Moving to France for a new life in 2023
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Just to introduce ourselves, I am Iain (now aged 53), I am married to Jane and we have 3 kids: Cameron (23), Archie (21) and Finlay (18). We have lived in France for 15 years now. If you are thinking about Moving to France or Living in France for a long stay, then you may get a useful insight into what it is like and how you need to prepare for it, based on our experience. We have had some great days and we have had some catastrophic days. But on the whole we have had more good days than bad days.
I think in hindsight, the things which have been able to sustain our new life in France have been:
- our ability to plan ahead
- our willingness to learn French and integrate ourselves in the local community,
- our flexibility
- our sense of humour and ability not to take ourselves too seriously.
I always say that there are 2 types of ex-pats living here in France. Dreamers and Runners.
Dreamers are people who tend to be attracted to France for either a very specific reason - to start a business, to retire, for health reasonsto join family members - or it is a more general reason - they are attracted to the quality of life in France or they remember fond memories from a vacation here.
The Runners are people who are literally running away from their lives in their home country (and may re-invent themselves along the way to France). These people tend to be attracted to France because it enables them to get away from some issues. You do also get some Runners who are coming to France for very specific reasons - ,
I would say that we are firmly in the Dreamers category - we were dreaming of a different life for ourselves here in France. The danger of course is that the dream may not be realistic or may not turn out to be exactly like you planned. Therefore it is important to plan ahead carefully and to keep a degree of flexibility.
Moving to France - the plan
First of all, I have to say that I don't really know how we really ended up in France at all. I liked France before I came here, but I probably preferred the Spanish or Italians. Originally, I wanted to take a year out in northern Spain, just above Barcelona, but we were warned off by someone we met who lived in Catalonia and he cautioned us about some of the local issues (difficulty in finding work, dodgy ex-Pats, etc). We had previously spent a number of holidays in France: in Normandy, the Loire Valley, the Vendée,Cote d'Azur and Provence. We really liked the Cote d'Azur coastline near St Tropez, but it was just way too expensive to live there. We also liked the area around La Rochelle, on the French Atlantic coast, but we feared that it could be too quite in the winter.
Then some good friends of ours said they would also come out and join us for a year in France. Our friend Julie had been to a school in the UK that was twinned with a school in Beziers and she told us about how beautiful it was there (more about that later). Beziers is in the Languedoc region, which is half way in between Spain and Cote d'Azur, so we thought it was a good choice.
We started thinking about moving to France in 2005. We came out to the Languedoc in October 2005 for a long weekend. We visited 10 rental houses in one weekend (that was when we realised that there was a gap in the market for advertising long term rental houses).
We then started undertaking French lessons. Neither of us could speak French and we didn't even have any school French to fall back on. But the intensive French lessons really helped us to get a good grasp on French grammar. The downside was that we didn't really do much conversational French. So when we eventually arrived in France we could conjugate the verb venir in 5 different tenses, but we couldn't hold a conversation in French with our neighbours. Looking back now, I still think that it was the right approach, because our understanding of grammar remains strong and we have been able to add to our vocabulary and comprehension. If we had done it the other way around, we would probably have had a good initial vocabulary, but it would have been difficult for us to break out from this because we wouldn't have understood the structure of the language. But either way, we still massively underestimated the importance of having good French
We eventually moved to France in June 2006. We never really planned on staying here forever, but it has sort of turned out that way. Our plan was just to come here for a Year, chill out with the kids, do a little bit of work, improve our French and research some business ideas. Then we would return to England and I would look to find some different work (I was fed up of working as an HR Manager in the UK).
We initially rented a house for 14 months. We started up a couple of businesses when we arrived, then the kids got really good at French, so we decided to stay for a further 12 months. Then one of our businesses started to work really well, I started to find some interesting work in the Middle East which enabled me to be based in France and work 1 week in 6 over in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, etc.
Our kids were very happy in the local French schools (they were 7, 5 and 2 years old when they first arrived). Then we bought some land, built a house and stayed. And that basically is the story.
We have been extremely fortunate that the village we initially chose to rent a house in, is the village we have remained living in. Initially, we chose Nezignan l'Eveque because the rental house here was close to a school - like 200m instead of 5km over a mountain- and also we really liked the look of the local town, Pezenas. Nezignan has turned out to be a really friendly village to live in, with lots going on. We have made many close friends, people we still regularly socialize with. We watch the Six Nations Rugby at each others houses, we go on holiday together and our children have grown up with each other. Pezenas is absolutely beautiful. We are about 15-20mins to the sea and Montpellier is about 45mins away. Beziers as it turned out is a bit of a dump (although it is improving). Our friends who were going to come to France with us, ended up in Denver, Colorado. But a couple of years after we moved to France they came for a vist. We drove Julie around Beziers and said to her "Right, what exactly was it that you liked about Beziers?".
Living in France - you need more than fresh air!
We arrived In France with about 7 months of money to live off. We had paid the rent in advance, so we wouldn't have that to worry about that. We then thought that we would pick up the odd bits of work to make up the difference. But then the reality kicked in. We blew about 5 months money in the first 6 weeks of being here in France. We had things to buy to set up the house, we took the kids to see various things - water parks, tourist sites, etc - and we had a lot of visitors come over from the UK
But that was a real shock about how easy it is to burn through money when you are not earning anything. We got-by through doing the odd jobs - painting, gardening, cleaning - in fact Jane still gets involved with some property management and gite changeover stuff. The reason I am explaining all this, is firstly, do not underestimate how expensive it will be to set up in a different country. Secondly, if you are thinking about moving to France, then you need a strong plan about how you are going to earn cash whilst you are here. It is not enough to have pipe dreams. You need to network with people, you need to have a real skill or service to offer. You may also need to fall back on income sources from your home country (it is easier to continue an income stream or occupation, than to set up a new business from scratch).
