As a recent American grad, I spent a year teaching English at a university in Dijon, France (yes, it’s where the mustard is from). Dijon isn’t on most people’s radars when deciding where to go in France, but it’s a lovely place to visit and live. The cost of living is relatively cheap, the city is very walkable, and the old architecture is so quaint. Dijon was also just the right size—it was large enough to be interesting and offer everyday conveniences, but small enough that you don’t feel anonymous.
In this post, I’ll be going over what it’s like to live in Dijon, France—including cost of living, housing, food, transportation, and more. For those who have never lived in France, you’ll also find some practical tips of how to find an apartment, open a bank account, and navigate the healthcare system.
Overview of Dijon, France
Located in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, Dijon is in a prime location for travel enthusiasts, wine connoisseurs, or those wanting a calmer everyday life and lower cost of living. Here are some reasons to love the city:
- With a population of 155,000, Dijon doesn’t feel overwhelming, but there are still many things to do.
- Dijon is less than 2 hours from Paris by high-speed train. Because of the French train system, you can access many other cool cities from Dijon in just a couple hours. This includes places in Switzerland and Germany!
- Rent is relatively cheap compared to that in the US. You can find a nice room in a shared apartment for around 300€.
- While I’m not a big wine-drinker, Burgundy wines are known for being some of the best in France, and you’ll be able to visit many wine caves and vineyards in the region.
- Since the city isn’t super touristy, fewer people speak fluent English, and this will give you more opportunities to practice your French. In Paris, people may switch to English if they hear your accent, but this never happened to me in Dijon.
- The weather is pretty temperate; it will snow, but it melts quickly. It does get pretty hot in the summers though, and there can be periods of cloud cover throughout the year. Just keeping things real!
Now that I’ve laid out some of the general aspects of life in Dijon, let’s get into the details.
Cost of Living in Dijon
Dijon is a relatively affordable city, and I was able to make do with my modest 1200€/month teaching salary after taxes. I generally spent 850-950€/month, unless I had some pretty big travel plans.
Here’s a breakdown of my monthly expenses in Dijon. Note that at the time, 1 euro was about 1.13 USD. As of July 2020, 1 euro is still about that same amount.
|November 2018 Expenses||Cost in Euros|
|Rent + Utilities||325|
|Fitness (gym, pool, races)||78,50|
You’ll notice that rent is very affordable compared to that in the US, but everything else is pretty comparable. My phone plan was unusually cheap because I bought the cheapest plan possible through Lycamobile, an internet-based service provider. If you want to get a plan from a standard brick & mortar provider, you can expect to pay around 20€/month. Lycamobile was an awesome deal though, and I highly recommend it. I got unlimited texts and calls within France, and 2GB of data per month. I was also able to use data roaming for free in all of the EU. Even better, they send you a free SIM card anywhere in France, and there’s no contract.
Transportation in Dijon
This is not what public transport in Dijon looks like haha, but you can see the tram tracks behind this lovely vintage car
Getting to Dijon
Dijon is easily reached from other cities in France. There are many daily direct trains to/from Paris and Lyon, which take 1.5-3 hours, depending on whether you take the high-speed rail (TGV) or regional trains (TER).
The nearest major airports are in Paris, Geneva, and Lyon. For more regional flights, you can try the Basel/Mulhouse and Dole airports.
Transport within Dijon
Within Dijon, there’s a well-developed public transport system of trams, buses, and city bikes. There are two tram lines (T1 and T2), which take you to most places you’ll need to go. Otherwise, there are buses that cover the rest of the city.
Each individual ride costs 1,40€, and you can pay with a contactless card on board, or buy a ticket at a tram stop. If you pay with your card, the fare is frozen after your 3rd ride in a day (so you pay no more than 4,20€ in a day). There are also 24h, 48h, 72h, and weekly unlimited passes. For those planning to use public transport regularly, you can buy a monthly pass for 30€ (under age 25) or 42€ (age 26+). To save money, there are also 9-month or yearly passes.
Dijon has a city bike system which requires a separate subscription, and there are several stations around the city. If you want to purchase your own bike, la Rustine is a community bike organization that hosts secondhand bike sales twice a year. You can also join the organization to learn how to repair your bike—they have a garage full of tools and parts.
Housing in Dijon
How to Find Housing
I won’t mince words: it’s a nightmare to find housing as a foreigner in France. Some places require you to have a French bank account to sign a lease, but you can’t get a bank account without a French address (I’ll discuss a workaround later). Others want you to have un garant, or a guarantor who agrees to pay your rent if you can’t. Sometimes they want that guarantor to be French.
