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Home » The Vine

The Vine: June 8, 2012

Submitted by on June 8, 2012 – 10:43 AM72 Comments

I could really use some advice, because I’m not having a whole lot of luck with this on my own.  My husband Charlie and I want to move our family from the southeastern U.S. to Europe, preferably somewhere in France, although we’re open to anything.  Of course this hangs on my husband finding a job, which is the problem.

Charlie is in the information technologies field, making pretty good money working for the federal government. He’s applied for numerous jobs in France, Belgium, Germany, and England, with nothing better than “You’ve made the list of the top five applicants…we’ll be in touch if we decide to schedule an interview” as a response. As we’ve learned while doing our research, European countries, and France in particular, are known for their hesitance to hire Americans.  So we’re trying to figure out what our options are.

Some important information:

  • We don’t have a lot of savings, although we’re trying to save $500 a month
  • We could potentially make a $40,000-$50,000 profit from selling our house
  • We plan to sell most of our belongings before the move, both for extra funds and ease of moving
  • We have three school-aged children (15, 13, 8)
  • We have pets (three dogs, three cats) that we don’t want to leave behind
  • We’ll probably do a short-term rental for a month or two followed by a long-term rental once we learn about the area in which we settle

One thing we’ve considered is Charlie taking a sabbatical from work, selling everything, and moving to France without a job — I know you can only stay in France on a visa for one year without a source of income, but we could live on the profit from our house and belongings while Charlie looks for work (he’s heard that it’s easier to get a job in France or Europe in general once you’re already there).  If we did this, we’d head for either Toulouse or Grenoble, as these are two cities with a lot of high-tech industry.  We’re giving this option serious thought in part because Charlie’s very unhappy at his current job, and we don’t like where we’re currently living, so we’re eager to start fresh.

We would like to do this while we’re still young and our kids are young enough to join us on an adventure (an adventure that we would prefer not to include homelessness, so).  Can anyone offer any advice or personal experience? 

Many thanks,

Ready for Adventure






  • Deanna says:

    Since he’s a techie, is there any way he can take a job based in the US that allows telecommuting? A lot of the long-term travelers I read about are freelancers that do similar projects, but a) they’re on the move, backpacking, and b) since you have a family to support you may need more stability than freelancing can provide. I don’t know what that will do for your visa prospects but at least you can draw income.

  • Kerry says:

    I made the move to the UK about 6 years ago, so I can’t offer France specific advice but I can at least offer some move to Europe advice.

    First, don’t underestimate the cost of moving the animals. They can only fly specific routes, and sending them can be very expensive. It cost me more to send my 2 cats over as it did to move me and all my stuff. 6 years ago it was $2,400 total to ship the 2 cats from Texas to England.

    I moved over to the UK without a job lined up (you are right that it is so much easier once you get here), but I did have a visa. I came in under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. That’s gone now, but it has been replaced with the Tier 1 Visa. It’s basically a points system. Depending on your income, education level, and a few other categories I can’t remember at the moment, you may be able to get a visa without actually having a job lined up.

    One thing to look out for is coming over on a tourist visa intending to stay. If you come over and move your stuff and your animals over, it is obvious you aren’t just a tourist and they could send you home. A British guy I know with an American wife decided to come from America to the UK for a year because his dad was sick. He got a job as a contractor. His wife had never applied for a British Visa, and because they moved suddenly, she didn’t bother. She figured she’d come over for 6 months, go home to America for a visit, then come back here and then his year would be over. Border control found out about it because the guy said he was coming over for work which led to questions and the wife was deported, along with their 3 month old (who they had never bothered to get a British passport). It took over 3 months for her visa application to be sorted out, and now whenever she is filling in one of those stupid landing forms asking if she has ever been deported from a country, she has to answer yes…which causes all manner of issues.

    Not to be a downer, but especially if you are uprooting kids in this process, it’s better not to try to dance around the rules, just in case you do get caught!

    Good luck to you!

  • Shannon says:

    I can’t provide any first hand help, but you should check out Gabrielle Blair’s blog: if you haven’t already. She and her husband moved their six (!) kids to France last year and she has great guides on different aspects of the move and living abroad. Good luck on your next adventure!

  • MizShrew says:

    I don’t have advice on the job search or relocation, but if you want your pets to move with you, you’ll need to check into the requirements for that — some countries require long quarantines, most require certain certificates of health, etc. You may have to prepare for that a few months ahead of time; I don’t think it’s a simple as reserving a spot for them on the plane and taking them to the vet the week before. Also, might be difficult to get six animals on one trip, as I don’t know how many spaces any given flight allows for. Just stuff to research ahead of time. I think there are companies that help with this but I have no experience with them. If you decide to make the move, check with your vet sooner rather than later.

    With that said, good luck on your new adventure!

  • Penguinlady says:

    I’m an ex-pat, although just in Canada, and found this site very useful for basic information. You might be able to find more info about how to find a job, etc. Another thing, if he works for the govt, why not see if there are govt jobs in France? Maybe at a consulate or military post?

    Moving to a new country is a huge change – even us to English speaking Canada! – so make sure you give yourselves, the kids and the pets a break. You might spend weeks with just each other for companions. That can be difficult, even if everybody is wonderful normally.

    Lastly, make sure all your US paperwork is as new as possible: you have years on your passports, your license isn’t about to expire, pets have updated vaccinations. Trying to get updates when you are somewhere else can be an absolute pain. Finish selling your house before, if you can. We needed a simple notarization on a doc when we sold our house, and the consulate took 3 hours to do it. So, minimize what you need.

  • Ty says:

    Weird! My family is in a similar position, but my husband just landed an IT job in Germany. We’ll be packing up the kids and moving in the Fall.

    He found the job through a friend, an American who’s already working for the same company. So the first advice, which I’m sure you already know, is to work any European connections you have.

    The other reason they hired him is that the company is trying to expand their business outside of Germany. They wanted a software developer who’s fluent in English so he can talk to clients in other parts of the world. Maybe a special circumstance for this particular company, but it wouldn’t hurt to play that up as a reason to hire an American. My husband also speaks German, though, so that helps.

    Have you tried some of the big contracting companies that staff the US military bases in Europe? Booz Allen? I’m sure there are others. Or he could apply to the State Department as a foreign service specialist focused on IT. Those are both options we thought about but didn’t really pursue.

