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MOVING TO FRANCE: OVERVIEW AFTER SEVEN YEARS #1




We arrived in France on 16 April, 2014. I had retired just two weeks before. Our house in Pennsylvania had been put on the market but was as yet unsold. But we made it here and we have been here for just over seven years. I posted about our experiences after three years. It's time for an update.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

We have not regretted the decision to move to France for one second. Not one single second.

BUREAUCRACY

It's been an unforgettable couple of years for French bureaucrats. Brexit and COVID have generated the need to design, distribute, amend, interpret, and enforce all manner of forms and procedures.  

There are tens of thousands of Brits who spend from a few weeks to many months in holiday houses or primary residences throughout much of France, although the major concentrations are on the French side of the Channel and down along the Med. No longer citizens of an EU country, Brits will have to live by different rules. They will be limited to the number of days they can stay in France if they do not choose to become legal residents. There are driving licenses to consider, tax questions to consider, healthcare choices to consider.

And each change of status requires a new form. The French are getting better at new forms, though. COVID has caused electronic submissions to replace many face-to-face encounters. And they usually work reasonably well, against all expectations.

COVID has been a true test for a high-functioning bureaucracy. There were times that you couldn't leave the house without a piece of paper that detail your justification for breaking confinement. And the rollout of the vaccine was painfully slow. But once the French figured it out, the process that we went through through to get our two jabs was easy to navigate and efficiently accomplished. In fact, just about every expat that we discussed it with agreed that the vaccination centers were admirably well run.

We can only hope that, once COVID has been put behind us - to the extent that it can be - the French will go back to their normal, everyday blizzards of paperwork. To make a successful submission to a French bureaucrat, you just need to get good in the language and be polite. It's the best that you can do. Oh, and maintain a folder of every official piece of paper that you own, with a copy, and translated.

FOOD AND WINE

I can't say it too often. The snozzberries taste like snozzberries. (Google that quote if its origin doesn't immediately pop to mind. We are the makers of music and the dreamers of dreams. But I digress.) Veggies in France are not grown for their ability to be shipped across a country. They are grown for their taste. And since we live close to the Mediterranean, Spain and Italy and North Africa are as close to us as D.C. is to Boston, so most everything is in season somewhere nearby all year round. But we try to buy as local as possible because local French strawberries in season are exquisite. Mouth candy. Tomatoes come down to just about a dollar a pound when they start coming in. The asparagus farm down the way will sell you spears pulled from the ground today, sorted into whatever thickness that is your favorite, for a few dollars a pound. Apricots and peaches are sold in sheds at the edge of the orchards for a couple of dollars a pound. You get the picture. Diet changes with the seasons to take advantage of brief periods of peak local ripeness.

You're a meat eater? So as not to put off my vegan friends, I won't go into full, lyric mode when describing the taste of locally sourced lamb and poultry and pork. They taste the way that they are supposed to taste. It’s that simple. If you like lamb, you will REALLY like the lamb in France.

That's not to say that French comestibles are perfect, at least to this American expat. Corn on the cob here is just a step up from what we'd call field corn in the Northeast, nowhere in the neighborhood of Jersey sweet corn that literally melts in the mouth. Beef has a different taste, as it should given the differences in medication and diet. It needs getting used to...or a nice marinade. Peanut butter is expensive, particularly if you insist on it being mindfully produced. But I pick nits. 

Wine? We drink vrac, wine dispensed from a vat into a five-liter container in bulk at less than $2.00 a liter. When we have company, bottles of tasty sipping pink start at $5 or less. You can spend as much or as little as your taste coupled with your budget allows, all directly from vineyards just down the road.

Bottom line? We eat great for less money. I’ll tackle restaurants and other aspects of shopping in subsequent posts.

HEALTHCARE

Cathey and I have each had serious medical conditions requiring hospitalization since moving here. (We’re fine.) Our care could not have been better. In fact, when Cathey’s surgeon asked if she would like to go back to the States for the procedure, she just laughed. 

Healthcare in France is less expensive than in the USofA, about one-half of the cost per person. And healthcare in France has better outcomes, with life expectancy higher than the USofA and infant mortality lower. How can that be? Well, costs are kept low both because it’s a single-payer system and because prices are controlled at all levels, from office visits to your general practitioner to your prescription medications.

And the cost to the consumer is more than reasonable. Your ‘social charge’ is based on your income, certain pensions are excluded from the calculation, the amount of income exempted is reasonable, and the percentage is not dissimilar to FICA. Approximately 70% of costs are covered and, if you want supplemental insurance to cover the rest, costs for that are reasonable too. There are lots of choices for top-up insurance, from hospital only plans to plans that cover everything. We pay about $75.00 apiece per month for a plan in the middle. We pay nothing for drugs, doctor visits, most tests, and most hospitalizations. There's an active, competitive insurance marketplace that might seem odd but that works well in a sophisticated socialized system.

The fact the the USofA can’t institute a similar system is one reason that we won’t be returning any time soon.

NEXT UP

I will be continuing this series for a couple of weeks. Let me know in the comments if there are any particular topics that you would like me to discuss.





Comments

  1. A lovely read, Ira, concise and informative! And it makes me want to re-open our thoughts about retired to the other country for which I claim citizenship. When both food AND medical treatment are better, what a great way to face the next 20 years! Now, if only I could convince our kids, their partners and kids (16+one in development) to move with us! :) ~Jeanne (and Kim)

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    Replies
    1. I know. It’s a hard sell for those who haven’t even considered it. But I have found that there are more people like us here than there are in the States. It is SUCH a relief.

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