Ask “Your Friend in Paris” to Help You Ease into Life in...

Ask “Your Friend in Paris” to Help You Ease into Life in France

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Your Friends in Paris Justyna and David Simmons to help you move and settle down in France.

We all know the expat-turned-resident story of coming to Paris for “a few years” that turns into a much longer stay. 

Justyna Simmons moved to Paris for a job opportunity that was supposed to last one year. David Simmons followed and was intending to stay for even less. Then Justyna got a promotion and decided to stay a bit longer, while David, with his finance and management background, launched Your Friend in Paris. Over the next few years, they made new friends, learned the language, welcomed twins, and expanded the business. Their plan to stay for just “a bit” longer became a long-term dream of living in Paris. 

The international staff of Your Friend in Paris have themselves relocated all over the world, a total of 23 times. This extensive experience makes the company particularly suited to helping new expats navigate the challenging terrain of bureaucratic administration and finding a new home. As their team grew, so did their service offerings for every step of the moving process, from applying for the right visa to finding the perfect nanny to setting up a startup. Your Friend in Paris has been there many times over and has mastered the Parisian way of getting things done

Justyna Simmons (back row right) and partner David (front row center) with their international staff. © Your Friend in Paris

INSPIRELLE met up with Justyna and David Simmons to learn more about their practical advice on how to plan for a move to Paris and turn the daunting task of relocating into something exciting and rewarding.

Justyna and David, what inspired you to move to Paris and how did a one-year plan turn into a permanent move?

Justyna: I got a job offer to join a team in Paris for a year. You don’t say no to that! Shortly after I got promoted and decided to stay for “a bit” longer.

Fun fact: It took me way less time to get a promotion than to find an apartment or get a Carte Vitale!

David: I was supposed to come for only nine months, so even shorter. I launched Your Friend in Paris, made new friends, learned the language and decided to stay.

How did you two meet and decide to create “Your Friend in Paris”?

We met in a softball league—we even won the tournament that year! We fell in love, and the rest is history!

As for Your Friend in Paris, it was at first only David’s endeavor. I remained focused on my corporate career. But when we welcomed our twins, I knew that it was time for change. We honestly never doubted that working together would be a good idea. Combining family life and business was like hitting the jackpot! I think we both found the parts of Your Friend in Paris that we love. David is running our Immigration and Business setup team, and I am responsible for Business Development and supporting our team.

Justyna Simmons, co-founder © Your Friend in Paris

What was your personal most challenging experience when settling into Paris?

Justyna: I settled in Paris twice. The first time was in 2007, when I came here for a work assignment. I completely underestimated how hard it would be! Finding an apartment took me six months, which meant a long time sleeping in short-term rentals and hotels, all while working full-time in my new position. I had no time to go apartment hunting or to get my Carte Vitale. Nobody in my company really knew how to handle me or help me manage my relocation. But I persevered, and finally, 2 years later (!), I was fully settled.

When I returned to Paris from an assignment abroad, I needed to settle for the second time. This time, it was a walk in the park—the apartment, the health insurance, the bank account—it all took less than a month. And I don’t remember it being stressful, despite the fact that I was six months pregnant!

rent in Paris
Paris apartment buildings. © Alexis Duclos for INSPIRELLE

What are the most daunting challenges when moving to Paris and how do you make it easier for newcomers?

For our clients, I think the house search can be really hard. There are so few apartments available, landlords prioritize French applicants, scams are tailor-made for expats, etc. But for us, it’s extremely rewarding, we love finding apartments! Over the years we’ve established great relationships with most of the real estate agencies in town, so it is really a pleasure being able to offer our clients some perles rares and make this process enjoyable and exciting for them.

For us, the most difficult task is dealing with the French administration. You name it: Préfecture de Police, health insurance office, CAF (family benefits). Our clients only get a glimpse into what is happening behind the scenes while our team is spending hours on the phone, sending countless emails and often getting extremely frustrating answers. While the process is long and tedious for our experts, we know that without our help, many of our clients would never be able to navigate the French bureaucracy alone, and we are glad that we are able to help them.

The Seine boardwalk overflows with Parisians seeking air during confinement. © Nina Kazeminejad

Your team is from all over the world and has extensive experience moving and settling into new places. Besides understanding French bureaucracy and culture, what else do they offer? 

