Belleville or the 18th arrondissement that we don’t often see on screen. I really enjoyed the different atmospheres that can make you feel like you’ve travelled somewhere else without ever leaving the city.
Diversity also means that you won’t get highly noticed as a foreigner in Paris, no matter your origins. Unfortunately, it does not mean that you will never face discrimination. The “index of tolerance towards foreigners is constantly improving“, but discrimination persists and never before have we heard so much in the media politics arguing about migration issues, often associated with security issues. Victims of discrimination can get free advice by talking to the Défenseur des Droits.
Con: You often cannot live in Paris
Like many major cities around the world, finding affordable housing in Paris can be difficult. It often requires a significant amount of money and navigating the complex apartment-hunting system. Over the years, it has become a city largely reserved for the wealthy. Flats in Paris are overpriced, and you often have to sacrifice space to afford to live in the French capital. For single, minimalist individuals, a chambre de bonne may be the most affordable option. However, even obtaining one of these small rooms can be challenging.
Many of the people who keep the city running live in the Greater Paris suburbs because it is more affordable. Living in Paris is very different to living in the suburbs of Paris. While some suburbs are just as lovely and expensive as Paris, most do not have the same charm and lifestyle as the city centre. Living in the suburbs is perfectly fine, but it may not match the romanticised image that foreigners have of living in Paris.
Pro: A developed public transportation system
Paris has an extensive public transportation system, which includes a fast and affordable metro, train and bus system. It’s easy to navigate the city without a car. However, be prepared for a crowded commute during peak hours!
Con: Paris doesn’t feel safe
Unfortunately, Paris is known for having a high number of pickpockets, so it’s essential to keep a close eye on your belongings. I personally wouldn’t carry anything valuable in my pockets when living in Paris. When using public transport, it’s a good idea to carry a bag that can be easily zipped and kept in front of you to deter pickpockets.
Moreover, street harassment is a concern for women in Paris. It’s common to be approached by random men who may ask for your phone number or personal information. I was sometimes approached multiple times a day and even followed. While nothing too serious has happened to me, it can be tiring and uncomfortable. I somehow got used to this while living in France: I realised how much safer I felt only after moving to Australia and how the regular street harassment was actually quite exhausting.
Pro: Pedestrian and bike-friendly city
Paris is walkable and bike-friendly, making it easy to get around without relying on public transportation. I loved walking in Paris when I had time; it is a great way to discover hidden gems and enjoy the city’s beauty. The Mairie de Paris has also been actively working on transforming the city to make it more bike-friendly, with new bike lanes and initiatives to promote cycling. They dream of Paris becoming a 15-minute city, where all the services you need are within 15 minutes on foot or bike from where you live.
Con: Parisians are stressed and not patient
Parisians may come across as impatient and direct, which may be perceived as rude by newcomers. While the stereotype of Parisians being rude persists, I don’t fully believe in it. In many situations where Parisians may appear rude, it could be due to cultural differences that are often misunderstood.
The fast-paced lifestyle and long work hours of many Parisians mean that they are often in a hurry. Thus, taking too long in a queue or blocking a path inadvertently can cause irritation as it slows them down. It can be quite a culture shock for those from more laid-back cities.
It can also take some time to get used to the direct communication style of Parisians. They’re often too busy to engage in small talk. French people, in general, are not making efforts like Americans to appear extra polite. It doesn’t help that tipping – although always appreciated – is not at all mandatory, so there isn’t extra pressure to appear particularly joyful or friendly.
Additionally, the city has a high rate of pickpocketing and scams, which can make Parisians more wary of strangers, and may give the impression of being cold or unfriendly to those not used to it.
Pro: The food and bakeries
One of the greatest things about living in Paris is undoubtedly the food. French cuisine is world-renowned, and you’ll find no shortage of fantastic restaurants in Paris that cater to different budgets and preferences. If you’re looking to dine out on a budget, Paris has a variety of affordable restaurants to choose from. Compared to other expensive cities, you can enjoy meals more regularly without breaking the bank. Additionally, some employers offer discounted restaurant tickets, which can make dining out even easier.
