Enjoying la vie française: A writer's life in France

It has been 13 years since Vanessa moved from the UK to France, where she lives with her husband and works as a freelance writer. Find out about her expat life in France, her plans to see more of the country, and why she recommends you learn to speak the language if you are planning on moving to France.

Vanessa Couchman

-Where were you born?

London, UK

-In which country and city are you living now?

SW France, near Montauban

-Are you living alone or with your family?


-How long have you been living in France?

13 years

-What is your age?

Early 50s

-When did you come up with the idea of living in France?

1997 - having reached a crossroads in my career, I felt there was more to life than four office walls. My husband had already lived in France for four years and we usually holidayed here, enjoying la vie française. He was self-employed as a consultant, which he could do from anywhere, and I decided to do the same.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

Not an issue. EU citizens have the right to live in other EU countries.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

We got straight into the health system because we set up a French company. Nowadays there are residency qualifications before you can get in if you are below retirement age. Best to get advice on this before taking the plunge.

-How do you make your living in France? Do you have any type of income generated? 

Freelance writer. I write research reports, annual reports, brochures, etc., for UK corporate clients and am moving into magazine articles and features as well. I also teach English as a sideline.

We were lucky to have another British expat help us to set up our company, especially as our French wasn't brilliant at the time. He had lived in France for 20 years and knew the ropes. There seemed to be a lot of paperwork (all in French) and lots of rules and regulations to follow. I'd advise anyone planning to set up a business to get help and not try to do it alone, unless your French is very good and you know the system already.

-Do you speak French and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

Yes. I think it's essential to speak French if you want to integrate. It also makes it easier to deal with the legendary bureaucracy.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? 

No, I visit the UK regularly on business; it's 1.5 hours away by air.

-Do you have other plans for the future? 

If I can ever afford to retire I will travel more and see more of France, especially. France is great for walking and, of course, food and drink.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it? 

We own our house. Real estate prices have fallen in recent years in the countryside but have remained stable in booming cities like Toulouse, with a likely tendency upwards in 2010.

-What is the cost of living there?

In the countryside it's cheaper than in big cities anywhere, but watch out for currency fluctuations if you come from outside the Eurozone.

-What do you think about the locals? 

Friendly and helpful especially if you make the effort to speak French.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in France?

Positive: health system, countryside, culture.

Negative: bureaucracy, government interventionism, winters are colder than anyone lets on before you move here.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in France?

Learn French, don't come if you don't have a regular income or aren't sure of getting one, don't discard your winter clothes!

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about France?

My own blog about French life, A writer's lot in France, which gives the lowdown on what it's really like to live in rural France:

I also find the following useful:





sandraseifert's picture

nice photos I think you are kind and sweet.


nessafrance's picture

Thanks for the comment and sorry for the time it has taken me to reply. I don't think my husband would agree with your opinion, but I'm happy to accept the compliment!!

Hey. I am 20 years old guy

georgistnv's picture

Hey. I am 20 years old guy from Bulgaria. I have been living in Sweden for five months but I am not quite happy with the my life here. The weather, the people and the System(the prison in which they live in) in "the far north" made me realize my mistake . I started making plans about running away from everything I have achieved here and find a good place in France (not in the big towns of course) - just me, my bike, a tend, fishing rod and some money for other food. The culture, their attitude to food and drink, the language (it sounds wonderful, and I guess it can widen my outlook) their history - all the great thinkers that lived in France... I think that it would be proper environment for me to start a new beginning and develop my talents surrounded by such an environment.

I hope everything I have learned, and I am going to learn about France would match the reality this time... It could be just another disappointment for me... trying to escape from myself, or not ... anyway it is time to do something crazy in this life :)

I just wanted to share.

Oh, France!

thelma's picture

I'm an untreatable romantic woman. I think France, I think romance. La vie en rose...it must be an every day adventure. I'm a small town agent, I sell textbooks online,a job not so adventurous. The county side there must be amazing. I can imagine myself sitting there by myself, writing about peace and mysterious romance. I'm not young anymore to do what Georgi said above, doing something crazy in this life,like loosing myself in France, but I can still dream about it. Have a nice day, Vanessa