    I’m a fiscal conservative, so there’s no way I would move overseas without some income. It’s bad enough that I will have to drop my own job so the family can take this adventure. But that’s just me– you are obviously more comfortable with financial risk!

  • marykmac says:

    I’m a British careers adviser, and I’ve worked with students trying to make a move in the opposite direction. It’s REALLY hard, whichever way you’re going: both the EU and the US immigration systems are set up to try and prevent people doing exactly what you’re trying to do. So it’s going to take a huge amount of work and specific targeting to get yourselves into France.

    I don’t know the French immigration specifically, but generally speaking, EU rules are that a company can only hire someone from outside the EU if there is nobody within the EU who can do the job. In practice, people from outside the EU do get hired for jobs where there are EU people who could do the job, but that’s the case that the company has to make to the immigration control to get a visa. So applying for jobs the usual way isn’t going to work, because any advertised job is going to have plenty of French and other EU citizens doing it, and if the skillset were specific enough that there were a very limited number of people doing it, they would go through a headhunting agency, not a public advertisement.

    Your husband’s best bets are (in this order):

    1. Find American companies with a branches in France, get hired by them, get moved over to France. This is by far the easiest way, which probably shows you how hard the other options are. But it’s not impossible, and, to be brutally frank, if your husband doesn’t know how to convince an American company to hire him, his chances of convincing a French company are slim.

    2. Research the shit out of the French high-tech sector. Work out very specifically what your husband’s skillset is, contact the companies where he could make a difference, and market himself ruthlessly to them, not as a generalist, but as someone with a very specific, rare set of skills, someone they just can’t afford to turn down. This is going to require huge amounts of research into the specific companies operating in your husband’s areas of work, how to speculatively apply to French companies (different companies/cultures have different rules for this sort of thing – I assume you know this, but not everyone does!), and a lot of persistence. But companies WILL be impressed by someone who really knows their business, knows their own business, and comes along with a great, well-researched business plan for how they can help them.

    3. Find agencies which place people in the high-tech industry in France, and do the same as no. 2, but hopefully with the agencies able to provide a lot of the intelligence and support. But I don’t even know if those agencies exist and, if they do, whether they’ll work with non-EU people. It will depend a lot on your husband’s skillset and how high-level and useful it is.

    A good careers consultant should be able to help your husband with the process of identifying his key skills and how to market himself, if that’s not something he is confident about doing it. But obviously, they’ll know the American market better than the French market (or wherever else in Europe), so you’re still going to have to do masses of work to find out what they’re looking for over there.

    Good luck!

  • jennie says:

    In terms of the job search, do either of you have alumni connections or perhaps career offices at your alma maters (is that the right plural?) that you could take advantage of? My college has a program that allows students and alumni to contact other alumni who’ve volunteered to participate – maybe one of you has a resource available that can put you in touch with people in the location you want to move to, maybe even in your husband’s field. That might help to open some doors over there.

    For the pets, you might start by talking to your vet. I know some countries have quarantine periods for cats and dogs, and your vet might have useful input on how your particular animals might deal with that in combination with a long flight. The other thing you might try is checking with a moving company that specializes in international moves. Good luck!

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I’m no expert in international visas and such, but here’s my two cents: talk to your kids, early and often.

    They are at ages where being uprooted from their systems and dropped into a new one where the language, customs, and food are completely different may be traumatizing rather then exciting if you spring it on them as a done deal. A long series of conversations and lots of keeping them up to date and in the loop will be required here.

    I’m not saying the kids get to decide where you live–you’re the parents–but this kind of thing is going to be stressful enough without furious, resentful children throwing monkey wrenches into every step.

    You’re planning this as a family–make sure the family is in on it.

  • Adventure Girl says:

    Wow, thanks for all the great advice/suggestions! I’ll take a look at those links and see what I can find out.

    As a federal government employee, Charlie’s applied for several government jobs throughout Europe– since submitting to The Vine we’ve started to broaden our search somewhat. There don’t seem to be many US government jobs in France, but Germany seems to be a possibility, as is Belgium. He’s applying for non-government jobs as well, although of course that’s a little scarier since as a government employee he has considerable job security.

    Oh, let me ask another related question, if anyone has insight: We’ve wondered what to do if he’s asked to fly to Europe for an in-person interview, assuming that’s even necessary in our electronic age. That could use up a considerable bit of our savings for the move if it’s out of pocket– is the expense worth it, or is it okay to request a phone/Skype interview?

    Thanks so much!

  • Amy says:

    I find myself wondering if the expectation to take six pets along is realistic.

    It is worth noting that dogs are taxed in some areas. (As far as I know, the same is not true for cats.) For example, in Berlin, Germany, the first dog is 120 Euro, and each additional one is 180 Euro per year. That means that three dogs would come to nearly 500 Euro, which is in the ballpark of $600-700 per year. Pet food and veterinary care are also sometimes more expensive than in the US.

    In my experience, pets are much less common in Europe, and very few people have more than one or two. You might want to also consider the impact on your ability to find a place to live.

  • Rachel says:

    I moved to the UK in 2004 and then moved back to the US in 2007, so I have some experience with this issue (although I don’t have any kids or pets).

    First of all, I’d recommend that you get a very good understanding of the immigration and employment laws in France and the EU. For example, the UK won’t let you in on a tourist visa if they think that you’re going to be looking for a job. (I know of some people getting turned away at the airport because they had guide books that explained how to find a job in the UK.) Obviously if France has similar rules, that’ll be a big problem for you. Overstaying a tourist/visitor visa can have similar consequences, i.e. deportation, not being allowed back into the country for X number of years, etc.

    Also, while in the UK I ran into a problem that marykmac described: An employer tried to get me a work visa, but I was rejected because the company couldn’t prove that no British person could do the job. The job wasn’t very highly skilled, so there was really no reason a British person couldn’t do it. It sounds like your husband has some specialized skills, but he might have the best luck looking for jobs where the employer specifically wants someone who is fluent in English, familiar with the US, or something similar.

