Moving to France: The first month — #2

Last month, I explained what it was like to finally take the plunge and move abroad. For me, this was a move from the United States to France. This article will highlight some of the major experiences I had during my first 30 days. This is not one of those ‘moving to a foreign country is easy/romantic/dreamy’ stories, but rather ALL that goes into relocating some 4,000 miles away: the ups, the downs, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In case you missed it last month, I explained what it was like to finally take the big plunge and to move abroad in the first article of this mini-series – Taking the plunge #1.

Moving to France - the first month #2 Dinan December

Settling in

Of course, everyone’s experience will be different, but in my case, leaving France has always been more difficult than flying out of DTW airport to CDG.

That was the case 30 years ago after my study abroad and has been the same with every trip afterward. My heart has always been here in France and I felt immediately homesick whenever I boarded the plane in Paris. So, while the weeks leading up to the move were quite stressful – going through my possessions, donating 90% of everything I owned, ensuring that I had several copies of essential papers (birth certificate, diplomas, etc.) the day I left was relatively easy.

In my mind, I was not leaving home, but going home.

I had rented an apartment in Brittany for a few years, after all, and therefore had much of what I needed in France already: a place to live, a bank account, a French cell phone, and most importantly, a close network of friends. 

None of these were easy to come by, in fact, it took a lot of time, energy, and hard work to achieve. The day I landed I felt only relief and gratitude, which made all of that work time well spent.

I will say this: My biggest regret about moving is that I didn’t take the time to just breathe.

There is so much that comes with a huge move such as this including very conflicting feelings, loss, joy, relief, terror …. It comes all at once and also in waves.

There was so much to do every day that I never had more than a day to just “be” and I will forever regret not listening to my body and mind and just letting everything go for a good week or two. If I could move again, this would be my #1 goal.

If you are considering a move, please take time to just rest, regroup, and hopefully, you will find a sense of peace that I have not had time to find yet. In the midst of all of this, I was also processing – or trying to – that my marriage was ending and I had moved here alone. (Cue the wave.) You only get one opportunity to fulfill your dream of moving to France (for the first time) so enjoy it. Live in the moment and know that you don’t have to do everything right away.

Moving to France: priorities – important and hard decisions

Several people have asked me what I did with my personal items back in the States. Did I rent a storage unit, for example? Did I ship boxes or a container to France? Truth be told, I gave away almost everything. I walked around my home, looked around at the things I had moved from house to house so many times (I have only once lived in the same place more than 4 years), and simply felt like I did not want to cart around things from my life there.

I was starting a new chapter – a new book, really – and therefore wanted to surround myself with things that represented this new journey that I was undertaking. While I do still have some items there, I donated the vast majority. I should restate that I had already been renting a place here in Brittany for a few years and therefore really had all of the basics already. This made moving and settling in considerably easier.

The first week

The first week I was here was spent settling in, verifying my visa, registering for my SIRET number (allowing me to legally work in France), registering my business, handling tax documents, and more. After that was accomplished, I spent time connecting with friends, albeit in small doses given the safety measures still in place.

My father flew in the following week, which was a real comfort. It also was one of those ‘full-circle’ moments as it was his business trip that first brought me to France when I was 11 years old. Little did we know then that some 4 decades later I would be living here.

Second week onwards

The following weeks consisted of going to utility companies to modify the name on all of my accounts, finding and seeing a doctor in town, sending emails to prospective clients, adopting a dog, finding a vet, and much, much more.

There was, therefore, a short time between landing and working to take long walks and relish in the fact that my dream of living in France had finally been realized.

When I was able to do so, however, I took in that beautiful Brittany air, salted slightly by the sea nearby. These little moments gave me the strength to power through and validated that I had indeed made the right choice.

Moving to France  - xmas

Things to do immediately

  • Validate one’s visa: I had what one refers to as a ‘hand holder’ who walked me through the administrative processes relating to my visa application and subsequent validation upon arrival. I won’t elaborate too much on that process as I am not an expert in the field, however I do think that it was worth having someone available to answer questions whenever (not ‘if’) they arose.
  • Set up a bank account: After my arrival, I set out to create a professional bank account. As I had been renting an apartment, I already had a personal bank account, utilities, etc. When I first tried to open a bank account a few years ago, it proved to be very challenging as an American. In fact, there was only one bank that would consider it. If you are considering a move abroad, I would encourage some emails to different banks before your arrival to see if it will be possible to open an account.

Things to do in the first month

Find a physician

I phoned a local general physician to make a ‘premier contact’ appointment.

My first visit was quite interesting. I made the appointment and arrived the day a few minutes early. I checked in with the receptionist, though there was no mountain of papers to fill in (for the ??th time) as is customary in the U.S. Instead, I simply waited in a room with a few other people. Each person said a friendly “Bonjour” to everyone in the lobby as he/she entered the room.

Instead of a Medical Assistant (as in the U.S.), the doctor herself came for me. She led me to her room. It consisted of a desk, an exam table, and instruments of various sizes and shapes. We sat down and discussed in great detail my medical history. She carefully explained the different practices in terms of mammograms, colonoscopies, and the like.

About 30 minutes later, she did a preliminary exam. After, she gave me a lab request for bloodwork then stated that the visit would be 25 euros. For a 45-minute visit.

This is one of the many reasons I want to live in France. Such a visit would be over $100 with insurance coverage in the U.S. I was very please with the visit overall.

Connect with the local pharmacy and pharmacist

Now, I should say that I love going into the pharmacy in town. There are so many wonderful things about a French pharmacy: skincare, herbal remedies and teas, and much, much more. The staff is also highly trained to deal with many health issues. I think it is always wise to build a connection with those one plans to see whenever the need – or want – arises.

And… two months on

I’m feeling much more settled. I have been living in Brittany as a resident for over two months.

I am still surprised at how challenging that first month was, given that I have been coming to this town for almost six years now, have an apartment, and a network of friends.

Moving to France - Stella by the river rance brittany

With the addition of my new puppy, I meet, on average, at least a dozen people every day. These interactions give me (and little Stella) so much joy and encouragement to keep forging through the tougher days.

I have no regrets about moving and can’t imagine my life anywhere else than here. Would I do it again, given all that I know now? In a heartbeat. In fact, I would have done it sooner.

Do you see yourself moving abroad one day? If so, what do you think will be the most challenging part?  Share your thoughts and experiences with us below.

Image credits: all copyright Amy Gruber
1. Dinan Brittany – December 2021
2. Dinan Xmas 2021
3. Stella by the River Rance
Follow this mini-series Moving to France
1. Taking the plunge #1
2. The first-month #2
3. Buying a car #3
4. L’Assurance Maladie #4
5. How to let go #5
6. Sorting what to take #6

About the Contributor

Amy Gruber

I was first introduced to France as a child during a family trip abroad. I have since studied in Paris, traveled throughout the country, and I fell in love with France and the French.  Brittany is where I call home part of the year. Read more on my blog and Instagram @agruber17.

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