Transcript for Episode 192: Moving to France on a Long Stay Tourist Visa

Category: Moving to France



Annie: [00:00:00] This is Join Us in France episode 192. Bonjour, I’m Annie. And join us in France is the podcast where we talk about France, its many quirks, its history, its language, and destinations in France you want to learn about because, hopefully, you will be visiting soon.

Annie: [00:00:18] On today’s episode I chat with Claire Armstrong about how she and her husband retired from their jobs in the US and soon after moved to France. She outlines all the steps and bumps on the road and how they succeeded and are living in the south west of France.

Annie: [00:00:39] Show notes and photos for this episode are on and folks who are subscribed to the mailing list will get the extra with the outline of the steps Claire tells us about.

Annie: [00:00:55] Join us in France is brought to you by Patreon supporters and Addicted to France. The small group tour company for people who want to enjoy France to the fullest with zero stress. Check out our upcoming tours in May 2018 on Addicted to France.

Annie: [00:01:45] Hello Claire, welcome to Join Us in France!

Claire: [00:01:48] Hi Annie, thank you!

Annie: [00:01:50] It’s very nice of you to come all the way to my house to record an episode.

Claire: [00:01:54] I know! Isn’t this fun? Last time we recorded, I was at my desk at my house in the United States.

Annie: [00:02:01] Is that right? OK, wow. A lot has changed!

Claire: [00:02:04] Yes.

Annie: [00:02:06] So you were on the show before, that was episode 115 and it was to talk about the area around Nice and Cammargue and, is that it?

Claire: [00:02:17] We did Nîmes and Cammargue, and…

Annie: [00:02:18] Nîmes, not Nice.

Claire: [00:02:18] Gorges du Tarn a little bit.

Annie: [00:02:21] OK. Yeah. We talked about the area where you actually were born.

Claire: [00:02:25] Yes.

Annie: [00:02:26] And you’ve been back to visit many times. So you are French American.

Claire: [00:02:31] Yes.

Annie: [00:02:32] Born in France, moved to America when you were very young.

Claire: [00:02:36] Yes, very young.

Annie: [00:02:38] And moved back to France recently. You just retired, you’re a young retiree.

Claire: [00:02:44] Exactly.

Annie: [00:02:44] OK, so let’s talk about your move to France and how you pulled it off. Obviously, you have a big advantage: You’re a French citizen. Or were you?

Claire: [00:02:54] Well, France didn’t think so at the time we were applying for our visas.

Annie: [00:02:57] Oooh! Do tell about that.

Claire: [00:02:59] So, the last time we talked it was our 2015 trip. We already knew in our heads that we wanted to retire in France at some point.

Annie: [00:03:08] Right.

Claire: [00:03:08] In the not too distant future, we were looking at 2018. So we had come here to do a little touring around, like we talked about, but also to look at where we wanted to live.

Annie: [00:03:18] OK. Yep.

Claire: [00:03:19] And tour around. And then, when we came back we just we moved our dates up. Because we figured out we could retire a little sooner. So, we took our first step which was—my thought was—to go to the embassy and apply for a “carte d’identité” national identity card. So that I could get a French passport the next time we went when we applied for my husband’s visa.. Only problem is that when we got to the appointment the “monsieur le fonctionnaire” informed me that I was no longer a French citizen.

Claire: [00:03:54] Which is ridiculous considering the fact that…

Annie: [00:03:56] You were born in France!

Claire: [00:03:57] My father was born there, my grandfather was born there. But rather than try and fight the system, we decided we just both fly over as Americans on American visas.

Annie: [00:04:10] OK, and then how did that sort itself out eventually? Did they give you a “carte d’identité” eventually?

Claire: [00:04:17] After I got here, yes.

Annie: [00:04:18] Ah, so you applied here.

Claire: [00:04:20] I reapplied once we were here, after I’d been here three months.

Annie: [00:04:24] Oh OK. Wow. And so you did that through your village or your… Where you reside.

Claire: [00:04:30] Yes.

Annie: [00:04:31] And at that point the “mairie” knew you and so they were more accommodating.

Claire: [00:04:37] Yeah, they were very nice about it. And everybody I’ve told this story too is looked at me and said What do you mean they said you weren’t French?

Annie: [00:04:43] Yeah that’s bizarre. You know I had to… The first… When we first moved to France and I had all my IDs, I had all of that. But to me it wasn’t a problem but for my daughter, who was born in the U.S., with a French mom French grandparents all of that. They wanted a lot of documentation. To show that she… That her grandparents in particular were French. And I was like OK I can provide that. But that’s like silly, you know, anyway. But so yeah with French and ministration you never know what you’re going to get. Especially consular. Which Consulate?

Claire: [00:05:21] Chicago.

Annie: [00:05:20] Chicago. Are they harder than others?

Claire: [00:05:24] As far as the visa process went, they weren’t.

Annie: [00:05:26] OK. So, you applied as an American to get a long term visa to come to France.

Claire: [00:05:32] Yes. Long term tourist visa.

Annie: [00:05:34] Long term tourist visa. OK. So that one is good for how long?

Claire: [00:05:38] A year.

Annie: [00:05:39] OK. But that does not let you work?

Claire: [00:05:43] No, not work on a tourist visa.

Annie: [00:05:45] Right. So it’s just it is just to be able to reside here.

Claire: [00:05:50] Yes.

Annie: [00:05:51] OK. So how did that go?

Claire: [00:05:53] It went pretty easily. We make an appointment online and you can’t schedule an appointment more than 30 days out from when you would like to have your appointment.

Annie: [00:06:02] OK.

Claire: [00:06:03] So, you really have to kind of watch the Web site for openings because they fill up fast. So then you apply… I mean you go online to get an appointment. You have to present yourself in person. And you have to bring the list, the required list, for all the things you for your particular type of visa.

Claire: [00:06:22] So, passport photos, your valid passport. We had to provide proof of address in the USA. Proof of a round trip ticket. Proof of travel health insurance for the full year. Proof of accommodation in France.

Annie: [00:06:40] So hang on, the health insurance. Was it enough to have like travel health insurance, or did you need more that?

Claire: [00:06:46] We did need more than that. There are some companies that specialize in visa insurance. And we went with one of those. We went with, it was a minimum of fifty thousand dollars coverage.

Annie: [00:06:57] Oh OK. And can you tell the name, do you remember the name of the company?

Claire: [00:07:02] IMG I remember being on the paperwork. We never even used it. I mean we bought it. We never needed to use it. But it’s really easy if you just…

Annie: [00:07:12] There’s a bunch of them probably.

Claire: [00:07:13] If you google visa insurance and a bunch of them pop up and will you know instantly you can print your proof that you have.

Annie: [00:07:21] OK. So that part was easy.

Claire: [00:07:23] Yep, that was the easiest part. Yeah, I think so.

Annie: [00:07:27] What else did you need?

Claire: [00:07:28] Proof of accommodation in France.

Annie: [00:07:30] Oooh, that’s a little hard to do.

Claire: [00:07:31] That’s a little harder. I had an advantage, in that I was able to have my father write a letter using his address in France. Because he has a house that he comes to a couple times a year for a few weeks at a time. But, I did realize after I asked him to do that, that if you… We ended up going to a Gîte, staying in a Gîte when we got here. Even though I used his address as my legal address, I could have used the Gîte.

Claire: [00:07:57] As long as you can provide a copy of the proof that you have a contract to rent, that counts.

Annie: [00:08:04] Ok so so in…

Claire: [00:08:05] So the average person…

Annie: [00:08:07] The average person could just come to France, select a Gîte, rent it for six months or whatever, and then so long as you have your lease for that…

Claire: [00:08:18] Yes.

Annie: [00:08:19] However the minimum time is that it might be a few months. Because a Gîte is not. It’s not like leasing a house or something. A normal lease and France three years. But for Gîtes, I think they have shorter periods.

Claire: [00:08:31] Oh yeah, anywhere from you know a week or two however long.

Annie: [00:08:35] Right. So you can just decide. And I’ve told several people that renting a Gîte is a good way to go because it’s much easier than renting a house. Because the rules in France protect renters. And so people who rent homes are very reluctant to rent to foreigners because the foreigners can’t… Well they’re not sure, you know they’re like well I don’t know. And if there’s a problem with that person, I can’t get rid of them, essentially. It’s very hard to get rid of a tenant in France, so.

Claire: [00:09:08] And I noticed when we were applying for the place we live now, because we rent, we didn’t buy. They asked us at least three different times. And you’re going to be here all year long? You’re going to use the place all year long? They were very particular about that.

Annie: [00:09:24] Yeah.

Claire: [00:09:26] I said yes, yes.

Annie: [00:09:27] This is our residence.

Claire: [00:09:28] Yes, we’re really going to be here.

Annie: [00:09:30] OK. So you went through a… Well, you used your father’s address. But you could have done it…

Claire: [00:09:35] But I could have done it with a Gîte. I know I realized afterwards. And it’s easy because we used Gîte de France, we just went to their website and you can do it in English. And so, it’s very easy to rent a Gîte as a non French speaker.

Annie: [00:09:49] So you wouldn’t even have to come see it?

Claire: [00:09:51] No no no.

Annie: [00:09:53] You just rent it online?

Claire: [00:09:54] Lots of pictures online, and yeah that’s what we did.

Annie: [00:09:57] Wow.

