Seven tips to help you integrate in France

From grappling with paperwork to channelling the French joie de vivre, we look at the best ways to fit into life in France

People clinking wine glasses over a cheeseboard
What key tips can help you integrate in France?

Many people dream of moving to France but sometimes the reality of integrating into French life can be tricky. What customs and hurdles should you be aware of that will help you better integrate? We take a look. 


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one thing you can do to help integrate into French life is learn the language according to the experts we spoke to. 

“If you don’t have the language, then you’re not really integrating,” says Tracy Leonetti, a relocation expert who moved to France from the UK 30 years ago and is based near Cannes. “Make sure you integrate from a language perspective.” 

The language barrier is the number one issue that unites everyone moving to France, no matter their age or background, says Justyna Simmons, a relocation specialist at Your Friend in Paris, which helps people moving to the French capital, who moved to France from Poland in 2007. 

“When you come to France as a tourist, you might think everyone speaks English, but it’s because you are going to touristy places… once you move to France to live here, you get out of the tourist bubble and you enter into a French-speaking world where no one will understand you,” she says. “People need to be prepared to speak French.” 

Learn something new in French 

But when it comes to integrating, there are ways to learn French that could be more beneficial than traditional language classes. 

“Often people think they’ve got to get lessons, but I approach it from more of an integration perspective. Reach out to French associations, speak with your neighbours, and have wine and cheese parties rather than just having a language lesson where you don’t really integrate,” Ms Leonetti says. 

Read more: How long should it take to learn French for everyday use?

“Take lessons in something that you want to learn about, but do it in French,” says Ms Leonetti, who took a computer course in French when she first moved to France, 30 years ago. “If you want to learn something new, go and do it in French.” 


“The French are renowned for the complexity of their bureaucracy and when people move to France they tend to underestimate how much time it takes,” says Ms Leonetti, who has been helping people moving to France navigate the bureaucratic system since 2012.

“It’s really about planning the move before you come to France,” she says. 

Although paperwork is far from the most exciting thing about moving to France, getting it right can be crucial to making the process of integrating as smooth as possible. 

From visas and immigration to accessing the healthcare system and registering your car, being aware of what paperwork you need to tackle is important, Ms Leonetti says. 

And if you are moving from Britain, you could be in for even more bureaucracy.

“Complexity has increased for British people moving to France post-Brexit,” she says. 

Read more: Visas for France: how often are they refused and for what reasons?

Follow the rules / ‘nice’ is not a thing 

Newcomers to France must learn that “life is based on rules”, according to Ms Simmons. 

“People should learn the rules of the society because France is very rules-driven,” she says. 

French politeness rests heavily on rules, rather than whether or not people are perceived as “nice”, Simmons says. 

“When I go to the US, people care whether people are “nice”. It’s not ok, not to be “nice””, she says. “Whereas in France, it’s all about the rules… no one is describing anyone as “nice” or “not nice”.”

Read more: La politesse: what habits can make you seem rude to French people?

She gives the example of going into a shop in France. If you do not say hello, no matter how politely you ask your question, the shopkeeper could be offended because you have not followed the rules. “The rule is that you say bonjour.”

And being aware of these rules can help to smooth your integration into France. 

“Knowing the rules makes your life so much more enjoyable, she says. “And knowing those rules helps you achieve what you want – to have a good relationship with people”. 

Joie de vivre 

People moving to France should be prepared to lean into the French joie de vivre – and talk about it. 

“People pay a lot of attention to pleasure,” says Ms Simmons. “Maybe they don’t recognise the word nice, but they do recognise the pleasures of life.”

She says at dinner, French people will discuss how the food tastes, what they like about it, the richness of the cheese… “they will indulge in things”. 

And this sense of enjoyment extends far beyond food. 

“When they go to a movie, afterwards they will indulge in the movie, they will become the most spectacular movie critic you’ve ever met. They know how to discuss experiences. This is something I really enjoy about France,” Ms Simmons says. 

People moving to France should not feel inhibited about sharing their opinions if they want to integrate. 

“You are entitled to your opinion. (French people) are not shy,” Ms Simmons says. “They don’t have the imposter syndrome we have… It doesn’t matter if you have the knowledge, you have the experience, and they will talk about it.”

Work-life balance

Newcomers to France may notice a different pace of life, and embracing this can make integration go more smoothly. 

“The pace of life in France is slower, even though the French are very hard workers,” says Ms Leonetti. 

This can take time for newcomers to adapt to, sometimes a year or two, she says. But it is also this aspect of French life that is often a major draw. 

“People enjoy having time off for lunch, and people enjoy having a less quick pace of life, which is something that attracts a lot of expats,” she says. “In France they want to live first and then work…They don’t want to be working 12 hours a day and weekends.” 

Outdoors lifestyle 

Many French people prize getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors, another major draw for many people moving to France and one way people can integrate into a more French way of life. 

“A lot of activities are geared to an outdoors life,” says Ms Leonetti. “It’s something that really encourages you to make the most of life rather than just staying in the office,” she says.

“The lifestyle is very different, in a positive sense.” 

Move when your children are young

It is often assumed that children will integrate quickly into a new culture, picking up the language much more quickly, but when it comes to moving, it is a case of the younger, the better, says Ms Leonetti, who advises moving when children are under 11 years old. 

“It makes it easier for them to integrate into the school system and activities,” she says. 

Parents should be proactive in integrating their children even before they start school in France. 

“Book them into holiday camps to mix with French children even before they start school,” she says.