Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

Location, Location, Location

Le Carte

La Carte

As I mentioned previously, in considering our move to France, it is very important to us that we live in a place where we can thrive and not merely exist for this last adventurous chapter of our lives. Once you have decided to move, you need to figure out where exactly you want to live. Personally, I have had a lot of experience with moving and readjusting to a new place. Due to my dad’s line of work, I grew up with a life of moving almost every year until I reached high school. As an adult, I’ve moved a few more times by choice. My husband, Norman, grew up living in the same place all the way through college until he went off to grad school. After that, he racked up his share of moving experience including living in Japan for a year. So, we’re pretty well-equipped for this aspect of our adventure.

Choosing the right place to live is the key and dependent on several factors like weather, cost of living, and access to transportation. We love the climate where we currently live with its moderate temperatures and cool afternoon ocean breezes. There are a few hot and cold days during the year but nothing too drastic. So, it’s our goal to find an area in France with similar weather. With a simple Google query, I was able to identify some resources to guide me in my search. ExpatsBlog provided “Ten of the Best Places to Live in France for Expats“. On ExpatsForum, I found “The Top Five Regions in France Where Expats are Moving To“. After reading these and several other sources, I learned that Southwestern France was most likely to be the place that felt like home. Then I turned to sites like WeatherBase and Météo-France, the French national weather site, in order to find specific information about year-round weather averages for the cities and towns in Southwestern France that seemed to be probable choices and compared the stats to our own area. That’s how I finally zeroed in on two of the 22 diverse regions in France — Aquitaine and Poitou-Charentes.

The next step was to buy some detailed maps of these regions. Even though I know how to navigate Google maps very well, I still prefer being able to see “the big picture” on a large scale paper map. I bought two maps, one for each region, and mounted them each on large sheets of cardboard I picked up at Costco. I studied them carefully starting with the larger, more recognizable city names and then focusing on smaller towns and cities marking chosen places with post-it arrows. We plan to purchase a car but don’t want to depend on it for all our transportation needs so I also referenced a map of TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) lines. The TGV is France’s high-speed train running an average of 120mph which was originally developed in the 70’s for service between Paris and Lyon but has now expanded to include many other destinations. We wanted to make sure we focused on areas that would be a reasonable distance to a major train station so we can easily travel throughout the country and take advantage of the French public transportation system, one of the densest networks in the world.

Based on all this information and previous experience with some of the locations, I chose a variety of cities, small towns, villages, and country locations for our first research trip next summer. Check out Tour 2015 for a list of these locations and a map showing our planned route. After 8 weeks, we expect to come away with more specific ideas about the areas and types of places where we would like to live so we will be able to narrow the search for our future home in France.

All Things Considered… Pt. 2

After housing, next on the list of considerations for moving to another country is healthcare. This is our second largest expense and one that I have pharmaciebeen fortunate to have fully covered for most of my 37-year career in education. While I will receive a small stipend toward insurance costs for myself upon retirement should I choose to continue with the policy my employer currently provides, it will not cover the majority of the cost and my husband, though eligible for Medicare by then which will be somewhat beneficial, will not be covered at all. We’ve all heard how wonderful the French healthcare system is. In fact, it is ranked the #1 healthcare system in the world, but we had to investigate how it might work for us as American expats.

One of the requirements in applying for a Long-Term Stay Visa for your move to France is to show proof of insurance so you have to start out with a policy you have purchased in the U.S., preferably one that will ensure coverage overseas. However, once you settle in France, you can begin applying for the Carte Vitale (healthcare card) which will allow you to participate in the French public healthcare system either through the Assurance Maladie (if you are employed and paying taxes) or the Couverature Maladie Universelle (if you are retired) — real universal healthcare coverage! While it is touted to be a lengthy process full of red tape, you can keep all receipts accrued during this time period as reimbursement will be retroactive to the date of your application. Once you possess this card, it will be invaluable. You will produce it for any hospital, doctor, pharmacy, or lab expense, pay in full up front (keeping in mind that the costs for all of these services are regulated and, thus, far less expensive than in the U.S.), submit receipts, and receive reimbursement deposited directly into your French bank account about two weeks later. The cost of this insurance is based on your reported income at a rate of 8% which, for us, would work out to about one-third of the cost of our current coverage in the U.S. In addition, most people in France purchase an inexpensive supplemental policy to cover the majority of expenses not reimbursed by the primary insurance. In any case, if you have an emergency, you can simply go to the nearest emergency room. Regardless of your status, you will be taken care of without proof of insurance or payment before you are treated. From an American point of view, this is truly amazing.

Here are a couple of comparisons that may interest you. In 2011, the cost of a visit to your family physician in France was €24 ($32) as opposed to $104 in the U.S. A more extensive perspective is provided in this recent post by Tom, French husband of American blogger, Diane, of Oui in France who had an eye-opening experience while visiting his wife’s family in the U.S.  The difference between American and French healthcare is shocking!

By moving to France, we can eliminate the cost of housing by paying cash for a house (see All Things Considered Pt. 1) and drastically reduce our healthcare costs. This would put us in the position of recuperating almost all of our monthly retirement income instead of spending over half of it on these two major items. So why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, like I said, it’s no easy feat. You have to dedicate yourself to all aspects of this endeavor, plan in advance with plenty of time, and, most of all, be ready and willing for the adventure of your life… and WE ARE!