Claire: [00:09:58] We actually rented it right before we came here.

Annie: [00:10:01] Wow. That’s a lot easier.. See I’ve met Americans who come to France looking for a place to rent. And it’s always really difficult. It sounds like it was easier doing it that way.

Claire: [00:10:13] Absolutely, I highly recommend: rent a Gîte for however long you want. And you know give yourself time to… We rented for a month because we figured it wouldn’t take us very long to find a place. And in actuality, it didn’t take us long, but it was not available for another month. So we ended up spending two months in the Gîte.

Annie: [00:10:31] Right. Right.

Claire: [00:10:32] And that was fine. Yeah just perfectly fine. Actually we got to do a lot of sightseeing during that month while we were waiting to move in. So that’s good.

Annie: [00:10:39] So I think the people… Another way you could do this is to rent a furnished department. So if you really want to go the normal French lease thing, rent… Ask your realtor to help you find a furnished apartment. Because the rules there are different again. And so the protections for the renter are not as strong. And so they won’t be as reluctant to rent to you just because you are an unknown.

Annie: [00:11:11] I mean if you show up to rent and your French family with regular jobs and two kids and a cat. Well yeah you’re safe, you know. But if you show up and you’re Mr. and Mrs. Hammersmith and they can’t even say your name. And yeah, French people are a bit narrow minded when it comes to stuff like that I guess it is a reality. They don’t… Especially if you go rural. If you’re trying to rent in a big city, probably it wouldn’t be such a big deal. I don’t know. But you live in a small village.

Claire: [00:11:46] Very small, yes.

Annie: [00:11:47] Yeah. The way I did it, is my sister rented the house on our behalf but she was on the hook for the rent. If we hadn’t come through, you know? So yeah, it was it was a little bit… Yeah it’s tricky finding the accommodation so that’s a great tip! Gîte!

Claire: [00:12:07] Yeah. Definitely recommend Gîtes. And then if you’re a francophone we spent a lot of time on Le Bon Coin looking at places before we came over.

Annie: [00:12:18] Yes. Le Bon Coin is the place where French people buy, sell, rent, lease, do all sorts of things. You can find anything from a cat, to a car, to anything..

Claire: [00:12:29] Anything, yes, it’s true. And lots of rentals.

Annie: [00:12:33] So yeah yeah that’s very good. OK so now they wanted proof that you had a residence and you did.

Claire: [00:12:39] Proof of sufficient means to support yourself for the time you’re going to be here.

Annie: [00:12:44] And what what’s that? What’s the proof?

Claire: [00:12:48] They wanted a letter from your bank. OK. Well, that’s what they accepted for us. We had our bank write a letter saying that we had so much money in the account and show that we had sufficient funds.

Annie: [00:13:00] Okay. And did you have to prove your retirement income, your pensions, yours things like that?

Claire: [00:13:07] We didn’t know it at the time because we had just retired. So all we had was what we had in the bank account. Which was fine because my husband had just, he had just retired and he was paid his entire amount. He was part of an employee owned company, so he got his shares. So we had…

Annie: [00:13:26] You had cash in the cash in the bank…

Claire: [00:13:28] Cash in the bank to show that we could support ourselves.

Annie: [00:13:30] And so they they trusted that. So that’s different from what I my understanding was. Because I was told by a French administrator that they couldn’t trust cash in the bank because maybe you owe it all to the IRS, maybe you owe it to somebody else, and so they wanted more. They were more after proof of regular income.

Claire: [00:13:53] You are right. I just remembered now that they did ask for more. And by that time I had received my first statement of what I would be receiving as a retiree. Yes, I did have to provide that.

Annie: [00:14:04] I think they would be happier with a pension, even if it’s not a huge pension, or a retirement income you know, something regular then knowing that you have a hundred grand in the bank because now maybe this guy’s going to just blow it all on a boat.

Claire: [00:14:23] That’s true, yeah, I can see that.

Annie: [00:14:25] So yeah. I think some people get in trouble like that, because they think all they need is lots of cash in the bank. And French administrators. I mean, yeah it’s good, especially if you’re dealing with … in America.

Annie: [00:14:41] I remember, the banker in France. Because we had just sold our house in the US and so we had, it was a good sale, we made money. And so we had all this dollar, all these dollars, though we wanted to transfer to a French bank in a dollar account, which you can do. You could do, I don’t know if you can still do that but you could. And he was like completely unimpressed. I was like, dude that’s a lot of money! And he was like “No I just want to see your husband’s regular income”. Because he had a job lined up in France, and so that’s what he cared about. The cash, is cash, it comes and goes, we don’t care. So even the banker was like that, anyway. All right. What else?

Claire: [00:15:30] You have to write a letter telling what you intend to do while you’re in France.

Annie: [00:15:34] I see!

Claire: [00:15:35] And I mean it was maybe two lines that we wrote that’s all we planned. You know we are retirees. We plan on visiting family and exploring the beautiful country. Most simple.

Annie: [00:15:49] Yeah, what are you going to say?

Claire: [00:15:49] And you have to submit also another one stating that you will not work. I will not work in France. And sign your name.

Annie: [00:15:57] Okay. Yeah. So it’s like a “déclaration sur l’honneur” or something, you know. On your honor you state these things, and then if you break that they can say “Look you said you wouldn’t”. Very good.

Claire: [00:16:10] And the application fee, which big tip here: even though the website said they accepted credit cards. They don’t, bring cash. My husband had enough cash to pay for his, because he was processed first. And then while they were processing my paperwork he ran downstairs to an ATM to get cash to pay for mine. Yeah. Wow.

Annie: [00:16:33] So how much time did this whole thing take? Did all of this happened on this one appointment?

Claire: [00:16:39] Yes if you have all your documents together for the date of your appointment, then…

Annie: [00:16:44] You’re good to go!

Claire: [00:16:44] You’re good to go. I mean, they give you it arrives a couple of weeks later a couple three weeks later in the mail, the Visa does.

Annie: [00:16:50] And they just give you your visa for one year.

Claire: [00:16:53] Yes. It was a little scary leaving our passports there with them, you know. You have to leave your passport there, and then they stamp it and put that copy of that picture that you brought with you, and stamped it and yeah, it’s all. So that was a little unnerving.

Annie: [00:17:10] Yeah yeah yeah. And so, that first year has come and gone for you?

Claire: [00:17:17] Yes.

Annie: [00:17:17] So what happened after that?

Claire: [00:17:18] When you get to France you’re required, part the paperwork they give you when they give your visa, is paperwork for the OFII the Office of Immigration. And you are supposed to fill it in as soon as you arrive in France, and send it to the local branch of the immigration office and then they eventually call you in for a an appointment where you get a medical exam and you get your sticker. You have to have your sticker validating your visa from the French side.

Annie: [00:17:50] OK. Yeah. And so what kind of medical exam is it? Is it like your general?

Claire: [00:17:55] It’s a real general checkup. I didn’t have to do it, because by that time I was able to say hey I’m French. I don’t need this. But of course my husband had to go through it. So yeah a chest x ray required. And then just says…

Annie: [00:18:09] Tuberculosis..

Claire: [00:18:10] Yep, and then it’s just a quick, you know, listen to the heart, check your blood pressure. You’re alive. OK. Good to go.

Annie: [00:18:17] Good to go. They didn’t ask you about HIV, communicable diseases, stuff like that?

Claire: [00:18:23] They asked you a history, but that’s all.

Annie: [00:18:26] You know in the U.S. they made… When I became an American citizen they made a big deal about me probably not didn’t have HIV or things like that anyway. So you know I lived this it’s going the other direction the way and every country makes this a little bit difficult. I don’t think there’s a country in the world that says hey come here it’s easy!

Claire: [00:18:50] Walk right in and sit right donw!

Annie: [00:18:51] Yeah. And so you had you had to go to this office of Immigration. What is it called again?

Claire: [00:18:58] OFFI.

Annie: [00:18:58] OFFI. Not one I’ve ever had to deal with.

Claire: [00:19:03] No! Sorry, OFIII. Office of Immigration and Integration or something, I don’t know! Off the top of my head I can’t remember.

Annie: [00:19:11] OK, so you registered with them.

Claire: [00:19:14] Yes. And because our official address was my father’s house. The letter went to my father’s house, was forwarded by my uncle. And the appointment was in Montpellier.

Annie: [00:19:25] Of course.

Claire: [00:19:25] Because that’s the closest center that my father’s address. So we had to make a long trip to Montpellier. We couldn’t call them up or email them and say we live closer to Toulouse. Could you change it? No, it doesn’t work that way.

Annie: [00:19:37] Yeah no. Once you have the appointment you go there. And so, and once you have that, what happens next?

Claire: [00:19:46] Once you have that you’re good to go until you decide whether you’re going home or going to stay.

Annie: [00:19:52] So you don’t have to renew this?

Claire: [00:19:55] Well yeah, but I mean for the year you’re good. You don’t have any other hoops no more hoops to jump.

Annie: [00:20:01] Okay. But then at the end of the year you have to renew. Yes and in that case you do it at the Préfecture?

Claire: [00:20:07] Yes. We went to the Préfecture.

note titled logistics talking about the sticker shock of paying for moving companies and selling their house
Photo Claire Armstrong

Annie: [00:20:08] And again you make an appointment online?

Claire: [00:20:12] You make an appointment online. And you make sure you have all your paperwork. They have a list also of what kind of paperwork they want. Again, proof of your income and…

Annie: [00:20:19] All of those things all over again all over again.

