Living in Paris as a Digital Nomad — A Review
I know, “Living in Paris”, right? How could this possibly go wrong? It’s Paris!
But even though it’s nice to visit, beautiful as cities go, and has everything you need for a working stay, it’s not necessarily the best place to live for a digital nomad. Paris is expensive, not always welcoming to visitors, and in the end is a big city with all the usual drawbacks.
We spent a few months in 2022 living in Paris, working from home or in libraries and cafes, and generally enjoying the city and the things it has to offer.
Paris isn’t the first place that comes to mind for digital nomads. People who work remotely are usually trying to optimise for costs and taxes as well as lifestyle. There are many more obvious choices around Europe that have both more relaxed lifestyle and are lower in cost. Beyond Europe, there are many more, too.
But we tend to find our own balances. Every city has cheaper areas, and we found that we could find places that were acceptably cheap in Paris while still being close enough to the action that we didn’t feel isolated.
We liked our stay in Paris so much that we’ll definitely go back in the future. Enough said!
Overview of Living in Paris as a Digital Nomad
We stayed in Paris for just three months. This is the limit of our European Union / Schengen area visa. If you have a European passport or have some other deal you can probably stay longer, but past the 180 day mark things get complicated tax-wise. (There’s also a series of “reciprocal agreements” under which you can technically stay longer, but we had other things to do anyway.)
In general, Paris is great if you like big cities with lots of culture. It’s not for everyone. If you like beaches or mountains, Paris isn’t for you. If you like small towns or places where people speak English, Paris isn’t for you either, unless you don’t mind hopping on a train for an hour. (People speak English in Paris, but it won’t get you as far.)
But if you can get by in French, can afford to pay the roughly 2000 Euros a month that a 1-bedroom Airbnb costs, enjoy architecture and great fresh produce, and like the kinds of things that a big city has to offer (like arts and culture), then you might enjoy staying in Paris.
Our impression, in case you’re wondering — we loved our time in Paris. We ate well, we walked a lot, we loved being surrounded by beautiful architecture, and we enjoyed making and meeting friends. We’ll be back.
Language — Do you need to speak French to live in Paris?
Obviously, you don’t need to speak French to live in Paris. This is a big European city with lots of visitors. But as with most cities, I would highly recommend you learn the basics — pleasantries and a working vocabulary of 250-500 words.
Every important sign in Paris is in English, announcements are in English, and pretty much everyone speaks defensible English, and of course young people/professionals speak it well.
You can even make friends in Paris just speaking English. There’s a big expat community, and many people living in France really just like hanging out with people from around Europe (and the world).
But the question of whether you need French to live in Paris is more nuanced if you want to go past the tourist experience and maybe even make friends and feel a bit “integrated” into Paris.
You of course hear people speaking English in the touristy parts of town. But where we stayed (not even that far out — the 11ème / 10ème areas) — we very rarely heard English spoken in the regular places we went to, like the supermarket, local shops, or the market.
Further, there are many things about living in Paris that are just easier if you speak French. Very everyday transactions like buying fruit and veg at the market, buying a chicken from a rotisserie (one of my favourite affordable meals), or buying bread from the local bakery are just way smoother if you speak functional French.
Even if your French isn’t perfect, I would mostly recommend Paris as a place for digital nomads if your French is “passable” — say B1 level on the European scale. If you can do everyday transactions, you’ll enjoy your time a lot more.
We speak good French and found it very useful for doing the things we like doing, like me going to a local gym and getting instruction in French (though I found locker room banter a little beyond me), or taking dance lessons. Those things would have been inaccessible if we didn’t speak French.
But short of hobbies / special interest groups, intermediate French is fine for living in Paris and working there as a digital nomad.
Again, you don’t need to speak French in Paris. But it helps (and French isn’t too hard).
Where to Stay in Paris
Airbnbs are pretty expensive in Paris, so the apartment cost is one of the big blockers to living in Paris as a digital nomad. If you’re looking for one for a period of a few months and want to pay under US$3000 a month, then you should be looking months in advance.
The crazy thing is that Airbnbs seem to cost something like 3-4x what the normal rent prices are. Of course, rent is generally for an unfurnished apartment, doesn’t include bills and is long-term, but still, the difference is quite stark.
You’re likely limited by three main factors in hunting for an Airbnb for a long-term stay in Paris:
- Not living in a touristy area, and
- Being near a metro line.
