Sunday, October 2, 2011

Philofaxy All Stars, guest post by Steve: Living Abroad

I asked Steve to write a post about living abroad because I know he moved from the UK to France. I've also lived abroad and I wish I had looked into moving abroad more before doing it. I hope, that if you decide to take the plunge, this guest post will come in handy! 
 
In May 2010 my wife and I moved from UK to France to live. It wasn't a snap decision, we had been planning this move for about 5 years, a lot longer than we had hoped, but this was mainly down to the time it took us to sell our UK house. We were lucky in that we already owned the house we were moving in to in France so it did ease the transition somewhat.

So why do you want to move abroad?  Job, Weather, pace of life, a new challenge, everyone has a different reason for moving to another country. Can you achieve the same result by moving to a different part of your own country?

And after answering that question, have you decided which country to move to? Will you be wanting to move back again or visit on a regular basis to the country you are moving from? If you only intend to visit three or four times a year or less then check out the transport connections and costs before hand.

Do you speak the language of the country you are moving to?  Most language courses concentrate on reserving hotel rooms and ordering food in restaurants, which is fine, but not a lot of good to you if you are trying to identify what a two way light switch is in a DiY shop...and it's all in French (yes been there got the t shirt!) If your move isn't for a few years, may be when you retire... start learning the new language now. I've been trying to learn French for over 4 years, it's not easy, I understand more than I can converse. But you can feel quite helpless quite quickly without some of the basic language skills. I'm not happy venturing to the shops or the post office on my own and not putting the machines in to English to use them!

So you have decided that yes we want to move... and you have decided on the country and wild horses won't discourage you from going ahead with this move that will turn your life up side down... shake you by the ankles and make you giddy in the process.... So what area of your chosen country do you want to move to? Have you been to that area on holiday? That's how most people start and how we got started... but a word of caution (yes another one!) all those restaurants you had trouble deciding which to visit in the height of the summer season for the last 5 years... will most probably be closed come the end of September until about Easter.... turning that busy town or village in summer in to a ghost town on a winters evening.  We started our French house hunting process off in such a village in November 2004, we had been there that summer, what a contrast... we didn't buy there. In fact we are glad we didn't, it's ok being on the tourist trail, but you can never get a parking space in the village square in summer and the place is dead in winter.

Picking the ideal area to buy in will depend on a lot of different factors, price obviously, how much land you want, transport links.  Starting with the last one first... don't rely on just one airport, budget airlines have a habit of cutting services in winter or all together. Our house is within about 2 hours or about 4 different regional airports the nearest one is about 50 minutes drive away.

How much land? Well in some countries (such as France) they almost can't give away enough land with rural properties, how much do you want?  Whilst having a large plot is very nice.... don't forget you have to maintain it. We have 1000 square metres which is more than ample for us and it's over three times the size of plot we had back in UK. If you have thoughts about keeping animals then of course they will help keep the vegetation at bay!! If you are considering a swimming pool then obviously you need some space for that too.

In a similar way to how much land do you want... how big a house do you really need? Again it's nice to have a big place... but you will have more to maintain... and more to heat in winter, may be the winter chilly months will be shorter compared to home, but if you can only heat by electricity then you need to take in to account your future energy bills.

It's glum this moving abroad isn't it... it's there any positive things you have to say about it... be patient... not yet!

Income is next on my list... what will be your source of income, will you be able to work in your new country? May be self employed but you will still need some local language skills to succeed in your new business venture... it's just harder to do with the 'different country' factors to take in to account.

Another thing that is important to take in to account is health care. You might be enjoying free health care in your current country of residence. That isn't always the case in your new country, again research about health care provision, especially if you have any pre-existing conditions and you are already on regular medication.

If you have children, then their education will be critical, especially if they don’t speak the native language. We were fortunate in that our son is a young adult and lives and works in London so this wasn’t an issue for us… but it might be for you.

Make sure that you will be able to get some form of broadband internet at your new house… before you have signed to buy it. It’s nice to live in isolation, but being totally cut off from your on-line life can prove to be a disadvantage when it comes to keeping in touch with family and old friends.

There is a whole list of other things to take in to account but if I continue you will lose the will to live! All I will say is do your research... and then do it again. Look at every aspect of your life no matter how dull or mundane it is and then translate that to your new country of residence and see how easy or hard it is to do there. You will discover some bemusing and astounding facts along the way.  How prices vary, how stubborn on-line companies are with regards to you moving accounts from one country to another. There are work arounds for a lot of these problems and you will become an expert in most of them in no time at all, sometimes by accident, sometimes by trial and error.

If you are buying a house in your new country of choice, consider using a buying agent. They will take your spec and find you that perfect house that meets your brief. It will cost you a percentage of the house price, but compared to the multiple journeys you might have to make to not find that ideal house then it is worth it. http://ltps.fr/ is such a Property Finder in my area of France... run by my wife!  But we aren't unique, there are property finders operating in most countries around the world.

And once you have moved and got all the boxes unpacked (or most of them!) then it will be time to settle in and start to make new friends. Don't automatically make friends with people from your own country just because they speak the same language as you. Try to integrate yourself in to the local community.  Remember you will now be counted as being an immigrant and therefore in the minority. In some ways it's quite nice, you are different and everyone will want to get to know you, ask you why you have moved there etc. Your movements will be known around the village or in the next village faster than you think!

Use the internet to the max to research your country of choice you will find several sites/blogs covering all sorts of topics from keeping hens to importing cars and everything in between.

So why did we put ourselves through all of the above… so I could stop work at the relative young age of 52 and be able to enjoy early retirement and various hobbies whilst we were still mobile and healthy to do so. Since moving my blood pressure has dropped considerably and although I’m still on medication, all the horrible side effects of stress have more or less disappeared. I sleep better… I get less stressed out when driving anywhere here in France, driving is almost a pleasure again. Sure every day is a new day with a new challenge, but I can cope with that.

Naturally if you have any questions do get in touch with me.  stevemorton at ltps dot fr

Thanks so much, Steve, for writing this amazing guest blog! All I can say is that go through your decision, again and again. I've never regretted my decision to move, and even though it didn't work out the way I wanted, I've learned a LOT from it.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting post. I missed it when first published. As someone who was contemplating moving to France a few years ago (I was in a long-term relationship with someone French) the issues all resonated with me.

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