Claire: [00:20:23] And they were surprised because our income is just my retirement income which isn’t that big, and then they kept asking me this is it? This is all you have? But it was fine. I mean, they let us through. And when you do that when you do that, your first renewal, you get an actual card.

Annie: [00:20:42] Okay, so the Carte d’identité look alike thing.

Claire: [00:20:45] Titre de séjour.

Annie: [00:20:45] Titre de séjour. Okay, that’s what my husband has. It’s kind of pinkish. His his pinkish.

Claire: [00:20:52] Yes, it’s Pinkishy.

Annie: [00:20:53] Mine is a different hue to it. But it’s exactly like a Carte d’Identité. You have a regular Carte d’Itentité?

Claire: [00:20:59] I do right. So it’s a little bit smaller is the only thing okay I noticed his was smaller than mine.

Annie: [00:21:04] OK. All right, that works! Okay, and so you’ve had to renew it once or twice?

Claire: [00:21:10] He… Once so far. And the recommendation there is apply three months in advance.

Annie: [00:21:16] Right. Because it takes that long.

Claire: [00:21:17] It takes a long time.

Annie: [00:21:20] Hopefully eventually, he’ll be able to apply for a ten year?

Claire: [00:21:23] Yes. Right. We try to apply for his renewal under the Vie Privée, as a spouse.

Annie: [00:21:31] Right.

Claire: [00:21:32] But for some reason it confused them at the Prefecture because they looked at his visa and said his visa is a visitor’s visa. I said yes but we’re married. Yeah. And he looked at like why didn’t you take care of this in the United States? So then I had to tell the whole story again about how they told me I wasn’t French.

Annie: [00:21:50] That you weren’t French right. You weren’t French enough over there.

Claire: [00:21:53] And they even asked Well do you have documentation of that? No, they just said no and I left!

Annie: [00:21:59] See, big mistake. In France you negotiate everything. Maybe not in America because if this consular employee had lived in the U.S. for a long time, maybe it wouldn’t have worked anyway. But when you’re in France if they say no don’t leave. Just ask the question again, try to give it a different angle.

Annie: [00:22:24] Try to, you know, kind of negotiate your case: plead your case! You’re supposed to plead your case if you just say, you know, you go to a place and you say can I return this? And they say no. And you go, oh crap, and you leave. Well, you’ve made their life easy. They didn’t have to deal with you. But if they say no and you say oh really? Because you know your advertising says “satisfait ou remboursé” or whatever. You just start talking and you don’t quit talking until they give you what you want!

Claire: [00:22:58] I have taken that advice. When we called the local Maison de santé so we could get checkups done. And the first thing they said is doctors aren’t taking new patients. Well I didn’t leave it at that. I said Well you know I really need your help because we need it, we really need a doctor, can you suggest someone? Now hold on just a minute. Put on hold. Two seconds later. Get back up hold. You can see Dr. such and such at 10:30 on Monday.

Annie: [00:23:24] Exactly! In France they will almost always say no first. And then you just you know, you have to… That’s a perfect example. We’re not taking new patients. And you say well I need to see a doctor. I have a right to see a doctor.

Annie: [00:23:42] And, that’s one of the questions I wanted to ask you is if you had to use French health care yet. Yes. So do you have the carte… green thing?

Claire: [00:23:50] I personally now have a carte vitale.

Annie: [00:23:53] Carte vitale, that’s what it’s called.

Claire: [00:23:53] But I didn’t get it until January.

Annie: [00:23:57] OK, so that took a while.

Claire: [00:23:58] I’ve been here since October of 2016. So it took that long because?

Claire: [00:24:03] OK. Partly because I didn’t apply right away.

Annie: [00:24:06] OK. All right. That’s one of the things. Yeah. But I think you’re illegible pretty quickly. I think once you’ve been in the country three or four months?

Claire: [00:24:13] Three months, after three months you can apply.

Annie: [00:24:15] You can apply. It’s which is spectacular. I mean that’s like fast.

Claire: [00:24:20] It is.

Annie: [00:24:21] Yeah that’s super fast. OK. And French health care hasn’t been startling, I mean?

Claire: [00:24:27] It’s wonderful.

Annie: [00:24:31] What’s wonderful about it?

Claire: [00:24:33] It’s so much less expensive than the United States. Yeah. Honestly it’s it’s a good system. I realized. Being in the United States, I wasn’t very aware. I just heard the term “socialized medicine” and thought Ooh bad.

Annie: [00:24:50] Of course, cause it could be bad.

Claire: [00:24:51] It’s not what Americans think though. It’s not a government run medical office. It’s everything you know. The doctors are their own…

Annie: [00:24:59] They are private practitioner.

Claire: [00:25:00] Practitioners, yes.

Annie: [00:25:01] You can choose your doctor. If you don’t like your doctor, go find another one. I you live in a village you might have to drive a ways.

Claire: [00:25:08] Yes we drive.

Annie: [00:25:09] I mean, we live in a village that has a couple thousand people. There’s two or three doctors I think in the village. So, you know, we have a choice. I mean we’re close to a big city too. I mean you know it makes a difference too.

Claire: [00:25:23] Yeah. No it’s wonderful. It was kind of funny. The very first time going in you know like you describe it and I don’t know which podcast but going in. Having our little consultation and then having the doctor look at you and say that’ll be 25 euros please.

Annie: [00:25:36] Yes.

Claire: [00:25:37] And you paying him directly that was yes a little strange at first.

Annie: [00:25:41] And there’s no nurse. I suppose in your village, the doctor works by himself?

Claire: [00:25:46] Yes. There was no nurse.

Annie: [00:25:47] Right. There’s a big city.. You would have maybe it’s usually not a nurse unless it’s a specialist. So if you go see a specialist specialist will typically have a nurse that will do things that doctor doesn’t want to mess with. But they usually, if it’s a big practice, they will have receptionists. And that’s it! You know and that’s the person who answers the phone and takes the appointments and…

Claire: [00:26:12] Yeah that’s it.

Annie: [00:26:13] That’s it.

Claire: [00:26:13] That’s all we’ve encountered.

Annie: [00:26:14] Yeah. And it’s yeah it works really well and it’s cheap and it’s as you just heard you’re eligible after three months! You know you could live as an immigrant. You could go to the U.S. and live there for 50 years and still not have health care, right?

Claire: [00:26:31] Well that depends. That’s a whole different ball of wax!

Annie: [00:26:35] Yeah yeah yeah yeah, I guess that depends on a lot of things. You know I always worked. I always had like tech jobs in the US and so we always had great health insurance. But I knew some some people who were really struggling with that. So but that’s that’s just a different a different thing. OK. So we is that it. As far as the paperwork?

Claire: [00:26:56] The visas paperwork. Yeah.

Annie: [00:26:58] Tell me about getting a bank account. How did that work?

Claire: [00:27:01] That wasn’t difficult, I didn’t think. We our priority once we got here in October was the beginning of October 2016, our priority was to set up a checking account and buy a car to be mobile. Right.

Annie: [00:27:15] But you already had your Gîte by then, you already had your address.

Claire: [00:27:19] We already had our address. Yes, so.

Annie: [00:27:22] You have to start there folks you have to start with getting an address.

Claire: [00:27:25] Yes.

Claire: [00:27:25] If you don’t have a proper address with proper proof that you have this place to stay nothing else is going to work. Get started there.

Claire: [00:27:34] Yeah absolutely. We were asked for proof of residence with everything we did everywhere we went.

Annie: [00:27:39] To get a cell phone, to buy…

Claire: [00:27:41] Yes to get our cell phone, to buy the car.

Annie: [00:27:46] To buy the car, probably they want to see a proof of residence. Yes of course they do because you have to you have to do the paperwork. Yes so. Yes. Start with procuring a place to stay, a proper lease.

Claire: [00:27:56] Yes. And then make an appointment right away with your bank because you can’t just walk into a bank and open a checking account.

Annie: [00:28:02] Correct!

Claire: [00:28:03] You have to call and make an appointment. When we called I was surprised when she said…

Annie: [00:28:09] Two weeks!

Claire: [00:28:09] 11 days later.

Annie: [00:28:10] Yeah. Two weeks. That’s typical.

Claire: [00:28:12] And we were just biting our nails waiting because we knew everything depended on getting that checking account before we could even think about looking for a car.

Annie: [00:28:21] Yep yep. The wait is pretty long it’s surprising but they don’t so you can’t just waltz into a bank and open a bank account in France. No, it’s not going to happen. They will make you wait. And if you just call it… So, you know, American people get mad and call a different bank. And guess what the bank is going to do? The same thing! They will make you wait.

Claire: [00:28:43] And depending on the bank, they might say you’re American. Forget it. We don’t even want to deal with you.

Annie: [00:28:49] OK. That’s another problem because of the what is it called?

Claire: [00:28:54] FATCA.

Annie: [00:28:54] Yes. Explain you know a little bit.

Claire: [00:28:56] I don’t know what it stands for but FATCA basically is some sort of agreement between France and the United States where any assets Americans have in French bank accounts are reported. Have to be reported. So that means a bunch of extra paperwork for the French banks and some of them just don’t want to deal with it. So they won’t even open an account for you.

