|American expat Jennifer describes parts of her life in Annecy, France, where she lives with her boyfriend and works as an English teaching assistant. She also shares helpful information on topics like French immigration policies and the cost of housing, as well as things to keep in mind before moving to France.
-Where were you born?
Flint, Michigan, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my boyfriend, and we've been PACSed (signed a civil union contract) for one year.
-How long have you been living in France?
Since September 2006
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in France?
Actually, I never really wanted to live here because I had visited a few times as a tourist and didn't think I could ever live in Europe. But I was finishing my Master's degree in the US and needed to improve my French in order to continue on with PhD in Australia. I was only supposed to be in France for 7 months and then move to Perth, but I met my boyfriend almost immediately after I arrived. I decided that I wanted to stay in France because my French hadn't improved enough and because I wasn't ready to start my PhD just yet. And because I didn't want to leave my French love behind!
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No, because I already had a job before coming to France. Getting my residency card took a bit of time and a lot of paperwork. I had to fight to change the status of my residency card last summer when I was (temporarily) unemployed though. I wasn't even sure if I had to return to the US just to get another visa, but luckily everything worked out and I didn't have to. I will have to change the status of my residency card once again this spring, but thanks to being PACSed to a French citizen for a year, I should finally have the right to work like any other EU citizen in France.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Surprisingly, this was very easy for me because my employer took care of registering me with social security and it was taken directly out of my paycheck.
-How do you make your living in France? Do you have any type of income generated?
This is my second year working as an English Language Assistant in a local high school. I applied for the position in the US through the French Embassy, and they sponsored my work visa to come here. I was able to renew my work contract for a second year, but only after 5 months of unemployment and waiting. I also earn some extra income by baby-sitting and giving private English lessons, as well as with Google Ads on my website (Indo-European Languages). I will be unemployed this summer, however, so I plan on looking for a job as a English teacher at a university. I've thought about working in the travel/tourism industry as well. But I would love to find a way to make a living with my website because learning and teaching foreign languages is my passion.
-Do you speak French and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Yes, I do speak French, but my conversational skills were very limited when I arrived. I had only learned how to read and write French in the US, so I felt a little lost and frustrated when I moved here and had to find a place to live, open a bank account, etc. I wish I had studied abroad when I was in college because I was definitely not prepared to live here with my limited speaking skills.
Expats should make every effort to learn and speak French when living in France. Not only does it make life less stressful when dealing with French bureaucracy, it also helps with understanding French culture. Language and culture are interdependent, and you really cannot understand one without the other. Furthermore, there are numerous aspects of French culture that cannot be translated directly into English.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss the US a lot more than I thought I would. I lived out in the countryside in Michigan, so it's very hard for me to get used to living in an apartment and not having my own yard. The population density is much higher here, and everything is smaller so I feel like I don't have much personal space. And sometimes the pace of French life is just too slow for me. I will never get used to 2 hour lunches, stores that close by 7 pm, and not being able to do anything on Sundays.
I miss my family most around Thanksgiving. It's always strange for me to work on Thanksgiving and the day after. Luckily, we can talk on Skype and keep in touch through e-mail. The six-hour time difference is difficult sometimes, but we manage.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
For the next few years, my boyfriend and I will probably stay in France and try to save money. I do love to travel though, and fortunately travelling in Europe is not expensive because of its small size compared to the US.
We don't plan on staying in France, or even Europe, forever. Eventually, we would like to immigrate to Canada or Australia and teach French to Anglophones.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We rent our one bedroom apartment (50 m2) in a suburb of Annecy for 550 € a month (not including utilities). In downtown Annecy, this same apartment would rent for over 700 € a month. The cost to buy this apartment would be around 160,000 €.
-What is the cost of living in France?
Annecy can be rather expensive because it's so close to Switzerland. And France in general has a much higher cost of living than the US. I'm still amazed at how expensive everything is here. We pay between 1300 and 1500 € every month on all our bills - rent, utilities, gas, insurance, food, etc. That's equal to what most French workers earn every month as well, so luckily there are two of us to pay the bills!
-What do you think about the French?
I haven't had any bad experiences with French people. In fact, sometimes I think they are nicer than Americans. I do come across the stereotypical rude civil servant once in a while, but I certainly don't have a negative image of French people.
Unfortunately, xenophobia exists in every country, and I have noticed more anti-foreigner sentiments since Sarkozy came to power. His anti-immigration laws certainly aren't helping any either.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in France?
Pros: Awesome healthcare, unemployment benefits, good education system, healthy food, weeks and weeks of vacation, smoking ban in public places, close proximity to other countries, each region seems to have its own identity and history - there's so much to see in this country alone!
Cons: Bureaucracy, high rate of unemployment, everything takes forever to get done, bad customer service, awful TV, lack of adequate heating, surprise bills and taxes, too many strikes, not as modern or convenient as I'd like it to be, Sarkozy
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in France?
Finding a job before moving to France should be the number one priority. It is very difficult (and sometimes illegal) to just move here without a job or source of income. Especially for non EU citizens, moving to France is becoming harder and harder. You need to stay informed of the immigration laws as well because Sarkozy has been changing them lately. It is no longer possible to move to France without a visa even if you are married to a French citizen, nor is it possible to leave France every 3 months and come back a few days later. You are only allowed to spend 3 months in France without a visa, and then you must leave for 3 months before coming back.
A lot of people seem to have this fairy tale notion about France. But it's really just another country with good and bad points. Finding a job is certainly not easy, especially if you do not have a degree earned from a French university. I have a Master's degree from the US, but that means nothing to the French in terms of finding a job here.
Once in France, patience is the key. There is an endless amount of paperwork to do, even for the smallest things. Ask the same question to five different people, and you will get five different answers. Receiving your residency card can take several weeks or even months. And don't expect to get anything accomplished in July or August, when the entire country goes on vacation.
In short, you need to very prepared and very patient.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about France?
My website of free language tutorials: http://www.ielanguages.com
How to become an assistant in France: http://www.ciep.fr/en/assistantetr
Unofficial message board for the assistants in France: http://www.assistantsinfrance.com/forums