Saunders 1865 | Moving to Marseille

Moving to Marseille

Are you moving to Marseille? The second-largest city in France, Marseille is the capital of the Bouches-du-Rhone area in Southern France.  This busy Mediterranean port city is a major trade hub for south-eastern Europe, a popular tourist destination and an important culture centre with a diverse population.

Our free, in-depth Moving to Marseille report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

Putting Marseille on the Map

Located in Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur, one of France’s fastest growing regions, the city is situated west of the French Riviera.  Lying in a sheltered depression, which is surrounded by hills, the geography of the city has inhibited the development of suburbs.  The Étoile Chain has also limited the growth of the city to the north, resulting in development bypassing this barrier and leap-frogging to the Berre Lagoon on the eastern shore.  The public transport system is efficient and comfortable.

  • The main railway station is Marseille St. Charles, with two subway lines and plenty of buses stopping there.
  • There are TGV high-speed train lines to Paris, Lyon, Nice, Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Geneva and Brussels.
  • RTM comprises two subway, or métro, lines, two tram lines and more than 104 bus routes with over 600 buses. Tickets for the buses and metro can be bought in the subway stations, on the bus or in cafés.  Public transport stops running at 00:30.
  • Marseille Provence Airport, the city’s international airport, is 17 miles north-west of the city, located in Marignane. The fifth busiest in France, it handles almost 9 million passengers per annum and it has a terminal dedicated to low-cost airlines.
  • Le vélo, the bicycle sharing service, is free for trips of up to 30 minutes. An annual ticket, at a nominal fee, allows unlimited access to bikes.
  • A complimentary ferry service between the two opposite quays of the Old Port and Pointe Rouge offers a slow, scenic crossing.
  • Four ferry routes run from Marseille to Tunisia, Algeria, Corsica and Sardinia.
  • Road traffic is heavily congested, despite a tunnel below the city centre, which links the eastern and northern motorways.
The Areas

The city consists of 111 neighbourhoods, and 16 arrondissements, or quarters.  These were originally separate villages which have grown over time.

  • The city centre accommodation is mainly apartment living. The best areas are the 1st, 5th, 6th arrondissements, along with the bourgeois 7th, 8th and 9th.  The 1st, 6th and 7th offer the best nightlife.  Accommodation is solely apartments, both furnished and unfurnished, available to rent in all areas, although this is dependent on the time of year.  During the summer months, apartments are pretty scarce due to the influx of tourists.  Out towards the city outskirts, and in some of the nearby towns and villages, there will be more single-family houses available.
  • Longchamp is quieter than the city centre, with less hustle and bustle, and this area in the fourth arrondissement is conveniently close to all the amenities. Prado, Michelet and Paradis have plenty of green area and are in the golden triangle of junior and senior schools.
  • Cours Julien has changed from being a no-go area to becoming the life and soul of the city’s nightlife. Home to the hipster community, the proximity to the Place Jean Jaurès, or simply la Plaine, offers all the fun and excitement of living in a big city.
  • The neighbourhoods of Bompard and Le Roucas Blanc in the seventh arrondissement, with lovely views of the Mediterranean, offer an almost village-like feel in the middle of the city centre. Popular with professionals.
  • Allauch, on the outskirts of the city, is an arty town, with two-thirds of its area consisting of hills. Dictated by law, only normal sized houses were built, showing respect for the environment and saving green belts and natural areas from supermarkets, motorways, etc.  Festivals, fairs, markets and exhibitions feature here throughout the year.  Decent transport links to the city enable commuters to travel the eight miles efficiently.
  • Marigname is where the airport is located, so there would be a fair amount of aircraft noise. However, it is just 25 minutes or so into Marseille or Aix, and standalone houses are available to rent.  North-west of the city, it is Marseille’s largest suburb.  It has a junior high school, a senior high school and one private school.
  • 12,5 miles east of the Marseille, Aubagne is located in the picturesque Heveaune valley, bordered by the Garlaban mountain ranges of Douard to the south and Sainte-Baume to the north. The French Foreign Legion has its headquarters here.  The city offers free public transport on the buses, incentivises recycling and purchasing of solar panels and has launched school campaigns promoting eco-citizenship and sustainable development.
  • The university town of Aix-en-Provence is 22 miles north of Marseille and is a more expensive area to live in than its neighbour. This centre of culture, with its cathedral and 17th-century town hall, has the new town to the south and west, and the old town with beautiful mansions dating back to the 16th century to the north.  The bordering hillsides are devoted to vineyards.
  • Auriol is a mere 13.7 miles north-east of Marseille, with an economy based on olive oil, viticulture and the Pujol Commercial Centre. It is situated in the Huveaune Valley and has two international schools, one bilingual school, the Institute for American Studies and a number of state schools.
  • Plan de Cuques is known as it dormitory town, off of the touristy beaten track. The local shops keep the food prices down, and at a distance of 2.5 miles from Marseilles, public transport will get you to work very quickly.
Who Lives and Works in Marseille

With a hugely diverse population, the city has successfully absorbed wave after wave of immigrants, mainly from North Africa.  The total population is about 1,528,000, with another million making up the metropolitan area. Around 40% are Muslim, and it is widely predicted that it will become the first Muslim-majority city in France.  There are also African, Italian, Portuguese, Middle Eastern and Spanish communities.

