The next installment 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 parents are avid housesitters in Europe, so I love hearing stories from other people who take advantage of this awesome way to live abroad! Terry and Maura from TravelKiwis have been housesitting in France, a country I would love to spend more time in. Read on for their expat story!
Tell us about yourself
We are from the city of Wellington, New Zealand but we started out travel journey together after getting married at 20, leaving the provincial town of Palmerston North for the UK and Europe.
With a Eurail pass each, we spent two months sleeping on trains, in a tent and an occasional bed while we absorbed as much of Europe as we could. From Scandinavia to Greece and everything in between. Ireland and the UK plus a trip to Russia and East Germany.
We loved it.
But the call back to New Zealand for Terry to play first-class cricket after three years away gave us an appreciation of our wonderful country New Zealand. We became a bit nomadic, moving cities as we raised our three sons, finally settling in Wellington in 2002.
However, the memories of our earlier travels were an inspiration for our three sons to travel, and of course for us to travel more when the opportunity arose.
What made you decide to move to France?
Our early years together experiencing the history, food and culture of Europe never left us. We knew we would return, but when we did, we wanted to experience life as a local, not as a tourist. So, at the age of 50, we decided to sell the house, possessions and say a temporary goodbye to our sons as we headed off on our life adventure.
Why the decision now and not at 65? We find living life these days can be stressful with the demands to produce more, earn more, to buy more. With having only two days a week to recover before you do it all again and four weeks each year for a break, it never seemed enough.
New Zealand is a relatively young country, with the distance from New Zealand to Europe taking anywhere from 26-36 hours flying. Heck, even Australia is four hours flying.
So, we took a good measure of confidence and chose to make our way to Europe.
Tell me about the cost of living in France
Our first thoughts when leaving New Zealand was to base ourselves in England, find contract work and spend time exploring Europe in between.
So why the change?
Our first house sits after travelling four months through Asia (with only a small backpack), was a small medieval village of Fontenoy le Chateau in the Vosges region of France. We just fell in love with the village, the boats along the canal, a walk to the bakery and the tree-lined walks along the canal to the next village.
When you can buy a baguette for 90c (Euro) with no preservatives and enjoy a Pain Au Chocolat for €1- life is good. And wine. Well, even a good bottle is only €3. If you prefer a beer, then €2 per glass at the local bar is perfect in the summer months. Or you can grab a six-pack of beer at the small supermarket for €5-8.
However, unlike New Zealand, fish is more expensive in Europe, so this has become our treat at €7-9 for two portions of salmon.
In the village, we are fortunate to have a pharmacy, and when you pay €3 for a small bottle of cough medicine, health care is more affordable.
So how can we afford to live in Europe?
Our budget saving tip is house sitting.
We enjoyed our first house sit in the small village of Fontenoy le Chateau, France and had returned several times as guests. Without the cost of accommodation and utilities, we can live relatively cheaply on local produce and wine.
As for transport, BlaBla car is a good scheme for moving between places paying the driver a nominal amount. For trains, as long as you book well ahead of time, you can make savings. Otherwise, the Oui Bus or Flexibus are good options.
How do you make a living?
We are always learning of ways to make an online income through our travel and house sitting blogs. With Terry growing our Instagram quickly to 10,000 followers we secured online work with two companies.
And we are both qualified as TESOL teachers, so there are also opportunities to teach English online or with local companies here in France. Having an introduction to a local French company to teach English on a part-time basis makes securing work a lot easier.
Looking back, we have one piece of advice for TESOL would be to teach in Asia first, even if only for six months. This way you have an introduction to a client base to enable you to teach online while you travel or live elsewhere.
Do you need a visa to live in France?
Luckily for us, we have dual nationalities and hold EU Passports. It has enabled us to stay and enjoy Europe without the hassle of a 3-month visa requirement.
MM Note: For those who are not EU passport holders, you’ll need to check out visa restrictions. For example, you may be allowed within the Schengen Zone (which includes France) for 3 months total, and then need to leave for 3 months before being allowed back again. You could choose to housesit in that time to save money while travelling and still experience living in France!
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
In Fontenoy le Chateau there is the local bar, and on a Friday night, most of the villagers make the bar their priority for the evening. Fabrice, the owner, is very hospitable. Often when we are walking the canal, he will wave to us, so it makes sense to support local businesses in the village.
We also have made friends with some of the expat and local French villagers. The French villagers, probably because of our limited French and their limited English, meant we were both a little timid apart from our morning meet and greet Bonjour.
One year on, and now known in the village, we can converse a lot more. We always make sure we attend any fete (festival) in the village. The highlight this year was the Football World Cup. A marquee set up in the Canal Port, the French colours painted on your cheeks, flowing beer and a French win. Perfect!
What’s the best thing about living in France?
The best thing about living in France has to be the two-hour lunch enjoying French cuisine. Local restaurants compete at midday, so prices are reasonable for a 4-course meal with wine.
But seriously, this lifestyle of stopping to enjoy lunch, and shops closed on a Sunday, gives families and friends time to enjoy each day.
We love the summers for the heat and sunshine. When we decide we want to have a picnic or plan a picnic, the consistent weather means plans don’t get disrupted in the summer months.
And we love the location of our village Fontenoy le Chateau is within an easy driving distance of Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belguim. It means we have a lot of different cultural experiences nearby and again is one of the things we love about Europe.
What’s the hardest thing about living in France?
Probably not having access to Vegemite, unless we schedule a trip to the UK.
At first, it was getting used to shops and offices closed for two hours around midday and the time taken to process documentation. It is just part of our learning to assimilate into a new culture and its way of life.
How is your new home different from your old one?
Living in an old stone house several centuries old is certainly different from the wooden, modern house in New Zealand. With the double glazing and wood fires, the French houses are so cosy in winter, but cool in summer.
We also love the way the French villages keep the shutters closed during winter to keep warm, but also in summer to keep the house cool. No need for air-conditioning in the summer.
When we first came into the village one Spring, we thought the village was deserted. Once the rain stopped, the villagers emerged, and it was lovely to see the many baguettes under the arm and locals catch up for a chat.
If we had just one day in Fontenoy le Chateau what should we not miss?
Taking a slow bike ride or a leisurely walk along the canal to listen and watch the local birdlife and the tranquillity of nature.
When you think of your expat home, what comes to mind?
The community and friendliness when meeting a fellow villager. To be greeted with a Bonjour even from a 4-year-old is special. Or struggling home in the dark (the streetlights turn off at midnight) after a great night at the bar.
France winning the Football 2018 World Cup was a special day. The village met at the Port where the community association had erected a marquee, along with a beer and food tent. Everyone had to offer both cheeks to be painted in French colours before kick-off, and then the fun began.
Plenty of beer and plenty of goals, France was triumphant.
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?
Having a house along the canal or river to watch the many boats pass by. Having the local port where you can hire boats or take an afternoon cruise. Or even meet up with fellow Kiwis moored there for the night.
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in France what would it be?
Embrace the culture and language to become part of a community as memories like these will always stay with you. Taking a step away from the familiar isn’t as scary as you think.