THE DECISION AND JOURNEY TO GET HERE
I’m still pinching myself a little that it’s real, we actually live in France now!!! The conversation started early 2020 when my husband was recruited for an intracompany role based in Uchaud (south of France, near our new home in Montpellier). Things were progressing but nothing was finalized in mid march when the pandemic hit. I had a career to consider and we knew it would be a huge life change (in a year that we were already planning our wedding, no less). Then came covid — I was furloughed, borders closed and life got a lot more complicated. Even though things were put on hold the more we thought about it the more it excited us and we were sure that if we could get to France, we wanted to do it. We spent months communicating back and forth with agents and teams that Jason’s company put us in contact with that helped us with navigating the visa process. With travel rules changing what felt like weekly and global delays in government processing we were optimistic, but really unsure for a while how things would play out. I am a planner, so living a full year in a pandemic while also being in a complete state of limbo that we couldn’t exactly talk about openly was HARD. I know that life isn’t always in control and that you can’t predict the future, but I think it’s a little impossible not to try. Every day I’d wake up wondering will we have more information today, is it okay to get excited yet? I liked my job, but was on furlough due to COVID unsure of when I’d be called back, would it be before we knew for sure? It wasn’t, so I went back to work after five months off and then we finally found out visas would be able to be processed. It was a whirlwind. Three months later I left my job and two months after that we were finally on the plane. The process to get here was a long one, we went through waves of excitement and months long periods of limbo trying to live our normal life. Some days if felt like this wasn’t even really happening but WE ARE HERE and so grateful for that.
THE TRAVEL & THE QUARANTINE
Let’s start with the paperwork. There was SO much paperwork it’s almost comical. I showed up at the airport with a two inch stack organized into all sorts of different plastic protectors, folders and clips. And we needed just about all of it. Lots of it Covid related, and lots of it due to the type of visas we received (full resident/working permits for four years with possibility to extend).
- All of the visa documents and original birth certificates, marriage licenses etc along with certified French translations of all documents.
- For COVID we needed test results, declarations in both languages stating we would abide by quarantine rules, and similar declarations declaring we felt healthy.
- Since the borders were closed our visas (that took months to secure) were not good enough on their own. We needed to have all of Jason’s work contracts with us, letters from the government stating he was an essential worker and needed to be permitted to the country now. Since only Jason was essential (even thought I had the same level visa) we also had to secure a letter from the French Consulate stating that we were not to be separated during travel. We had to show all of this at SFO.
- For the dogs we needed USDA accredited health certificates, which are only valid for a week when entering France. With government delays and work from home orders this was no easy feat either. Our vet was incredible and was on call to us all week getting wellness checks and paperwork done and helping facilitate the process. The business day before we flew we drove to the USDA offices in San Francisco to pick up paperwork and sign since if they mailed it to us it wouldn’t make it in time. The process was not cheap, we remind the pups all the time how lucky they are we brought them. (Jokingly of course). We needed all this at the airport it was secured to the pets carriers during travel. Murphy had to fly in cargo, poor guy. Riley got to fly in the cabin and got to go the Air France lounge, it was certainly a life highlight for her.
Once we landed things were pretty smooth sailing. The teams we worked with to get here did an amazing job and I’m so grateful we had their help. We landed in Paris and drove the seven hours to Montpellier to fulfill our two week quarantine. (Quarantine was to be completed at final destination and we opted out of another flight or train since we had the dogs, so much luggage and were trying to be as safe as possible).
We stayed at an apart-hotel for our quarantine period and thankfully Uber Eats and other like apps are very prevalent here and grocery / food delivery was so easy! After that we were allowed out to markets and to explore, but most importantly, to look at housing!
HOUSE HUNTING IN FRANCE
Thank goodness once again for the help and agents we have as they facilitated everything from the searches, picking me up and translating at appointments. We found a place day one that we absolutely love, yay! While we had some time we were on a bit of a time crunch to pick somewhere because a permanent residential address is pretty important for an expat to secure here quickly. Visas secured while still in the USA are temporary, for only three months. (That’s right, it took more months to secure them than they would even e valid). Once you have a residential address in your own name you can apply to make the visa permanent (for length of time agreed upon by employer).
Just for fun here’s all the differences about renting here I found interesting:
- Standard leases are three years and VERY renter friendly. The tenant can leave penalty free at any time with a 30 day notice, however a landlord cannot ask you to leave before the three year period unless there is very good reason. Even at the three year mark, they have to have compelling reason to ask you to move out if you want to extend. For this reason they really vet you out when you apply to make sure your income is stable and you are reliable.
- Pets – when you search online, filtering by pet friendly or not isn’t even a thing. In fact we were told that the landlord usually doesn’t even ask and that in general France is very pet friendly when it comes to housing. No extra pet deposits are paid, instead wear and tear by pets is considered part of your general wear and tear deposit.
- Listings are listed by number of rooms, which can be confusing, as the only things that are counted as a “room” are living room and bedrooms for listing purposes. So any time we would see a “4 piece flat” it meant it was most likely 3 bedrooms. If you were hunting for a larger house that had a media room, closed off dining room etc, those may be counted in the listing too.
- The tenant has to be almost all appliances and light fixtures. If your rental includes a stovetop and an oven, you’re in good shape. We needed to buy a fridge, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine & dryer. While rent is cheaper it’s certainly another pretty big cost when considering moving. Light fixtures we’re waiting until we decorate to make sure they match, but every room in our place is just a bulb hanging from a wire from the wall or ceiling, so odd! While having these things provided is what we’re used to and also would be nice, I have to admit I kind of like the more bare bones approach as it allows me to really make the place mine and pick appliances with features I want!
- The standards for having a place painted nice and in great condition are a little less here. We were told while it shouldn’t be anything crazy, that it is acceptable for walls to need paint touch up by new tenant. We were lucky our place was in pretty good condition, and again this wasn’t a huge deal for me as I was excited to paint and make it feel like our home!
Our moving container is still to arrive, but we are so excited to finally have all of our stuff and a full kitchen back!
IMPORTANT STUFF, THE FOOD, THE MARKETS..
The food is amazing so far, as expected. While it’s a little hard to speak to the restaurants because we can only try some places via Uber eats, I can speak to some stuff which I’ll outline below!
- The food scene in general is very multicultural in Montpellier. A big highlight for me is sushi is extremely prevalent. So are “American” places meaning lots of good burger joints. A major miss for me is no Mexican food like we are used to, but I know I can cook a mean taco and packed all my homesick texan cookbooks so once we get our kitchen back we’ll be all good! French tacos are a big thing here which are kind of like paninis using a tortilla? And filled with all sorts of different food from standard burrito fixings to French fries and fried chicken.
- There really are markets everywhere. It’s pretty amazing. It feels like there is farmer’s markets on every corner all the time. There is local butchers, bakeries for fresh bread and produce stores in each neighborhood. A lost art in USA in my opinion. Sure, it’s easy to get everything one stop shop at a supermarket, but there is something so nice about shopping small and shopping with a butcher where you know everything is super fresh and their specialty. There are larger supermarkets too, really similar to ones in the USA, which we still obviously go to for lots of things as well. Oh and speaking of the bakeries, or should I say, boulangeries… I can’t help but notice how often you really do see people walking around with fresh baguettes. I see them in peoples purses or hands all the time when getting off the train to go home. Gotta love people who love their bread… and yes I have been buying baguettes and putting them in my little market bag.
- Major grocery store differences / observations:
- There is SO much cheese, the French love their cheese and I love them for that. There is also a lot of salamis and lunch meats — and the pricing is so much better than I am used to. A pack of good salami is often only 2 euros and a good wheel of brie only a few euros.
- For the most part the produce is really similar, however things like radishes and leeks are way more popular here and hot peppers and limes have been harder to find.
- Eggs & lots of the milk are not in refrigerated section of the grocery store. It’s something that seems weird at first but you get used to it really quickly and realize it is just fine. We do refrigerate ours once we get home though.
- WINE. The wine sections of the store are heavenly, really. There’s also lots of wine shops around. I think around 95% of what is sold in France is local, so I haven’t seen any California or New Zealand wine for example. While I feel like I went from really knowledgeable to a bit of a fish out of water on this it’s been really fun trying new regions and learning French wine… honestly a dream right? In addition to that it’s a lot less expensive on an average. I don’t think there’s a bottle over $25 in the whole supermarket next to us and lots of red wine even at the 10 euro price point is GOOD. This is something I’m certainly not used to and love.
- Coffee — we can already understand why people from other countries say American coffee isn’t great. It’s not that that’s true, but it is so much more expensive for a good coffee! We are paying 3x or more less for our Nespresso pods here!
- Craft beer isn’t as far along here, but we can certainly tell it’s a booming and growing business and there has been plenty to try. One of Jason’s favorite light beers here so far is only 4 euros for a 6 pack, score!
- While it certainly exists there is far less packaged and processed foods here in general.
- There are lots of staples here that we don’t see too often in USA stores — foie gras, different fats to cook with, different animal meats — duck and rabbit are a lot more common.
LANGUAGE BARRIER & LEARNING FRENCH
I’m just going to start off by saying that almost everyone we have crossed paths with has been extremely welcoming and friendly. While I tried to learn as much as I could before coming over, it is hard without being in practice. It’s one thing to be able to read words on Duolingo and a whole another thing to be able to hear someone speaking quickly in real life and to process what they are saying and be quick to respond. It’s going to take some time. I did make sure that I was able to very comfortably say phrases like “I’m sorry I don’t speak French, do you speak English?”. There hasn’t been one person that’s heard me say that and either not spoken English as well (probably 75% of people) or been willing to use Google translate with me if needed. Not saying there hasn’t been a couple frustrating scenarios… not being able to communicate properly isn’t easy, but in general it has been just fine! I also often tell people in French that I just moved here and am learning the language which is always greatly received. I can’t wait be able to go to restaurants and be in more scenarios to practice with people! Until then Google translate is my best friend : )
LIFE SO FAR
We would be lying if we didn’t say that we miss family, friends and a familiar life. It’s a big change and bittersweet; however, we are feeling so happy so far that we made the decision to take this chance. We absolutely love our new city and the different change of pace so far. I am personally loving being able to walk everywhere and take the tram around town instead of driving all the time. The downtown is insanely beautiful and full of amazing shopping of all kinds. Jason is quickly adapting and settling into his new role here and I know that this move was the right thing for his career. I am so proud of him. We could have stuck to our comfort zone (which was great, don’t get me wrong), but I know we would have regretted or wondered “what if” our whole life if we didn’t give this a shot. Before the latest lockdown we were able to spend a weekend in Marseille which was beautiful and gave us a taste of future weekend travel. It feels like a dream knowing how many different countries and cities we’ll be able to see without it being a big two week endeavor to do so.
A couple days prior to lockdown we were able to get the in person applications for our permanent visas done, again accompanied by a translator who was very helpful! We should receive those soon and from there we will finally have official ID cards to go about as French citizens.
Since the lockdown started a couple weeks ago we’ve put a lot of energy into working on making our new condo a home. While we still don’t have all of our stuff I’ve been painting the rooms and starting to map out where things will go and we are feeling more settled each day. We also bought a bunch of plants for the house and terrace, thank goodness Jason has a green thumb and is able to teach me.
For myself I am feeling so happy and grateful to have this period of time to reflect on what I want to continue to do with my life and to work on this website. I cannot wait to learn French wine well, to further my cooking skills and to be able to share it all with you.
If you have any questions I missed about life in France so far or want to know more about anything specific in the future, let me know in the comments!