    Finally, where I lived in the UK (Edinburgh, Scotland), employment agencies pretty much ruled the roost when it came to finding jobs. Basically, you’d make an appointment at several employment agencies, show them your resume and explain your skills, and they’d contact you with possible jobs. Since you didn’t have to search for positions and apply to companies directly, this actually made it easier. I don’t know if this is how other European countries operate, but you should definitely research employment agencies in France.

    Good luck!

  • Rachel says:

    I’m with Amy: If you’re planning to rent a property (rather than buying), having pets could make that very difficult. My sister said it was easier to have a baby than to get a kitten and find a flat to rent in London (I think she was kidding — sort of).

    As a Brit who’s lived in Spain and the Netherlands, don’t underestimate how challenging this is going to be. As an EU citizen, I didn’t have any problems with moving between countries, but the tax and social security issues were a real pain each time. Five years after returning from Amsterdam, I’m still tied in to the Dutch tax system (and as an American you may be liable for dual taxation). It can be done but it’s much easier if you have a company/employer doing the heavy lifting for you.

  • Jill says:

    We lived in France for 3.5 years — marykmac made a lot of the same points I would have, and Penguinlady’s suggestion of expatforum is a great one. So I’ll add just a couple notes.

    Pets: no quarantine in France, though we did have to have specific paperwork filled out and signed off by the vet.

    Work: ditto to marykmac on your best bet being finding a US or French company that would move you to France. Expatriate contracts are usually very generous as far as providing you with housing allowance, tax assistance, moving allowance (usually just for a small amount of personal goods, not your whole household — you would rent a furnished space), school tuition for the kids, help in negotiating the bureaucracy, etc. We were not in France on an expat contract (DH worked for a US company but as a local French hire) and it wasn’t easy.

    Kids: your kids are at an awkward age to do this kind of move, unless they are really on board with it and already speak French. Have you considered where they would go to school? They would struggle in the public schools (though immersion would get them speaking the language relatively quickly) and I can’t speak to how available private bilingual or English-language schools are outside of Paris. I can tell you that while appropriate schools would be available in the Paris area, they are incredibly expensive (20-30K/year) — near impossible unless you have an expatriate contract with a US company. If you are considering home schooling, just know that it’s very rare in France and frowned on — you’ll get hassled for it.

    I don’t want to be too discouraging — it would be a fantastic life adventure — living in France was one of the hardest but most rewarding things we’ve ever done, and my kids are fluent in French now (started school in France and have been in immersion schools here in the US since returning). But don’t underestimate the challenges that come along with the romance of the experience. Good luck!

  • aab says:

    I am an American living in Germany and have heard plenty of stories of Americans moving over knowing no German and with no understanding of German visas or the fact that EU citizens have preference for all jobs, so unless you have qualifications that can give you an advantage over EU citizens in your field in some way or you work in an area where the EU is short on highly-qualified candidates, you are going to have a pretty hard time. (Speaking English by itself is typically not enough, since there are plenty of native English-speaking EU citizens. marykmac has given very good advice.) You are also at a big disadvantage here if you do not speak passable German and I would be surprised if this disadvantage is not magnitudes larger in France than in Germany. Your letter doesn’t mention whether you speak French or whether you are in the process of learning French, which is worrisome…

    I would definitely not move three kids, three cats, and three dogs without a source of income (and appropriate health insurance) lined up unless you are totally willing to treat the year as a sabbatical, can support yourselves for the entire year (which is probably a requirement for the visitor visa anyway), and are prepared (especially financially) to move back when the year is over. If you know for sure in advance that it’ll just be a year sabbatical, I would not put the pets through the stress of the move or yourself through the hassle of bringing them along.

    I think the most sensible approach would be to send your husband ahead on a long job searching trip to France and wait until he has found a job to move everyone else, especially your pets. If he is searching from the US and very well-qualified, it’s probably not unreasonable to expect the company interviewing him to contribute to the cost of travel if they require an in-person interview, perhaps how much it would have cost to travel there within France or within the EU. (I had an interview at a research institute several hours away and they covered the cost of train travel within Germany. It does sound like you might want to have more savings before considering such a move if a single trip to Europe for your husband is such a major expense.)

    Questions that occurred to me reading your letter:

    1) If you go with the long-term visitor visa for France, are you sure that you can easily convert one-year visitor visas to work/dependent visas if your husband does find a job? It’s possible it would be a huge expensive hassle (like having to move your whole family out of France to even apply for the work visa), but I don’t know the details. (In Germany, you can convert a 90-day tourist visa to a work visa as an American, but there’s not a comparable long-term visa in Germany. Otherwise there are a fair number of restrictions on switching from one type of visa to another. It’s a long story and not relevant to your situation, but I had to leave the Schengen zone and re-enter to get my last work visa even though it wasn’t a problem for me to get the visa otherwise.)

    2) Aside from the cost of getting the animals here, have you looked into how difficult it will be to find a rental place that will accept all your pets and your foreign short-term status? I know it would be extremely difficult and expensive where I live in southern Germany. (Our dog tax is 120 Euro per year for the first dog and 240 Euro per year for each additional dog. Kennels are also a lot more expensive and typically booked months in advance. I just got a dog in March and all the kennels in the area are already booked for the whole summer.)

    3) Are you planning to send your kids to school in France? Do you know whether your children would be eligible to go to French schools if your family is in France on visitor/tourist visas? Will you children be to handle going to French schools or can you afford to pay for plenty of tutoring to get them caught up with their French classmates (if this is a long-term move) or to send them to international schools? What kind of disadvantages would they have with French school diplomas if they decide to move back to the US? (Since I know more about Germany: if you’re planning on homeschooling, be aware that it is not allowed in Germany. Some US military dependents who are here temporarily are exempt from the rules, but no one else is.)

  • Petalfrog says:

    In terms of flying out for an interview… any company worth its salt should fly your husband out for an interview and cover the other travel expenses (hotel, per diem for food). I suppose if they think the interview is a “favor” and they’re not really enthusiastic about him they will not pay for it. If that’s the case, I would request a Skype interview. However, I do think payying for travel expenses tends to be fairly typical, especially if they are looking for an employee outside of their own country.

    I would also make sure your husband lists himself on websites like LinkedIn, and comparable ones in your target countries. I know lots of people who got head hunted through their because they had professional profiles on sites like these.