I lucked out since I found housing in an ERASMUS Facebook group. Two twins were looking for a roommate, and they were already on the apartment lease. They didn’t ask me for a guarantor or even deposit. If you’re in your early twenties, I highly recommend trying to find housing through the current year’s ERASMUS group. Otherwise, you can try sites like Appartager and leboncoin (the French Craigslist). I didn’t have nearly as much luck with these groups, unfortunately—many people never responded to me.
Another strategy is also to rent an Airbnb for a month while you search for housing. This is helpful if you want to see the place in-person, and make sure it’s not a scam.
Best Places to Live in Dijon
This obviously depends on your work or studies, but I’d personally recommend:
- The city center, but near a tram stop
- Near Place de la République—this is right before the two tram lines diverge, so you have easy access to both lines. You’re also right next to the city center, but also closer to things outside the city, like the University and big supermarkets
- Between the Auditorium and Drapeau tram stops—this is right on the outskirts of the city center, so rent should be cheaper, but you’ll still have access to both tram lines, as these are the stops right after Place de la République
Cost of Housing in Dijon
I paid around 325€/month for a room in a new, 4-bedroom apartment with 2 other people. This is including utilities and the housing tax, which is a yearly tax that costs around one month’s rent. The actual rent was around 250€, the tax 25€, and the utilities 50€ (electricity, water, gas, internet).
If you have roommates, housing and utilities are generally 250-350€ per person. If you live in a studio, you can expect to pay around 400-450€. Keep in mind that these are “average” prices based on my experience. You can find definitely cheaper or more expensive places, depending on your living standards.
One thing to keep in mind is that you may qualify for government housing subsidies (called APL, or Aide personnalisée au logement). These subsidies are primarily calculated based on your current rent and income from 2 years ago, including non-French income. Some people get their housing almost completely covered, while others get a smaller subsidy. It’s worth looking into, especially if rent is a big chunk of your income, and you’re a student or recent grad.
Just don’t sign a lease expecting to get APL. I never got APL because I never could sign an official lease. Basically, my apartment’s agency didn’t know what a residency permit looked like. I went to give them a copy of my permit as soon as I got it, but they said I only gave them my visa—the thing is, the permit was the page opposite my visa in my passport, which had also been in that copy! I called them about this, but no one ever responded. I didn’t worry about it too much in the end, as I’d heard stories that getting APL was also extremely bureaucratic, and I didn’t need an official lease if I didn’t want to get APL.
Banking in Dijon
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels
Opening a Bank Account
While banking in the US is free if you meet minimum balance thresholds, basically all banks in France charge a monthly fee of around 5€. If you’re under 26 or a student, you may be able to get the feel waived. I used BNP Paribas when I was in Dijon, and only started getting charged 4€/month after I’d had my account for over a year. I recommend BNP since they’re a national bank with ATMs throughout France.
You should also know that credit cards are uncommon in France—most people use debit cards. This unfortunately means no points and rewards, but it is harder to overspend with a debit card.
To get a bank account, you’ll need proof of address in France, which is difficult to get if you need a bank account to sign a lease…Luckily, you can ask whoever you’re staying with to write an attestation d’hébergement, which basically states that you are living at their address. They’ll also need to provide a copy of their ID. One of my roommates did this for me, and it worked fine.
Expect opening your account and getting your card to take some time. You’ll have to make an appointment to open an account, bring all your official documents, and wait for your card and pin number to come in separate letters for “security reasons” (why can’t we just make up our own pin?!). If there’s anything you should know about living in France, it’s to have patience for the inefficient bureaucracy haha.
Transferring Money/Spending in Different Currencies
This section contains an affiliate link, meaning I’ll earn a small commission if you use the service recommended. This doesn’t cost you any extra, and I only recommend what I use and love, or have otherwise vetted.
Once you get your bank account set up, you’ll likely need to transfer yourself some euros. I personally used TransferWise, which gives you the real exchange rate, and takes a 1% fee. This is way cheaper than services like Western Union and sending money directly from your American bank.
TransferWise also has a free borderless account that allows you to hold 50+ currencies, and withdraw the equivalent of 250 USD from ATMs for free each month. This is really handy if you’re only staying a few months, and don’t want to go through the hassle of opening a French bank account. Just keep in mind that if you have a salaried job, you may need a bank account with a French address. When you’re leaving France, it’s also a great way to hold euros long-term without paying the monthly fee of French bank accounts.
The account is also useful if you plan to travel and spend multiple currencies—you can easily add balances to your account, and you’ll again get the real exchange rate, minus a 1% fee. I have a TransferWise borderless account, but haven’t used it yet. While traveling in Europe, I used my American credit card, as it had no foreign transaction fees. I’ll report back when I have used my TransferWise debit card though 🙂
Food in Dijon
The cost of food in France is pretty comparable to that in the US—I spent around 50€ a week (200€/month) on groceries while in Dijon.
