Tag Archives: visa

SO, YOU WANT TO MOVE TO FRANCE, PART 4

It has been a year since my last post in this series (LINK TO PART 3), and I thought I would bring you up to date on our expat experience. (LINK PART 1, LINK PART 2)

We are currently living in Lyon and are between our second and third long-stay visitor visas (carte sejour). I say between, because our second visa expired in October and our appointment to renew (made last June) is in February. The government agency responsible for visas is swamped due to Brexit and other factors, so everything is backed-up. Our appointment notice serves as an automatic visa extension until our new one is approved.

We have also applied to enter the social security and health care systems. Once we receive our health card (Carte Vitale), we will have full access. You can qualify for the system after living here for a few months (LINK), but it took us a while before we applied. Fortunately, we have not had any health issues to speak of in the interim.

Since we were in France for more than 183 days in 2019, we will have to file a tax return for this year. We have no French income (we can’t work in France with our current visas), but we will have to file anyway, which is fine with us as we plan to stay here indefinitely. We do pay taxes on our apartment and VAT taxes already.

I am still struggling with my French and I remain at the transactional level; I can do most transactions pretty well, but I cannot have a conversation with a French speaker. I continue to listen to French lessons online and via my iPhone and attend some practice sessions such as a weekly coffee in French sponsored by the American Club of Lyon (LINK).

The American Club has become one of our social hubs, and we meet both expats and French people who may have lived or studied in the US for a time. There is a coffee in English on Tuesdays and in French on Thursdays, plus regular happy hours, special events, and holiday gatherings for Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. There are about 2-300 active members of the club.

Another social hub is Internations (LINK), an international organization with groups in most cities around the world. They sponsor monthly meet-and-greets at cafes and other locations and have smaller affinity groups which vary by location. Membership consists mostly of expats and visitors, with a few locals who want to meet people from other countries.

Violin Beautiful

Dorianne is playing a lot of chamber music here. One of the reasons we chose Lyon was because of the vibrant amateur chamber music community here. She plays in several orchestras, a few smaller groups, and participates in stages, or trainings, both locally and internationally. This community has become a third social hub for us.

Our building and local neighborhood have become a fourth social hub. There is an annual fête des voisins (neighbors’ party) in our building, and naturally we see our neighbors during the day as we enter and leave the building. Our street has hosted a street party where the street was closed off and the businesses provided food and drinks for everyone. And, we see the local shop owners almost daily as we make our local purchases of food, wine and such.

Our cave (storage area) in the basement of the building is growing as we make wine purchases at the local caves (wine shops) and at various wine festivals and tastings during the year. Wine is like food here, and I find that there is less conversation about wine during meals than in California. The wine is simply part of the experience and you talk about other things. Lyon has an excellent selection of French wines in restaurants and stores. International wines are a bit harder to find, and I have only found one place with good US wines – the Franklin Steakhouse (LINK), which features US beef and Napa Valley wines. The owner, Eric, is a former cooper in Napa and still features some of the wines of the winemakers he made barrels for. There are good Italian restaurants with good Italian wines, etc., but this is a city surrounded by wine regions and which specializes in French wines.

The French rarely talk about work or money; they like to talk about family, culture, and philosophy – and politics. My French, as noted above, is not good enough yet to go deeply into these topics. It takes a good knowledge of French to be part of the conversation and to be fully accepted here. So, I will keep studying.

I will say that I have not had the experience of rudeness which some American report when visiting France. I do have some thoughts on the topic. One issue is that France is not a tipping culture. French servers are professionals who receive a living wage and benefits even at the smallest cafés. This means a couple of things – the servers do not hover and check on you every five minutes; they do not try to up-sell you to raise the bill. The servers are not ignoring you; they are letting you enjoy your meal. In fine restaurants, the service will be a bit more solicitous, but again, they are not trying to raise your bill to get a larger tip. Also, the table is yours for the evening and one is expected to linger over dinner; meals are not rushed. When you want the check (l’addition) you will have to signal the server, and you may pay at the counter in many cafés and bouchons (Lyonnaise bistros). The menu price includes taxes and there is no need to tip – although we often leave a euro or two for good service.