Your Friend in Paris was created by expats for expats. We were never too much interested in asking “What are other relocation agencies doing for their clients?” But we rather asked ourselves, “How would we have liked to be treated when we were managing our own relocations to Singapore or Dubai?” This is why our services are extremely customer-oriented. For example, when we provide house search services for our clients, we don’t squeeze all the visits into one day. We offer our clients countless options to choose from and then visit 1,2 or 5 apartments they really love! We often end up spreading those visits out over 1 to 6 weeks, or until our clients find “the one.”

Our teams’ experience and background are also important. We want to make sure we have something in common with our clients so that we can empathize with them and serve them better. We can give the best advice because we’ve been there!

For example, if a family with two kids under five asks me where they should live, I will always say “as close to your school/nursery as possible!”

We also understand the emotional workload that relocation requires. It can be a huge challenge and we are here as a partner, not another thing you have to take care of.

Often, just before their move, our clients need to go through some last-minute checks and changes. We always hear, “My anxiety was through the roof before this call. Thank you for bringing it back down.”

Emily in Paris on Netflix. © Yvonne Hazelton

Is it wrong to have expectations about what Parisian life will be like? Are TV series like “Emily in Paris” realistic or harmful to watch if you are planning a move to France?

Paris is a dream. The majority of our clients decide to move here for Paris and Parisian life. And there is a lot of truth in even the most romanticized versions of this city. Movies and TV shows are really shot in Paris and there is something magical about finding the places that made you want to move. For example, when walking through the city, you can recognize Amelie’s cafe, Emily’s favourite restaurant, the bridge where Pharell Williams had his first fashion show and more. It is a bit like Disneyworld for adults.

As for expectations, I would say have high expectations but come prepared to face reality. We discuss this in one of our articles, where we encourage everyone to make a “Plan for Paris,” a kind of roadmap of their goals. Ask yourself: What do you want to learn? Where do you want to travel? What do you want to see? What do you want to experience, eat, and drink? From our experience, a list like this really helps to keep things fresh with the city. Dream big!

French bureaucracy is notoriously difficult to navigate. Is it true the most important document you need to complete a “dossier” is an EDF or gas bill?

As mentioned above, French bureaucracy is daunting. They keep claiming they are modernizing it, but we are still waiting to see the results! EDF and gas bills are very important. They act as your proof of address, and you will need them for each procedure, from getting a long-term metro card to renewing your residency card. They are even considered more important than your driver’s license! But, I wouldn’t say such documents are very hard to get. When you finalize the rental/purchase of your home in Paris, you’ll need to set up your utilities, which can be done pretty easily. Some utility providers even have English-speaking helplines. Once the account is set up, you can access an up-to-date attestation de domicile through the website.

Moving to Paris is a dream for many, so why is it helpful to have a “friend in Paris” like yourselves to help you get settled in?

Because we tick all the boxes. Even those you didn’t know you had!

Because we know what it’s like. No matter what question you may have, we know the answer, we know “the guy”, we know “the way”, and we know how to get things done.

Because you won’t have to worry about it anymore. Hiring a “one-stop-shop” agency really takes all of the load off your shoulders. Now, it’s our problem to make sure everything is getting done correctly and on time (for that, we have a Project Manager who ensures the timing and actions are completed).

Because you are not alone in the process. We are very generous with our clients. Do you need to talk? Let’s meet! Do you need advice? I’m happy to share all I know. Are you not sure what option to choose? Let’s brainstorm together. We are here for you all the way—and even after! We stay in touch with our clients and make sure to create a community of “Friends in Paris.”

Paris cafe scene
© Alexis Duclos for INSPIRELLE. All rights reserved.

How do you know when you’ve settled in and can sit back and relax?

It’s super important to make the most of adjusting to life in Paris. Your boxes just arrived and you can’t move in your apartment? Book a great table at your local restaurant and enjoy a delicious dinner! You have an appointment at the Prefecture? Use this opportunity to see how the Notre Dame reconstruction is going.

I say this because as an expat in Paris, you will always have something to do: a letter from CPAM to answer, a residency card to renew, a tax statement to fill in. But taking time to enjoy the journey is the beauty of life. So make sure you savor it each step of the way!

I must say that hiring Your Friend in Paris will give you plenty of free time for relaxing coffees and smelling the roses!

Pauline Lemasson moved to Paris with her family in 2011 after having spent 11 years in Los Angeles. Before coming to France, Pauline was the executive director of the Chinese American Museum where she advanced the history and stories of the Chinese American experience in Southern California. She's been featured on KCET Departure Stories and written for other blogs including Untapped Paris and the American Library in Paris. She recently left her position as Strategic Partnerships Manager at the American Library to pursue long-overdue personal projects in writing and teaching, along with copious amounts of reading and idle strolling.

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