Annie: [00:29:17] Right. There are some French banks that will refuse you. Wemoved here before FATCA but since my husband has tried to open up I guess they were brokerage accounts? And no, they won’t open a brokerage account for an American, you know. So I can do it in my name because I’m French. But we can’t have a joint account because he, you know, he muddles everything. Yes but I’m an American too, but they don’t ask me that because I’m French and I sound French and they have no way to know, you know.

Annie: [00:29:53] And the other thing you have to know is as an American living in France you’re supposed to file taxes in America, and if your income is large enough you will have to pay taxes in America which a lot of Americans, you know, try to forget about that. And they move to France and they never file again, and…

Claire: [00:30:12] Not a good plan.

Annie: [00:30:14] Not a good plan because when you want to renew your passport or…

Claire: [00:30:18] Collect social security once you get that age.

Annie: [00:30:22] Yep, they are going to give you problems so you are supposed to file even if you don’t owe. You’re supposed to file every year which is a pain in the behind. But what we’ve done is we’ve kept our CPA in the U.S. The same CPA that helped us when we lived there is still doing our taxes. We just, she just had to learn all these things having to do with expats, because it changes some things but it’s working out. It’s it’s been very good for us. And I would recommend you keep doing your taxes the way you’ve been doing them just as somebody who lives abroad.

Claire: [00:31:01] Exactly yeah. You don’t want to lose any any of your benefits of being a United States citizen.

Annie: [00:31:06] Right. It’s a pain but it’s it’s the rule that’s you know I. As a French person who lived in America for 18 years, I never had to file taxes in France. But Americans have a you know it’s a privilege to do all these things.

Claire: [00:31:26] And there’s it’s set up so that you can’t be double taxed.

Annie: [00:31:31] Exactly.

Claire: [00:31:32] You just have to learn your way around how to work that system.

Annie: [00:31:34] So do you do that yourself or if you hired somebody to help you with that?

Claire: [00:31:38] We haven’t hired anybody yet, we were going to try and… We did our first one ourselves because we decided just to the system and get a number right that we would go ahead and submit paperwork. So we were only here October November December we didn’t have enough of an income for them to want to take anything. But at least we were in the system. This year we can apply online whereas the first time you apply you have to apply paperwork style, so.

Annie: [00:32:03] Right now you have to file in France too.

Claire: [00:32:07] Yeah that’s what I mean. I’ve been filing in France. Yeah. We filed our American tax papers just like we always did. Yeah. We just filed in France so that we would be in the system.

Annie: [00:32:17] Yeah. And I found the French tax people not to be that difficult. I don’t know. I only went to a couple of times, because they were missing this or that or they wanted this or that. And they were pleasant about it. I don’t know. I was surprised. I was thinking oh my god this is France and this is tax people. It’s going to be awful.

Claire: [00:32:36] I thought the same thing, but when I took my paperwork in and of course my stuff was my income is still from the United States. I don’t know if people realize that you’re you and if you’re living in France you are taxed on your worldwide income. So yeah I don’t earn anything here because I don’t choose to work here and my income does come from the states. But I have to report that. And so all my paperwork was in English and I thought oh boy I can just hear how somebody is going to want an official translation or something.

Claire: [00:33:02] Nope, she asked me one question about one item on one of the pages and other than that she was fine.

Annie: [00:33:08] Yeah. No I was surprised how easy that was for us as well. So if you are planning to move to France, don’t, you know, don’t stress too much about that. It’s probably going to go pretty easy. So. OK. You go down the rest of your lifts if you have more. But I have a few questions for you too.

Claire: [00:33:26] OK. No that was my list for what requirements for the visa. I was thinking that you know timelines. Like I said you have to you know think about you want to do all this stuff ahead of time you don’t want to wait for the last minute to be applying for your visa to get over here. You know and…

Annie: [00:33:43] So it took you, from the moment you went to the website and and applied for an appointment maybe you couldn’t get an appointment right away?

Claire: [00:33:52] Yeah I had to watch the web site until there was an appointment time open. I knew when I wanted to go, but it was more than 30 days out so I had to watch when it tripped over so that… When I went on the website and they list the dates that are available they only go to certain points so a week later you get on you see the calendar has been extended. So I was…

Annie: [00:34:13] You were watching what they they’re doing. Yes. But that didn’t take months. I mean it probably took a few weeks.

Claire: [00:34:20] No, it took a few weeks.

Annie: [00:34:20] And then they did you have to wait a long time for your appointment?

Claire: [00:34:24] It was about it was almost a full 30 days out.

Annie: [00:34:27] OK. Right.

Claire: [00:34:28] They get booked up really fast.

Annie: [00:34:29] OK so maybe that’s 60 days. And by then you had done…

Claire: [00:34:34] You should have a good cushion between when you apply and when you fly because, you know, you want to have the visa show up in your house before you get on the plane.

Annie: [00:34:45] Right. And that took you three or four weeks to get the visa?

Claire: [00:34:48] Yeah, mine came in like three weeks… Two and a half to three weeks. And we had purposely scheduled our visa appointment for a month before a month and three days I think it was. So we were good.

Annie: [00:35:01] So if you woke up one morning and said “That’s it I’m moving to France” Really it’s not going to happen legally for another three months at least at least if that’s if everything happens as fast as…

Claire: [00:35:12] And you have to give yourself more time anyway. We had a house and a car and a motorhome and two motorcycles to sell.

Claire: [00:35:18] Right. You want to sell your stuff. Is that what you did or did you did you pack it all up in a big moving whatever. We packed part of our house up. My husband said taken forever for us to get just the right kind of mattress for our bed. Got in the right system, and he said I am not giving up my bed. You know if you’re going to ship the bed you’re going to ship…

Annie: [00:35:42] Other things.

Claire: [00:35:43] Other things. So we went with the smallest container which was a 20 footer. And then we got rid of everything else. So we just kept what we could fit in a 20 foot container. And and of course, all our electrical appliances except for computers and tablets had to be sold because you can’t bring those over. Unless you want to mess…

Annie: [00:36:04] Have a transformer.

Claire: [00:36:05] Transformer messes.

Annie: [00:36:08] Yeah I had my… We do use a transformer to this day because I have I have a Bosch bread-maker. Oh I just love that thing. So I have. I’ll show you afterwards. I have a I have a transformer built into my kitchen. I just turn it on and it’s 110 that comes out of there but I use it occasionally, I use it for if I want. I have this American drip coffee thing that… Occasionally I just want that coffee and not another one. It tastes different, I don’t know why it does. Yeah. And so occasionally I take that out. So I’ll use it for coffee.

Annie: [00:36:45] Oh we used this for the piano too. We had a digital piano that was really nice expensive Roland piano and so that was on the 110 for a long time. But it’s since died and so we got a French one. Anyway there’s a few things like that that we did but I wouldn’t recommend it for most things. It’s pain having to deal with the 110 – 220 thing. By now most of our appliances are all French. You know we’ve been in France for 13 years. Something like that. So you know you can you do replace stuff after a while.

Claire: [00:37:16] Yeah. We didn’t want to mess with the Transformers stuff. You know I had read people warning not to bother with them. You know if you can avoid it just don’t even mess with it.

Annie: [00:37:26] It really doesn’t work well with anything that has a compressor or anything that has moving parts. Because it’s not just the power it’s also the cycles are different. Your husband’s an electrician, he probably could explain. I can’t explain it, but I’ve been told it would destroy your stuff. So you know.

Claire: [00:37:44] So don’t bother.

Annie: [00:37:45] Yeah don’t.

Claire: [00:37:47] So yeah, we sold a lot of stuff. But that’s another thing. If you do decide to ship, expect sticker shock when you go to a moving company to find out how much it’s going to cost to ship. Even with the smallest container the 20-footer, it was expensive.

Annie: [00:38:02] We paid twelve thousand they think for a 40 foot. Years ago.

Claire: [00:38:06] We paid 11000 for a 20 foot.

Annie: [00:38:08] Yeah, recently.

Claire: [00:38:10] Recently. So that tells you…

Annie: [00:38:12] Yeah the prices have gone up and they have to pack everything for you.

Claire: [00:38:16] I would, or you wouldn’t be covered by the insurance.

Annie: [00:38:18] Right. And we’ve been told by we know somebody who works for the customs in France and they said anybody who moves in from the U.S. We don’t want guns coming in. So that’s why it has to be professionally packed. And then if you are bringing guns, they are declared, we know what you’re doing and you’re not going to be a smuggler, you know. So that’s what he told me. I don’t know.

Claire: [00:38:44] Very picky, yeah.

Annie: [00:38:44] Yeah there’s some there are some some restrictions on that. OK.

Claire: [00:38:49] They’re very picky. I mean… Wouldn’t we even though we went through a movers and so they provided paperwork to help facilitate the whole process. I’m holding up the folder…

Annie: [00:38:58] I’ll take a picture of you with your folder later.

Claire and Tony's black labrador mix sitting patiently next to their table where they are enjoying a coffee
Claire and Tony’s world-traveling dog. Photo Claire Armstrong.

Claire: [00:39:01] This is one of the three. We had one folder for all the movers it’s tough because you go through a whole list of paperwork some of it is the same as the visa paperwork but some is different. You go through a big pile paperwork to move, that has to accompany your shipment. Then we had another folder that was all the visa related stuff. And then we had a third folder that was all related to getting our dog over here.