    I also completely agree with Jen S., and you should also be prepared for your kids enthusiasm to wane quickly when they move and having to deal with some acting out or internalizing when they get to the country. I appreciate your sense of adventure, but keep in mind it wont’ ALL be adventure.

    Also, do you have any plans to work while abroad? Have you looked for anything?

    Good luck in everything!

  • attica says:

    Not to be a downer here, but with the current contractions happening in the Eurozone economy (Austerity Now!), there will be umpty-ump locals craving every job opening, even highly specialized ones.

    My advice would be to manage your expectations on that score, especially in the short term.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Rachel’s comment about taxation made me think of this week’s Mad Men. Get a tax lawyer and all your ducks in a row before you leave to make sure you aren’t faced with a staggering tax bill and/or arrest when you want to come back to the States. Taxes are something about which governments have no sense of humor. At ALL.

  • Stephanie says:

    I did what you’re thinking of doing, albeit without partner or kids or pets. I lived in Toulouse. My two cents: don’t do it. Beautiful place, but not terribly safe, friendly or welcoming. It was difficult to make friends outside of other expats, and the entirely different notions around petty or property crime were hard for me to adjust to. If you can, go for a long-ish visit and see if you’d really like to live there before making such a drastic move. You may be surprised how happy you’ll be to get home – I know I was. Francophilia: cured!

  • fizzchick says:

    I’m puzzled by this question because I don’t see anything that says why the OP wants to move to France, or overseas at all. Unhappy with current location/job, I get. But there’s nothing there about “I spent a year in France in college, got fluent, loved it, and visit as often as I can”, or “My husband’s extended family is in Grenoble and keeps begging him to move back”. Why not use the stability of the federal job to look for a transfer elsewhere in the US, or a different type of job here? Not that I’ve got anything against life in Europe, but the combo of kids/house/pets/no savings seems to argue against it for OP’s family at this stage of their life, and there are a lot of places with tech jobs in the US, with wildly different cultures/environments.

    OP, if you’re determined to do this, I’d test it out first. Save hard for the next year. Find a good house/petsitter, have your husband take a month or two of leave and/or telecommuting, and bring the kids with you for an extended stay in your preferred location over the summer 2013 months. Use one of the many online tools to find a place to rent, and live like a local as much as you can. Sign up for language immersion classes here and/or there, for the kids if not also for yourself, and really get a feel for what you’d be getting yourself in for. If you can’t swing the savings to pull this off for a month, then I’m not sure you’re ready to make a longer term commitment. That said, I’ve never lived abroad, so feel free to take this with a giant grain of salt.

  • Ang. says:

    Fizzchick, I’ve been trying to put into words what you said since I read this earlier, and you did a great job of it. After I read the letter, I just had this feeling that the idea to move to France wasn’t completely baked. We all have fantasies of things we could one day do, but sometimes those have to stay fantasies, at least for a long time. I mean, my husband and I weren’t happy in this shithole little town where we used to live. No good opportunities, full of uneducated rednecks and religious intolerant people, etc., and even fewer opportunities if you had skills and education. So we moved and started a new live a few hours away. It was still a big change (and it worked out very well). Maybe I’m not very adventurous, but not being happy with an area and a job isn’t really a reason to move to France. Maybe there is more to it? Still, a few years ago I was a federal employee, too, and there were always lots of opportunities to move to different areas–often they would help sell your house and find you a place to stay and pay for relocation expenses. Maybe that kind of change would be better for your family?

  • Helen says:

    Seconding what others have said about preparing the kids. My family moved to Geneva for a year when I was seven (from Australia). I was scared that I was going to forget how to speak English, and apparently before we left I kept getting sick from the stress. Of course, ultimately I loved it, and I don’t actually remember getting sick, so it all worked out in the end. My older brother was thirteen though, and from memory he had a pretty tough time with it all (I remember a lot of explosive fights with our parents)

    Older brother has since moved back to Europe – can’t offer much insight on visas, as he is a UK citizen. He lived in France, and then Germany, and has two dogs that he got when in France. His experience is that in France people love dogs, in Germany not so much – less people have them as pets, and he feels there is some anti-dog sentiment.

    Lastly, a word on rentals in Germany – they don’t really exist. You can’t rent short-term, you lease for several years, and you bring everything, including the kitchen. So getting a household set up is not cheap.

  • Lilyplashia says:

    I live in the UK but I have friends around Europe who work in IT. Apparently a lot of EU-based IT companies or companies involved in communications are outsourcing work to Eastern Europe or India/China – job security in that sector is often not great.

    Also, I’d suggest researching schools thoroughly – it can be very hard to switch school systems after a certain point, usually 14-15, and that can affect college opportunities etc. While the kids will probably learn the language somewhat through immersion (assuming they don’t speak it already), learning to speak a language and actually learning to study in a language can be completely different, what with having to learn different terms for everything for one thing and then the shift required in retaining information and thinking critically articulated through a different language. I went through a couple of years of school at the age of 14 in a language I knew well but didn’t think in and found it incredibly difficult and frustrating; my grades plummeted, causing severe self-esteem problems, and I know other expat brats who have had similar experiences. The International Baccalaureate in English is probably the best bet and that’s 2-3 years for the high school – it’s a diploma recognised by universities around the world, but it’s not available everywhere.

  • Another Amy says:

    I’ve done a bit of research into bringing pets into the UK from the US or Canada. You can move a maximum of five pets per person. The UK has a “Pet Passport” system, and once you complete its requirements and get your pet a passport, that pet will not need to be quarantined when it reaches the UK. There are a lot of rules, though. The biggest hassle (in my opinion) is that you can only use certain approved carriers and routes to import your pets, and they all have to fly cargo. Here’s a link that lists all of the requirements for importing pets; step five links to the approved carriers:

  • Another Amy says:

    Forgot to include the info for France, which is a little different (although quarantine is not necessary there, either, as long as you fulfill the requirements):

  • Lola B says:

    What fizzchick said.

  • The Other Katherine says:

    I’m going to do something I don’t normally do when commenting on other people’s concerns: be brutally honest. I usually soft-pedal my comments, because generally people have a lot of emotions and insecurities going on around major life decisions; but I really think you need to hear this.

