American expat here, longtime resident of Lyon (18 years old). Lyon is a rather intense city. Very busy, noisy, but dynamic and interesting. The city is constantly changing, usually for the better. New tram lines are constantly being added, green spaces are expanding and being created every year. The Green government in power is pushing HARD for maximum green transformation (bicycle lanes, reduction of cars (the whole city center has just gone to 30 km/h), sustainable development projects, etc.) before they are rejected in the next elections because these transitions are painful and encroach on people’s freedoms, even if they are all necessary. The quality of life is quite good, but it all depends on which neighborhood you are in. One area can be a real dump, but a few blocks away it can be really quiet and clean. The crime is mainly limited to drug dealing, stolen cars, vandalism and many basic incivilities like people walking on sidewalks and littering. Violent crime does exist, but it does in every major city. Real estate is very expensive, but prices are starting to fall after several years of derisory prices. One thing I’ve struggled with over the years is the amount of wet, humid, cloudy weather in the winter. Once summer is in full swing, the weather is nice. The central location is fabulous as you can drive to the Alps in a few hours, Italy several hours, Ardeche 2 hours. Good international airport. TGV service in all directions.
Regarding your driver’s license plan: the idea of running as a free candidate may be a bit far-fetched. I drove for several years with my US license until I was caught, arrested, fined for “unlicensed”. I had to go the driving school route. It cost me 600€ and a few months of my time, but the way it’s set up it’s almost impossible to pass the official driving test with a state instructor without going through a school . Some may have done it, but it’s not easy. It’s just a different way of driving here, and an instructor will quickly pick up on a detail you haven’t learned without being “trained” by a school. My school instructor wasn’t even born when I started driving at 15 and she treated me like I was a total noob, constantly correcting me and hammering me with details I wouldn’t have internalized. if I hadn’t gone through school, details what allowed me to pass the driving test with the state monitor.
I wish you good luck in your adventure. You will have to really prepare yourself mentally for this transition because the first few years can be really difficult. Lots of obstacles and tests for your patience. You will not be the same person after your complete integration.