If you are considering a move to France either for work or a change of lifestyle and have a young family in tow there is plenty you will need to look at before you move. In this article we'll be looking at the pros and cons of moving to France with a young family.
We will be looking at the more general aspects of life in France. If you are moving to Paris as a large international city there will need to be other aspects for you to consider.
France has a lot going for it in terms of the quality of living you can experience. If you are a lover of culture, gastronomy or the outdoors, France has a plethora to offer. Which means that you'll have plenty of options to keep your young family entertained. On top of this France is a very popular tourist destination and the French are very fond of their 'vacances' which means that you'll never be short of a distraction.
If you enjoy your long lunches and barbecues, you'll have plenty of opportunities with the good weather from Spring through to Autumn. Restaurants also tend to be family-friendly especially at lunch time when meals out are often cheaper, which is helpful when you are feeding a family.
It is well known that younger children pick up a new language more easily than adults. They will have plenty of opportunities to be immersed in the language especially if you choose to school them in the French system. This will often be the easiest way for them to learn the language, even if it may be a bit tough to begin with.
By learning a second language when they are young it is also likely that they'll be receptive to picking up other languages in the future, creating great opportunities for the future.
France is well located for access to the rest of Europe, making it easy to visit other countries. Giving you a fantastic opportunity to let your family experience other countries and cultures from a young age. With so much on offer in France it may be difficult to drag yourself away at times. However, with all the fantastic countries within easy access by road or rail it would be a shame for you and your family not to make the most of mainland Europe.
The approach to education in France is very different to the approach in the UK. Depending on your point of view you will either see this as a pro or con, which is why we have included schooling in both sections of the article.
Nursery school (La Maternelle) starts from 2 years until 6 years old. The high percentage of women working in France means it is common for children to go to nursery from a young age. It also provides children with important preparation for the work to come when they go into primary school.
Primary school is from 6 years until 11 years and has a strong focus on getting everyone up to the same level on the basics and well prepared for secondary school. This means that there is a lot to learn, especially for children learning French as a second language.
There is a strong drive for uniformity in education meaning that across France the curriculum will be very similar. In contrast to the British education system where there is a lot of focus on creativity and wider understanding, the French system focuses on a comprehensive understanding of the core skills of language and maths in the early years. This approach is then extended to other subjects as children move through school years. It is likely that this different approach will involve a steep learning curve for children and adults used to the British system.
After primary school is College, equivalent to secondary school in the UK. This is for ages 12 to 16. From here children will progress to the French equivalent of 6th form also known as Lycee.
It is also worth noting that it is common for children to retake a year if they don’t achieve the pass grade in end of year tests. This is known as redoublement and around 30% of school age children will have repeated a year at some point in their schooling.
The Bac is the equivalent of A levels and gives all children the opportunity of attending university. However, university in France doesn't have the same status as in the UK. It is the grandes ecoles that those aspiring to the higher level jobs are aiming for. This takes a significant amount of work to pass the entrance exams used for selection.
British parents have the option of either putting their children through international baccalaureate so that they have a better grounding for either UK or another European university. Alternatively, you could consider boarding school in the UK.
When you are moving to France with your children, schooling is probably the most important area to research and understand. And when you are used to the British or US system – prepare yourself for a different approach.
The healthcare system in France is widely regarded as one of the best in the world. It is effectively a state-run health insurance scheme. Typically, you'll need to pay for all visits to your GP that you can then reclaim from the state. Similar to the UK, GPs will then recommend you on to an appropriate specialist if required - where this referral has been through the GP, all or the majority of the fees should be recoverable through the scheme.
We recommend that you research this in detail so that you understand exactly how it will apply to you and whether you'll require supplementary private medical insurance for you or your family.
The French enjoy their sports, which means that there will be plenty on offer to you and your family wherever you live. If you enjoy your sport, joining a club is a great way to integrate into your local community and make new friends who share your interests. There is very limited sport offered in schools and it is up to parents to organise sports activities through clubs.
There are plenty of public sports facilities on offer in most regions that makes this a fantastic lower cost opportunity for keeping your family entertained. If you are into your outdoor lifestyle, with the varied geography of France there is a huge amount on offer, from skiing to hiking and cycling to water sports.
In France schools are for education and offer limited extracurricular activities. There are however plenty of opportunities available through clubs and specialist providers. Music, for example, will be offered through specialist music schools in many towns. In a similar approach to education, the approach to music can be quite formal with an emphasis on theory, and practice expected at home. As with many extracurricular activities it is best to research the areas that you are interested in to find out what is available in the area that you are looking to move to.
When you are moving to France with a young family and you are expecting the move to be for the longer term, you will need to be prepared that your children could grow up more French than British. If you are a Francophile that may be exactly what you are looking for. However, for some this might come as a bit of a shock.
The French often have a different approach to life, from the formality of school to long lunches they do things differently. So be prepared to be supporting different teams when it comes to international sporting events.
We have looked at the schooling in some detail above. As the French have a very different and more formal approach to schooling than in the UK, this may be seen as a con for some. If you are not prepared for it – it is likely that it will take some adjusting to. Families moving for shorter term assignments to one of the larger cities where a British or international school is available often choose this option as there is much less adjustment when joining and moving on from the school.
However, if you are looking at a longer term move then French schooling is probably the most likely option. For younger children the adjustment will in most cases be much quicker, whereas for older children from 11 years plus it might be harder. Being prepared for the change, researching the differences and learning the language as much as possible for both children and parents will be important to make the transition as easy as possible.
Integrating into life in a new country can be difficult and could be seen as a con, especially if you are already integrated well into where you currently live. Integrating is more often than not a case of getting involved in as much as you can as early on as possible. As we have mentioned a number of times learning the language is probably the most important factor when integrating into a new community. The next is to find people who share common interests.
Finding other families with children of a similar age naturally gives you common ground and provide opportunities to help each other out when needed. Joining clubs and getting involved with social events will help you find others who share interests with you. The French enjoy a sense of community and the more that you get involved with your local community the easier you’ll find it to integrate.
When considering a move to a new country, doing your research, learning from people who made the move in similar circumstances and if possible taking a number of reconnaissance trips will all help you make the right decisions.