Another way to be treated well is to at least attempt to use French when making a purchase in a store or asking for directions. Many French people speak little or no English, or they are embarrassed that their English isn’t better, so they hesitate to speak it. But when some Americans (including some expats) make no effort to speak French, and act affronted if a French person does not speak English, then it is me who gets embarrassed.

Finally, I find that while Americans tend to be like dogs – outgoing, friendly, and often boisterous, the French are often more like cats – you have to let them come to you. They shake hands when meeting someone for the first time, then the kisses begin (the number and pattern vary by region) – but you either do not touch or barely touch the other person. And no hugging. When you understand this, you will give French people the opportunity to warm up to you and you will see how warm and friendly they can be. As I said, we have experienced numerous acts of kindness and not had a single negative experience in two years of living here and in multiple trips here previously.

Assuming that all goes well with our visa renewals in February, we will be remaining here for most of the year. Our intention is to apply for either permanent residency (like a Green Card) or French citizenship (dual) when we have been here for five years (which would be July 2022. And did I mention how great the trains are?

Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard

SO, YOU WANT TO MOVE TO FRANCE, PART 2

“When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel.”

~ Gloria Steinem

If you read the first post (LINK) in this series, written in September 2017, when we had been in Lyon, France for a bit over two months, you know about the process of securing a long-stay visa and finding an apartment, and a few other things. This post will bring you up to date on the next steps we have taken, and some lessons learned along the way.

Here is where we are as of this writing:

  1. We have purchased an apartment in the 6th Arrondissement of Lyon. Long-term rentals are nearly impossible to find, as landlords usually demand French co-signers for leases (see the first post for more about this). We signed the papers where our offer was accepted, and now are in a 3-month period where notaires, sort of specialized real estate attorneys, do some due diligence on the title, etc. There is an 8% fee for this service, which includes an effective sales tax for the property. We expect to take possession of the apartment in late June or early July. I am now on my way to the US to meet the shipping company representatives who will begin the move of our remaining possessions from California to Lyon.
  2. We had a bit of a scare about shipping Dorianne’s 1923 Steinway piano because of the prohibitions (in the US and the EU) of exporting or importing ivory But we found out that when the piano was rebuilt, plastic keys were installed, so no problem there (just a rather large packing and shipping fee). Also, Dorianne is playing violin is a couple of amateur orchestras in Lyon.
  3. We are in our third short-term furnished rental and about to move into our fourth. By law, short-term rentals in France cannot exceed 90 days unless the residence is declared as the non-primary residence of the owners. And, apparently, AirBnB rentals are limited to 90 days. Plus, French cities are restricting AirBnb operations, cracking down due to many complaints. We found a great rental manager who does both AirBnB and non-AirBnb rentals and have been very happy with rentals in different parts of the city. We have been paying between 1800 and 2500 per month for nice furnished apartments – one to three bedrooms. It has worked out well for us, but we are glad to be moving to a “home base.”
  4. We are about to renew our long-stay visa, including a change of department (like a state) from Bourgogne (Mâcon) to Rhône-Alpes (Lyon). We go to the local prefecture, police station & department offices, to renew. Our appointment is set for June 28th, and the paperwork is essentially the same as the original visa application (see LINK to prior post). We will still not be able to work in France. Dorianne is considering seeking a self-employment visa but will explore that later. After five years, we will be eligible to apply for permanent residency and/or French citizenship (which takes about 2 years to process currently).
  5. Learning French is coming more slowly that we expected, but we continue to study – Dorianne more diligently than me to be honest. Mais c’est la vie. Also, we have met several expats through org (they have a wine-tasting and hiking group) and other sources, and we are too temped to speak English when with them. We are also traveling out of France quite a bit – something that should be reduced over the next year. Dorianne has a tutor, who offers immersion weeks at her home in Burgundy – that is something we may take advantage of over the summer.

