In this, our first, post I want to tell you about our decision move to France, the things that went right and what we probably could have done differently. Although we have had no major hiccups, when we were searching for a blog to read on moving to France all we could find were the disaster stories! So here is ours……
In September 2015, whilst Ian and I were having a long weekend in Spain, a conversation began which would inevitably change the course of all our lives. Sitting in the sun, Ian said, “What if we just up and move abroad?” Initially it was taken as a bit of a joke between the two of us, but over the next few days, as we discussed it more and more, it began to seem like an opportunity we couldn’t ignore.
So we made a list. A list of reasons to stay and reasons to go. And the reason to go list was much much larger, and as Ian rightly says, we didn’t want to get 10 years down the line and say “I wish we had….”.
There was only one place that we could ever consider moving to. France.
Ian has visited France many times over the last 20 years. My experiences were somewhat limited in comparison, with Paris and Disneyland making it a grand total of 3 times. However, there were no objections on my part. I loved the thought of being in a new country, experiencing new things, whilst being close enough to England to get back if we needed too. This was particularly important for Ian as in England he has 2 older children, Bethany (24) and Sam (22).
So, list complete. What do we look for first?
1) We need to find somewhere to live.
Not as easy as I first imagined! We wanted to rent initially, but a lot of places were either to small or ridiculously huge, with a price tag to match. However, whilst browsing one day I stumbled across a beautiful converted school house which was the perfect size and within our price range. After sending the owners an email asking about the possibility of a long term let I continued on with my search.
I did find another house with a beautiful garden that was a possibility too. Always better to have a back up, especially as we were planning a weekend trip over to look at the houses, I didn’t want a wasted trip.
Ian and I visited France in January 2016 with the view that if we liked the house at the coldest time of year, we would love it the rest. This didn’t take long because as soon as we saw the first property we fell immediately in love with it and knew we couldn’t live anywhere else. The owners (who happened to be English and live next door but one) were fantastic, made us feel extremely welcome and answered all of our questions. There were a lot. In the end we still drove to see the second house, but didn’t even get in the front door. It just wasn’t for us and not exactly as described.
Tip: Don’t take property photos at face value. Property number 2 was a lovely house, however in the middle of a building site with at least 4 houses being built in the immediate vicinity! This was not mentioned or visible in any of the photos we saw.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. We subjected our Landlady to lots and lots, however it is important to know that the house you choose is the right one for you and it also begins to build the relationship you have with your landlady/landlord.
2) What about the schools?
A huge consideration we had to make in our decision to move was the quality of teaching provided in French schools. We would be removing the girls from a very good school where we lived in England and I didn’t want to regret this decision. As we were planning to move in September 2016, the girls would be thrown in at the deep end within 2 days of our arrival, with Evie in what we would class as Year 6 and Isabelle Year 4. We were fortunate in this respect as the owners of property 1 have a daughter the same age as Isabelle and provided a huge amount of very helpful advice on how to contact schools and reassurance that their daughter was settling in well (she had spent 12 months in French school).
I was a little proactive with this (Ian will tell you all about my need to forward plan!) and I emailed the ‘Mairie‘ (Mayor) of the village we would be living. When giving the girls details, I had to include, birth certificates, proof of French residency (in our case our Tenancy Agreement) and proof of vaccinations.
I managed, with the help of Google Translate, to get Evie and Isabelle enrolled and was provided with their certificats d’inscription. The very helpful secretary at the Mairie provided lists of equipment they would need to take to school and gave basic information on school times etc. In France it is the Mayor who will decide which school your child will attend, you don’t have a choice but it is mainly the closest school to your home. In our case the girls would be going to separate schools in different villages, however a school bus serves all 3 schools in the group and leaves/returns to and from our village school within walking distance of our house.
I will get the girls to write a blog on their experience of French school. They have amazed us on how well they have settled and I really needn’t have worried!
Tip: Don’t worry about buying all the equipment before you get to France. I did this and some of the things were not correct but all available in the supermarket here.
Tip: There are lots of online groups which can give advice on the schools in your area. I found a mums group on Facebook, members of which lived close to our village. You’d be surprised how many English people there are in France!
3) The logistics of getting there.
As the vast majority of rented properties in France are fully furnished, we decided that we would sell all our furniture and take only our clothes, photos, toys, bikes and some other smaller pieces of furniture we knew we would need. We had looked at storage for the larger furniture but it would cost as much as buying it new if we needed to use it!
We transported all our things over to France in two car journeys. The first, we were all squeezed in, especially the girls in the backseat (see picture below), and we took the things we would need in our first week in France. After 4 days, Ian returned on his own and drove back to England, returning a few days later with another full car load. My parents, who helped load the car, couldn’t quite believe how much we had fit in!
There are other options, such as sending a pallet over, hiring a removal firm or hiring a van but for us this was the most cost effective way. If we had had larger items to bring then we would have needed to use one of these other methods.
Tip: Have a trial run of what you can get in the car. As we moved out of our previous property, the second car load was taken to my parents so we knew that would fit in. The first load was a struggle. As you can see in the picture we were squashed, and some bits we had to leave (miraculously they fit in the second time!).
Those 3 things were the main issues we had to deal with. I will do another post with more tips about adjusting to French life. As i am writing i keep thinking of others i should add, for example, opening a French bank account, getting an automatic toll buzzer for the car and feeling like a rabbit in headlights when someone speaks French to me!
In the mean time, any questions please ask. I wish we had had someone to quiz during our move so i’m hoping this blog will be able to help others thinking of making the move!