Marseille was the European City of Culture in 2013.  It retained its free city status throughout history, even after being taken by Caesar’s troops in the 1st century BC.

The fantastic transport links, including road, rail and the busy port have led to Marseille’s economy being built around trade and export.  The GDP, at US$36.127 per capita is driven mainly by the port, with 100 million tons plus of cargo passing through annually.  The majority commodity is petroleum, the balance a mix of chemicals, sugar, building materials, olive oil and food.  It has the oldest chamber of commerce in the country dating back to 1599.  Another key element is the business sector.  Many local and multinationals have set up in the city including CMA CGM, Eurocopter Group and Comex, and France’s leading oil refinery is here.  Pernod-Ricard and Catering International and Services are amongst the most prominent corporate enterprises in the city.

The French R&D industry has shown growth, with over 3,000 research scientists homed at Marseille Aix University, and the technology sector is also on the rise.

Over two million tourists visit the city via its port every year.

Marseille has always attracted former colonials, including the Bonaparte family and other Corsicans, during the French Revolution.

The Best Bits

Like most of France, Marseille has a low crime rate, but care should be taken in the busy summer months.  Pickpockets are plentiful in all tourist resorts.  Salaries are good and the cost of living is 30% less than Paris.

  • The weather. With 300 sunny days a year, the climate is enviable.
  • The beaches.
  • The European City of Culture award in 2013 has seen a cultural renaissance in the city, with art galleries and museums being renovated, and new ones being built.
  • Mainly funded by the state, residents are required to have health insurance.
  • There are a number of museums. The Museum of Old Marseille was installed next to City Hall in La Maison Diamantée, named after the projecting diamond-shaped stones in the 16th-century façade. The Cantini Museum showcases a collection of Oriental art, modern sculptures and paintings and local pottery.
  • The many historic sites and monuments include the basilica, the Romanesque-Byzantine church Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, overlooking the city. This famous landmark houses an opera house and a national dance school with a national ballet company.
  • The Old Port, or Vieux-Port, is the best place to buy seafood directly from the boats lining the quays.
  • There are festivals and events planned for every month of the year.
  • The nightlife varies from refined to raucous. Mainly centred around the Vieux-Port, the younger crowds centre around the beach at the Escale Borély.
  • La Canebière is the emblematic avenue which displays the wealth and pride of the port’s colonial trading days. Grand hotels and Haussmannian townhouses showcase the success and prosperity of the merchants, and the entire area is receiving a facelift.
  • Le Cours Julien quarter is an open-air street art gallery, featuring colourful graffiti and drawings.
  • In 2015 the first nap-café opened, with hammocks suspended from the walls to allow patrons to catch 40-winks.
  • The Capucin district is a market area of stalls and open-fronted shops selling spices and other African goods.
  • Noailles Market is distinctly Marseillais, with vendors peddling wares from all over the world.
  • There are two small vineyards in the city centre. One near the Vieux-Port and the other at the feet of the Saint-Victor abbey.
Bringing the Kids

With 700 state schools, private schools are also present in most of the arrondissements.  A number of international schools offer bilingual education and Marseille International Schools and EPIM are in the area.  State schools are free, whereas private and international schools are costly.  However, state schools only offer tuition in French, which is fine for a younger child starting school life, but could prove tricky for older kids.   Places in international schools are rare, so submitting an application as early as possible is highly recommended.

There are 96 colleges and universities in Marseille, including the largest university in the French-speaking world, Aix Marseille University, which has campuses in the city.  Also present are KEDGE Business School and Ecole Centrale de Marseilles.

Relocating to Marseille

Although English is spoken here, the French are always more appreciative of visitors and expats who attempt to speak French.  Obviously, the longer you stay here the more urgent the need to learn the language.  This picturesque Mediterranean city, with it hugely diverse population and culture, and amazing weather, is a fantastic location for expats and their families to live and learn.  The locations and accommodation choices offer from luxury bachelor flats to massive seaside mansions and there is always plenty to do.  With a thriving economy, a surfeit of culture, strengths in tourism, finance, R&D, shipping and high-tech, and quick flights to visit family and friends at home, Marseille is a location of choice for many expats.  The language is a barrier, though.  Rather than battling your way through all the red tape and form-filling, whilst trying to learn the language, employ the services of a relocation specialist in the area, who will handle everything from moving to enrolling in schools and negotiating rental leases.  It just makes sense.


Good Schools
Great Transport
Natural Beauty
Average Monthly Rent - Marseille
Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre €582
Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre €531
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre €1,028
Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre €847
Contact us for a free initial consultation about your specific situation.
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