All Things Considered… Pt. 1

Just a little château s’il vous plaît

I am fully aware that moving one’s life to another country is no easy feat. There are so many aspects of this endeavor to investigate and flesh out before you embark on this journey.

So, what things should you consider first? Let’s start with housing

First and foremost for us, we needed to find out how viable it would be to buy a house in France and pay for it in full from the sale of our own home so we could eliminate our biggest expense, our mortgage. Unlike many people at our stage of life, we don’t live in a house that we’ve owned forever and is almost paid for. We are, however, in a good position to sell our home, recuperate our initial investment which was substantial, and even possibly make a few dollars. This would give us the means to invest in a new home upon retiring, but where exactly do we want to live?

Like any country, housing prices in France vary depending on the the area and there are 21 very diverse regions in France. I started by looking at property per square meter comparisons for various regions which I found on We live in a 1400 sq. ft. (130 sq. m.) townhouse, small by American standards though quite spacious for the two of us, but large by French and even most European standards for that matter. Based on the current market value of our home and its square footage, it’s worth about $4,000 per square meter. Whereas, prices in Aquitaine where we are interested in living run about $2700 per square meter. This led us to the conclusion that we could easily afford to pay cash for a house of similar caliber in France though we may have to downsize a bit. Fortunately, it is more important to us to live in a place where we enjoy the cultural opportunities, weather, and our surroundings than to have a large house so that will be easy for us… we’ve done it before.

Next, I set off in search of some reliable French real estate sites that would give me an idea of the quantity and quality of available properties. There are many to choose from such as France Property Shop, Allez Français, and French Property Links. Of course, I will have to sort these out later in the game, but a fairly thorough cross-reference search revealed plenty of homes available in the condition, size, and price range that would work for us. I even contacted one real estate agent (agent immobilier) to make sure a particular house I was interested in actually existed and was still for sale. He was kind enough to respond and confirm that is was, but did not take our relationship any further once he realized we were not immediately ready to buy which was understandable.

The major advantage for us in attempting to buy property in France is that we will be able to pay cash. Currently, France is suffering its own economic challenges and mortgages are almost impossible to obtain. For example, one amazing property where we will be staying next summer, La Manoir La Betoulle, includes a 5,000 sq. ft. manor house, two gîtes (cottages), a large swimming pool, tennis courts, much land, and other amenities. The British couple who has been running it very successfully as a B & B for the past ten years has had it up for sale for the last two years. They have received several offers but no one has been able to get a loan. The asking price… €795,000 (about $1 million) — a steal from our point of view in the Silicon Valley and there are plenty of people here who could write a check for that amount. Of course, we’re not looking for anything like that, but the same is true for smaller properties. Sellers need to find buyers who have cash and, since that is the plan for our next purchase, this situation will totally benefit us. We understand that purchasing a home in France is a much different experience and process than it is here in the U.S. We’ll be educating ourselves on that and I’ll be writing more about that later. I have found a variety of really good resources on this topic. You might want to check out a couple for yourself… France Buying Guide and And, if you’d like a little further reading about the home buying experience in France, read Diane’s enlightening and humorous post on her blog, Oui in France.

As one French proverb goes… A chaque oiseau, son nid est beau — To every bird, its own nest is beautiful. We are looking forward to finding our own special nest in France.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “All Things Considered”.

On our way back…


Today, in conjunction with the 101st Tour de France Grand Départ, we are launchingimage our next adventure through France.

One of the goals of our 2012 Tour de France was to become familiar with many regions of France — the real France outside of Paris. As the French say, there is Paris and then there’s the rest of France — Paris is not France. Our 7-week experience proved this to be delightfully true and you can read all about it starting with our first blog post “Getting the Adventure Rolling“.

Another goal of our trip was to decide how well our fantasy of retiring in France fit with our reality. We have had this idea in mind for most of the 20 years we have been together. So what did we decide? At the end of any long trip, no matter how well-planned, one is usually pretty tired and ready to return home. It’s not a good time to make any life-changing decisions. At that moment, our conclusion was that we weren’t ready to commit to spending our retirement in France. You can read more about our self-reflection in Norman’s post “Looking into the Mirror“. However, as retirement draws near and becomes more concrete, we have begun to revisit this idea. This year, after considering several factors, the idea has taken life once again and this time, much more seriously. Our reality is that housing and healthcare alone will make a rather large dent in my anticipated retirement. Residing in one of the most expensive areas in the United States as we do, makes the possibility of greatly reducing our cost of living by moving to another country, even France, quite real.

So, for starters, over the next two summers we’re planning two extensive expeditions to the areas in France we think would be the most compatible for us. Based on our previous travels and much research, we have decided to return to Western France — specifically the region of Aquitaine with its renown cities of Bordeaux and Périgueux and slightly north into the region of Poitou-Charentes with its famous cities of Angoulême and Cognac. Two important factors in these choices… The climate in these locations is similar to that of our own here in the U.S. though somewhat wetter and cooler. There is a wide variety of available housing in a price range that fits our budget. Our plan is to experience both city and country living in various locations from a resident’s rather than a tourist’s point of view.

That said, we’re on our way back to France on June 12, 2015. If you’ve ever thought about moving to another country, or simply enjoy the experience of traveling vicariously, we invite you to join us and come along for the ride. Over the next year, our weekly posts will cover topics such as things to consider before you decide where you want to live, what it takes to become an expat, and learning the local language as well as French food, fashion, and culture. Check out Tour 2015 to discover our destinations where you will be able to follow us daily once D(eparture)-day arrives.

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