Annie: [00:39:24] Ah yes yes the dog yes we did the same thing we brought a dog. And in the end I decided to hire a consultant who did nothing but move dogs because it was too complicated. I couldn’t figure it out you figured it out by yourself?

Claire: [00:39:37] It was easy. Really really comes down to it was really easy. It was only three requirements that they have a checkup within a week to two weeks of flying. They have their rabies and a chip right.

Annie: [00:39:49] The thing that was complicated is that there were no direct flights between Salt Lake City and anywhere in France. But now there is one. Now there’s a Salt Lake Paris direct and that was a complication because to transfer the dog between… The dog had to fly to San Francisco and then Air France to Paris and then from Paris to Toulouse. And my sister was going to pick up the dog in Toulouse.

Annie: [00:40:13] And that was just it was just complicated because we wanted the dog to arrive before we did. We wanted her to… We wanted to make sure she was going to be OK. I don’t know. I didn’t want to be flying at the same time as my dog as I was. I would have worried about it constantly so I just thought OK we’ll ship her a few days before we go. She’ll arrive she’ll be in my sisters hands, and then we fly which is what we did and it worked out.

Annie: [00:40:38] But the dog was completely insane. She was freaked out. She was like this 1 year old standard poodle and she was like nuts. My sister said I have never met a dog so clingy. She immediately bonded to my sister wouldn’t leave her side. You know just, she was afraid.

Claire: [00:40:57] I can imagine, that was really very traumatic.

Annie: [00:40:59] Yeah, she was really freaked out.

Claire: [00:41:01] We didn’t even want to do that. We were concerned about ours. So, Air France is the only ones that do this. Just so you know, but you can fly Air France flights they have up to four spots for a dog in a special area of the cabin. I mean I’m sorry that the of the underneath, the “soute”. They have a special area set aside, so on their passenger flight.

Annie: [00:41:25] OK. But can you have access to that while the dog is flying?

Claire: [00:41:30] No, you can’t, no. But you know the dog’s with you. So you see the dog right up until…

Annie: [00:41:34] You see the dog being loaded…

Claire: [00:41:36] Loaded on the plane, and you’re right there at the dog was right there at baggage claim when we got off the plane ready to go.

Annie: [00:41:42] That’s really good. Yeah, if you’re shipping a dog, do it Air France.

Claire: [00:41:48] Absolutely.

Annie: [00:41:49] Do it Air France, don’t do the other ones. And that’s what the consultant told me is you know you’re going to France this is good. We know they are very good with the animals. They’re very careful. They do the best they can to make sure there are no accidents, whatever. The dog was freaked out. But you know…

Annie: [00:42:04] And our dog was fine. Yeah, yours was fine?

Claire: [00:42:07] There was the 3 dog crates sitting there in the oversize baggage area in Paris. And we walked up to it and she just looked up at us and started wagging tail. And that was it.

Annie: [00:42:17] Oh, I’m happy to see you again! How did you see you.

Claire: [00:42:18] Happy to see you, but she didn’t go crazy…

Annie: [00:42:20] But she was an adult dog.

Claire: [00:42:22] Oh yeah she was 4… 3 years old, 3.5.

Annie: [00:42:24] Yeah yeah yeah. And not a poodle.

Claire: [00:42:27] And not a poodle, yeah. She’s a lab cross, so.

Annie: [00:42:30] They are a lot more settled. Standard poodles, young standard poodles are kangaroos.

Claire: [00:42:36] But just so you know, it is possible. Unfortunately for us they quit flying, Air France quit flying out of Minneapolis. Which was where we originally going to fly out of. And let their partner do it, and they don’t carry.

Annie: [00:42:50] They don’t offer that.

Claire: [00:42:52] So we ended up renting a car so we could drive to Chicago so we could get by plane as our dog. It is doable. You just have to check into it. Yeah, definitely Air France.

Annie: [00:43:02] I would arrange that if I could.

Annie: [00:43:04] So OK. So what is the most painful part of moving to France for you?

Claire: [00:43:10] Painful? Aside from just leaving people?

Annie: [00:43:13] OK well that’s you know that’s that’s one thing that’s you have to consider because you’re excited to move. But then you to when it’s a reality you’re like oh crap.

Claire: [00:43:24] We’re really doing this. No it wasn’t really that hard to leave because with today’s technology we’re in contact with the kids all the time. But you know the last few days of work when when you realize that you know you’re not going to be seeing these people anymore. And then your last few days with your friends and family at the states. That makes you a little you know. Give you a little teary eyed, but you’re excited at the same time.

Annie: [00:43:50] Right. And for me it was very difficult because we left this beautiful big house and we ended up in a pretty pitiful looking rental house, and I wasn’t happy about that. We had sold it too. So it was final. And I was like oh my god, what have I done? It really hit me hard, the first six months I would just wake up in the night thinking, what have I done? And I’m French!

Claire: [00:44:16] I was going to say because we haven’t. We’ve been just…

Annie: [00:44:18] You haven’t had that?

Claire: [00:44:19] We’ve had big smiles on our faces ever since we’ve been here.

Annie: [00:44:21] Yeah. See my husband, it was easier on him than on me. I don’t know for me, I had all these expectations, and some of them didn’t turn out to be real and they didn’t come true. And so it was, the first six months were emotionally a little bit difficult for me. But it’s not for most people it’s not like that. So it just depends on the personality. You don’t know how you’re going to react. You just…

Claire: [00:44:43] I suppose for us it’s the newness of everything.

Annie: [00:44:48] And I found life in France to be really slow.

Claire: [00:44:51] Yes, that’s the great part about it!

Annie: [00:44:55] You know, Americans I always go go go go go, you schedule way too much then much more than you can do, and you come to France and you’re like [exhale sound]. Nothing’s happening.

Claire: [00:45:09] Somebody drives by your front window. Hey!there’s somebody in town!

Annie: [00:45:13] But of course we both moved to a village.

Claire: [00:45:15] We did, yes.

Annie: [00:45:17] So how far away are you from Rodez?

Claire: [00:45:19] 50 minute drive.

Annie: [00:45:20] 50 so you’re further away. We’re just 20 minutes from Toulouse. So it’s it’s a little… We’re quickly into the city, but it’s a very you know I mean it’s a sleepy little village. And at first we didn’t know anybody, obviously, and everybody knew who we were. Let me tell you if if I told somebody to send you a letter and say the Americans and the name of the village the letter would get to me because…

Claire: [00:45:46] It’s true! Everyone knows!

Annie: [00:45:48] They know exactly what who we are. And now that I’ve got you know I’ve been here a long time now, that I’ve talked to many people and I walk dogs all the time. So I talk to people. I just tell them Yeah I’m I’m french like, and they’re like yeah you speak really good French. I’m like, I’m just as French as you are!

Claire: [00:46:09] I got commented on how how great my English is.

Annie: [00:46:15] Oh yes that happens to us. That happens to my… to my husband as well. Oh, you speak really good English. Yeah I do. Okay so nothing was really painful.

Claire: [00:46:28] Giving up our motorcycles, maybe. But no. All in all, no.

Annie: [00:46:33] You could get more motorcycles here.

Claire: [00:46:35] I know, but the restrictions on what size you can get in your first licence and all.

Annie: [00:46:40] That is true. Is it different. Yeah yeah yeah.

Claire: [00:46:44] We’ve got we’ve got plenty of other things we can do, so…

Annie: [00:46:48] What was a pleasant surprise?

Claire: [00:46:50] Pleasant surprise. Oh my goodness. How much less expensive it was to live here. Now I know that’s not going to be the same for everyone in Paris it would be completely different. But overall because we live in a rural area it is. And we came from a rural area, much less expensive overall to live.

Annie: [00:47:11] And also French life is not super commercial so…Like Americans buy products, they buy things, they change… Like when I go visit my friends in America. I swear to god every time I go they’ve changed their TV, their sound systems, they’ve… Every year it’s all new. And in France, you buy TV, you keep it until it dies. You know I mean it’s like. So it’s not at all the same. You’re not tempted by things like I don’t know about you, but I hardly buy anything.

Claire: [00:47:48] No, we don’t, we don’t either. And if you are going to keep that habit, American habit here then know that’ll be expensive. I mean, that’s where you spend your money is on appliances and electronics and toys.

Annie: [00:48:03] Those are expensive. They’re more expensive here. Things that are cheaper. Like my cell phone plan is super cheap compared to my American friends.

Claire: [00:48:11] Super cheap, amazingly cheap. We have our cell phone, our Internet our TV, and our landline phone all wrapped into one. Less than a hundred dollars per month, people.

Annie: [00:48:22] And you can call America all we want all you want. It’s Yeah. It’s the same, I could call you know I can call international I can do anything like it’s all included and it’s and I pay, for just my phone. We don’t have an all inclusive package like that, but my phone my cell service is like 18 dollars a month. 18 euros sorry a month and you know it’s quite cheap it’s great. I don’t need anymore. So and if I do it now if I go anywhere else in Europe I don’t even roam.

Claire: [00:48:50] There you go. Really good. Yeah. In the states they’ve got the straight talk phones which are the cheap phones you get through Wal-Mart and that’s still forty five dollars a month for unlimited. So, that tells you!

Annie: [00:49:02] I’m shocked every time people tell me how much they pay for you know like, all this stuff.