And I may be biased as it’s my home country, but the abundance of boulangeries, or bakeries, on almost every street corner in Paris is just heaven. They offer freshly baked bread and delicious sandwiches that are perfect for a quick and satisfying meal.
However, if you have specific dietary requirements, it can be challenging to quickly find food in Paris. While some shops do cater to vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, or gluten-free diets, many others may not be as accommodating. You may also encounter some impatience if you ask too many questions.
Con: The coffee
The coffee culture in Paris may not be to everyone’s liking, and foreigners are often disappointed by the coffee served in Paris. While French people consume a lot of coffee, the typical order is simply “un café,” which refers to a long espresso. If you prefer milk-based coffee drinks like lattes or cappuccinos, you may need to seek out more upscale cafes that offer these options. Additionally, alternative kinds of milk are not yet widely available in many places, so it’s best to lower your expectations.
Pro: The nightlife
Paris is a vibrant city with a thriving nightlife that caters to a range of tastes and moods. Whether you’re looking for a cozy evening with friends or a wild night out, you’ll find an abundance of restaurants, bars, live music venues, and nightclubs that stay open late and even until sunrise. And Parisians don’t only go out on the weekend!
Ever since leaving Paris, I have really missed the quality of live performing arts that I used to regularly enjoy. There were exciting shows lined up almost every night! Plus, the experience of watching operas and theatre performances in historic venues like the Odeon and Opera Garnier, which have been open for over 150 years, was truly special.
Plus, culture is usually affordable in France. You don’t necessarily have to break the bank to go to shows. There are even opportunities to grab discounted tickets on the day of the performances if it hasn’t sold out.
Con: The cigarettes
Smoking is a common practice in Paris and will be annoying for non-smokers. Although it’s no longer permitted to smoke in all enclosed public places, people still smoke in outdoor areas and at home. If you’re dining outside or at a friend’s place, you may have to deal with secondhand smoke, which is often unpleasant.
Pro: There’s everything you need in Paris
No matter what you’re interested in, you can find it in the City of Lights. There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, like strolling along the Seine River or visiting one of the city’s many parks. If you’re looking for some indoor entertainment, you can explore the city’s world-renowned museums or take in a show at one of its many theatres. And when it comes to shopping, Paris is a true paradise. From high-end boutiques to charming markets, there’s something for every taste and budget.
I cannot think of an activity that wouldn’t be somehow accessible in Paris. They even bring the beach atmosphere along the Seine River in summer with Paris Plage. And you can even find an indoor ski simulator in the suburbs.
Con: The weather
While Paris is a beautiful city, the weather can be a downside for some. If you’re someone who thrives in sunny weather, Paris may not be the ideal place to live for you. It’s not as bad as London, but there are miserable days.
While summer and spring can be lovely, the rest of the year is quite challenging. The fall and winter months can be gloomy, with lots of rain and overcast, cold days. The early darkness in winter can get quite depressing if you work during office hours: you start work in the dark and leave at night. It can make it feel like the day is over before it’s even really begun. It’s not rare to feel that people are very negative late in the year and complain a lot more than during summer.
Pro: A hub to explore France and Europe
One of the great advantages of living in Paris is its central location in Europe, making it a perfect hub for exploring nearby destinations. With the high-speed train network, you can easily take a day trip or weekend getaway to other cities in France or neighbouring countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.
If you are employed under a French work contract, you can enjoy ample paid leave. French law mandates a minimum of 5 weeks of paid leave annually, with many French workers receiving more. Additionally, some contracts offer up to two days of extra paid leave per month (RTT) for employees who exceed the legal 35-hour workweek. Moreover, there are 11 public holidays in France, which may result in extra-long weekends if they happen to fall on weekdays. However, some years, these holidays fall on weekends, which is unlucky!
Con: Frequent transport strikes
According to the International Labor Organization, France ranks second, after Argentina, in the number of “days not worked per 1,000 workers due to strikes and lockouts.” It is part of the French culture to take to the streets and voice disagreements through protests. These protests are not always the violent ones we see in the media; many are rather peaceful. And it’s usually easy to avoid them as information about upcoming events is available to plan accordingly.