    What you are planning to do is INSANE. Do not do this thing. I am saying this as an American who is, at the moment, living in the UK, which is by far the easiest EU country to integrate into as an American. I’m married to a UK citizen who has family in the UK, and had been married to him for years prior to applying for a visa, so I had by far the easiest possible scenario for living in another country, especially since we have no kids or pets. It has still been difficult and expensive.

    If you have little savings, you will not be able to swing this. You will have to pay for visas for all 5 members of your family, and you have 6 pets you want to take with you. Just getting the visas and transporting the pets could very well run you around $10,000 USD. That’s not including airfare for 5 people, plus either shipping costs for anything you are unable to take in your suitcases or the replacement costs for those items.

    Housing you would actually want to live in, and all be able to fit into, in any city where your husband would have real job prospects, is very, very expensive. Short-term rentals tend to be at least 50% more per week than long-term rentals. For a long-term rental, expect to pay 4- to 6-weeks’ rent for security deposit, or considerably more if one of you does not already have an employment contract. Finding a rental property that will allow you to have 6 pets will be virtually impossible, and if you could find such a place I can’t imagine what the pet deposit would be.

    Your teenagers, especially the older one, will be at a terrible disadvantage if they are not already reasonably fluent in the language of the country where you plan to live, unless you can afford to place them in a private school with English language instruction. Based on what you’ve written, I don’t think you can.

    Lastly, don’t assume you can sell your home for what you think it’s worth, or that you can do so in a reasonable period of time. Trust me, I speak from bitter experience here.

    To sum up: JUST SAY NO. This is not the time for this particular adventure, as tempting as it may sound.

  • Laura says:

    Adventure Girl, re. interviews: requesting a phone interview, if travel expenses aren’t offered, seems eminently reasonable to me. I work in the UK and we would certainly offer this to overseas applicants (and we do often interview US applicants, since we find it very hard to hire sufficiently-qualified people locally. We’re in the IT sector too (software development), FWIW.)

    Just underlining, though, the point that others have made: most of the continental European economies are in the toilet right now, and it’s probably the hardest time to get hired here in the last 15 years. Unless your husband has skills that mean an EU company can demonstrate he’s better qualified than any local applicant (and he may well do, depending on the sector – many Euro countries do have personnel shortages in IT), getting hired just now is likely to be extremely tough. I’m not saying this to discourage you – I’m all for a mobile, global workforce – it’s just worth being realistic about the challenges, as I’m sure you’re aware.

  • Adventure Girl says:

    Thanks again for all the responses– I’m overwhelmed! To answer a few questions:

    Yes, the pets are a huge sticking point– I wish our population was smaller, because it would be soooo much easier, but if we can’t bring them, we don’t go.

    Our kids are really excited about moving, and talk about “when we move to France…” They’re all very good students and hard workers, and open to change. That said, there’s always something to worry about with kids, but I can worry in any country.

    As far as schooling, I’d like to enroll them in local schools, with tutoring until they settle in.

    Speaking the language– Charlie and I are learning French through online courses, workbooks, and reading children’s books in French. I think we’re picking it up reasonably well, although of course it’s hard to get the flow of the language without someone fluent to speak with. Our younger two children are learning along with us (picking up the vocabulary much better, actually), and our oldest will be taking French 3 next year in high school.

    I’m a stay-at-home-mom right now, so looking for work isn’t a priority for me.

    A few people asked why we want to move to France (or Europe in general), and honestly, we don’t have a “good” reason, other than we’ve always wanted to travel to France, we want our kids to experience living in another culture, and we have nothing personal stopping us from making the move. Maybe not the best reasons, but not bad ones either, I think.

    Thanks for all the terrific advice!

  • Elle says:

    Good lord. This sounds terrible but you sound like a bored SAHM and like you have latched on to France as a wonderful dream that will Fix Everything. I say this as a Brit who now lives in America. The truth is that this is a very bad idea. Seriously.

    Firstly, your kids are just way too old. When people talk about moving while the kids are young enough to see it as an adventure, they mean ages 5-10. Your 15 year old needs to start focusing on college applications and his future and will be at a disadvantage if he spends the next few years trying to catch up with kids in his local school. Your kids need consistency in their schooling and this is going to be a huge disruption.

    You are massively underestimating how difficult it will be to get there AND to STAY there. Getting to a country is hard but not impossible. Staying there. Getting the permanent visa, getting all the benefits of a citizen. That’s much harder. It’s prohibitively expensive for a start. And Europe is in a huge crisis. Who’s to say that the job lasts? You could spend 1 year settling in and then have to leave. Honestly, you don’t sound like someone who has really thought hard about this which is scary because you say you’ve been at this for years.

    Am I saying you should give up on your dream? NO.

    My advice is to get your kids to college. Visit France and the rest of Europe as much as you can over the next few years. Get fluent in the languages. Visit different areas. Make friends with French people. Join French meet up groups. The truth is that if you were doing this already, you’d probably have the contacts for a job. What I mean is, try to experience it as much as you can without being there. Screw it, go hand out in French parts of Canada.

    Take this time to think really hard about the distance. By the time your oldest is at college, you can begin to see whether you really want to be grandma from across the atlantic. Maybe you do. But you are wildly underestimating how far it will feel when you are there. I love being in the US and I’m glad I moved from Europe and I’ve met a ton of expats on both sides so I’m not biased against you. But you seem particularly ill informed to be honest.

  • Elle says:

    Just to add

    “A few people asked why we want to move to France (or Europe in general), and honestly, we don’t have a “good” reason, other than we’ve always wanted to travel to France, we want our kids to experience living in another culture, and we have nothing personal stopping us from making the move. Maybe not the best reasons, but not bad ones either, I think.”

    NOPE. These are terrible reasons.

    1. we’ve always wanted to travel to France

    Have you ever been? (it sounds like you haven’t in which case, please visit asap) but yeah, visit! Take a sabbatical and go. Travel, enjoy it. Holidays are not life.

    2. we want our kids to experience living in another culture,

    The thing is, I get that. But the way to truly inculcate your kids as citizens of the world would have been to move them when they were young. There’s no real difference in your 15 year old going now or going in college for a few semesters. So save the money and send them away. Let them travel. They will be fine.

    3. and we have nothing personal stopping us from making the move.

    Respectfully you do. You have your kids education, the cost, and all of your commitments in the US. I had nothing stopping me – I was 24 and had no family, kids or anything.

