Skip to main content

France schoolsSo much has been written about France and the French that we probably know this country and population better than they know themselves.  Relishing the dream to live in France is one thing. The reality, however, does not always match up to expectations. 

Aside from wine, cheese and foie gras, we know France is a gloriously beautiful country, and the people fiercely patriotic and proud. Sometimes speaking to them in your perfectly practised school standard French does not always produce the result you want.  But it is often said that the further south you travel, the friendlier the people are and Toulouse is the proof of that. 

It is the warm glow of red bricks and tiles which gives Toulouse its nickname "la ville rose" (the pink city).  With a flow of population from the industrial belt to the sunbelt of Europe, this modern city is the fourth largest and fastest growing city in France and the second largest university city after Paris. It is also Europe's capital of the aerospace industry and home to French rubgy as well as some high-profile modern art.  Toulousains have reason to feel decidedly good about their town. 

The vibrant student population (85,000) adds charm and atmosphere to a sophisticated and thriving city.  Easy to explore, it is well served with public transport and has easy access to the Atlantic coast, the Mediterranean coast and Spain.  Paris is five hours away by high-speed train, seven hours by car or 70 minutes by air, and the ski-slopes a mere hour and a half. 

Alternatively, the Canal du Midi is the slow route for those with plenty of time - and the rigidly applied rule of the thirty-five hour working week and seven weeks of paid holiday in France provides just that.  Small wonder then that the civil servant class amounts to no less than a quarter of the working population and 70% of graduating students aspire vehemently to become a part of it.  It’s an added bonus that French labour laws make it very difficult to sack anyone.

Living in France is all about attitude; attitude to people, attitude to culture and attitude to life.  Come with an optimistic outlook and the willingness to adapt to a different lifestyle; embrace three hour lunch breaks, the Mediterranean concept of time, and a flavour for fashion and you will start to slip into the French way of life. Things do work in France, it just takes time.  A fair knowledge of the French language is an invaluable asset in overcoming initial difficulties.  

On the other hand, time is of the essence out on the open road.  Once you have managed to circumnavigate the forms for registering your car in France, which is really quite simple but lengthy, you may wish you hadn’t taken the trouble.  A Frenchman’s personality completely changes when he gets behind the wheel.  Heavy on the pedal and determined to be first no matter what, his overtaking is a skill practised with a passion. As a result, France has one of the highest rates of road fatalities in western Europe. 

This statistic is being addressed dramatically in the Gers and Haute Garonne regions.  Permanent speed cameras are sited on certain roads and frequent road blocks check not only for speed but also to ensure your papers are in order.  You must produce proof of insurance, a valid driving licence (an EEC or French one) and a positive ‘Controle Technique’ - a road worthiness certificate which has to be renewed every two years. Failure to comply satisfactorily could result in the immobilisation of your car there and then.  Finally, it is of vital importance not to drink and drive.  The police have the power to stop any car and breathalize the driver right through the window.  As well as being hauled off to jail there and then, the fines are hugely punitive.

There are no particular expat enclaves in or around Toulouse, some preferring the rolling hills of the Gers to the west, others the picturesque but windy Lauragais to the east, or the lush vineyards to the north.  Many of the foreigners who live in the city and its surroundings are employed by Airbus, the international aerospatiale consortium.  Already a huge employer itself, it has attracted an onslaught of national and international companies that design, service and supply parts to the aerospace industry and this obviously has an effect on the housing market

It is common to live in rented accommodation in France but the influx of so many families has pushed up the rents. Buying is a costly alternative and the modest little chateau going for a song means you must be Madonna to sing it.  You may be fortunate and find the house of your dreams but if it requires renovation, you will definitely feel differently about it a few months down the line.  

French builders, or artisans as they are affectionately known, are a breed apart.  They have their own definite ideas on how the house should look, which may or may not coincide with yours. If the former is the case, so much the better: if the latter is true they will do it their way regardless. That is if they arrive at all and continue to arrive until the work is completed. Always arrange a survey; it may save you a fortune in the long run.  As a rule of thumb, double the original estimate and triple the time scale.

When you require a telephone or telephone service you must go to the France Telecom office closest to your home.  Be extremely patient. There is usually someone in the office who speaks English but it is not unusual to have to wait at least half an hour.  Installation will take a few days and billing is every two months, itemised free of charge on request.  The service is satisfactory with the occasional breakdown of the line, but repairs do take an absurdly long time. 

There are alternative solutions for long distance and international calls, with price-competitive companies as Cegetel, Tele2 and Onetel, to name just a few.  The ADSL connection (Broadband) is slowly reaching the outlying countryside but connection can be intermittent.  Downtown Toulouse has many cybercafés and the main Post Offices offer Internet access.