I have learnt so much whilst I have been here and we made so many mistakes. But I have also see people arrive in France and they have no plan about how they will support themselves. I have also seen people pitch up in France with a clear plan, but they have either paid out a lot of money for a rubbish business (B&B, cafe, restaurant, property management business, etc) or they buy a ruin of a house and sink all their cash into restoring it. The problem is that they don't have a Plan B about how they will afford to live in France once all their savings have vanished.
The other thing you have got to prepare yourself for is the fact that you have got to turn your hand to anything in order to earn money. You have got to be flexible. Forget that you were a this or a that back home. Nobody cares what you did (except the St Thomas Golf Club set). If you want to live in France, then swallow your pride, think laterally, network and be prepared to graft.
Moving to France - Gastronomique
The first business we created was called Gastronomique. We supplied French food and wine hampers to customers all over the world. I spent my days down in the Cave (garage) making these wooden wine crates with sliding lids and we packaged them with French wine and food.
I built a website from scratch and we did OK. We started receiving orders from around the world. But the postage costs from France were 30% more than we had budgeted for. Also, we started running into export issues, in terms of cargo getting damaged, import duties, etc. so in the end after about 9 months we knocked that on the head.
Looking back, we learnt so much, but mainly from our mistakes. We should have researched the business more. But we also gained a lot of new skills, especially about web design and search engine optimisation and internet marketing. We also had great fun meeting all the suppliers and finding olive oil producers, wine domaines and trying new products. Now we have no inhibitions about driving up a long driveway to a vineyard, knocking on the door and sampling their wine.
Starting a business in France - Go Languedoc
The other business we started was Go Languedoc. We had a vacation rentals website in in the UK, but we sold that before we came out to France. We have been working hard on Go Languedoc for the full 15 years now and it provides us with the majority of our income here.
On the back of Go Languedoc we have also developed Long Term Rentals in France, a site dedicated purely to long term lets in the South of France.
Running a business is not always easy in France. The key thing I have learnt is that you have to pay for good advice. By good advice, I mean don't just finding an accountant. A lot of the accountants here are just glorified book-keepers. You need to find a proper business accountant who can help you avoid some of the pitfalls, especially around tax and social charges.
Moving to France with children
If you are moving to France with children, there is not much that you really need to prepare beforehand. Kids are pretty resilient. You may have a difficult first 2 weeks when they are in school, but after that they are fine.
We have 3 boys and they have adapted really well. We speak English at home, but they are fully bi-lingual now. In fact Cameron, our eldest son, speaks with an accent of the South of France (which is a strong accent like Geordie! or someone from Louisiana!).
There is a great temptation to send you kids to an International School in France. But I really don't think that it is necessary. In fact, it can even be counter-productive. The International Schools tend to have a wide catchment area of children, rather than the local schools which are focused on a particular town or collection of villages. Therefore in the local French state schools, your children are more likely to make friends with other kids who live nearby. My middle son is still very close with the friends he first met on his first day in school 15 years ago. My youngest son has the same group of 4 mates that he has known since he was 2 years old. They are virtually inseparable.
The biggest difference I have noticed since we have been living in France, is that because we work from home and we are around the kids all the time and the weather is so much better, you just get those days where you feel like you are still on holiday. You also get your bad days, but most of the time we still can't believe that we are living here in the South of France.
Living in France - speak French!
The other thing we noticed about living in France was that even though we had been having French lessons for half a year before we arrived, we had only got up to good holiday French level, which is nowhere near good enough if you are living in France full time. So that is the other thing I would advise anyone. If you planning on moving to France long term, get some basic language skills behind you and then do a 2-3 week immersion language course immediately before you come. It is costly, but the difference it makes is enormous.
Jane's French is better than mine and she has a great group of friends. I have got a couple of really close mates here, who thankfully speak better English than my French - so they usually speak to me in English and I speak to them back in French (it is a bit bizarre but it works). Even after all these years, we still work on our French every day and we take French lessons.
The thing is, if you have decent French (and by that I mean Delf Level B1 or B2), then it just opens up so many doors to you. You get to meet more people, have greater job opportunities, etc. We have been lucky with our French, but it still took us a good 12 months to integrate ourselves down here because we could not converse properly. You also need to lose all your shyness and inhibitions. Yes you are going to make a bit of a 'tit' of yourself sometimes, but keep on trying and put yourself out to meet people. Eventually the effort pays off.
You can survive in France with very little French - and we know people her who speak virtually no French - but what is the point of that? You are just going to miss out on so much and you are just going to get stuck in an ex-pat bubble. France has so much to offer as a country. Even now, after 15 years of living in France, there isn't a day which goes by when I don't learn something new, experience a different food, visit a town or village I have never been to before or learn a new expression. Sometimes when I am out and about with work, I just pull over from the road, stop the car and just think, God this is beautiful.
Thinking of moving to France . . . ? Our Advice
So overall, if you are thinking of moving to France I would say do it, but plan for it at least 1 year ahead. Really research the area as well. A house halfway up a mountain is great for a 2 week holiday, but not so great in the dead of winter (and boy it can get cold down here!). You will find the following articles useful information to read:
Read our article on the Choosing the right house to rent in France
See our analysis on Long term rental prices in France so you know what sort of money you will expect to pay on rent
Discover more about the different rental contracts in France and the different ways of finding a long term rental property: Best ways to rent a house in France
Contact Iain by Email if you have any particular questions you would like to ask about living in the South of France. If you liked the article then please share it with others using the Facebook and Pinterest buttons below.