Meanwhile, we are loving the lifestyle in Lyon. I have blogged about the everyday wine experience (LINK) here. Every neighborhood has a selection of great restaurants and shops, including wine caves, featuring regional wines. Our current local cave is Cave Chromatique, on Rue de la Charité in the Ainay neighborhood. It has a nice selection of wines and spirits and the owner has carefully selected the wines he sells – some nice wines, including great values from Burgundy and the Rhône Valley.

We go out for lunch or dinner once or twice a week, and there are many wonderful places to eat at all price ranges. The markets offer fresh foods daily, as do the local shops – baguettes, cheese, meats, fish, fruit and vegetables, chocolates & pastries – everything we need. The railroad system is excellent (although on a series of rolling strikes at the moment), and Lyon Airport is convenient and has flights to most of Europe.

I have been bringing wines from my California wine locker back, a few bottles at a time. My French friends love the good American wines – the rare US wines stocked here tend to be, well, mediocre at best (unlike in the UK). I think that is intentional, as the French are very sensitive and proprietary about their wine, and, indeed, we are drinking French wines almost exclusively and loving them.

I think that’s about it for this post. As always, your comments are welcome – I’d love to hear about your expat experience or your questions about moving to France.

Au revoir!

France Flag

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

SO, YOU WANT TO MOVE TO FRANCE?

My wife, Dorianne, and I decided to move to France about 9 months ago. We have been “on the road” since early 2015, when we sold our home in southern California. Since then, we have spent about half of our time in Europe and the other half in North and Central America. We have visited 23 countries and 16 states. I have blogged about some of our wine-related adventures.

After thinking that we would probably settle in Spain, we chose France for two main reasons: first, we feel more at home in France, second, we like the hours that the French keep – not quite so late as in Spain. Both countries have great food and wine, and both have a “work to live, not live to work” lifestyle, so it was a close call for us, especially since Dorianne is conversational in Spanish and neither of us are in French. But France called us, no matter where else we traveled.

We have been to France about 8 times since 2005, staying from a few days to several months, in places such as Paris, Avignon, Nice, Bordeaux, Lourdes, Aix-en-Provence, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and Lyon.

We decided on Lyon for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a city, but smaller, less expensive, and less congested than Paris.
  2. It has a well-preserved historic section (Vieux Lyon, where we are currently staying), and beautiful architecture throughout the city.
  3. It has a great culinary tradition.
  4. There are four wine regions nearby (Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura, and Côte du Rhône).
  5. An international airport and access to high-speed rail (Paris in 2 hrs.).
  6. A good chamber music community (Dorianne plays the violin).

So, we began our research – after a brief visit in November, we began to do online research, looking at expat sites and chat rooms, travel blogs, French sites (including government sites on how to get visas, etc.), and real estate sites. We decided to rent for a year or so to get a feel for in which area of the city we wanted to settle.

What we discovered is that it is very difficult to get a work visa for France unless you are hired by a French company or working for a foreign company and will have a temporary assignment in France. The law says that to qualify for a job, there must be no French citizen who can fill that job, and then, no EU citizen who can fill it. Unless you meet those criteria or are going to invest and start a business and hire ten French citizens, you can forget a work visa. There are no investment visas in France, such as the Golden Visa for real estate purchases in Portugal, Spain, Greece, or Malta.

We applied for a long-stay visitor visa (there are time constraints) (LINK) (LINK). Essentially, we had to show that we could afford to live in France for a year, had health insurance that covered us there, and were not wanted by the law. We submitted a stack of papers and had a short interview at the French Consulate in Los Angeles (you must apply in person at the embassy or consulate nearest to your US residence).

Once approved, you get a visa in your passport, which they hold for a few weeks, so plan accordingly. You must enter France within 3 months of receiving the visa. We got our Visa in May and had it dated July 12, 2017 to July 12, 2018. You must enter France within seven days of the first date. The visa is good for the entire EU.

We arrived in Lyon on July 13th, my birthday, and celebrated with a dinner at the Institut Paul Bocuse (LINK) – the restaurant of the famed culinary school operated by France’s greatest chef. It is run by students, and you get a Michelin-quality meal for a great price. They have a small but nicely selected wine list as well – and the wine prices are about the same as regular retail. I blogged about an earlier visit (LINK).