As a flexitarian who eats mostly plant-based, I had to do my shopping in more specific places, such as large supermarkets (which are less common in France), the zero waste shop, and ethnic stores. I wasn’t able to find my vegan staples in the smaller corner shops that many locals frequent. That said, I didn’t find it difficult to eat plant-based in Dijon. It’s a common misconception that it’s super hard to be vegan in France—you just need to know where to look for groceries.
My favorite places to grocery shop were:
Carrefour (la Toison d’Or)—Carrefour is a big grocery store chain in France, and there was a huge one at the mall (la Toison d’Or) in Dijon. I did the bulk of my shopping here, as they had affordable plant milks, fresh veggies, vegan protein, snacks, and even ethnic food. Those who eat halal should also know that there’s a halal meat section. Just be ready for a longer tram ride (15-20 minutes), as it’s a few miles from downtown Dijon.
Magasin du bonheur—This store is a family-run Asian market with very affordable prices.
Day by Day—Zero waste shop with dry pantry staples, teas, oil, spices, and cleaning products.
Outdoor market/les Halles—Outdoor markets on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings. It’s right in the center of town by les Halles, which is a covered market that’s open the same days as the outdoors one, plus Thursday morning. The covered market tends to be more expensive, while the outdoor vendors offer more affordable fare.
Intermarché (Drapeau)—another big supermarket chain in France. I’m throwing this one in since this store is right on the outskirts of the city center, and is probably the most convenient supermarket (all the other grocery stores nearby are corner shops).
Healthcare in Dijon
France has universal healthcare, and most of your healthcare costs will be covered. All you need to do is enroll with a health insurance provider like MGEN.
When you make your appointment, just ask what documents you need to bring. I do remember needing a copy of my translated birth certificate with an apostille, so be sure to prepare this before you leave your home country (I translated my certificate myself, but it’s possible that they may not accept an unofficial translation).
Even if you don’t have insurance in France, you’ll be surprised at how cheap everything is compared to prices in the US. Seeing a doctor is 25€ without insurance, and 8,50€ with. Physical therapy was around 20€ a session before insurance, and 10€ after. X-rays were 30€ before insurance, and 13€ after. I could’ve even had basically 100% of costs covered if I’d bought supplemental insurance, but I opted to stay with the free plan.
To learn more about healthcare in France, see these posts:
If you’re looking for doctor recommendations, I saw Dr. Sylvie Losseroy. Her office is near the city center, and she offers drop-ins only. She can seem a little curt and has strange habits (she keeps her dog in her office sometimes), but she’s very efficient and used to foreigners. For a physical therapist, I went to Cabinet de Kinésithérapie 26ème Dragons. They have a team of PTs that were very kind and helpful.
Fitness/Gyms in Dijon
There are many small, private gyms in Dijon, and their price can fluctuate quite a bit. I tried 3 more affordable gyms in the city, and here’s what I thought about each one:
Magic Form—This is a chain with locations around France. The Dijon location is probably the best-equipped and biggest gym in the city, but it was too far from where I was living. I might’ve joined otherwise, especially since it would’ve given me access to other branches in France. You can test out the gym for a 5€ fee and see if you like it. If you do sign up, that fee goes towards your membership. There’s a 50€ signup fee and 20€ gym card fee. The actual membership costs 30€/month for a 12-month contract, and 40€ on a month-to-month basis.
Athletic Gym—This gym was right next to my apartment, and the owners were super friendly—they took the time to chat, and offered me the student rate even though I said I wasn’t a student. Their normal fees are 250€ for 9 months and 300€ for 1 year; there’s no extra fees, and they also have shorter contracts. I would’ve signed up here, but their equipment was really worn, there was no wifi, the space was crowded, and they were only open half-days on weekends. I’d recommend checking it out though and seeing if it works for you—they had a 3-day free trial back when I was in Dijon, and it should still be an option.
Fit and Coach (formerly Human Fit)—This was my gym, but I had very mixed feelings about it. The owners used some predatory sales tactics and had no notion of customer service:
- If you sign up before the 21st of the month, you have to pay for the entire month, even if there’s only 10 days of the month left. Try to negotiate out of this—I didn’t realize until I’d already signed up, unfortunately.
- With 3 months left of my contract, the gym decided to sell all their spin bikes, which was the only reason I signed up. The owners refused to refund me (and said it was like trying to return a ham sandwich I’d already taken a bite out of LOL). They eventually offered me free weekly small classes after 30 minutes of insisting that I be compensated in some way, but I didn’t take advantage of that as the classes were all high-impact activities, and I came to the gym for low-impact cardio.