Claire: [00:49:11] Other people’s reactions though. When we told them that we were actually going to go to France. I mean we’re not this is we’d like to some day we are actually moving to France. We got two responses the first ones were maybe half would say Oh wow cool. The other half would say why? They and even if we explained why they just they give you this quizzical look. Yeah. That doesn’t compute. I don’t understand why you would want to do something like that.

Annie: [00:49:38] Yeah, but these same people might not understand if you wanted to move to another state, maybe. You know maybe they’re just so settled in their way that, I’m happy where I am.

Claire: [00:49:50] America is a great big wonderful country why would you want to leave it? Maybe you do.

Annie: [00:49:55] I’ve had French people tell me you lived in America. Why did you come back? I’ve had that question lots of times. And I just tell them you know what. No country is perfect. This one isn’t perfect, America is not perfect. Somethings about France are wonderful, some things are just and are you know annoying. But you have to choose you have to live somewhere you know. Pick a place and if it doesn’t suit you, move on. But I think the experience of moving is fabulous. I’m really glad I did it. But at first I was like shocked how different things were than what I expected. Because I thought I was going back to being a child, I guess. You know because my parents took care of everything except me because I was pretty much when I left France I was I was a late teen. Mom and dad was still doing everything for me, so.

Claire: [00:50:47] I was going to suggest some books.

Annie: [00:50:50] Oh good.

Claire: [00:50:52] Have to bring them up real quick. We also made extensive use of the Web site You can ask it just about any question about moving to France and somebody on there will have good knowledge. I relied on them many times. Plus, I used four books which I constantly went back to. living in France Made Simple by Tanja Bulatovic.

Annie: [00:51:21] OK I’ll put links to them and I’ll show notes.

Claire: [00:51:23] Living abroad in France by Aurelia d’Andrea, and Retiring in France by David Hampshire. And then there’s a small one a mini one isn’t. It’s a small one. You don’t need to spend the money on if you don’t want to. Kind of gives the overview and it’s called relocating to France.

Annie: [00:51:42] Oh, very good very good. That’s good to have to know that these resources are out there.

Claire: [00:51:49] What I liked about them is they had like checklists and things to keep in mind. And gave you an idea of when you arrive your can and you have your house you know you need to call EDF. Who to call for water. Who to call for electricity.

Annie: [00:52:03] EDF is the power power company and they change names now it’s…

Claire: [00:52:09] Enedis.

Annie: [00:52:09] Yeah it’s depending on where you are. I don’t remember what it is. We had a power outage and people showed up and I was like your truck doesn’t say EDF.

Claire: [00:52:19] I don’t trust you or not.

Annie: [00:52:22] It was pretty obvious that they were going to do. But yeah it’s changed a lot. But yeah you need to know how to get your ducks in a row because you definitely want water and power and sewer and all that stuff set up quickly. We lived at my sister’s house for a month waiting while waiting for a container. But you didn’t do that you went straight to your Gîte.

Claire: [00:52:45] We went straight to our Gîte while waiting for our container and it was supposed to arrive in November, so we rented a garage. It did not arrive on time. We moved into our place on December 1st. Well technically we could move in, but we had nothing yet. So finally showed up December 7th and we shipped it. It was packed up on August 11th.

Annie: [00:53:10] Oh wow.

Claire: [00:53:11] It sat on the docks in Marseille for quite a while.

Annie: [00:53:14] So August 11th through December 5th?

Claire: [00:53:17] 7th. Technically it didn’t get shipped until September. They just came and picked it up earlier and had it ready to go.

Annie: [00:53:26] Right. And you flew to France when?

Claire: [00:53:29] October 4th.

Annie: [00:53:31] Right. So your house is all packed. You’ve sold your stuff, your house back home is empty. Well we’re all empty and sold and whatever. And you’re in limbo for several months. That’s kind of difficult to take emotionally for some people.

Claire: [00:53:46] Oh yeah we were in. We lived out of our two suitcases each one large one small for four months straight. Right before we left the two months after I got here. Yes.

Annie: [00:53:57] And then if you’re going to sell the house that introduces new complication. Not everybody wants to do that, but, it’s…

Claire: [00:54:05] For us my best friend in the whole wide world took us into her home so we spent two months at her place, so we didn’t have the hassle of long term hotel, or what do we do. But there’s something to consider.

Annie: [00:54:18] Right. And so when you when you arrived in France did you go to a hotel?

Claire: [00:54:21] When we arrived…

Annie: [00:54:22] Or with your family?

Claire: [00:54:23] We actually came straight down here. I mean we stayed in a hotel on our way down, driving down but we came straight to the Gîte.

Annie: [00:54:29] But you didn’t have a bed or anything.

Claire: [00:54:31] It was furnished.

Annie: [00:54:32] Oh the Gîte was furnished! OK good.

Claire: [00:54:34] Aren’t they all?

Annie: [00:54:35] Yeah probably.

Claire: [00:54:37] OK. I thought they were,.

Annie: [00:54:38] Probably.

Claire: [00:54:39] They had everything we needed, everything. Everything you had. Yeah ok dishes. Dishware and glasses and the platters and you know a little place to sit, and a nice TV the TV that they had there even had closed captioning or subtitles in English for Tony, so that was nice. Yes. Good.

Annie: [00:54:58] So yeah I need to ask you about your French. How vital is it to speak French?

Claire: [00:55:03] It is super vital to speak French. My husband says all the time. I can’t imagine being here, if you didn’t speak French. So many things you have to do. All the administrative things, all the things you have to get set up aside, from the energy company which does have people who speak English. Everything is in French.

Annie: [00:55:20] And if you mean that’s like 101. You don’t want to learn French, don’t come. We have a good friend who has lived in France forever and her French is really really basic and she gets away with it. But she’s the only one I’ve ever met. But she lives in a big city and so probably that’s that’s a difference. But otherwise it’s so hard. But her husbands speaks French. See that’s probably the thing her husband probably takes care of things that when she can’t do it. So, at least one of you needs to speak French.

Annie: [00:55:52] Exactly. Exactly. Tony had an MRI done the other day and so I had to go into the room initially can’t couldn’t stay there of course. But I had to go in the room initially to get the instructions from the technician translated for him. So when he was supposed to do.

Annie: [00:56:08] Yeah right. Because they tell you to breathe, not breathe, whatever. Yeah yeah. All right. What advice would you have for people in terms of choosing where to move to in France? Picking a good area.

Claire: [00:56:23] A couple of those books that I mentioned talk about that too. It really is there’s so many variables. It depends on what you like to do. Yeah it depends on whether you prefer city life or rural life. Yes it depends on whether you’re willing to kind of strike out and be the token American in hundreds of kilometers around you, or not. Whether you are brave enough or whether you want to be in a community where there’s a lot of English speakers you know you know that’s the case. You move to the Dordogne where you know everybody speaks English.

Annie: [00:56:56] Dordogne or Provence or Paris would have the most English speakers. There are places in France where there’s hardly any Americans, like La Picardie, areas not so far from Paris. But you know like a couple of hundred kilometres really from Paris surrounding it there’s no American.

Claire: [00:57:16] No we haven’t encountered any Americans anywhere near us either although there are a number of Brits. So there are Brits around.

Annie: [00:57:25] Yeah we here in Toulouse, we have a fairly large contingent of Americans and British boats. There’s some but it’s because it’s Airbus town so… A lot of them don’t stay very long but I’ll be interviewing a couple who moved to France as well and they chose to lose because… It just it’s really important for you to think about what you want. And I’m sure if you’re moving you’re going to do this. But sometimes people aren’t thoughtful enough about stuff and they end up in a situation that doesn’t suit them Like you know there’s parts of France that are really small rural that they’ll never really be accepting. Like they’ll never integrate you because they’re not used to having foreigners at all, of any nationality. It’s not that they are mean or anything it’s just it doesn’t come into their brains that you know. And I’m sure there’s places like that in America too.

Claire: [00:58:29] Oh yeah.

Annie: [00:58:30] So pick places wisely you have to know what you are comfortable with.

Claire: [00:58:36] Do your research definitely.

Annie: [00:58:37] The climate too. I mean there’s places that are cold and wet.

Claire: [00:58:40] Well that’s definitely what we were considering. My family of origin lived farther down south near you know around the Nîmes between Nîmes and the Mediterranean. They’re spread around down there, and we knew that we did not want to live down there because it’s ridiculously hot and humid in the summer.

Annie: [00:58:58] Yes.

Claire: [00:59:00] So yes definitely your weather references yesterday. So we picked where we because the weather was more moderate and it was close enough that we could visit family when we wanted to. Not have them show up on our doorstep when we did not do you know. Close enough. And yet we had the weather we wanted. We had the you know the size of a town we want.

Annie: [00:59:24] And the Aveyron is beautiful. It’s a beautiful beautiful place.

Claire: [00:59:26] It’s gorgeous we’re up in the northern corner. So you know you take a few, you drive your car maybe three kilometers or if you’re in the Cantal or the other direction and you’re in the Lot. It’s a pretty corner.

Annie: [00:59:38] It’s a pretty pretty area and, I mean most places. There’s not very many places in France that I wouldn’t consider scenic but that one is particularly scenic I think it’s very nice. Hills and all sorts of really nice stuff. You mentioned buying a car. Do you have any tips for that? Did you buy it on Le bon coin?

Claire: [00:59:57] No, we did… We went to a car dealership “occasion” in Rodez, a used car dealership in Rodez. And walked around the lot. We had again, we had researched and thought about what we wanted. We didn’t look on Le bon coin, but we didn’t buy. We didn’t want to deal with it.