    The main thing stopping you in my opinion is the money. You can’t afford this, it seems. You said you would make “50k out of the sale of your home”. This suggests you don’t understand the costs involved. Just to move can cost upwards of $30,000. Visas, deposits, moving costs. You will deplete all of your savings. Do you have a pension? A plan B if the one breadearner loses his job? You don’t seem serious. If you are, I would start retraining for work and sit down and take a really good look at your finances.

    Also, get on some expat forum websites. The people who have moved are the best resource on this. They understand it all from the immigration to the job security. You need to think smart on this and get clear on your possible worst case scenario.

  • Adventure Girl says:

    Elle– I may be a stay-at-home-mom, but I can assure you I’m far from bored. That said, I appreciate brutal honesty, and everyone’s given my husband and me a lot to think about. Thank you.

  • Jeanne says:

    Have you considered the possibility that your kids are just putting up a good front for you? Particularly the teenagers. Since you seem to be so invested in and excited about this possible “adventure,” maybe they don’t want to disappoint you by expressing any misgivings about it. I was like that myself as a youngster and it led to a lot of disappointments for me.

  • LDA says:

    Another person who feels uniquely qualified to answer this one- my dad moved to France for work for six years. We were all college age and this was fantastic- it meant we could spend breaks in France without an interruption to our education.

    I won’t repeat what everyone is saying about you being under prepared, because, yeah. If I were you, I would spend the next nine years until the youngest goes to college preparing for this adventure- go to France one a year or once every two years, get all of you as close to fluent as possible. And most importantly, get involved in the expat community and meet some French people. You can’t underestimate the culture shock- I won’t say “French people are rude” but they were not particularly welcoming to us. It is possible that you might not LIKE living in France.

  • K. says:

    Did anyone think of Revolutionary Road while reading this?

    One of my friends was in a similar situation as The Other Katherine. She moved to Paris with her husband, who is French. No kids or pets. They moved from NYC, where they rented, so it was as easy as it could possibly be, and it was SO HARD and so expensive. (They’re back in the States now.)

    If your 15-year-old is interested in French culture, is there an exchange program s/he could do? I’m sure s/he could study abroad in college – I did (in Paris), and it was WONDERFUL.

    Purely coincidentally, I just read this over at Pamie’s blog, which I don’t normally read (not for any particular reason, it’s just not on my radar. I was futzing around DHAK and came across it). She’s pretty blunt with a young woman who wants to move to LA for no real reason. Worth a read: (I’d say similar things to someone who wants to move to NYC, minus the “you need a car” part, obviously.)

  • Ashleigh says:

    Some of my closest friends have made the move from the US to various European countries, and I have to say, based on seeing their frustrations and challenges, your plan sounds totally unfeasible. I don’t mean to be a bummer, because I appreciate your spirit of adventure. But even my young, single friends who had no possessions, pets, or kids to move found that the experience tended to be incredibly expensive and difficult. And not the kind of difficult where you all learn a little something about yourself and grow closer as a family. I’m talking deportation, massive legal fees, and having to move back in with parents. You don’t want to screw around with visas; the government will figure out what you’re trying to do, and they’ll send you right back home.

    I’m sure it’s disappointing to hear that your plan is impossible, but imagine how much more disappointing it would be to give up your job and your home and find yourself having to return to the US with nothing. I also wonder about what this would do to the kids — are you sure it’s that easy to just enroll them in local schools? What is your back-up plan if the kids can’t go to school (or if they fail because of their poor grasp of the language)? If it’s adventure you crave, I say make it easier on all of you and pick a different part of the US to live in. You live in the south… why not move to Maine, New York, Austin, LA or Minneapolis? The climate, geography, and culture would be totally new, and you wouldn’t have to hire a tax lawyer or ship your pets across the Atlantic.

  • L says:

    Ok… so I guess I’m somewhat qualified to answer this as well. When I was 13, my entire family (parents and two brothers, one was 15, the other, 11) moved to a city in the south of the United States. My dad had been invited to work there by the company he used to work in my home country (lets say somewhere in South America). He spoke somewhat decent English, as did my mom, but none us (the children) knew a whole lot more than numbers, colors basic things like “how are you” and “what’s your name”. We learned through complete immersion at school and it took us about three months to get the hang of it. The cultural shock was MUCH larger than anticipated (and that is considering we have a huge amount of contact with American culture through tv and movies) but it was still so different, and very scary at times. I remember the first few weeks the thoughts that went through my head was that we hadn’t switched countries, but planets. The school system was radically different as well, and that took some serious adjustment. My older brother did not adapt well, couldn’t make many friends in school (he was the one who looked the most south american out of all of us, and he was in high school, where making friends is apparently much harder than middle school) and the first summer we came home, he asked to stay and live with our grandma for a while, so he did. My younger brother and I fared better, did well in school and made some friends. And than, two years later, we had to come back. And reajust all over again. For me personally, it was a very important experience, but it was very hard and it took a lot out of all of us. After he finished high school and my parents were still living there, my older brother went back and did a semester of English as a second language at college, but he never became as fluent as my younger brother and I, who have since traveled quite a bit – and I’ve even lived in France for a semester which brings to the second part of my advice…

    Ok, so if the Americans can be shitty to foreigners… so can the French. And very much so, but they respect you about twenty times as much if you can speak really good French. So if you’re going through with this: learn French. Really well. I mean it. It’s not the easiest grammar, so get on it. The better all of you speak it, the better the transition will be. Also, if immigration laws are annoying and full of paperwork and crazy rules… in France they’re a bit more so. The French really love paperwork, I swear you’d think they invented it. Make sure you have everything squared away… research everything carefully as it will be much harder once you get there.

    Also, our big move to the U.S. was done gradually (which you might consider) here is how it went: dad went first. Got bachelor apartment, started the job. In the summer, we went on a big u.s. trip (the whole family) complete with Disney, New York… and the city we were going to move to. A few months later, my mom went (as we were at school) to look at houses and schools and make a choice… then our stuff got shipped, we waited here for two months while it got there and then, only then, did we move completely and started school. If at all possible, consider very much doing this. Especially since you guys don’t yet have the job lined up… if your husband does get a job in a city you’re not sure about, it’s much easier to undo this if the job/city sucks than after you’ve moved your entire family/house/pets. I know that you’re sure you want to do this but it’s a giant change, leave some room for doubt and to change your mind, because you just might, and then you want to not be dirt poor or trapped in a foreign place.

