Moving to France – how to zap the culture shock

Many people dream of making the move to France. It’s a country marinated in culture, blanketed in gorgeous natural landscapes, and famed for its exquisite cuisine. It also has an enviable work-life balance and social safety net. But moving to France involves more than just finding a house near to your favourite bistro.

Moving to France - how to zap the culture shock
Heather, now, and in 2011 after her family's move to France

Before making the move, even before you start properly planning your move, there are a number of things of which you need to be aware, things that will almost certainly give you a jolt of culture shock and for which you need to prepare.

A significant shock is housing, especially in cities, says Heather Hughes, an HR Mobility Consultant for relocation specialists AGS Movers.

“I think for a lot of families, a major difference is that in French cities, many families live in flats or apartments. Many British think of an apartment as somewhere you live in when you’re younger, when you’re either flat-sharing or choosing to live in a city centre because you want to be near the nightlife. But that’s not the way it is in France. Here it’s much more common for families to live centrally in large apartments, and when the kids need to get a bit of fresh air, they simply pop down to the park.”

Take the pain out of your move to France. Plan your relocation with AGS Movers

It’s not just the British that find it strange not to live in a house with a garden. “We met lots of American families who just didn’t understand it, either. In the US, once you get a family – you move to the suburbs. But if the French work in a city, and they have a family, they will live in the city in an apartment. So newcomers from other countries will have to adjust to this difference.”

Heather has herself experienced relocating to France, and that’s why she can empathise with AGS clients who are relocating. It’s a key reason why she loves working in the relocation industry.

“Also you should beware of bureaucracy and administration,” says Heather. “The French administration system can be a bit of a challenge. It’s totally different to the system in the UK.”

“When I moved here permanently in 2011, I thought I’d easily integrate into French life. I was fluent in French and I’d been to university here, so I thought it would be simple. But it wasn’t. It was much trickier than I expected. It was quite bureaucratic.”  

France’s much-vaunted free healthcare system needs patience to negotiate, too, according to Heather.

“Administration-wise, France can be complex. Applying for the carte vitale (the French health insurance card that allows those who have one to have most or all of their health costs either covered or reimbursed by the state) can be frustrating and time-consuming, especially if you’re navigating the waters on your own and don’t speak fluent French. It’s hard to get hold of, but once you have it, it’s very efficient.”

Heather and her family just after their move to France.

But there is a way to lessen culture shock, to reduce stress levels and make the process smoother. Because, according to Heather, the hardest part of moving to France is not the logistical problem of actually moving house, it’s preparing for a completely different way of life.

“When we relocated to France the planning was monumental,” Heather says. “I really advise people to start planning as soon as possible. But the actual nuts and bolts of the physical move were not the things that kept me awake at night. It was all the little details, such as registering in France, sorting out healthcare, and getting our eldest child into an international school. I was also pregnant. So, that was another huge cause of anxiety. What did I need to do to register with the maternity system in France? I knew it was completely different in France. That was such a worry at first.”

And, of course, there’s the language barrier. “You really need at least a little French,” says Heather. “It’s not as if most people can’t speak English, but if you went to an office, unless it was an office of a British company where most of the staff were British, the language would be French. Whereas I think you’d probably find in the Netherlands or some of the Nordic countries you could get away with not speaking the local language, that’s not true in France. I would say you really need to speak a decent, minimum level of French to really integrate in any way.”

Zap that culture shock by planning your move to France with AGS Movers. Get a quote here

But, luckily, Heather had employed a relocation company to help them. “I really appreciated having a relocation specialist to help us. Obviously they packed up our house, and gave us advice on house-hunting, but it was the other stuff, the stuff that had been keeping me awake at nights, that they really helped with. For instance, with finding a school, they take your hand and say, ‘These are your options. This is where you can go. There are these international schools, or you can put your kid into a French state school. We will hold your hand, guide you, and take you through these things.’ They guided us through the whole moving process and all the fine details thereafter. And of course the relocation company also guided me through the labyrinthine process of being pregnant in France. That made such a huge difference.”

There’s been research on cultural integration and the process has been broken down into four stages.

“At first you’re nervous before you go,” says Heather, “and then when you get to your new home, you have this whole excitement of being there, drinking wine with locals, having fun, and you think, ‘Wow, this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.’

“Then that stage ends and you start to live life normally, and it’s really difficult. Everything is new and hard. And then you’re thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’ve done. This is awful. Everything’s so difficult. Why did I do this? Because I don’t know how to do any of these things that I need to do for everyday life.’ Then eventually that passes and you learn and it becomes normal again. And then, finally, you don’t want to go home because you can’t remember how it works in the country you came from.