Annie: [01:00:13] Because that’s like a person to person that’s a personal sell so you have no recourse really I don’t exactly.

Claire: [01:00:20] So we wanted to deal with the dealership but we wanted to have a good idea of what was available and what we thought we wanted. And we found you know what we were looking for a used car lot. You have to we put a… I think it was 500 euros down on the one we picked. Then you have to go to your bank and get everything set up for the, you know, to get it paid for. Even if you’re paying you know quote unquote cash. You know if you’re paying upfront for the whole thing right you still have to go to your bank get that all arranged and then the week a week later you pick up your car.

Claire: [01:00:54] So it’s not like in the states where you could conceivably walk in in the morning and drive out in the afternoon. It won’t happen no.

Annie: [01:01:02] Okay so we’ve done that several times because I have a brother in law who sells cars and so whenever I’ve wanted car a car I just walk in there and pick one and walk out with it. And then later we do all the paperwork. So I drive on his dealership plates and stuff for a while. And he’s fine with it because he knows I’m not a lunatic. But you know it’s just, they wouldn’t trust you to do that. Most not nobody else would.

empty room and sticker that says "our house"
Claire and Tony’s empty house in America. Photo Claire Armstrong.

Claire: [01:01:29] So don’t expect to be able to drive off the lot with it.

Annie: [01:01:32] No no it takes a while. Everything takes a long time in France. You know we’re not right now right now society. If you call to make an appointment, probably it’ll be two weeks you know. But the thing that Americans think that is not true is that if you have a medical emergency you have to wait. No you don’t.

Annie: [01:01:51] If there’s a medical emergency your doctor… If you go to the doctors and listen to your heart and he goes something’s wrong with that person’s ticker, you’re going to be going straight from the doctor’s office to the cardiologist. Now. You know, and they will fit you in it now. So don’t, all the stuff you hear in America about socialized medicine being you know super slow, and you’ll die before they see you. No no no no no not like that!

Claire: [01:02:16] Not here!

Annie: [01:02:17] And I’m not here not like that. Yeah.

Annie: [01:02:20] What do you wish you knew before you came, before you did this? Anything you wish you knew?

Claire: [01:02:27] Oh my goodness that’s a good question because, I mean, we really did our homework. We were studying for at least a couple of years before we actually did it.

Annie: [01:02:32] Yeah, you read books. You went online, you did all this expat stuff.

Claire: [01:02:37] We did lots of research. Yes. So we would know what we were in for and could plan for it. I can’t think of anything, except a minor thing that I’ve been accused of having an accent when I speak French. And I have to laugh because the first time she said, I thought she meant I had an American accent and I was going to be just I was angry. And almost because…

Annie: [01:03:00] No, you don’t sound like a typical American person. No no. I mean we’ve spoken French a little bit, but.

Claire: [01:03:05] Yeah but no I speak French. I say my French “R” the right way.

Annie: [01:03:09] Yeah yeah.

Claire: [01:03:09] And it finally dawned on me after our mayor told me, I oh that was the other thing. Integrate to get involved in activities locally and integrate.

Annie: [01:03:18] Yes. So how did you do that?

Claire: [01:03:20] I worked with children before I retired, so I missed them. And I mentioned that I actually went to the mayor and asked for a list of the local associations. And she told me what they were. And then she, the last one she mentioned was they, it’s not an association per se, but they have what they call the “activités périscolaires” which is basically extracurricular activity.

Annie: [01:03:43] Yes.

Claire: [01:03:44] And so they have volunteers who take turns coming in for these activities and sharing their expertise, or just being a helping hand or whatever. You know the theme is for that week. So I said oh that’s for me. So I jumped into that.

Annie: [01:03:58] And what do you do with the kids?

Claire: [01:04:01] See last year I just kind of was more of a helping hand with some art activities and some… When springtime came in we did some walking around looking at plants and…

Annie: [01:04:13] They always want people to supervise yeah.

Claire: [01:04:15] This year I volunteered to do a segment of taekwondo with the kids.

Annie: [01:04:21] Oh fun!

Claire: [01:04:22] So we did that in November.

Annie: [01:04:24] They haven’t hired you to do the English yet?

Claire: [01:04:27] No I actually one of the teachers is the school. Elementary School has pretty good English started counting in English for me while we were doing taekwondo without me even asking them to let you. Yeah yeah yeah. So definitely. So yeah I get involved so we’ve done that we’ve joined a local hiking club I’ve doing and joined the local dance group “danse folklorique”.

Annie: [01:04:56] And you get the costumes and everything.

Claire: [01:04:58] No we don’t have costumes it’s just learning the dances for fun and then getting together and dancing and dancing and oh and gym gym class in town so I go to the weekly gym class. What other reason huh.

Annie: [01:05:15] How big of a village is it?

Claire: [01:05:17] Small. Three hundred fifty. That’s pretty small. Yeah. It’s very small. We have…

Annie: [01:05:24] And you have other villages nearby?

Claire: [01:05:26] A bar.

Annie: [01:05:26] One bar?

Claire: [01:05:27] One bar that’s it.

Annie: [01:05:27] No bakery?

Claire: [01:05:29] No, bread truck comes twice a week.

Annie: [01:05:32] OK. All right.

Claire: [01:05:34] Meat truck once a week. You don’t have like the groomers truck and the haircut truck and all that?

Claire: [01:05:39] No.

Annie: [01:05:40] Our village gets those. Oh yeah and we’re so close to the city.

Claire: [01:05:45] I haven’t seen anybody like that.

Annie: [01:05:47] Yeah we have we have this lady who cuts hair in her little van. And it’s the same old guys that go all the time. My village is bigger so we have two actual hairdressers, and we have some doctors, we have a bakery, we have a restaurant, we have, I mean, we have several you know businesses. And there’s a village that’s 6000. That’s a small city at that point. Right close to us as well. So we were closer to the city so we get more of these types of services.

Claire: [01:06:19] We’re 12 kilometers away from Decazeville, which is a decent sized city. So you know we go into town.

Annie: [01:06:25] Decazeville, mining town. Well, used to be much to a mining town. All mining has stopped in France pretty much anything. But yeah see that would be my… I would want to bakery. I need my bread.

Claire: [01:06:41] The “épisserie” is six kilometers down the road.

Annie: [01:06:45] Yeah, too far.

Annie: [01:06:46] Okay so, our village has a little “épisserie” that’s like really pretty bad, and we rarely go. But the next village over they opened a Spar. And that Spar even has a Betty cheese section inside. Betty is an “affineur de fromage” it’s pretty good. It’s like it’s good cheese. So if we want you know, if we’re invited to dinner or something, and we want to bring cheese and a bottle of wine we can go to Betty and get that. And you know you always get, you know, good stuff there. So that’s been a good addition. So sometimes, even in a even in a village you get you know good stuff.

Annie: [01:07:26] All right. I think I’ve asked you all my questions.

Claire: [01:07:28] We kind of jumped all over the place, didn’t we?

Annie: [01:07:32] We kind of did. It’s OK. That’s ok. It’ll be transcribed. I’m not sure what episode number this is going to be. I’m going to be doing several episodes about moving to France. We have one already. That was the couple who moved to France for just one year. And now we’re going to have this one. There’s a couple other people I want to talk to, so I’ll do a whole group of episodes that have to do with moving to France. Because that title “Join us in France”, a lot of people think it has to do with moving to France.

Claire: [01:08:06] I didn’t even think of that.

Annie: [01:08:07] Yeah yeah. Yeah I get a lot of questions like that. Or can you help me, I’m moving to France. I know I can help you. But we also talk about a lot of other things. It’s mostly travel most of the time but…

Annie: [01:08:18] One one question I didn’t ask you is why didn’t you move to France before you retired? Because you’re french. You could work here.

Claire: [01:08:25] It never even dawned on me to tell you the truth. Well I’d have to admit part of the reason why is because I was in a teaching profession. So leaving earlier would have been giving up my pension. I’ve been kind of dumb. So technically I could’ve worked here. But no, it’s just kind of one of those things where I was just living as an American not even thinking about my Frenchness in that way. Just that. Wouldn’t it be nice to retire in France one day? This was in 2012 when that question came out loud. And from that time on it the seed was planted.

Annie: [01:09:02] And your husband is game even though he doesn’t. I mean he doesn’t have any two France besides you. Know he doesn’t have any ties to France, right?

Claire: [01:09:09] Right. Right. He loves it he loves it. Any time you ask him how he likes France he gets a big big smile on his face you know.

Annie: [01:09:16] So that’s great that it worked out for both of you. That’s really good. Yeah I think people need to be aware of the fact that finding a job in France is really really difficult. And so, if you’re… Either you… It’s going to be easier if you are retiring in France or if your employer will transfer you to a French contract. Or I suppose if you are somebody who makes enough of an income as a freelancer as well as on online work from anywhere. But freelance income is going to be a little bit difficult to justify that you have enough. Like you had to justify that you had enough income. I’m not sure if they would really consider freelance income as enough of a sure thing. I don’t know.

Claire: [01:10:03] You’re probably right.

