I have been living in France for over a year now, and let me tell you, expat life is not all fun and games! From administrative procedures, to finding a job, and even just daily tasks, I have had a lot of struggles.
Obviously adjusting to a new life in a new country is no small task. I am no stranger to living abroad, but something about knowing this is permanent has made this an even bigger struggle.
I wanted to focus this post around the “negatives” of moving abroad permanently and the issues that most expats aren’t openly talking about.
The Cost of Being an Expat
First off, I want to begin with the physical cost of being an expat. This is one of the main things that propelled me to write this blog post.
Moving abroad is expensive. There is no other way to put it. Yeah, you have your plane tickets and travel costs, but it does not stop there, oh no!
Physical Costs of Being an Expat
1. The Paperwork Never Ends
Once you finish one thing, it is on to the next and believe me, it is EXHAUSTING! Not only that, but it costs an arm and a leg, too!
Thus far, in order to get married and live in France legally, I have paid about 620€. This cost covers all necessary legal documents (such as apostilled birth certificates) and any translations and visas which allow me to remain here.
This does not even take into account the cost of getting time off work traveling to obligatory meetings such as those hosted by the OFII. And again, this is only for the first three years of living in France.
After this, I am looking at another 420€ to obtain a residence permit and then (finally!) French nationality. This will occur during my fourth and fifth years of living here, if all goes well.
In total, I will have spent over 1000€ in my first five years here just to remain legally (yikes!)
2. Transportation, Housing & Jobs Are Unforeseen Obstacles
I will definitely be making individual posts about these subjects, but I wanted to touch upon them here. I chose to do this because these are roadblocks that some may not think about before taking their first steps towards becoming an expat.
Outside of the big cities, you will need a car, and along with that, a valid license. Some may be fortunate enough to apply for a license exchange. Others will have to re-pass the permit and driving tests.
Although I was eligible for the license exchange, I am re-passing the tests. I chose this route because I want to better understand the driving laws in France, to work on my driving anxiety, and ultimately to learn how to drive manual.
Unfortunately, this choice comes with a cost (surprise, surprise). Driving lessons, tests, and other procedures necessary to obtain a license in Europe are not cheap! The costs vary, and since I already have driving experience, I have decided to follow the cheapest way to obtain the license. This cost should be about 500€. If I chose to do it through a driving school, however, it would cost over 1000€.
Housing and Jobs
Housing is very difficult to find in France. Not only does demand for affordable housing outweigh supply, actually securing a place to live is nearly impossible. This is due to two reasons:
1. The housing market is cyclical and viciously rapid. Because demand is so high, affordable rentals are there one day and gone the next. Literally, this has happened to me so many times no matter the location!
Not only does that make finding somewhere ultra-competitive, the criteria that must be met just to be eligible to obtain housing is another impeding factor. This is where we get to reason 2: for most rental agencies and private landlords, tenants are required to earn 2.5 to 3 times the price of rent and be in a “CDI” (contract with an indefinite duration). CDI are few and far between. The likelihood that you would get one upon your arrival in France (without having moved here expressly for a job) is highly unlikely.
The job market in general is not so hot. Many people start off working in temp agencies or as “CDD” (contract with a definite duration). In some cases, these short-term contracts can become CDI after about a year. But an even more limiting factor is that, for most jobs, you are expected to have a very specific and niche degree, even to be a waiter/waitress. And, of course, speak French; in Paris you are to be bilingual.
Emotional Costs of Being an Expat
With moving abroad comes many adjustments to a new lifestyle and culture which can take an emotional toll on you. I know I have had my fair share of confusion, frustration and downright depression, and I am sure others have experienced the same.
3. Integration Is Difficult & Language Skills Are Obligatory
Although many may not openly state this, speaking French (no matter where you live) is REALLY IMPORTANT. Language is a giant piece of the puzzle when it comes to integration and is crucial if you plan to live here long-term.
Speaking the language is so important that when you apply for your first visa to live here you must take a language placement test. If you do not place (at minimum) level A1, you are required to take French classes as part of the conditions of this visa. Although you do not need to be at any specific level to apply for a carte de séjour, you will be required to have language capabilities for the visas that follow it. For instance, to apply for a residence permit you must place at level A2. To obtain nationality, you are required to be at least level B1.
Where I live, very few people understand English, let alone speak it. I would be absolutely lost if I could not communicate with others in French. I know sometimes people do not understand exactly what I mean, and at times it does get frustrating, but I just try again in a different way. It is so cool to see just how much I have progressed over the last year. My ability to express myself, along with all of the new vocabulary I have learned, is astounding.
I think being able to communicate has really aided with my integration, but I honestly will never be French. I will always have my American mannerisms and the pronunciation of certain words will never be 100% correct, but this is also part of my personality and my culture that I don’t want (read: refuse) to give up.
Of course, I try to integrate my personality into my “expat French lifestyle,” but it doesn’t always work. I will go into this more with a blog post on this later.
4. The Food Is Good, But You Will Always Miss the Taste of Home
Of course, when you move to a different country there will always be different foods and traditions. But goddamn, I cannot get any of my comfort foods here and it kills me!
Don’t get me wrong, I love a macaron as much as the next gal, but…
I would kill for a good block of applewood smoked cheddar (or any *good* cheddar at this point)! No matter how hard I try—which is really hard—I cannot make a good pot of mac n cheese! And don’t get me started on the broccoli cheddar soup! Ugh!
Also, if you could understand just how much I miss Cheez-its, original Cheetos, Fritos, cool ranch Doritos and Reese’s, you would get it. These all fall under the category of comfort foods for me. Just to have the option to buy them at the very least would be really nice. You’d think, in a country full of cheese, I could find some cheddar, like where are the British people?!
5. Separation from Family and Friends, and the Death of Loved Ones
I want to end this post by writing about some REAL TALK. These are events and issues I have encountered which I never really thought about before moving abroad and becoming an expat. These are things that have happened to me recently that I believe to be crucial to share with you all. They have had a major impact on adjustment to my life here as well as my mental health.
Obviously, when you choose to become an expat, it is with the knowledge that there will be a distance between you and your loved ones. However, I really urge you to think about the impact that it will have on your relationships long-term.
I am so fortunate to have been able to see my family and friends during my wedding back in October of 2019 as well as my graduation in 2020. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see any of them since, and Christmas in particular is very difficult for me.
This past Christmas marks the fourth year I have spent away from my family. With every year that goes by, it truly does get harder and harder.
I can’t afford to go home every Christmas and certainly my whole family cannot afford to come to France. I am super glad that I can spend the holiday with my husband and his wonderful family, but it will never be the same as it is in America with my own family.
Death of Loved Ones
The past year and a half, I have had three deaths in my family. Due to financial costs, timing, and COVID-19, I was unable to go back to the states for any of them.
Attempting to console my family at a distance was genuinely heart breaking. Being unable to visit at the hospital before they passed, or attend their funerals, was absolutely crushing.
Death is always a terribly difficult time, but being so far away, I began to feel guilty.
I was filled with so much guilt that I could not say goodbye to my sisters and felt that I had no way to find some semblance of closure. This caused me to fall into such a deep depression that I had to take medical leave from work.
Now, I live every day with a fear lingering in the back of my mind that it could happen again with other family members.
I want this experience to be a warning to others that they need to think hard before they commit to moving abroad. You never know when tragedy could strike and when you live abroad, it is not as simple as hopping in the car and driving to the hospital. Now, I am better prepared if that were to happen again, but I wish it never occurred in the first place.
I hope this hasn’t been too negative of a read for you, but is instead an enlightening post about some undiscussed truths that await you as an expat.