We initially stayed at a friend’s apartment, but moved to an AirBnb for, we thought, a month or two, while we looked for a long-term rental apartment. That’s when we found out how difficult it is to rent an apartment in France if you are not a citizen or permanent resident (it’s also difficult if you are a citizen). It is illegal to rent to someone who has anything less than a work visa. And short-term rentals are limited to 3 months. We found that there are landlords who are willing to overlook the requirements, but they demand multiple French co-signers for your lease. It is also illegal to pay rent in advance (say pay 6 months or a year). The French laws are very much in favor of tenants, so the landlords take every advantage they can. We are still in an AirBnB.

We are still open to a long-term rental, but we will be away for December and January at least, so we will wait until we return to look further. Actually, it is easier to buy here than to rent – the limitations on visas, etc. do not apply to real estate purchases. So, we may end up buying sooner than we expected. Prices in the Lyon area are cheaper than Paris, but there are not many bargains in the categories that we are looking for.

Another important tip: if you want to do things like get a French cell phone or a transit card (TCL Carte in Lyon), you must have a French bank account. French banks do not operate like US banks in at least one sense – they don’t seem to particularly want new customers. We entered a branch bank to ask to open a checking account and were told that they next appointment to do so was two weeks away. At a different (downtown) branch, we got accounts right away, but we must do everything via that branch. You can do some things online and at ATM machines, but the system is very parochial.

Once we had the account, and got some funds into it (another issue), we got cell phones and transit cards. You also need a French bank account to rent an apartment long-term, by the way. Once you have a French bank credit card (which work sort of like a combination of credit and debit cards in the US – you need to have funds in your account and can only get credit for up to 500€), you will find it easier to use than US cards in restaurants and shops.

As for our first two months in Lyonlife is grand! We are eating very healthy, fresh food from the thrice per week farmers’ markets (marchés) in our Croix-Rousse (4th Arrondisement) neighborhood. Also, there are plenty of bakeries (boulangeries), butchers (boucheries), prepared food shops (epicères & traiteurs), and fresh fruit & vegetable shops as well. Oh, and every neighborhood has several wine shops (caves).

There are also plenty of restaurants, brasseries, bouchons (Lyonnaise version of a bistro), comptoirs (counters), and coffee shops. And wine bars, too. The food is amazing in just about every place you eat (we avoid the chain restaurants other than some of the local chains which have two or three locations in Lyon).

During August, just about everything that is locally owned and not a national or international chain closes for vacation for anywhere from two to five weeks. So, we drank a lot of supermarket wines during the month, which in France, is not a bad thing. There are very cheap to lower-mid-range (1.8€ to 18€ per bottle) wines from all over France, including Burgundy and Bordeaux in every supermarket. The wines are mostly from larger producers, of course, and you don’t see the premier cru labels there, however, the overall quality is very good. We were drinking wines from Tavel, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, Moulin a Vent, Burgundy, and others from the supermarket (supermarché) shelves. I was also introduced to boxed wine at a local party, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Luberon Valley Syrah sold in a 5-liter box for 25€.

THE FRENCH EFFECT

I’ll close with this interesting tidbit. Despite eating and drinking a large variety of foods and wines, I have actually lost a few pounds since arriving in Lyon. My best guess is that there are a few factors in this welcome phenomenon:

  1. The lifestyle here is to walk. I probably average 2 – 3 miles per day at least.
  2. We are mostly preparing our own meals, and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And there is wine and bread every day, too.
  3. I think that when you shop daily and eat fresh foods (even from the supermarket – avoid those center aisles with the processed foods), and those foods are grown on smaller farms (very little industrial farming in France), your body reacts differently to the foods you eat.

I’ll be posting more wine-centric posts as time goes on. We are itching to explore the wine regions in the area in person and to delve more deeply into the Lyon wine scene. So, stay tuned.

I would be very interested in your comments about being an expat or about your experiences with visiting France and other wine capitals in the comments section below.

Au revoir!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard