The next instalment in the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. If you’re interested in taking part, or want to see a certain place featured let me know!
My latest Expat Interview is with Nadine, a fellow Kiwi! Like me she prefers to travel by moving abroad, and living like a local. I loved hearing about her experience moving to France, somewhere I really want to explore a lot more of. If you want to know more you can follow her adventures on Le Long Weekend!
Tell us about yourself
Hey, I’m Nadine. A roaming kiwi who has called New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and Greece ‘home’ at one time or another. I prefer to travel slowly, having a home base to explore from, and ‘living like a local’. Earlier this year I relocated to France along with my husband, 3-year-old son Arthur, and two goofball golden retrievers.
I’ve spent most of my adult life working in finance, apart from the odd gap-filler job waiting tables or walking dogs. I always yearned to be doing something more creative – that would preferably also allow me to travel! When I was on maternity leave with Arthur I saw an opportunity to start afresh. I started studying towards a degree in communication, which ultimately led to a job in destination marketing.
What made you decide to move to France?
We had entertained the idea for years, but it finally seemed like a perfect time to take the leap! My husband (who is French) wanted to set up his own business, I could continue to study via distance learning, and Arthur hadn’t started any kind of formal schooling yet.
We were originally looking to move south of Bordeaux but ended up buying in Saintes due to finding an excellent school here. And we are so glad we did! Saintes is a beautiful family-friendly town, has great weather and is super handy to the ocean. It’s also close enough to Bordeaux to get our ‘city fix’ when we need it!
Tell me about the cost of living in France
Living costs were also a deciding factor for our move to France. House prices in Hamilton were increasing rapidly and we saw an opportunity to sell up and cash in on the trend. Meanwhile in France, house prices have stagnated, if not decreased in recent years so we were able to buy without having to take on a mortgage. A pretty big motivator!
We’ve found food to be on par with prices in New Zealand. We buy mostly organic, and in New Zealand we were part of a co-op that kept prices down. In France, there is a huge movement towards eating organically. In Saintes alone there are 3 different organic shops (like mini-supermarkets) for a population of (approx.) 25,000!
One bonus is the price of wine. Living near the wine capital of the world (Bordeaux) means you can easily pick up a decent bottle of wine for around €3. We were spending around $12-$15(€7-€10) for a bottle in New Zealand.
Bread is also pretty affordable here – with boulangeries on every corner. A baguette costs 90c, whereas a fancier/organic loaf can cost up to €2-3.
I haven’t tried the public transport around Saintes as yet, but I have taken the train to Bordeaux and further south to Agen. Both train fares cost me much less than driving the same distance! To get cheaper train fares in France it pays to book well in advance (non-exchangeable) and travel in 2nd class.
How do you make a living?
I don’t currently make a living – but I hope to change that soon!
When we moved to France, I wanted to build on my destination marketing experience while documenting our travels around Europe. My travel blog Le Long Weekend was born. It has only been live a couple of months, but I’m hoping to turn it into a source of income eventually. I really enjoy the creative process behind composing the blog so it’s been a labour of love!
Do you need a visa to live in France?
Kiwis are only permitted to stay in France up to 3 months (90 days) without a visa, but obviously we were planning on staying well beyond that time frame!
As soon as we decided to move I started the visa process and found out there were a few hoops to jump through before I could apply for a 1-year spouse visa. It turned out our marriage wasn’t ‘legal’ in France because we had failed to notify the French embassy before tying the knot – oops! Next year, as long as I can prove my French is up to standard, I should be able to apply for a 10-year visa (as we’ve been married more than 5 years).
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
Moving to a rural town with limited French, I knew I wasn’t going to be making friends right off the bat. Much to my delight, the majority of people I have met here in France are so welcoming and friendly – and generally happy to practice their English with me! Having a 3-year-old means we haven’t sampled the social scene, but I’m hoping once my French improves I’ll meet people through school events, yoga classes etc.
What’s the best thing about moving to France?
Moving here has allowed us to change our careers to fit around our family lifestyle, so we have more quality family time. The French way of life – shorter working hours, no school on Wednesdays, and plenty of holidays – lends itself to a much more relaxed pace of life.
Obviously, we also enjoy travelling, and having France as our base allows us to travel a lot more frequently than we could from New Zealand.
Then there’s the weather! French summers live up to the hype. The weather is much more consistent than in New Zealand, so you don’t have the ‘4 seasons in one day’ like we do at home.
Sorry, I couldn’t pick just one ‘best thing’!
What’s the hardest thing about living in France?
It’s terribly ironic because most people rave about French cuisine, but for us, the food is the hardest thing about living in France. In a land of aged cheese, amazing pastries and cured meats, it’s incredibly hard to eat a vegan diet in France. Eating out is generally limited to Asian restaurants such as Japanese and Indian (even the local Thai place doesn’t have a vegetarian option). I really miss the range of vegan food available in New Zealand – even the simple pleasure of being able to pick up a vegan pizza after a busy day.
How is your new home different from your old one?
In New Zealand we were living in a large modern townhouse. We had a tiny, manicured backyard, but we did live close to many parks and river walks.
Here in France we have a 100-year-old country house with a large garden and pool. Not at all what we expected to buy, but we absolutely love it!
If we had just one day in Saintes what should we not miss?
Saintes has such great history and is well worth a visit! A few sites not to miss are the Arc de Germanicus, the Amphithéâtre Gallo-Romain and the Basilique Saint-Eutrope (don’t miss the crypt). Be sure to also take a stroll around the old town centre on the left bank – here you’ll find shopping boutiques and eateries in beautiful old buildings. Saintes is quite compact so you can easily fit all this into a day trip.
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live in France?
Stop by the tourist information centre on the banks of the river Charente (just beside the Arc de Germanicus) for a free walking tour map of the city. La Musardiere is a restaurant right in the heart of the old town, which has a lovely courtyard to dine al fresco – and they often have live music in the evenings to entertain you while you eat.
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to move to France what would it be?
It seems obvious, but do try to learn some French before arriving in France! It will make living here so much easier and more enjoyable if you’re able to communicate effectively. I get by ok, but I still have to depend pretty heavily on my husband to do most of the talking – which can be frustrating at times.
Oh, and make sure you bring every piece of documentation about your life that you can think of – birth certificate, immunisation records, bank statements, etc. This will make the visa process/finding a flat/job applications much easier. The French LOVE their paperwork!
Would you ever move to France? Have you experienced life like a local in France?