The touristy areas are fun to visit, but personally I think they’d be a nightmare for more than a couple of nights, so they wouldn’t be my choice for living in Paris. They’re packed with people, the service is brusque, and they’re noisy at random times of the day and night. On top of that, the places you may be able to afford in that target budget are usually quite run down.
Things improve dramatically once you start moving a little further out.
You can basically choose anywhere to live in Paris. I’d just advise you to stay very close to a metro station — within a 5-minute walk if possible (or a couple more to stretch it). There are random spots in the city that are on bus lines rather than metro stations, and that’ll dramatically change how easy it is for you to get around.
Ideally, you’d be on one of the major metro lines, too. We found being on line 1 very convenient — the metros are high quality and it takes you to a lot of cool places. (Some of the lines are older, packed, and don’t go to as cool places).
We spent one month in the 11ème district and another two months in Vincennes, and liked them both in different ways. The 11ème was closer to a lot of stuff, but the apartment was noisy (and the neighbours were too). I’d stay there again, but try to find a quieter apartment.
And Vincennes was lovely and peaceful, but just slightly far — we’d spend 45 minutes walking and in subways just to get to a cool restaurant we wanted to try.
Paris is a big city, and while there are clusters of cool things, it’s impossible to be near everything as the areas are quite distributed. So as long as you’re near a good metro station or two, the whole city will be available to you.
Getting around Paris — Metros and Buses Galore
One of the coolest things about living in Paris is that despite the fact that it’s a huge city, there are relatively few cars (because of the huge taxes on owning and driving a car within the metropolitan area) and the metro and bus systems are great.
You can definitely live in Paris and even visit nearby regions without a car, motorcycle, or scooter. Many people do.
To get around Paris, get yourself a “Navigo” card.
You have to get a Navigo card from the booth of any metro station. In 2022 they only accepted a credit card that one inserts into the machine (no contactless, so no phones), so be ready — though I expect that’ll change in the future.
The most awkward thing about Navigo is that they have weekly and monthly passes… but the weeks / months begin at the beginning of a week (Monday) or month (the 1st of a month). So, if you arrive on a Thursday and it’s the 24th, then you’ll be on daily tickets until the beginning of the next month.
But once you’re on an unlimited weekly or monthly pass, having a Navigo card means you can just easily touch onto any bus or metro around, making living in Paris very convenient.
You can navigate around Paris with Google Maps, but Citymappr seems to have a more reliable map.
Where to Work Remotely in Paris
We’re not just talking about a working vacation; we’re talking about living in Paris as digital nomads / remote workers, so we have to know where to work.
There are relatively few cafés that are cool with digital nomads in Paris. Cafés in Paris are very social places. People don’t even use their phones! Occasional cafés are OK with laptops in off-hours and off-days but they’re the exception.
But there’s one really great thing about living and working as a digital nomad in Paris: libraries.
The libraries are beautiful, massive, well-equipped, silent, and cheap. Many of them are free, actually. Some of them have a tiny membership fee of 15 euros a year or thereabouts. In exchange for that, you can sit in the beautiful cavernous area, use a study desk with outlets, and use the Wi-Fi. It’s frankly amazing.
There are many libraries from which you can work. Most of them are free, though some of them charge a miniscule annual fee. If you plan on visiting one frequently, maybe find one you’re likely to like, and set yourself up to live nearby.
Aside from public libraries, there are co-working spaces (though I didn’t try them) and of course you can work from home. Our home Wi-Fi was very fast, about 100 Mbps, and it was an old building on the outskirts of town.
Paris Culture / People / Making friends
There are many generalisations I could make about Paris’s culture, like fashion and snootiness and so forth, but the crazy thing is that I think they’re all overstated.
People are often surprised when I tell them that Parisian people are nice and pretty relaxed. We just had so many friendly encounters over the three months of staying there. Bear in mind that we weren’t doing touristy things, speak French, and generally try to blend in, really trying to live a normal life in Paris.
But we had friendly chats with strangers, and saw other friendly chats between people. I didn’t see road rage (though I saw some people yelling when someone felt their rights were infringed on), didn’t hear neighbours yelling, and generally had a very pleasant time.
In the touristy parts of town, I could understand if people would be curter with English speakers. There are lots of people, English isn’t the native language, and if someone is being demanding, they might get bad service.
What people wear in Paris
In terms of fashion for people living in Paris — well, I was a little worried I’d stick out like a sore thumb with my basic clothes. I don’t dress like a tourist, but I also don’t have high-end clothes like I had heard Parisians tend to wear. I just carry minimalist gear as we travel a lot.