“At AGS Movers, we accompany more than 85,000 families with their moving and relocation process every year. We also offer HR services, immigration and destination services to help private clients, as well as supporting employers to enable their employees to transition smoothly. AGS manages every move with professionalism, expertise and experience.”

Make your relocation much less stressful by contacting AGS Movers

Member comments

  1. “The prescription will be fulfilled by a pharmacy and must be paid for; the little price stickers (vignettes) from each medicine should then be stuck on the Feuille de Soins, which is a reimbursement form for medical expenses. It’s all so gloriously complicated.” Not once you are in the system (Ameli). I haven’t had to do the sticker thing you describe for more than 20 years.
    And if you haven’t lived in the UK for 10 years you’ll be shocked by the petty-fogging bureaucracy that now exists. It’s (much) worse than France, because no matter the pleadings in your individual case, or the insanity of the demand, you will get zero flexibility. So change the record, change the stereotype, UK is now much more painfully bureaucratic.
    Vive la France!

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What are the best apps for making new friends in France?

It can be difficult to make friends when moving to a new place - and France is no exception. But these days, there are a lots of apps you can use to make the process easier. Here is our selection of some of the best.

What are the best apps for making new friends in France?

When it comes to making new friends in France, it can be tricky to know where to start. 

In the past we have published guides on how to make new friends, tips on how to connect with other parents, and advice on how to become pals with your rural neighbours

But times are changing. There are a whole host of apps and websites out there which mean that making friends is now easier than ever before. 

Here is a collection of some of our favourites. 


Meetup is a website and mobile app where you can search for events based on your interests and/or location. 

Whether its a life-drawing class; language exchange meeting; lego-robot building workshop; wine tasting; or feminist literature discussion group, you are bound to find something for you and meet like-minded people. 

Many people in France and across the world use Meetup principally as a social platform for meeting new friends. 

The app is free and easy to use although you will need to pay to access some of the listed events. You will likely meet a mix of French people and other foreign nationals through this app. 


This French-made app and website is great for making friends with French people – its main users, who are known as Frimakers.

Frimakers propose events – like bowling, going for a walk, or going to someone’s house to watch PSG vs Marseille – with a single click, you can join the list of attendees. 

You can also propose your own events, giving a location, activity and the number of people you are prepared to host/meet. 

If you would rather chat with other Frimakers online first, there is also a feature for that. Each profile on Frimake has a profile picture and a list of hobbies and interests. If you hit it off online, you can then organise an activity together. 

Need Sporty

Need Sporty is an app designed to connect people who want to do sports together. Want someone to go for a run with? Or looking for a new tennis partner? Then this French-made app is perfect for you.

There are 39 sports listed in total and there are also options for disabled athletes to meet up too. 

Get the endorphins flowing and you will strike up new friendships in no time. 


The difference between UNBLND and other apps is that UNBLND doesn’t feature profile photos. You match with other users based on shared tastes.

The app automatically places you into ‘interest groups’ based on data you provide it about your favourite activities. 

It is then up to you to chat with members of the group and propose/accept activities. The app is mostly targeted at young adults. 

The app is widely used in the Francophone world but you will probably end up meeting some international users too. 

Bumble For Friends 

There are many dating apps that claim to also provide a platform for developing platonic relationships. But few of them do this as well, and with less ambiguity, as Bumble. 

In Bumble’s BFF mode, you can swipe left or right to decide who to match and start conversations with based on their interests and photos. The in-built algorithm will suggest the strongest possible connections within a radius of your choosing. 

When creating your profile, try to use photos that show you doing what you love; don’t share too much personal information (stick to hobbies and interests); and be honest. By verifying your profile, you will receive a little blue tick next to your name and prove to others that you are who you say you are. 

With Bumble BFF, you will likely meet a wide range of international and local friends. That being said, it’s relatively new in France and appears to be most commonly used among English-speakers.


Knockk claims to be the most downloaded app for making friends in France in 2022. Like Frimake, the emphasis is around planning activities with strangers based on your interests. 

The app also lists public events you can attend and features a useful interactive app. 

You will likely meet a mix of French people and foreigners through Knockk


There are myriad Facebook groups for all kinds of interests and demographics. 

If you want to make English-speaking foreign friends, you could either try searching through posts on big groups like British & Irish expats in Paris – Open group or Americans Expats in Paris or Americans in France. But alternatively, you could search for more niche groups that better align with your interests or identity, such as English-speaking Yoga in Paris or Expat Women in Paris.

If you want to meet a mix of English-speaking international residents and locals, you are probably best off scrolling through Facebook’s ‘Events’ section. You will be able to find all kinds of interesting occasions to meet with people – from language exchange events, to Cuban dance classes, to simple ‘make friends’ drinks. 

Do you have any other tips for making friends in France? Let us know in the comments section below.