Moving to France: taking the Plunge – # I
It is an early Sunday morning in Brittany. I’m seated with a hot cup of tea, looking out my front window at the stone houses across the river. It is late November so many of the trees have lost or are losing their colorful leaves. While I have gazed out of my window many, many times over the last several years, it is different now. Until now I was a tourist, and I would often count down the weeks or days until I would have to leave this favorite spot of mine. Today, I can drink my tea more leisurely and calmly now, as I am officially a resident.
I am not dreaming of making a life here.
I am actually making a life here.
With that comes joy, enormous satisfaction, and pride as well as feelings of loneliness and being overwhelmed.
- I’m finding myself reflecting on the process of making such a big change and wanted to share my experience with those of you who may want to take this leap one day.
- I am writing from the vantage point of a 50-something woman who applied for a long-stay working visa.
- I hope you find this mini-series on ‘Moving to France’ informative, helpful, and interesting.
Moving to France: my personal love story
Let’s first take a moment to talk about why and how I came to be here.
I am often asked, especially by the French, if love brought me here. I always respond the same way: Yes. Love of French culture, people, cuisine, history, and sheer beauty of this country.
I first came to France at age 11, when my father had a business trip that took us to London, Zurich, and Paris. Truth be told, Zurich was my favorite of the three and it was not love at first sight for Paris and me.
In high school, I happened to take a French class and it was that first course that began my love affair with la belle France. I continued to take French classes at university and subsequently spent a few months in Paris through a study abroad program. I knew within a few weeks that I wanted to live in France and vowed that I would one day…
20-odd years later, I went back to Paris for a French-language reboot course. I rented a small studio apartment and become fast friends with its French owner. She invited me to her family home in Western France and I decided that I would inevitably settle near the ocean.
About another 10 years later, I visited Brittany and that was it. I was hooked. I spent every possible moment I could in the region to familiarize myself with its weather, customs, cuisine, and more. I got my old How to Move to France books out and began diving deep into researching what it would take to make my dream a reality.
If you’re considering moving to France then here are the 5 musts!
It is a LOT of work.
This may seem obvious, but I can’t express just how much time, effort, and a fair number of tears went into actually applying for a visa – twice. Was it worth it? Yes, yes it was.
1. Research, research, research
As I alluded to above, I consulted books, websites, ex-pat Facebook groups, and YouTube videos. I devoured anything and everything that would allow me to better understand the reality of living abroad. Once I had a fair idea of where I wanted to live, I learned about:
- the weather
- public transportation
- cultural activities
- approximate cost of living
- employment rates
- access to medical care
- and much more
2. Live like a local
I spent every vacation over a 3-year period getting to know the area in which I wanted to live. This may or may not be feasible for everyone, but I highly recommend it.
When I was ready to look for an apartment to rent, I was fortunate to be working for a school district. This meant that I had several weeks in the summer to live like a local and get a solid feel for the place: winter, spring, and summer breaks. This gave me a fairly good idea of what the weather was really like throughout the year, which shops stayed open, and what the town felt like both during the height of and off-tourist seasons.
Of course, I could not visit in 2020 and spent 19 months apart from my beloved town and friends, but at that point, I already knew that it was where I wanted to live.
3. Prepare for a lot of paperwork
If anyone has even thought of a move to France and done a smidgen of research, one knows already that the French bureaucracy is, well, let’s just say part of the charm. I will speak about this in a subsequent article, but best to just prepare mentally for multiple hard copies of everything.
4. Make connections
I can’t emphasize this enough.
I put myself out there every day.
I say Bonjour to shop owners, I read or watch the local news, I visit expositions, I take myself out to lunch and briefly introduce myself to staff, and just plunge into the language wherever and whenever possible.
I participate in local events and take full advantage of the local market and linger at the stalls where there isn’t a line and have a good chat with the vendors. I use social media to follow local businesses, make a point to get to know their products, and join online groups (I recommend joining groups of primarily French members).
5. Speak French
For me, this is probably the most important piece of advice I have to share.
While I have taken classes over the years, I am still at about a B2 level.
It’s hard to learn French and even harder to practice when one isn’t in France. That said, being able to speak some French is, without a doubt, how I am here at all.
Something comes over me when I have my figurative French hat on. Despite knowing that I mix up tenses, continue to use faux amis regularly, etc. I speak to anyone who will listen.
Daily I remind myself that it is OK to make mistakes and that an accent is a sign of bravery after all.
What’s to come in this ‘Moving to France’ mini-series?
In the following articles, I will share stories including the roller-coaster of applying for a visa; both the joys and pitfalls of the first 30 days living alone in a new country. As these are my own personal experiences yours will naturally be different. It is my hope that sharing my story will give you a better understanding of what you could expect when making a move to France.
Are you dreaming of a life in France? Do you foresee moving to France? Share your dreams and experiences with Amy in the comments below
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