  • Ashleigh says:

    Oh, one more thing: I’d be leery of any financial plan that depends on selling your house. Maybe you’ll get lucky and it will sell right away. Or maybe you’ll have it on the market for two years or have to lower the asking price by 40%. This is just not a good time to rely on a house as a source of income. Perhaps you could consider renting it out and selling it once you’re safely settled somewhere else.

  • Ami says:

    “Speaking the language– Charlie and I are learning French through online courses, workbooks, and reading children’s books in French. I think we’re picking it up reasonably well, although of course it’s hard to get the flow of the language without someone fluent to speak with. Our younger two children are learning along with us (picking up the vocabulary much better, actually), and our oldest will be taking French 3 next year in high school.”

    I’m an anglophone Canadian; I spent four years living in Montreal – a city that’s bilingual but (to my anglophone ear anyway) leans heavily towards francophone – and now work for the federal government (bilingual workplace with varying insistence on fluency in French.) Based on that experience I have a warning and a suggestion.

    The warning: the language learning you’re describing is definitely a great way to start but will leave you woefully underprepared for the plunge into the deep end that you have in mind, especially if you’re aiming to take said plunge in the nearish future. I mean, you’d certainly learn a lot of French from such an experience, but it would be pretty brutal. For myself, it has taken almost ten years of cont-ed courses and working in offices full of helpful bilingual people to fight my way from the non-immersion French I learned in high school to sort-of-passable-in-the-workplace ability in the language.

    On to the suggestion! ITA that you should travel to France as often as possible before trying to move there. I’d recommend making at least one of these trips to do a few weeks of immersion-based language learning – I’m sure there must be tons of programs available to do this. Also keep in mind that you have a much closer and less expensive francophone destination available for practising language chops, namely Quebec! An immersion program offered at the Université du Québec à Montréal, for example:

  • NZErin says:

    Just another voice in the choir, but I can’t recommend enough an exploratory holiday – spend the summer in France, put the kids in a language programme, enjoy the country in the best of circumstances – you don’t have to pack up your life back home and you don’t need to commit if you’re not as happy in the new place as expected. (And, I’m sure you can find someone or a group of someones to look after your pets for a summer.) Have you considered doing a house exchange or something?

    My husband and I have lived in the UK, and are considering moving the family to Canada. But, he is Canadian and therefore the children are citizens, and we have plenty of good solid reasons to go. However, we’re only going if a job for one or both of us is lined up in advance. It’s just too financially ruinous to do it speculatively.

    Anyway, living in far-off New Zealand, I know all too well the desire to be somewhere, anywhere else, but it’s amazing how a decent holiday can cure or aleviate such wunderlust.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    K: yes, instantly. But I’m hoping Adventure’s marriage is better then that book!

  • Grace says:

    Several other commenters have said it, but you absolutely do not want to underestimate how strict, complicated and costly the French immigration and visa processes can be. Legal fees, apostille fees, visas, airfare will very quickly add up for your family. Also, it can take several months to get the required paperwork processed – even if your husband finds a job, he may not get the actual work authorization for another 2-4 months after that. That’s a long time to go without an income, and it’s not as though France is an inexpensive place to live, especially with kids and pets. And any work without a visa is generally grounds for revocation of the visa, and removal from the country.

    Also, even if you can live in France for a year without an income, you may not be able to get the required work visa in France – your husband (and possibly all of you) might have to exit the country, get the visa sorted out, then return. The Schengen countries have very specific rules in this regard (France is a Schengen country.)

    I practice US immigration law, but my previous firm also assisted companies with global visas – the French paperwork was the worst by far to deal with, and it was not uncommon for the visa for a single person to cost more than $5000 when all the fees were added up. You do not have the funds to do this now – save your money and make the move when you have the resources to handle this.

  • The Other Katherine says:

    @L, re: the French and paperwork: Dear God, that is so true. I had to work on a project where we were working with a large French company and trying to launch a new line of business in France, and the arcane nature of the regulatory system and difficulty of researching legal requirements yourself is unbelievable. Even if you can read French and have legal experience in another country, you still pretty much need a qualified French lawyer to do any research that goes beyond the most basic regulations, at least in business law. And the contacts at government agencies really do not give a flying you-know-what about providing timely or accurate answers to questions. It’s like dealing with a burnt-out clerk at the DMV in the U.S., only worse because the clerk in France KNOWS they’ll never be fired.

  • L says:

    Hey it’s Pamie’s blog! Is there a list compiling all the former TWoP recappers’ blogs somewhere? I keep running into them and always love them…

    Back on topic: yes, by all means, travel there before you go. There is no reason to not see a the place where you plan to move to before moving your entire family there. The French learning summer is a great suggestion too. Go for it in the city you want to live in and use it to: get used to the place, see if it’s possible for you guys to actually live there (keep in mind, most of France pratically closes down in August, so go before that). You can also use it to get to know the town and to survey the possibility of your husband getting a job there (which I agree with everyone who thinks this is unlikely, I was in France in 2009 and people were not getting hired for anything… much less foreigners, much less right now…) but peharps you’ll be lucky. If not, you’ll have had a great summer abroad experience with the entire family, which ought to be fun. :)

  • Casey says:


    I am on my way home from an 18 month assignment in India with my husband and 2 nine-year-olds. My husband’s company took care of our expenses, but having seen the bills, I can say that you will not have enough money to do it on your own. Being an expat is an amazing experience, but you really, really want to do that on someone else’s dollar. Any good company will pay for it’s expats’ housing, utilities, school, moving expenses, transportation and travel. We estimated that my husband’s company spent about $300,000 on on our expat adventure … plus his salary. That’s just the extra stuff. And we always had someone who knew the country to help us with everything.

    School – how will you enroll your kids in public school if you are on tourist visas? If you don’t have your official papers designating you as residents (like green cards in the US), you don’t have the right to enroll in school. After all, you aren’t paying the taxes that pay for public schooling. Our kids were in private school in India, which cost $25,000/year per kid. If you get hired first, your company will pay that.

