Expats in Paris share their tips

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Chris Donnan

Trailing spouse and father of two, Chris relocated to Paris for a second time and has encountered the challenges any expat parent will face.

Key Challenges for an expat parent
Identifying a good school and getting the kids registered, finding a good paediatrician, kid-friendly food (we have a picky eater), and finding kid-friendly restaurants, baby formula and baby food, and cultural differences for the kids (example, Halloween is not celebrated in France). Also, the processes: there is an overly complicated process for everything you have to do here.

Key tips for fellow expat parents:
Identify a good school and apply as early as you can. Try to find one as close to home as possible. This helps because new friends will be close. Try to choose a bilingual school or one with an immersion program so that your little ones can start to adapt quickly. Join groups on Facebook such as ‘English speaking mums’ or ‘Expatriate parents in Paris’ or other places, there are a ton of experienced expat moms and dads willing to share their experiences. Get a good stroller! Get outside and let your kids meet new friends at the local park/playground. If your kids don’t hold an EU passport, get them a DCEM card (document de circulation pour étranger mineur). Find a good babysitter and lastly, if you need to see a doctor after-hours or on a weekend you can call a service called ‘Urgences Médicales de Paris” (www.ump.fr) or “SOS Medecins” (www.sosmedecins.fr) to come to you – if it is for the kids, you can request that they send a paediatrician.


Marina Burke

As the Director of International Mobility at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris this Irish expat of 19 years encounters international students every day.

Key Challenges for an international student
International students and researchers coming to France, be it through an arranged exchanged programme or on an individual basis, find it tough navigating their way through the red tape, be it regarding their visa, housing, banking, health insurance etc. Not speaking fluent French adds an extra hurdle to the experience. For a smoother integration, we invite all international students to visit the “Welcome Desk Paris” in September and October at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris where they meet with administrative partners for all of these subjects in a friendly and relaxed environment.

Key tips for students
Try to sort out accommodation before arriving, by planning well in advance. Be very wary if asked to pay large sums of money in advance, it may be a scam. Turn to your university for recommendations regarding student halls or reliable sites and agencies. The public transport system is quite good in Paris, don’t feel as if you have to live in the same neighbourhood as your university. There are more affordable housing options on the outskirts of the city if you’re looking into renting a studio. Integrate as much as possible by joining student clubs or sports classes so you get to know the locals who are friendlier than they might appear at first sight!


Cleopatra Narcisse

American expat since 2009, currently working as the International Communications Officer at a higher education institution in Paris.

Key Challenge for an expat parent
Navigating the public school system as an expat, and also raising bilingual children who don’t attend a bilingual school. Not as easy as one would think, since English is ultimately their minority language.

Key tip to fellow parents
Stay positive, there may be things you witness or experience which you don’t understand. But don’t let that rub off on your kids; many of our children are part French themselves, staying positive helps them to take pride in their culture no matter how different it may be to our home country’s. And whatever you do, don’t compare it won’t do any good!


Denise Wilson

This British expat who arrived in Paris in 2011 has successfully overcome a challenge many struggle with.. establishing a social life in the City of Light.

Top tips to building a new social life in Paris.
Put yourself out there to find your tribe! Join Meetup.com to find events where people share your passion or interests. If you can’t find one that suits then create your own! Accept any invitations to events or parties. Be open to people from different backgrounds.

Favourite places to hang out.
Un Vinito in the 3rd arrondissement. It’s owned by Scottish and Colombian expats Yvonne and Andres Sanchez. The vibe is friendly and relaxed. It’s like hanging out on your best mate’s terrace.