Packing for the Expat Life in France

When I packed for France it was a nightmare! With the weight limits and bag limits I repacked a solid 8 times, took over the living room, kept standing on and off the scale, and just about pulled my hair out. I wasn’t sure what to take! After living there for a year I feel like I have a pretty solid understanding especially for an American traveling to France for an extended amount of time. Here is my ultimate packing list with what to bring, what not to bring, and what you might want to throw in a box and ship. It’s also handy if you are looking for different things to bring to that expat you know living across that big ocean!

Tips for Packing for Paris

1. Food Products/Cooking Ingredients that are Hard to find in France. Take a good look at what you’re eating now. When you get to France your diet will change drastically and consist mostly of bread, pastries, cheese, butter and wine. Yes wine is a food group. Everything is fresh and the produce is top notch (just try the eggs..), but you might find yourself missing a couple of things. There are a couple expat stores (Thanksgiving, The Real McCoy) but be prepared to pay 10 euros for a small bag of chocolate chips ~crazy!! (do what I did and cut up bars of chocolate instead….) I’ve read a lot of posts that say- Bring Peanut Butter! – but you’ll be able to find it easily in the supermarkets. For me it was Almond Butter, Luna bars, and pumpkin puree that I asked my friends to bring when they visited. Here are a couple other things that are hard to find:


Chili Powder

Red Pepper Flakes

Cajun Seasoning

Almond Butter

Pumpkin Puree



Energy Bars (Luna Bars!)


Paris 6-3-13 055

2. Clothing Packing Tips. The Frenchman once told me “You will always look like an American” after I’d told him I was trying to wear more black. And it’s true- it’s not a bad thing but you will probably stand out from the French people around you because of your wardrobe and your facial features. You’ll probably easily trick the tourists though. Within a matter of weeks I was being asked for directions, first by tourists then by Parisians. Here’s a couple tips on what to pack:

– Pack neutrals with pops of color. In the summer/spring it’s common to see a lot of color. I once saw a lady rocking a mustard shirt and red pants~and it was awesome! In the fall/winter, a great black coat and scarves are your friend. The shades change too to more browns, grays, and blacks.

– Make sure all the items you bring can be mix and matched with other items in your wardrobe for all seasons. That cute summer dress could be worn with tights and a sweater in the fall. You’ve got limited suitcase space and it’s possible that you might move more than once while you’re there and moving with a lot of clothes is not fun.

– 2 to 3 good pairs of jeans. Dark colors and a pair of black. All I wore were skinny jeans.

– Shoes: Ballet flats, Boots, Booties, a pair or two of heels, and sturdy sandals for the summer. Don’t pack anything you couldn’t walk around the block in, and don’t spend a lot of time looking at the comfortable, yet really ugly pair of walking shoes (you know what I’m talking about).  You probably won’t wear them. Your feet will adjust to all the walking. It also helps to change the types of shoes you’re wearing regularly to give your feet a break. You’ll also notice shoe repair shops are prevalent.

– Raincoat! For the rainy days when you can’t stay inside and an umbrella combined with walking a couple miles will leave you drenched. I also had a small umbrella I’d throw in my purse as I left if there was the slightest hint of rain in the sky. And go for that cute umbrella! You’ll be playing the “rain game” with the other people in the street and might as well have a cute one! 😀

– Don’t bring anything you haven’t worn in awhile or anything that doesn’t fit just right. Laundry in a big city is a hassle and that’s even when you have a washing machine in your apartment. Just about everything is air dried unless you’re going to the laundromat so those skinny jeans won’t stretch back and it becomes necessary to have an iron. Also, laundry day turns into a three day please oh please dry everything is laid out everywhere kind of ordeal when it’s the least bit humid outside.

– Layers, layers, layers!

– The best brands I could say the style was similar to is J.Crew, Banana Republic, MadeWell, and Anthropologie. I usually dressed as if I was going into work in the US which for me is a marketing agency. You’ll also only see people wearing workout clothes when they are working out.

Tips for Packing for Paris|Toffee Bits & Chocolate Chips

3. Products/Toiletries/Medicine: In France, you’ll have everything you need at the pharmacies in terms of products and toiletries. The hard part comes when you know you need something and you don’t know the name in French! It’s frustrating and not really something you want to be worried about for the first couple of weeks when you’re adjusting. You will see a lot of familiar brands for some things- like lotion (Neutrogena) and contact solution (Opti-Free). Other things though are more difficult. For me it was finding a face wash and a shampoo I liked. Here’s what I would suggest bringing and buying there:

– If you have room in your suitcase, bring larger sizes of shampoo and conditioner. This will buy you a little time to find one at the store that works for you. I brought a full container of the face wash I liked and then replenished my stash when I went home halfway through because I was just not finding one that I liked! You’ll also find that bottle sizes are much smaller than what you find in the US. This mostly has to  do with portability- it’s pretty painful to lug a full sized shampoo plus other groceries home, even if it is just walking a couple blocks.

– Appliances- probably best to buy them in France because of the electrical connection. 😀 Shop at HEMA for an inexpensive hair dryer and other great home items.

– Nail Polish – oh just because it’s fun and pretty expensive in France.

– General Note- you’ll find some products that you need in the supermarket (shampoo, conditioner, hand soap) but the place to go is the Pharmacy. They’re extremely helpful and it’s a ton of fun! Here’s just one of the many articles you’ll find on the internet about shopping at the pharmacies – City Pharma: A User’s Guide.

– Makeup- Here’s the golden ticket- there’s a Sephora just about everywhere (yay!). So no worries here! If you can get it at Sephora, you’re good! Otherwise, bring a full sized container until you find a good substitute.

– Medicine- Bring what you think you’ll need. It’s a lot easier to sift through some things you’ve brought when you’re not feeling well than try to explain what’s wrong to the pharmacist in a foreign language. For prescriptions, get your US doctor to write down the ingredients and amounts of each in the medicine. If the pharmacist in France can find the exact same medicine, then they will fulfill the prescription (no guarantees though).

– Vitamins are crazy expensive. I take Vitamin D and Magnesium and when refilling it was 28 euros for a bottle of 100… ouch!! As an upside though, prescribed medicines are wayyyy cheaper than what we’re used to in the US (5 euros for antibiotics…?!).


And that’s that! Well at least all I can think of for now. 😀 Maybe I’ll be packing for a return visit soon… crisons les doigts.. 😀


What would you add to this list?

Happy packing!



4 thoughts on “Packing for the Expat Life in France”

  • This entire article is spot-on. I bring Cajun and Old Bay every time, and excedrin, because I haven’t found any caffineated headache medicine here (and probably not without a prescription anyway). Although, if I could ship fig and onion preserves back to the US, it’s totally cheaper in France!

  • Thanks Kim! oh geez fig and onion preserves sound awesome! I’m always bringing Kusmi tea and chocolates back!

  • Also – i seem to remember that you had like 30 coats over there when we visited you. Probably only need 2 🙂

    And we will always bring you almond butter when we visit! (and pumpkin puree in the fall!)

  • Hahaha whattttttt?… I like coats! And I’ve already bought two more while being in the US. Hahaha

    Um best friend ever xoxoxo

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