Annie: [01:10:04] If if any other people listening have done that move to France as a freelancer, I mean long term. OK. Not just for one year because that’s different but if you move to France and you have been able to stay, when you or are both you and your partner are both freelancers. I’d be curious to know. Because that would be… The great thing about being a freelancer in France is, if you pull it off, you have health insurance. Everybody has health insurance in France. Freelancer not freelance or whatever. You know everybody gets in. You might have to wait a few months but in those few months like you said you pay 25 euros to the doctor.

Claire: [01:10:41] Exactly. It’s cheap. You know we went to the cardiologist. It was 51.

Annie: [01:10:46] Right. Yeah. Yeah. So even if you pay out of pocket, it’s not going to break the bank like it would in America. So don’t you know. Don’t sweat it too much. Like it’s a specialist. I’ve paid as much as 75 for a specialist, but you know.

Claire: [01:11:02] That’s still crazy cheap compared to compared to what we’re paying. Right before we left for our checkups right.

Annie: [01:11:08] And you heard French people complain about French health care? That it’s because they’ve had… Now they have to go… They have to pay for a drug that they didn’t used to or something.

Claire: [01:11:18] Oh yeah I’ve heard those little complaints.

Annie: [01:11:20] They are constantly complaining about that. It just kills me. They’re like, oh yeah, I used to get this eye drop, and it was free, and now I have to pay two euros for it. It SUCKS! They’re so mad, they’re like, oh the health care system is going to hell in a hand basket.

Claire: [01:11:36] They don’t realize how good they have it!

Annie: [01:11:37] And I’m like… You have to pay two bucks, maybe relax a little bit. French people don’t see it that way. And French are complainers. Have you realized that?

Claire: [01:11:46] Oh yeah yeah.

Annie: [01:11:48] French people, “c’est des râleurls”. On “râle”. So, how would you translate that? “Râler”.

Claire: [01:11:54] They grumble.

Annie: [01:11:59] Grumble, there you go. You meet a French person and go “how are you doing?”. They go, Oh I don’t know. I have a backache.

Claire: [01:12:06] That’s true.

Annie: [01:12:07] They never go, oh I’m great! Never. Like especially in villages in the cities it’s different. In villages people are always like grumpy. But if you if you talk to them for five minute,s they’ll get to the happy parts.

Claire: [01:12:20] Oh yeah.

Annie: [01:12:21] It’s just right up front they go Oh I know my dog died and the neighbour’s cat keeps pissing on my plants. Or something, you know. This is what they’ll tell you right up front. And yeah, well these are not is a big problem if you ask me. But, that’s being French for you.

Claire: [01:12:41] Take it all in stride, yeah.

Annie: [01:12:43] Just don’t believe French people complaining. It’s all an act. All right.

Annie: [01:12:49] Are we done?

Claire: [01:12:50] Yeah probably. The only thing Oh, “prélèvements”. Paying for your energy bill, and paying for your water bill.

Annie: [01:12:59] Let’s talk about that. That’s an important one.

Claire: [01:13:02] Yes. I’ve learned to always have a copy of my RIB.

Annie: [01:13:06] RIB. Relevé d’identité bancaire.

Claire: [01:13:10] Yes, pretty much all that stuff operates on you signing paperwork, and the energy company or whichever, pulls it out of your bank account. You have to have your RIB number handy or a copy of it available to set up payments for everything from your phone to your electricity to…

Annie: [01:13:31] Water, sewer, garbage, everything.

Claire: [01:13:35] Our Internet.

Annie: [01:13:36] Yep, pretty much you never send a check to pay for things. I mean seldom seldom if you like. If you’re going to… OK my daughter went to get some blood tests recently, and I had to, for some reason, they didn’t ask her to pay right then, and then they sent a bill and then I had to send a check. But it’s really unusual. Usually they will ask you to set it up so that you can do the “virement” which is the automatic payment. And that’s how France operates so…

Claire: [01:14:11] You’re in the middle of your exchange for paying for something or buying something like our internet protection security service. Do you have your RIB with you? Oh yeah. Yeah you go.

Annie: [01:14:21] Now you do because you know you know you’re going to need it. Yeah yeah.

Claire: [01:14:25] So that’s different.

Annie: [01:14:25] And they’re very easy. Like if you go and you’re on your bank website you can print your own RIB from there. You know it’s easy.

Claire: [01:14:34] Yeah, I make lots of copies.

Annie: [01:14:34] You make copies and you just keep one in your purse and you never I mean you never know when you…

Claire: [01:14:39] Along with the copies of everything else in your entire life.

Annie: [01:14:44] Yes you need to have paperwork.

Claire: [01:14:46] Lots and lots.

Annie: [01:14:47] We didn’t insist on this very much. But French administration is very punctilious. Is that a word?

Claire: [01:14:54] Yeah I think so.

Annie: [01:14:55] Yeah just they just want everything just so. And they want the one to for you to prove your address and to do that you need to electrical bill. But not just any electrical bill. It has to be less than three months old. Well by now we pay by yearly. And so I just look at them and I’m like you still pay your power every month because I don’t. And then they go, you’re right, I don’t either. OK. And it’s evolving but very slowly. You know you just. And if I, Annie Sargent want to do something I have to bring a bill in my name.

Claire: [01:15:33] Yes.

Annie: [01:15:33] If it’s in my husband’s name… nope.

Claire: [01:15:36] It won’t count.

Annie: [01:15:37] And if you know it’s the same the other way round.

Claire: [01:15:41] Yes, set up your bank account, your energy bill, your water bill, have both names on it.

Annie: [01:15:48] Because if, I am the one who did a lot of those calls when we first arrived. Because you know, I mean, my husband speaks good French but I was doing it. And so my name is on everything. And so just to prove his address?

Claire: [01:16:00] He’s stuck.

Annie: [01:16:01] I’m screwed.

Claire: [01:16:05] I set everything up too, but the bank account has his name Primary on them. So I just automatically would feed them the information about my husband. And then I thought I haven’t told them about me. I mean actually the EDF counselor said would you like to have your name on this too. Yes, please.

Annie: [01:16:21] Yes do both. It would be better first it.

Claire: [01:16:25] And then EDF has on the little client space area of their Web site you can go on anytime and you can print off a “attestation” that you can use for your proof of domicile.

Annie: [01:16:39] It’s gotten better. But French administrators are just prickly and they will ask you for some, you know they they won’t let go. That’s one thing that you can’t negotiate. I mean, if you show up for an appointment for to ask for your visa and you don’t have your paperwork. You’re done. You know I mean they will ask you to come again, or make another appointment and come back two months later or whatever later.

Claire: [01:17:02] Yeah we always we’ve learned very quickly. Yeah and we were forewarned, so be forewarned. Bring all the paperwork you think you need plus more. Yeah we brought extra copies of… Even though Tony has his “titre de séjour” right now. He insisted on bring his passport down on this trip because he said you never know they might decide for some reason they don’t like the card.

Annie: [01:17:23] Yeah. No it’s true. You you. Yeah yeah.

Claire: [01:17:26] Always always going to be prepared to have a nice big fat folder.

Annie: [01:17:31] I’m surprised how many times they ask me for your ID. Like you check into a hotel. Some hotels don’t but some do, they ask you for your I.D.. I’m like OK. And some don’t. I don’t know what the rule is you know. Anyway so yeah we’re administration heavy kind of country. We like to have our papers so, if you hate papers, France is not for you.

Claire: [01:17:57] We take it in stride. Everything else is so wonderful about living here that we can deal with the red tape.

Annie: [01:18:03] Very good. Thank you so much you’ve shared a lot of great tips and I love that you were prepared with a list of how things went. And I love the thing about the Gîte. I’ve been telling people that but I it’s good to hear that. That was actually.

Annie: [01:18:17] You can do English you can do it before you ever show up in France just rent a Gîte for a month. And you are a good start there. Thank you very much Claire.

Claire: [01:18:27] Thanks for having me. It’s fun to visit!

Annie: [01:18:33] Thank you Richard Gray for pledging to support the show on Patreon this week. And my thanks to all the other patrons who support the show month after month. Thank you for giving back. To support the show on page go to No spaces or dashes and thank you so much. And thank you Shrikant Kommineni for your one time donation. I hope I said that correctly! A guidebook costs twenty bucks. The podcast is as helpful as a guide book,, and a lot more entertaining to listen to, I hope than reading and guide book. Yes. How could it not be? So appreciate those of you who donate!

Annie: [01:19:21] No personal update this week because this episode is long as it is. But Elyse I will have to tell you about our dental misfortunes. Which apparently were very much in sync because it happened at the same time. And we’ll get together probably tomorrow if she can put up with the pain of having had some work done on her teeth. Probably tomorrow.

Annie: [01:19:48] On the show next week I will tell you about strange French foods that you need to know about because you will see them listed on daily specials at restaurants. They are strange enough that I suspect most of you will not want to eat them. So it’s good to be warned about those things, isn’t it?

Annie: [01:20:09] The best way to connect with me is via email. or if you have a question you’d like answered on the show. Leave a message. 1 801-806- 1015. You can also join the awesome. Join us and France closed group on Facebook where lots of knowledgeable folks hang out and exchange friends trip advice.

Annie: [01:20:31] Au revoir, have a great week of trip planning!

Annie: [01:20:36] The Join Us in France travel podcast is written and produced by Annie Sargent and copyright 2017 by addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial no derivatives license.

photo of claire and tony's house in the usa with for sale sign on the lawn and a caption that says "one step closer"
Photo Claire Armstrong.
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Category: Moving to France