While growing up in California, Melissa Regan envisioned herself eventually moving to New York, getting a job in finance and enjoying “living in the big city.”

But after signing up for a semester in Vienna, Austria and “accidentally” ending up studying in France in 1999, Melissa Regan found herself permanently living in another big city – Paris.

“It was clearly my destiny to get here,” Regan tells CNN Travel. “But I can’t say that it was planned.”

‘Life-changing’ semester

While she’d visited the French capital twice as a young adult, France wasn’t necessarily one of Regan’s favorite places.

However, during that “life-changing” semester in the south of France, she gained an appreciation for French culture that “opened my eyes in a way that changed my life.”

“In the United States, especially at that time, you would meet someone for coffee, and they will be there, but they will be looking almost past you,” she says. “Because they will be thinking of their next appointment or their next engagement.

“And in France, you will go have a coffee and it was just like the world stopped for hours.”

On returning to the US, Regan signed up for an international MBA program that would allow her to spend an entire year in France.

Once she graduated, Regan was offered an internship at a company based in Paris in 2002, providing her with the opportunity to live in the French capital.

“I thought that that was incredible,” she says. “And it would be an opportunity that would be silly to pass by.”

As she settled into life in Paris, Regan was mesmerized by its vibrant culture, particularly the city’s restaurants and museums, and “just how much fun you could have” there.

She says that she initially anticipated living and working in the European city for a year or two.

However, when Regan fell for a Frenchman named Julien, who she married in 2007, her fate was seemingly sealed.

“I had already been in Paris for three years,” she adds. “So I was definitely enjoying my life. And at that point, I had a group of friends.

“So it wasn’t even like I met him and it changed everything. But he became a major component of me no longer seeking to possibly go back to the States.”

Quality of life

The entrepreneur with husband Julien and their son Theodore and Jefferson.
The entrepreneur with husband Julien and their son Theodore and Jefferson. Courtesy Melissa Regan

She and her husband went on to have two sons, Theodore and Jefferson.

Regan was hugely impressed by the care she received during childbirth, explaining that new mothers in the country commonly stay in hospital for a few days.

She feels blessed to have been able to raise her children in France due to the “wonderful quality of life,” stressing that although she works “very hard,” she’s at home for dinner with her family every night.

“We have school vacation every six weeks,” she explains. “So every six weeks, the kids are off from school for two or three weeks.

“And in that time, it is culturally accepted that you take vacation. It’s normal.”

She goes on to explain that she feels as though her children are safer in France than they would be in the US as “we don’t have the same issues with guns.”

“From the age of 10 or 11, they [kids] start going to school by themselves,” adds Regan. “And it’s just a cultural norm.

“So as a parent of relatively young children, just the quality of life is just so much better.”

Regan has also found France to be more affordable for her family, despite Paris being ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in.

She credits this, at least partly, to the French healthcare system, which provides universal coverage for all legal residents.

“You have the social system, and then you have private health care provided by companies,” she says. “So you don’t have that same level of stress.”

Regan recently spent around five weeks in the US and she admits to being stunned by how much prices had increased.

International city

Regan with her sons at their apartment in Paris.
Regan with her sons at their apartment in Paris. Courtesy Melissa Regan

“I was really shocked by the price increase in inflation of groceries, for example,” she says. “Over here [in Paris,] we’ve had a price increase in inflation, but not as dramatic.”

While Regan has now lived in Paris for over two decades, she admits that it was a long while before she felt completely at home in the city.

“I would say it took me two years to really love my current life,” she says. “It probably took me eight years to really feel like this was home.

“And now I can’t imagine a different place that I would want to live my life.”

Over the years, Regan has seen Paris go through many changes, and feels that the city has become “even more international” with “more and more foreigners.”

“Twenty years ago, you would really struggle to have a life here, if you didn’t speak French,” she says. “And now that has changed.”

Although she’d taken a few months of intensive French language courses before arriving in France, Regan concedes that it was a while before she felt like a relatively competent French speaker.

She recalls how she struggled at big dinner parties as she would often be the only English speaker.

However, she feels that this wouldn’t be the case now, as there are far more people in the city who speak other languages.

“I think it’s become much, much easier [to relocate to Paris],” she says.

Regan initially came to France on a student visa, before obtaining a working visa. After marrying a French national, she was eligible for a French residence permit, or a Carte de Sejour, which she renews every 10 years.

She is currently eligible for French citizenship, but is yet to begin the process.

“It’s a large administrative task,” she explains. “And I feel like every single year, I’ve had another priority.”

Regan now runs a Paris-based real estate agency, which provides property services to international clients.

“I guess the thing I’m very proud of is that we really help people,” she says, explaining that many newcomers struggle with the “slower administrative process” in France, and want advice on pinpointing “which neighborhoods are the most safe and adapted for foreigners.”

She tends to advise those interested in relocating to Paris to do as much research as they can before coming over and to get any documents they might need ready well ahead of time.

The ‘Emily’ effect?

“I have a huge amount of faith that things work out the way they're always supposed to," says Regan.

“I have a huge amount of faith that things work out the way they're always supposed to," says Regan. Courtesy Melissa Regan

Netflix series “Emily in Paris,” which centers around an American marketing executive who moves to Paris for a new job, has put the city back in the spotlight in recent years, with many fans of the show flocking to the French capital to try to recreate some of the experiences portrayed.

While Regan notes that the show has likely helped to attract newcomers, she stresses that “Paris has always been top of the list.”

“I was a young twenty-something 25 years ago, and it was my dream to come, even before ‘Emily in Paris,’” she says.

“So I think it’s probably opened that up to a larger audience that maybe didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to travel internationally previously.”

Regan regularly returns to the US to visit her family and says she relishes the opportunity to dress more casually, as “rolling out of bed in sweats, putting on a hat” and going about your day is somewhat frowned upon in Paris.

“It’s definitely a little bit more formal over here,” she says, noting that while most of her Parisian friends get their hair and nails done before going on vacation, she does “the opposite” when going back to the US.

“I take off my nail polish. I don’t do any makeup. It’s a little bit more relaxed.”

While she still has strong connections to America, Regan can’t imagine herself ever returning and feels as though she ended up where she was meant to be.

“I definitely see myself where I am,” she says. “I have a huge amount of faith that things work out the way they’re always supposed to.

“These past 25 years have been just wild. It’s been incredible, with ups and downs…  I personally have just been very blessed.”

When asked if she considers herself a Parisian now, Regan says she’s not sure whether that’s something she can “self declare,” but she feels close to being a Parisian “by adoption.”

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