Wherever you decide to live, when first arriving in France it is worth visiting the Mairie or Town Hall.  As well as being aware of houses for sale in the area, this office can provide you with a comprehensive list of sporting and leisure activities available to your children.  This is of paramount importance if your child enjoys team sports, as these are not practised in the local schools. 

The clubs are usually extremely well organised and well supported and, of course, offer the added benefit of meeting the local townsfolk at matches and events. Be prepared for a lot of driving!  Practically every village and certainly every town boasts a tennis court or two, an enduring reminder of Yannick Noah’s Roland Garros victory in 1982 when the nation was encouraged to produce a successor.

Banking presents no special problems or difficulties and opening an account is very straightforward. Among a population of over 55 million, only approximately 2 million possess credit cards. Transactions for the most part are completed by debit card or cheque. It is considered a serious offence, however, to overdraw a current account.

Penalties can amount to ten years blacklisting: this would prohibit you from using a debit card or writing a cheque within France for up to ten years. Because of the serious consequences of “bouncing” cheques, payment by cheque is readily accepted everywhere in France (shops, restaurants, petrol stations,) often without proof of identification.  

While emptying a bank account is an all-too easy affair, filling it up can be trickier.  Finding a job is difficult.  Unemployment in the Toulouse region is as high as 13.9%. Many expats tend to lean towards teaching (this is greatly helped if you have the TEFL award). There are several language schools in the area but turnover of staff is high and salaries are low. In general, the French insist on their own diplomas and qualifications – so be prepared to be pipped at the post by a local.   Even with high unemployment, however, domestic help is not always easy to find and word of mouth is essential.

Meeting other expats is often easiest at the local marketplace, when, as the French say, the English come down from the hills. However, with children at a local school and spouse employed by Airbus, meeting other expats is not a problem.  There is an International Church in Toulouse, an Anglican church and even a lively theatre group, which puts on an excellent pantomime every year in English. The Americans in Toulouse (AIT) is a non-profit English-speaking expatriate service and social organisation, while the Toulouse Women’s International Group, (TWIG) a similar organisation welcomes all English-speaking women, meets monthly for “tea and chat”, hosts a variety of craft activities and presents an excellent Charity Christmas Fair each year.

At end of the day, however, when you are sipping a glass of Corbieres in the warm evening air, you will reflect that it is not the banking, the housing or even the jobs that really matter in France.  It’s the ambiance, the climate, the passion for gastronomic delights that make this fantastic country what it is. When it comes to lifestyle, “il n’y a rien de comparable”.

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • Special educational needs introduction

    Some special needs are easy to spot, others are only determined once a child has experienced considerable difficulties, frustrations or social and emotional problems.  Over the years, diagnosis of and provision for SEN have improved, but both can still be a minefield. Identifying different kinds of special educational needs Few children fit a condition perfectly – if they do, we tend to say they are a ‘classic’ case. Most will not be straightforward: perhaps a dyslexic with dyspraxia and a touch of ADD, or a child with ASD who also has Down’s syndrome. Just as special needs are hard to…

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. One month subscription - £0.49 per day Three month subscription - £0.41 per day Six month subscription - £0.33 per day One year subscription - £0.29 per day Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30,000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get exam results overview of schools you are interested in. ☑ Find comprehensive advice on state and independent schools, tutors and special needs. ☑ Catchment maps for English state schools by…

  • Finding a state grammar school

      There are currently around 164 state funded grammar schools located in 36 English local authorities, with around 167,000 pupils between them. There are a further 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland, but none in Wales or Scotland. Almost half of these are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools. How to find a state grammar school Word of warning: not all selective grammar schools have 'grammar' in their…

  • Schools for children with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe or Charlotte Church standing. And sometimes, just sometimes, parental pride is justified.

  • State boarding schools

    If you think your child would benefit from a boarding school education, but are put off by the high fees and consequent limited social mix of a typical independent boarding school, you may find that a state boarding school is the answer. Read more... State grammar schools Counties such as Kent or Buckinghamshire are ‘selective authorities’ and most families will have at least one grammar school close to where they live. Elsewhere, for example in Reading or Kingston-on-Thames, there are just one or two grammar schools and competition for places at these is ferocious. Grammar schools are located in 36…

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
 Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
 Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

GSG Blog >    In the news >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

Tired of London schools? There’s plenty of life elsewhere…


For a limited time get one month's Good Schools Guide subscription free with any purchase of The Good Schools Guide to Boarding Schools.