Living in the south of France is a dream for many northern Europeans, and for people from all over the world. There are many areas in France that appeal to foreigners, and deservedly so, but the French Riviera has a special appeal.
The abundance of sunshine, the Mediterranean climate and life style, its stunning natural beauty, rich history and the many opportunities for a wide range of outdoor activities, all make the French Riviera an enviable area to live, with a superb quality of life.
People are coming to the French Riviera for artistic inspiration, to settle and work here, for a number of years or for good, or to retire.
I came here in 1995, with two little children, aged 2 and 4. We didn't speak much French, and it is fair to say that it took a while to settle in. Luckily there were (and are) many expatriates here, from all over Europe and beyond, which makes it easier to adapt and find support.
We're still here, and have no intention of leaving!
If you are considering moving to the French Riviera, here are some key points worth noting:
Does for you living in the South of France mean working in the South of France?
There's 3 main sectors of international professional activity on the Cote d'Azur: tourism, real estate and technology.
France remains the world's most popular tourist destination, and the French Riviera comes second only to Paris. Tourism represents therefore a vast industry, with lots of opportunities for foreigners (language skills are key for example). Employment areas include tourist accommodation, conference organisation, tour guides, sea cruises, car rental, villa and yacht management and maintenance... this list goes on.
Jobs may be advertised in local news papers, or on one of the many job websites (e.g. monster.fr (in French)).
Because of its attractive setting, healthy climate and lifestyle, the French Riviera has had a booming real estate industry ever since the British aristocracy started to discover the region in the second half of the 19th century.
Nowadays there's many real estate agents operating in the region, too many probably, most of them trying to serve the mid-range properties for either selling or letting.
Property development can be choice too; with space becoming a premium though, opportunities are shrinking.
For over 40 years now the French Riviera has had its own technology park, called Sophia Antipolis. It is located between Cannes and Grasse, embedded in a large forested area. I was suitably impressed when I came here for my job interview, the warm sun, the chant of the cigales (crickets), stunning views on the mountains and the sea...
Currently there are some 26,000 people employed in the Sophia Antipolis Park; the main industries represented here are Information Technology, Telecommunications and Pharmaceuticals / Life Sciences.
As for the actual jobs, its mainly research and development on the one hand, supported by local universities, and marketing, sales and professional services on the other. For the latter category, extensive travel is usually required as the clients served by the Sophia Antipolis business are mainly located in the big cities across Europe.
This travel requirement is a two-edged sword (in my personal experience at least), as it means on the one hand an exciting and international working environment, but if you have just arrived from another country, with a wife and two small children who don't really know anyone and do not really speak the language, you don't want to be away every week Monday-Friday...
Some big names with a presence in Sophia Antipolis: Accenture, IBM, Intel, SAP, Amadeus, the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), American Express, Broadcom, Capgemini, the European home of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, NVIDIA, ST-Ericcsson...
In order to find a job here, it is best to look at the companies' main web sites, or look at any of the major job search web sites.
If you own a company and want to set up a presence here, you can find contact details on http://www.investincotedazur.com/en/index.php .
Your children should of course enjoy living in the South of France just as much as you do!
French schools are of a high standard and completing the baccalauréat gives access to universities both in France and elsewhere in Europe.
Although generally French is the only language spoken, schools here are well used to foreign children, and especially younger children will adjust quite quickly - much quicker so than their parents!
We decided to have our children attend the French elementary school or école primaire.
Schools do receive ratings on their performance, but you will most likely want to (and be required to) have your child attend the nearest school (as far as pre-school, primary and secondary schools go).
English is finally becoming more important in the French education system; the French have long been suspicious towards other languages, and it is only of recent times that they have become more aware of the necessity to teach and be taught English!
Many parents though choose for their children to go to an international school, which may be the preferred option if you do not plan to stay for more than a couple of years.
Mixed options are also possible of course, if you have more than one child, maybe one child is better suited for an international school, whereas the other has a better chance of succeeding (now or in the future) in a French school.
The best known international schools are:
The Centre International de Valbonne or CIV, also located in Sophia Antipolis, offers an international primary and secondary education, but part of the admission criteria is for a student to speak French.
You could consider, depending on the age of your child and your personal preferences, to have your child complete his or her primary education in a French school, and then go to the CIV for secondary education.
More information on http://www.civfrance.com (and yes, you need to understand French to understand this web site ;-) )
If you're lucky and your current or new employer pays for the relocation to the South of France, you will most likely be given a temporary place to stay, such as a serviced apartment. That takes the pressure off somewhat to find the right place to live, which will, in most cases, be a house or apartment to rent.
Over the last 15 years there has been lots of new housing developments, all over the French Riviera. There is however a persistent shortage of rental accommodation. But with the right and local help you should be able to find a place to live within one month. It would be very tricky for me to give any estimates of rent, because this varies greatly. Obviously the closer you get to the coast, the higher the rent. As a ballpark figure, 1500 € per month should give you a decent 2-3 bedroom house, in a nice area, at no more than 20min driving distance from Sophia Antipolis.
If you want the feel of a real city, you can choose to live in Nice. If you want the sea, or enjoy the summer night life, Antibes or Juan-les-Pins may be your choice.
Biot, Valbonne and Mougins are typical provencal villages, surrounded by large housing developments called domains, all in a very green and calm setting, where lots of international people live.
The Riviera being the vibrant expat community that it is, there are many clubs catering to pretty much all of the nationalities that you can find here.
The English language magazine "The Riviera Reporter" has got a substantial number of clubs and associations listed on this page on their website.
If you are looking for a date, or a long-term relationship, most if not all of the bigger dating sites cover also the south of France.
For something a bit friendlier, take a look at ExpdatDatingFrance.com, a relatively new site, which caters specifically for expats in the south of France, and is also a good place to look if you "just" want to make new friends.
Medical care in France is of a very high standard, and basic health insurance is mandatory for everybody, including all foreigners living in the South of France.
The Pasteur Hospital in Nice is renowned in France and beyond.
The Lenval hospital is a specialised pediatric (childrens') hospital, also part of the group of hospitals linked to Nice University.
Grasse, further to the west, also has a hospital, called Clavary Centre Hospitalier Grasse.
Despite a reputation for high taxes, France personal income tax rates are comparable to those in other Western European countries. There are also various deductions and tax credits, and taxable income is reduced proportionally based on the people depending on that income (such as spouses, partners and children). Up to 2019, one was being paid a salary from which social charges were deducted, but over which one still had to pay income tax. Strangely enough it was still called 'salaire net', the salary which you negotiated during a job interview. 2019 was a transition year, during which the country passed to a PAYE pay-as-you-earn method of taxation. To avoid people having to pay at the same moment for their arrear taxes as well as the current year, for most people income tax was set to zero for their income over 2019. Now, for employed people, income tax is being withheld at the source.
In real terms, income tax in France has been coming down by several percentage points:
The 2020 applicable tax rates are:
Living in nearby Monaco will not help you reduce your taxes; there is a tax treaty in place between the two countries, and if working in France you will have to pay the same tax as your colleagues actually living in the South of France!