- There was an unfortunate sexist vibe as many ads objectified women. There was a video ad that featured women dancing on treadmills in sports bras (beyond the objectification, that’s no way to use a treadmill). I also saw several “summer body” ads with women in bikinis, and a “dream booty” class.
- There were other conflicts where the owners were aggressive for no good reason, and didn’t apologize when I called them out on their behavior.
On the flip side, the gym had undeniable draws: it was was centrally-located, open 24/7, and well-equipped. It also was pretty affordable at around 20€/month for a 9-month contract (I negotiated this myself, and also got out of the 50€ signup fee, but did have to pay a 20€ card fee). If this gym is most convenient for you, it could still be a decent option. See if you can get a free day pass to test it out—I just asked, and they let me do a test session. Just be aware that you may have some scuffles with the owners.
There are a few public pools in Dijon, but they’re all on the outskirts of the city. I personally recommend Piscine Olympique, which is just past the University. The facility is much newer than the other pools, more spacious, and cleaner. It costs just 2-4€ per entry, and you can also buy pack of 12 entries to save money. There’s also a space for scuba diving, plus a sauna and hammam, which cost extra.
Just remember to bring your swim cap to every public pool in France. If you’re a man, you’ll also need to wear a speedo—swim trunks aren’t allowed. Luckily, there’s a huge Decathlon (sporting goods store) right next to the pool, so you can get any equipment last-minute at an affordable price.
Running Groups and Trails
I’m a big runner, and I had no problem finding places to run and fellow runners. My favorite place to go for longer runs was Lac Kir, a lake on the outskirts of the city. It leads to a canal bike path that stretches longer than I could run.
I also got into trail running during my time in France, as there are some awesome hills to tackle in Burgundy. These runs aren’t accessible without a car, so I went with members of a local running club. The free club is a partnership between the Fit & Coach gym and Endurance Shop (a running store). They meet every Thursday evening. I never went to the club workouts myself, but I had a friend who did, and was introduced to a few members that way.
If you want to check out some awesome races in the area, take a look at my race reports:
Safety in Dijon
Dijon is considered a pretty safe city with a low crime rate. I did see some car vandalism on a street by my apartment, but I never personally felt unsafe. That said, you should always remain smart and vigilant.
Security is also pretty tight at large events in France due to extra precautions against terrorist attacks. I remember getting searched before going to a large outdoor concert in Dijon, and also having to leave my glass water bottle outside the closed perimeter of the concert space.
Racism and Xenophobia in France
If you’re a person of color, you may experience more racism in France than your home country. This is likely due to the more homogeneous population—it’s estimated that only 15% of residents are non-white.
There’s actually no official data on race in France since the country doesn’t collect that info, to avoid discrimination (this stems from WWII, where Jews were persecuted based on public records of their backgrounds). In a backwards way, not gathering info on race actually leads to more racism, as you can’t gauge how policies are impacting various ethnic groups differently.
Beyond these systemic issues, I found that people were generally more ignorant in France, when it came to race. I experienced many microaggressions and downright racism as an Asian woman. In big cities, people spoke to me in English since they assumed I was an Asian tourist who couldn’t speak French. When I went running, people would sometimes yell “ni hao” and “konnichiwa” at me, or make karate noises. When I studied abroad in Bordeaux, a cell service provider scammed me and then insisted that “I didn’t understand” what I signed up for. See my discussion on the racism I experienced France for more thoughts of what it’s like to be Asian in France.
If you’re a Muslim woman, you should also know that France has a long-held battle against the veil, in the name of “women’s rights” and “protecting the separation of church and state.” Burkas and full-face coverings are illegal, but hijabs remain legal, unless you’re a public employee. But just as recent as February 2019, there was an uproar when sports retailer Decathlon tried to sell a running hijab. Following the outcry, Decathlon recalled the hijab. In 2016, there were also many burkini bans that were later overturned. Basically, France still has a very backwards view of the veil, so expect some pushback on this. If find it kind of ironic that the French want to control what Muslim women wear, in the name of women’s rights. I obviously don’t agree with people being forced to wear a veil, but Muslim women in France want to wear one. I really hope this view of the veil will change over time, as many Americans also thought this way several years ago.
The Bottom Line
Despite the challenges of living abroad, I had an overall positive experience in Dijon, and would recommend it as a place to live. What’s really important is surrounding yourself with good people—I was lucky to have kind roommates, a community of other English teachers, and some other friends. Living anywhere will never be perfect, so having that support can make a huge difference.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment or message. In the meantime, stay safe if you’re planning a move abroad!