Well, I got by fine in my jeans, casual sneakers, and black t-shirt. Nobody even gave me a second look, because people seemed to dress however they liked. Some are more casual than me, and some are fancier, and so what.
OK, sometimes when I went to the gym wearing my gym gear, people would notice me, but only because they were going to work at that time of day and I DID look out of place (I was late!). Generally, though, Paris is chill.
On the other hand, fashion isn’t wildly diverse in Paris compared to other big metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, New York, or London. I don’t notice this as much as others do, but once I was told, I did notice… people tend to wear things within a narrow spectrum.
At the time we were living in Paris, summer dresses and white sneakers were a thing. Jeans/trousers of a certain fit were a thing. But anyway, if you feel self-conscious, a wardrobe adjustment would only cost a couple of hundred euros.
Making friends in Paris
One of the things we really enjoyed was how easy it is to make friends in Paris. In general, I would say it’s one of the easiest places to make friends that we’ve visited.
There are a number of ways we like to make friends while travelling — primarily using friend-making apps, through social activities like hiking, and through sport clubs.
There’s a pretty active scene of people living in Paris on Bumble, and you can make friends there both with other itinerant travellers as well as with Parisian locals who are happy to meet people dropping through.
I found it pretty quick to blend into the local Jiu-Jitsu club (I trained at Cercle Tissier). I paid my dues online, came to class, told people “Je suis nouveau ici”, figured out that in Paris showers are communal (took some adjustment), and by the end had a few WhatsApp contacts.
Telecommunications in Paris (Internet and Cellphones)
Internet is fast in Paris. We tried it in a few apartments and libraries and never had a problem with download or upload speeds, even when doing brief video content.
Getting a sim card was uncomplicated. We got one from a “tabac” (Tobacconist), which you can find on Google Maps. Next time we live in Paris, we’d choose a different service — an Orange Holiday Europe makes the most sense. You pay 40 euros and get a paltry 20 GB (paltry compared to the unlimited sim card we get in many other parts of the world), but at least it’s usable all over Europe. Other sim cards we had (from SFR) were not usable in other countries around Europe for data.
(Also, SFR was annoying to activate as they blocked me for using a US credit card, had poor customer service, and I just don’t want to recommend them.)
Food in Paris — How to Eat Affordably (and healthily)
Food is a big part of living in Paris. And it goes without saying that French cuisine is good-quality. But… here’s where it gets personal. For me, traditional French cuisine is a bit boring. And while it may get better if you spend over 30 euros a head, we don’t do that.
Good-quality French cuisine relies on good-quality ingredients and simple seasoning. But while I do like that sometimes, it’s not the only way I want to eat. If you’re used to spice and variety, you might find living in Paris a little limiting.
Eating in Paris is generally quite expensive. I found groceries to be about 25% more expensive than the US or Australia — things like fruit, meats, cheeses and so on. The one exception is wine, but we’re not big wine drinkers (sacrilege!).
Here was what we really like about eating in Paris:
Bread and bakeries. It’s amazing how every bread item in every bakery is incredible. I became a baguette snob quite quickly, though. Bakeries also offer really good value “Formule” set lunches of a sandwich (a big one… like a half baguette), drink, and dessert for something reasonable like 5-6 Euros.
Pastries. I have a sweet tooth, and love a tarte citron, pain au chocolat, or even just a bit of lemon cake quite often. We also got these from bakeries, but sometimes from specialty patisseries. There was an initial period where we were having them every day but then that got a bit old (as we realised that we’d be in town for a while and could space it out).
Cheese / Dairy / Charcuterie. All the dairy and charcuterie in France is great. Even if you just get basic stuff in a supermarket, it’s hard to be disappointed. And there are specialty stores that have incredible ranges in every urban area
Fresh fruit, meat, vegetables at markets. Many districts in Paris are a maybe 10-20 minute walk from a good local market. At most, you’re a metro ride away. These markets are so easy on the eye — you get beautiful fruit, vegetables, and even meat, fish, and cheese. They’re a bit busy though, and I think you might need French to navigate them easily.
Rotisseries. Generally, you can get a whole roast chicken at a rotisserie for 10-20 euros (depending on the type of chicken and size of it). I also usually pick up some sides for a few euros each. It ends up being quite a good 2-4 meal package for 20-30 euros, usually.
In terms of cheap eats in Paris — look for the “formule” at lunch time, and sometimes at dinner at places like kebab shops. Typically that’s something like a sandwich/kebab plus fries and a drink, and it’s pretty economical (in the range of 5-7 euros).