The most disruptive strikes in Paris are usually related to transportation, with French rail workers going on strike every year since 1947. If you rely on public transport, don’t expect a guaranteed minimum service during these periods. Those who are lucky to have the choice opt to work from home or avoid commuting during these disruptions.
Pro: Access to good health services
You’ll find in Paris some of the best medical institutions and doctors in France.
Plus, as a foreign employee living in France, you and your family may have access to the country’s comprehensive social security system. This system provides essential health coverage and other benefits to both French citizens and foreign residents. Foreigners must contribute to it, just like French employees, and in return, depending on their visa situation, are entitled to receive the same benefits as French nationals.
Con: The cost of living
Compared to other cities in France, living in Paris can be quite costly. The French capital consistently ranks high on the list of the world’s most expensive cities.
Additionally, I have observed that salaries in Paris seem to be comparatively lower than those in the US and Australia. While the high taxes in France support important social services like healthcare and unemployment benefits, they also mean that the net income for many employees is lower than they might expect.
In addition to housing costs, other expenses like groceries can also be more expensive in Paris. While there are many small grocery stores throughout the city, they tend to be pricier than larger supermarkets found outside of Paris.
For those with lower incomes, it can be a challenge to make ends meet in Paris. Even if it’s not your case, you’ll be reminded of it regularly with the increasing number of homeless people and other signs of poverty in the city.
Pro: Reputed education system
If you’re a student heading to Paris, you’ve made a great choice. Paris has a highly regarded education system with many prestigious universities and schools. Students have access to a wide range of academic resources and extracurricular activities. The city’s educational institutions also attract top researchers and faculty from around the world. Overall, the education system in Paris is known for its quality and rigour.
Con: High competition for jobs
With a vibrant economy and numerous multinational companies based in Paris, there are many job opportunities available across a range of industries. However, the competition for jobs in Paris is also extremely high.
This is partly due to the large number of students who stay in Paris after graduation. Additionally, the French job market is known for its strict regulations and complex bureaucracy, which can make it more difficult for non-French speakers to find work.
Pro: People can speak English
French is the official language of France, and French has a reputation to be bad with language. However, it has changed a lot in the last decade, and many people in the capital can speak English, especially those who have travelled or studied abroad.
While French is necessary for handling administrative tasks, finding a job and integrating into the culture, English speakers can still easily socialise and make connections in the city. In fact, French people are often interested in practising their English with foreigners.
If learning French is not on your wish list, you can even consider looking for an English-speaking community. Expats usually gather near international schools, situated mostly in the western parts of the city or in the suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
However, learning French is crucial if you want to avoid encountering cold behaviour from the locals in your daily life. Many Parisians find it disrespectful if foreigners do not attempt to speak their language, so you’ll have more luck even by simply starting the conversation with French greetings.
Con: It’s not easy to make friends
If you’re moving to Paris alone, you may feel lonely when you arrive as making friends in the capital of France can be challenging. Like anywhere else, locals will already have their circle of friends and may not be looking for more friendship opportunities.
It’s possible to come across a work culture that allows you to forge bonds with colleagues, especially if you’re employed in a creative field. But in general, French people tend to keep their work and private lives separate, and it can be tough to build meaningful friendships with colleagues outside of work. Plus, many people who work in Paris live outside the city and may leave right after work to quickly catch public transport.
Expat groups and online communities offer a chance for individuals living abroad to socialise and network with others facing similar circumstances.
Why Paris wasn’t for me
I enjoyed living in Paris for a while. It was a fun experience as I was young and loved going out every night. If I had lived in the heart of the capital and didn’t have to spend so much time on public transport to get home, I might have considered it a good city to live in. But the relentless street harassment made me feel like I had a lack of freedom.
I find that living in a smaller city that’s closer to the sea and national parks is a better fit for me. It allows me to afford a pleasant apartment near the centre of the city and lively entertainment areas. My overall quality of life has improved significantly. Additionally, I’ve been able to explore new hobbies, such as scuba diving, which would have been difficult to enjoy while living in Paris.