    Taxes – Since you won’t be immediately buying another house, you will have to pay taxes on any gains from the sale of your house. Also, you are still responsible for paying US taxes on your income even if you live and work in another country. You also have to pay taxes to your host country, and then you get credit on your US taxes for the amount you paid to the host country. It’s a big fat mess. Get hired first and your company will take care of the taxes.

    Housing – Most leases are for a minimum of 1 year. It’s almost impossible to find short term housing. Your lease will be in French. Are you prepared to read and decipher French legalese? If you get hired first, your company will negotiate the lease, and pay the rent and deposit.

    Travel – Our company covered travel for all of us to and from India for the assignment, plus 2 trips home to visit family. If you are already in France, they would have no reason to pay for any travel.

    Kids – My kids were really excited to go, but the excitement did wane after the realities of living in another culture started to grate on them. My son loved it and didn’t want to leave India, but my daughter was homesick the entire time. Living in another country is not the same as vacationing there. There are so many expat kids all over the world that adapt to this lifestyle and do just fine, so don’t worry too much about that. But, putting your kids in an international school or an American school in France will help tremendously. Kids come and go from those schools all the time, so your kids would have peers who have all been the new kid, and all left their homes, and are all leaving in a few years.

    Good luck!

  • Jacq says:

    OK, this is a topic about which I have some experience, having moved from NZ to the UK, and then back, and then back again, and then back once again!

    First things first: DON’T move without at least one of you having a job confirmed. My husband and I moved to NZ from the UK in 2003 without jobs, because we’d been assured that he’d have no problems finding work in his (incredibly specialised) field. We were wrong; he couldn’t find a job and we ended up returning to the UK after a very hard eight months. Also don’t underestimate the impact on a man of being unemployed. It sounds ridiculous and dated, but I’ve seen it many times, both with my husband and with the husbands of several friends: men do not cope well with unemployment, particularly in a foreign country, and the stress of the situation will be awful. And we did our move without having kids, so I think you’d have to multiply the stress by a large number in your case.

    Be very hesitant about moving to France unless you either speak some French, or are a very quick learner. The French are far more tolerant about non-French speakers than many people assume, but they don’t look kindly on people who turn up and make little effort. Also consider the impact on your kids of not speaking the language (if that is indeed the case). Having said that, my in-laws retired to France (from England) and speak little French, but they’re living in a region where there are a huge number of English speakers, and my mother-in-law is very plucky and gives it a good go (and goes to classes). Even so, getting basic things done, like organising a plumber, are hugely challenging when you have a language barrier.

    Moving pets is very expensive. We moved back from the UK to NZ last year (for good this time: my husband had a job confirmed and started it the day after we landed), and it cost us GBP2,500 to ship our dog. My personal opinion is that you have a responsibility to your pets and that you should never leave them behind, but in your situation, with so many pets, I really would question whether it’s feasible. If you do decide to go, find them fantastic homes first. I couldn’t have left my dog behind, however – she’s a part of my family. Also: having pets definitely makes it harder to find rental properties in most countries, and I doubt that France is any different in this respect.

    If your husband is needed for an interview his prospective employer should pay for a flight, if Skype won’t suffice. My husband was flown from the UK to NZ for a four day visit and interview, and had follow-up conversations on Skype. I’ve had other friends who have got jobs as lawyers in the UK on the strength of Skype interviews or phone interviews only, so the need for a face-to-face interview may depend upon the type of role – but you guys shouldn’t have to pay for a trip.

    My suggestion would be to save a lot more money before making the move, and also not taking your life savings/house profit with you – if it doesn’t work out, you need to be able to head back to the USA with the minimum difficulty.

    Living abroad is fantastic: I was away for nearly 14 years, and it made me the person I am today. However, it’s an enormous change to consider, particularly with kids. If the main problem is that you both feel ‘stuck’ where you are, and that your husband’s unhappy with his work, can’t you consider a middle-ground move and just try a new city in a different part of the USA?

  • Jen B. says:

    Since you might rethink your plans according to the advice given here, I’d like to suggest that you consider going to Boston instead. It’s widely considered the most European of the American cities and if you hail from the South, you’ll definitely experience culture shock (and even foreign language confusion if you factor in the accents and the weird words).

    And yet, moving to Boston eliminates all of the trouble that going overseas brings. You and your husband (and oldest kid) can easily keep in touch with your current friends because you’ll likely be in the same time zone. The economy stinks but we do have plenty of tech jobs here, or your husband might even keep his government job because, hey, we have the same federal government as you! And with all of the money you’ll save from cancelling your European adventure, you can take lots of short trips to Montreal which is only a 5.5-hour drive away.

    Come to Boston! We’ll be your “Paris”!

  • Bopper says:

    Can he get a job with a European company that has offices in the USA…e.g., Siemens, Ericsson, Alcatel, etc. and then start to see if he can get a transfer to a european office?

    Having a job and having the support of the company with all the legal/bureaucratical matters is most helpful!

  • Ann says:

    As a US expat in Japan who has worked in admin in international schools, I suggest that you broaden your scope of “adventure” and look outside of France, especially as it seems you have no connections there.

    Your husband might want to look at expat jobs around the world, especially in developing countries, not just corporate jobs, but international schools and US embassies (embassies will almost never hire US staff locally, only local staff). These places usually hold interviews in the US, so your husband does not have to worry about flying around the world for interviews.

    These kind of jobs will arrange your visas for you, secure housing and handle all (or much) of the relocation costs and paperwork. They will also arrange for your children to be placed in an international school, so there will be no disruptions to their educations. In many places in Africa and Southeast Asia, you will be able to use the French you have already learned.

    There are a lot of expat families who live this kind of lifestyle, sometimes moving to a new country every few years (meaning you could move to France later on down the line). It’s not for everyone, but many people enjoy it. This is a feasible way to have the adventure you seek without spending all your savings. Good luck!

  • L says:

    Hee. Loved the Boston sugestion (although I’ve never been). I’ve never been to Boston or to Tolouse or Grenoble, but I’ve been to Paris and a few other cities in France and here’s the thing: not all French cities are made alike. Paris might be worth all this trouble, but I seriously doubt the options you’re considering are… (also, Paris would mean a LOT more trouble, so don’t move there. With the size of your family, you’d spend all your house’s money in less than six months rent…)

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