Another cheap way to eat is stuff from a supermarket. I thought the prepped foods and pizzas in French supermarkets were really good — far better than what you get in the US and Australia. And a whole pizza for ~4-5 euros is really good! (About big enough for two people, if you get a side dish of some kind and don’t just eat pizza for dinner).
Oh, and you might have heard that wine is very cheap in Paris. I don’t drink wine, but I know people that do, and I know that even a 4-euro bottle of wine from the supermarket is often very drinkable, equivalent to a US$25 bottle in other parts of the world. So, if you like wine, prepare to enjoy that part of life.
Multicultural food in Paris
One thing important to me (and to some people) is multicultural food. I like Thai, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and other foods quite often. So I pick places to live that have some diversity.
You can get multicultural food in Paris, but very often, they’re really sanitised. It’s not the fault of the owners; there’s a lot of societal pressure in Paris to conform. So while we found Korean restaurants and Chinese eateries, the food there was pretty bland (and expensive). This is a far cry from LA, Sydney, or other major multicultural cities where the diverse offerings are excellent.
So, after a few months of living in Paris, I really missed what I consider basic foods like a decent banh mi, nice Chinese la mian, or just some simple but high-quality (and not slathered in mayonnaise) sushi.
We did find a few good multicultural foods in Paris, including some really great Ramen, and some of the best kebabs I’ve eaten. See our guide to Arab / Middle-Eastern restaurants in Paris for a few examples.
Coffee in Paris
Lack of access to great coffee is one of the downsides of living in Paris.
Coffee in Paris is fine if you just want a caffeine injection, but it’s really quite terrible if you consider yourself a “coffee person”.
Basically, if you’re used to having a good pour-over or flat white from any decently coffee-culture place, or if you’re from Australia or New Zealand for example (or maybe from Portland, Berlin, Copenhagen, or another hipster enclave of the world), you cannot expect most places to have good coffee. This isn’t Korea, for example! (Coffee culture in Korea is universally fantastic.)
So don’t expect your local bakery, bar, tabac, or even café to have decent coffee, unless you really are after a 1.20 euro shot of acidic disappointment.
There are maybe a dozen (or two) places around Paris that do truly good coffee and that sell beans. These have barely changed in the last five years; they survive and are well-loved, a few new ones have popped up, but they haven’t fundamentally shifted coffee culture in France.
Some of the newer cafés in Paris have been founded by Australians or people who used to live in Australia. I don’t mean to be parochial; Australia isn’t best-in-the-world at most things, but it is excellent at some sports, funny accents, and coffee.
There are a few places we really liked having coffee in Paris. These include
- KB Café Shop
- Back in Black
- Terres de Cafe
- L’Arbre à Café
There are others. But it’s a big city, and it’s hard to get to most of them, so I just found the one I liked near me and went a few times. There’s no secret sauce to finding them while living in Paris, just use Google Maps and search for “torréfacteur” and you’ll get some ideas. (But not all coffee roasteries are created equal — beware, some are the old-school kind.)
Fitness / Staying Healthy in Paris
The best part about Paris is that you walk a lot, so you’re active by default. If you are the kind of person who wonders how they’ll get 10 000 steps a day — well, you’ll never have to worry in Paris. We regularly had days of 15-20 000 step days, which rivalled many days we’ve spent hiking.
Just taking public transport to one or two places a day and maybe doing some local shopping or going out to eat locally ensures we get a lot of walking done. Because Paris is quite an aesthetically nice city, we rarely even noticed it.
Because of that, you’re always “active”. That’s a good start! I don’t really like to calorie count or weigh myself these days, but the waistline was evidence enough that that activity alone balanced out our croissants.
If you want to do more intense sport… well, it’s pretty easy to find gyms around any given corner in Paris. The main challenge is finding one that’ll give you just a 1-month (or 3-month) membership. Like most chain gyms, they expect 12-months memberships.
There are gyms like CrossFit gyms of course that do offer 1-month memberships. There are lots of CrossFit gyms in Paris, and you can find them with a Google Maps search.
Being a fan of contact martial arts, I also didn’t have trouble finding Jiu Jitsu / MMA gyms around Paris. But I did deliberately position my Airbnbs so it’d be walking distance from one that had classes nearly every day. If you have another sport preference and there’s a place you want to train at — check the public transport options first.
Wrap up — Would we do it again?
I hope this gives you an overview of what it’s like living in Paris and working there remotely.
We’ll definitely be back. Not next year, but soon!
If you have any questions, drop them below, or contact us. If there’s something we’ve forgotten, we’ll add it to the post.